Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Lessons from Query Kombat

I'm co-hosting Query Kombat this year, which is a lot of fun and a lot of work. So much work, in fact, that last week I completely forgot to post here on Operation Awesome!😯 I have a bit of a lull before the competition gets going on Friday, so I thought I'd write about some of the things I observed and learned while going through the entries and selecting my team.

We had about 430 entries, which meant I ended up with 143 entries in my pile. We divide all the entries as they come in, so it's completely random who ends up with what entries. I also read some of the entries in Michael and Michelle's piles. I was amazed at the fact that no two books were the same. Can you believe that? I was constantly blown away by all the interesting premises. Whether someone got into the contest or not, they came up with a unique story idea and turned it into a whole book. That's absolutely wonderful.

Out of the entries I read through, there were plenty that I felt "meh" about. The premise just didn't catch my fancy. I put those in my "Up for Grabs" folder. Michael and Michelle each poached an entry from that folder. They obviously didn't feel "meh" about those entries--they thought they were good enough for the contest! Taste is subjective, and writers just have to accept that not everyone is going to like their book. You can't do anything about that, so I say don't waste a second worrying about it.

What did I love about the entries I selected? First off, always, it's premise. I picked a YA time-travel entry because that's my kryptonite; an entry that could be described as a Middle Grade Groundhog Day because it's one of my favorite movies; a thriller about someone who creates near-death experiences and has to deal with the fallout from an all-death experience because it made me sit up and go YES I WOULD READ THAT RIGHT NOW. Every entry I chose had a premise I loved.

But there were other premises I loved in the entry pool. The ones that were chosen also had strong query letters. By strong I mean I got a good sense of who the main character was, what the main conflict of the book would be, and what was at stake. There's something about those three elements that makes people want to read a book, which is why people who give query advice regularly stress those elements. Do we sound like broken records? Maybe. But you never know who's hearing it for the first time, and so we repeat ourselves in case ours is the advice that gives someone the "A ha!" moment they need.

One of the entries I chose had received a query critique from me a few weeks before the contest. I held my breath as I read, hoping it had improved. It absolutely had. I was so proud of that writer! Incorporating feedback is not easy, but this writer obviously knows how to revise. I feel confident that person will get a lot of benefit out of the feedback aspect of Query Kombat.

For me, the first 250 words part of the entry submission is the hardest to judge. For all I know, there's an amazing sentence or twist around the corner at word 275. For a submission to an agent, that's great. For the purposes of the contest, it's not. So I try to keep an open mind while reading. That part counts the least for me. Others will feel differently. I'm sure the judges will have plenty of opinions to share on the entries' writing!

The last thing I want to say is that making connections in the writing world is so important. I hope the people who entered and weren't chosen take the opportunity to find critique partners on the Query Kombat forums. I got to know Laura Heffernan while working on pitches for PitchMadness over 4 years ago, and that's how we became CPs. Now she's one of my most trusted friends in the writing world. Making friends through contests works!


  1. Lots of things to ponder. I have spent much of the past week pondering which of those elements I failed in. Not pleasant to wonder if my premise stinks, if I didn't do a good job with character, conflict, or stakes. Or if it was none of those things, and just personal taste. But that's just part of rejection. Hard to know how to process it without the incredible weight of "what did I do wrong?" Maybe nothing. Maybe everything. But that doubt turned out to be a good thing. This week I have questioned everything from whether I have talent to whether I have the guts to keep working on the story I believe in. My conclusion. Yes to both. If I get nothing else, I got the chance to challenge my spirit to single combat, and I won gold. Thanks for the opportunity.

  2. Thanks for the insights, Kara. Fascinating stuff.

    Rebecca, good news for you. You've proven to yourself how strong you can be. And better news: everything I read and hear about the publishing world says persistence is the strongest trait you'll need. Well, you know you can walk that path. Stay persistent and the rest will come.


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