I’ve been lucky enough to attend multiple YA-related events recently. I already wrote about the Pickerington library author fest in my last post, and I’ll definitely be writing about my upcoming Highlights retreat (much, MUCH more about that to come!), but this past week I went to two other fun events. First off, last Saturday I attended a query writing workshop with Mindy McGinnis, the author of Not A Drop To Drink and the upcoming In A Handful of Dust. I was so excited that COSCBWI decided to sponsor this event because I’ve been through the dredges of writing and submitting query letters once before and it’s just plain awful. There’s really no other way to explain it. You can put years of work into writing then rewriting then perfecting a manuscript that you really love only to realize that agents (and editors…and readers) may never get to see it because you can't get an agent to read past your sparse three paragraph query. Sometimes it just feels ridiculous trying to condense an entire novel with backstory, mythology, romantic subplots, etc into just a few paragraphs, but unfortunately that’s the way of the publishing world.
A few years ago I did write a query letter and send it out to agents (a lot of agents…like probably 70+). It’s fairly embarrassing to think about now because I have since realized that my book was not ready for submission. But hey, it was my first time and I think that’s a fairly common newbie mistake. I guess it wasn’t a complete failure since 3 agents (4%--whoo-hoo!) asked for additional pages (meaning they made it through the query letter), but that also means 96% did not care. Oh math, you make everything seem so much worse. 96% looks so disheartening when written in black and white.
However, this is exactly why I was so happy to attend this query workshop since I clearly need the help. Mindy has experience writing successful query letters and has also critiqued other writers’ queries for quite a while now. She walked us through each section of a successful letter: an intriguing first line to make the agents take notice, a body that lays out the main plot without adding in every detail, and a last line that leaves them wanting more. Probably the most important take home point: don’t trust your mom! ;) As Mindy said, moms are great but they tend to love everything you do so that basically makes them the worst people ever to critique your work (if you actually want to get better). Afterwards, we got into groups to read and critique each other’s work, which was really helpful because you don’t always notice your own mistakes but you definitely notice other people’s! I’ve got more than enough new info now to use when revising my query…just as soon as I, you know, finish the manuscript.
The second cool YA activity of the week was going to see Rae Carson, Ann Aguirre, and Mindy McGinnis for a YA author panel at Cover-to-Cover books. Oh my goodness, were these women hysterical together! I haven’t actually been to many panels/book signings so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I could have listened to them riff on each other and joke around all night. I came home and told my husband about it, thinking that the humor would generalize to anyone—who wouldn’t laugh about having your protagonist describe herself by looking in a mirror?!—only to learn that maybe writers have more inside jokes than I originally thought.
So, all in all, I’d say it was a productive writing week. Now, let’s just hope next week at the retreat is even more productive. I only have a few more weeks until the semester starts…