Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Querying Tip: The Subject line

I wanted to write a brief article on that all important subject line of an email query. I think a lot of people don't realize how important it really is. A good subject line can get your query read faster! So... what makes a good subject line? *Note:*This is personal to me, other agents likely have different submission policies and preferences.

First off, I generally read queries from oldest to newest, but I skim daily to look out for anything that needs my attention such as offers of representation/publication, check-ins, and other requests. So to look out for these things that need my attention, I am scanning subject lines. Most subject lines say something like "Query" or "Submission" or "Looking for Agent." These are all very general. While you can't write much in a subject line I think it's best to make it clear what I'll be seeing when I open the email.

Here are some examples:

YA contemp. TITLE

MG fantasy TITLE

I want to know what genre and age group the query is for as well as the title. Don't try to pitch me in a subject line. I open all emails and read them. There's just not enough space in a subject line to pitch. So no Gossip Girl meets Hannibal in the subject (hmm...that intrigues me. I wonder if that could even work? :)

You don't need to say "Query from a Published Author" or anything about you in the subject line. That can be explained in the query itself.  But, if it's a referral or a conference submission or requested material you should note that:

Requested Material: TITLE
SCBWI NY submission: TITLE

I look at requested materials, conference submissions and referrals before other queries. I keep a list of what I'm participating in on my blog so if you want your query read faster try to get involved!

And if you have an offer of rep note that very prominently in the subject line:


As you're likely noticing, I keep mentioning to put the TITLE in the subject of your query email. While titles often change from query to published work, never underestimate the power of a good title. A good title can grab my interest in a subject line. Put the title after the genre and age group.

Don't waste space writing "query" or "submission" anywhere in your subject line. I have a query email that is separate from my main email. So I assume anything coming to that email is a query.

I have always been a genre girl, but right now I am looking primarily for YA and MG contemporary. I'm tough when it comes to taking on fantasy of any kind as it's an area I know well...so, it has to be that much better for me to take it on. My list is pretty full of dark projects at the moment. I have dark contemporary and horror, so I am very selective in these areas as well currently. But, of course, what I'm looking for at any given time will shift somewhat as I fill spaces on my list or the industry changes so check out my blog occasionally for updates!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Revision Tips from Authors for Authors Post 2

Hi everyone! I hope you're enjoying these great revisions tips from some of my clients so far. Today I will be posting tips from two more authors. I hope you enjoy them and find them helpful!  

Look out for Post 3 next week!

Erica Chapman, YA contemporary:

I've heard from several sources that good writing comes in the revision stage of building a book and I have to agree. I do love the idea of getting words down in a first draft, but when I can manipulate those same words to really mean something--really make someone FEEL something, that's when a revision is working for me. There are a few questions I have to answer in each revision, here are a few...
  • Continuity errors - If you have flashbacks, do they make sense? Is the timeline right?
  • Transitions - Are the ends/beginnings of the chapters and scenes smooth? Does the reader always know where they stand?
  • Are the words in my story being used correctly - Like, "Microscope for Telescope"
  • Does each character have goals? Are there enough conflicts keeping them from them?
  • Does your MC have a choice of what to do to get to their goal? Can they leave and go back to regular life (life before the inciting incident) and be fine? If the answer is yes, then add in some type of conflict that changes that. If the answer is no, then you're on the right track.
  • Is everything authentic? - Do the actions of each character make sense? Does the plot make sense with how you've shaped your characters to be?
  • Do the sentences sound like they should? - I agree with Annie from an earlier blog post, reading out-loud helps find those words and sentences that are awkward.
  • Are the characters' actions physically possible? - Act them out and see.
After my CP's or readers send their feedback, I like to let it sink in for a little while. Maybe a week, two weeks, or so. Then I read through their notes all at once and see if I answer "Oh yeah! or Wow, how did I not see that?" those are edits I make right away. If they've brought something up that makes me think but that I may not have an answer for at the time, then I keep those on the back burner and when I read through my MS again and revise I think about what the reader noticed and see if I notice it too. Usually, they're onto something. I always weigh each comment the same whether I agree or not because there's a reason they noted it, and maybe I can address it in a way that fixes the issue the reader had but also keeps the integrity of the story the same.

For revision, the best thing I've learned is to take step back and read the story as I believe a reader would. It's not easy, but when I do, I find the most errors that way. Happy revising!

Suzanne Warr, Middle Grade:

Lord of the Rings cake: The Eye of Sauron!
When I get revision notes, whether from myself, my CPs, or my lovely agent, I like to take a step back and look at the book as a whole.  Think of this as envisioning the cake you want to set out before your party guests.  There are lots of delicious kinds of cake in the world, from Angel Food cake to Chunky Apple Oatmeal, to Triple Chocolate Lava, to Maple Pecan.  No one cake can be all of these—if it tried, it would wind up a disgusting mess!  So, what kind of cake are you making, or what kind of story are you telling?

Once you’ve got your eye firmly fixed on that deliciousness and can see the big picture for your story, look at the notes and organize them by type.  Are they integral to the plot, indicating a fundamental flaw in its development?  Did you drop out of character, or forget to detail a scene?  Think of plot issues and other big ticket items as the stage where you take a sample taste of your cake, to see if you forgot the salt or didn’t mix in the baking powder properly.  Thankfully you can rework your story more easily than you can bake a cake from scratch under deadline, but it can still seem a daunting task.  However, at the end of the day, these are fundamental issues you want to fix before ‘serving’ your cake!

Other issues may be more superficial, and can be thought of as the icing and decorations.  Impatient writers may see these as less necessary, but where would a wedding cake be without white frosting and gorgeous wedding trim?  And what about a Triple Chocolate Lava cake if the last layer is the shaved chocolate curls?  You don’t want to leave that off, right?  So, when reading through the feedback, picture your book as you most want it to be—something that fills the heart with delight, and wows the socks off your readers.  Then figure out how the notes you’ve received can strengthen and complete your story, helping it to take the cake amongst novels!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

"Dear Lucky Agent" Contest

I'm pleased to announce that I am judging the Writer's Digest 14th "Dear Lucky Agent" Contest! If you have a contemporary middle grade, all the details on how to enter can be found here

Basically you have until March 18th to send the first 150-200 words of your middle grade contemporary novel. I will then look over all the entries and pick the top three. The top 3 will win a 10 page critique from me and a free one-year subscription to WritersMarket.com

Winners will be notified within three weeks from the end of the contest.

Again, all the details can be found at the Writer's Digest Site at the link above. Good luck and I look forward to reading! 

Here is what's at the top of my contemporary middle grade wishlist: 

  • A good, light contemporary coming of age, sister or friendship story, a fun MG mystery or humorous contemporary. 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Revision Tips from Authors for Authors

Revising a manuscript is a process...a process that everyone does differently. I thought it might be helpful to aspiring writers out there to get some tips from other authors so this post was born! I have asked several of my wonderful clients to help me with this post and answer questions such as: what is your revision style? How do you use feedback you receive when working on a revision? Are there differences when it comes to revising different types of  projects for different genres or age groups etc.? 

I've decided to do this as a blog series. There will be a post a week, each post will include two author's advice. I will announce when the next post is up on twitter. About 8 authors of mine are contributing so the series should last about 4 weeks. The advice below could be for any genre or age group really, I just specified what each writer writes. 
At the end  of the series, I'm thinking of having a Q&A post where the authors who posted their advice will answer a question or two you have specific to them. 

Annie Sullivan, YA fantasy: 

1.)    Give yourself as much time as you reasonably can between revisions. This way you can return to a piece with fresh eyes.
2.)    If you don’t agree with a criticism, try and at least explore why a critique partner would have felt this way. You may discover that the tone was off or that it was due to a character inconsistency.
3.)    If you find revising overwhelming, try revising in layers. For example, on one read through, focus solely on character development. On another, look only at dialogue. If you focus on something specific each time, you won’t be overwhelmed.
4.)    Print out a copy of your story to edit. I’m all for saving the environment, but there’s something different about editing a hardcopy.  Sometimes it’s easier to spot repetitions, scenes that go on too long, and structure issues this way.
5.)    Read your work aloud. This will also help you spot repetitions and awkward phrases.
6.)    Always do a final read through, especially if you’ve added or deleted a lot of scenes. It’s easy to delete a superfluous scene while forgetting that it’s referenced later on.
7.)    With every major revision, try and have someone new read it to make sure everything still makes sense. 

I study the revision notes from my critique partners before I even open the story document on my computer. I go through big issues they saw and outline locations where I can make improvements based on their feedback. For example, if I’m adding backstory, then I like to know where that will go and what other scenes it might effect before I delve into the document. This way, I’m not constantly having to double back and correct a scene effected by something I changed later on. This method is especially helpful since I like to start from the beginning and work my way through the entire story so I can monitor how it all flows together.  

Jamie Gehin, YA contemporary

How do I go about revisions?

Well, after I get feedback from Christa (always insightful, by the way!) I don’t touch the manuscript at first, but read over the notes a few times. Then, I write down the questions by hand and mull them over. I add questions of my own, and ask myself: Are the issues Christa had because I didn’t develop a particular chapter/scene well enough or is something lacking because another scene altogether needs to be created? I try to give myself a deadline on revisions, but a big thing for me is not to rush this process… some epiphanies come through when I’m just relaxed and allowing myself to dream with a cup of coffee in hand, others, when I’m on a long walk.

I’m currently trying to work on making sure everything in my timeline is consistent – it’s easy to have tunnel vision with certain scenes. Christa catches little inconstancies that I might overlook. Something that’s helping is developing an actual one-page, yearlong calendar so I can see all the events of the story without having to scan through the manuscript. It also gives me a great feel for how the plot is moving along without getting wrapped up in the emotions of the story.

So, there it is. On a side note… working with Christa has been amazing! I feel very lucky!

Friday, February 28, 2014


I'm excited to say I will be participating in the MD/DE/WV SCBWI conference on March 29th in Maryland. SCBWI conferences are such great opportunities for writers to meet editors and agents face to face and get personal feedback and to network with other authors...perhaps find a new critique partner!

Are you an SCBWI member of the Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia chapter? Registration is live so check it out here, see who is presenting and take a look at the schedule! If you're not a member of SCBWI I'd really recommend it. Check out your local SCBWI chapter's webpage. Most chapters have one. Find yours here

For those who aren't familiar with SCBWI, it stands for Society of Childrens Book Writers and Illustrators. Most chapters have annual or even semi-annual conferences where writers can connect with industry professionals. They often also have group sessions and things like that just for writers throughout the year. 

Anyway back the the MD/DE/WV conference....I am leading a workshop on Fantasy Writing. Here's my blurb for the conference and showcases what I will be discussing. I also will be doing a panel and critiques. My critique slots, however, are already full. 

Fantasy Writing: From World-Building to Querying
How do you come up with unique ideas for a fantasy project and create compelling characters in today’s competitive market? Christa offers her ideas along with tips on world-building and writing within the genre for middle grade and YA audiences.  The difference between writing for adult and middle-grade/teen audiences within fantasy, and suggestions on querying, word count etc will also be addressed.

I plan on posting key points from my workshop on my blog afterward so that even if you can't make it you can learn more about fantasy writing, if that's your genre of choice! 

Hope to see some of you at the conference!

Monday, October 21, 2013

And the Winner is...

Voting closed this morning at 9 am...thus I'm pleased to now announce the winner of the first ever Query Critique and First Chapter Contest...The Swailing by Wendy Brant. Congrats Wendy!!!

Thank you so much everyone for participating. Over 500 people voted :) I hope to do this again sometime in the future.

Wendy, please email me your query and first chapter to my query email: chquery@mcintoshandotis.com

Also, finalists please feel free to query me as well! A special shout-out to Kathleen and Shaylene!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

And the finalists are...

Thank you everyone for participating today and posting your pitches! I have selected three entries completely at random. You'll find the finalist's entries below. Take a look and vote for your favorite using the poll at the bottom of the page. Polling is open until 9am Monday, October 21st.  1 vote per person please and anyone can vote, regardless if you entered the contest or not!

Congratulations finalists, Shaylene King, Wendy Brant and Kathleen S. Allen!!!

On a side note, I will be reviewing all the pitches and making requests. I will reply directly to your post, so keep an eye out tomorrow to see if your entry was requested :) 

Shaylene King
MG Humor
38,500 words

American Idol meets the Bible in this modern retelling of the book of Esther as re-imagned through quirky tweenager Libery Lane O'Shea. Instead of an ancient beauty pagent, it's a cut throat singing competition and Liberty must decide between standing for truth and losing or minding her own business and winning.

Wendy Brant
YA Dystopian Romance

Spunky but naïve Ember and her desperate but cute hired guide, Finn, embark on a quest across the no-longer-united United States to find Ember's missing family. Their challenges while traveling through regions of stubborn extremism teach them a whole lot about themselves, and certainly a little something about love.

Kathleen S. Allen
YA historical

When her pirate mother returns to claim her, seventeen year old servant, Jenny is not interested in being trained as a pirate. Jenny’s refusal triggers the destruction of her village, so Jenny has no choice but to either go with her mother or flee.

Which pitch is your pick?