Guest Post: Ella Kennen

Today's post is a guest post from author Ella Kennen. Since CBAY is running what is essentially at this point a query contest, and since Ella initially contacted me through a query, I asked her to write about her experience.

Ella Kennen is the author of two bedtime stories through CBAY Books, Boyd, Who Cried Wolf and Out of Thin Air, which just released this week.

You’ve written your story, revised it, critiqued it (and do get it critiqued!), and revised some more. Now it’s time to start slogging through market research and write that do-or-die query letter, right? Well, maybe. Here’s the other way to think about it:

You know you want to get published, so you’re on the prowl for a good fit. You stumble on an open call, contest, submission request, whatever. Aha! You poke around the publisher’s website, get a feel for their books (Maybe you’ve already read some—fantastic! If not, snag some from the library, or at least read free excerpts online.)

You sense possibility. Now it’s time to turn that into something more. You sift through your repertoire of ideas (because as a savagely writerly writer, you always have more ideas than you know what to do with) and you strike upon a match. Maybe, if you’ve binged on market research (and you’ve got to go through the motion sooner or later, so why not sooner?), you’ve got a list of several publishers that would make a good fit with your manuscript.

You plot your arc. You draft. You revise. You let any external deadlines propel you into a most un-you-like level of efficiency (or maybe you’re efficient, and that’s just me).  And when you’ve got your finished product, something strange happens. Instead of meeting the next stage with dread, you find you’re looking forward to it. You’ve already done your homework and you know your project is a good fit. Instead of becoming a fearful chore, writing the query letter feels more like the exciting culmination. (Butterflies-in-the-stomach still allowed.)

I’ve found that writing this way gets me significantly better results. Not every submission leads to acceptance—though a lot do—and the rest usually result in some feedback. And that type of rejection is infinitely better and more hopeful than a canned letter or no response at all.

On to that whole wooing Ms. Smoot business. Some moons ago, CBAY had an open call for fantasy and sci-fi picture books. I knew I wanted in. So I sat and I thought … and I read the picture books I knew the editor was looking for (Thank you, internet! And people, do your homework—it’s a treasure trove out there)… and I thought some more. And finally, I had an idea. Looking back, I honestly don’t remember when I wrote my first draft of the query, but it very well could have been before the story was finished… or even started.

I won’t get into the mechanics of queries, which have been covered extensively by savvier people than I (like the Buried Editor herself). Do read up on the process and follow the rules. Stand out by delivering a great product, not by deviating from the guidelines.

I will, however, give you a looksee at my query:

I was thrilled to hear about your call for sci-fi picture book
submissions. I have enclosed my gender-bender sci-fi retelling of the
classic Cinderella story below for your review.

[Paragraph of synopsis]

I see CinderAdam as the beginning of a series of sci-fi picture books
inspired by classic tales. The next two stories in the series, for
instance, would be (1) about an alien Rumpelstiltskin literally
spinning oxygen out of thin air at a space colony, and (2) about a
robot scientist who creates a human (“It’s alive!”) only to discover
he doesn’t know what to do with his Franken-baby.
[Paragraph about me]

Nothing magical there—boilerplate stuff.  But it was enough to do the job…. even though the manuscript I sent was more storybook than picture book. When an idea is a great fit, the query has an easy task. It doesn’t have to convince, cajole, or hard-sell. (As a side-note, Cinders became ClinkerAdam, and the Franken-baby story never came to be, but three stories I hadn’t thought of at the time did!)

Matchmaking before you write won’t teach you the mechanics of query letters and it won’t make writing a synopsis magically easier… but it might give you a level of confidence you’ve not had before… and it will make the submission stage of the process a lot faster and less painful than going at things the traditional way. It’s not the only way to do things, and in some cases, it might not be a feasible way to do things, but it’s definitely worth trying. Who knows, it might even land you a book contract… and a guest post on your editor’s blog. ;)

Buried Editor's Note: The Rumpelstiltskin story that she mentions above is the story that just released yesterday, Out of Thin Air. It's my favorite of the bunch, and frankly the story that sold me on the whole concept!


Contest & Free Stuff

Fun stuff is happening at CBAY Books this week/month. First, we're running a contest over there. The winners in both the middle grade and teen categories will receive publishing contracts for their entries. Intrigued? Then head over to the CBAY Books Facebook page and like it to get the details.

Also this week, the second in our Amazing Tales Bedtime eStories releases tomorrow. Called Out of Thin Air, it's a very imaginative retelling of the Rumpelstiltskin fairy tale.

So, to celebrate the release of this new Tale, we're going to offer a very special Halloween Treat today. From noon to one this afternoon (CST) we are going to have a free download available of our first Amazing Tale, Boyd Who Cried Wolf. Just go to the same CBAY Books Facebook page link and if you haven't already liked it, do so to get your free copy.

These Tales are the perfect little stories for snuggling up with just before bed, and on a spooky night like Halloween, they are just the thing for those kids who are a little too scared of witches and ghosts. Be sure to grab this Halloween treat, and have a great candy-filled evening.


Congratulations to Our Winner

Congratulations to the author of Feasy for winning the first page contest. I'll be contacting both finalists today about getting them their prizes.

I had tried a new polling option for this contest, and I would love to hear some feedback on it. I know my opinion, but I'd love to hear yours.


You Decide the Winner for the First Page Contest

Thank you to everyone who submitted to the contest. I have picked my top two favorites, and now it's your chance to pick who the winner is. Read the two selections and then vote:

Selection A: Monster Stomp (My title not author's!)
Fay sat on the dirt floor of the cave she called home, eyeing the small monster for a moment before rolling her eyes. This particular one looked a bit like a deformed tortoise, except without the shell and with eight rows of needle teeth that could barely fit into its mouth. It hissed at her. She sighed heavily and resumed packing her books for school.
Honestly, how many more of these things did she have to kill before they got the point and left her alone? A lot, probably. They’d been coming around since as long as she could remember.
She tied her book bag shut and looked at the creature again. Again, it hissed, but this time bent down as if it were about to pounce. She lifted her foot and slammed it down on its skinny neck, severing it from the crusty body. It screamed, but its head continued to hop around, lunging for her foot. Fay dodged and got behind it, lifting her foot to crush it again, when her father suddenly flung open the curtain that separated her room from the other two rooms in the burrow.
“Fay, didn’t you hear me calling? Your breakfast is on the table.” Her father looked at her march-like stance suspiciously. “What are you doing?”
“Uh…stretching?” The monster was gnawing on her big toe. Apparently, all those intimidating looking teeth were just for show. She demonstrated a stretch by touching her toes, but really she just wanted to get her hand close enough to flick the little head away.
Selection B: Feasy
My first kiss and it tastes like onions marinated in beer. The whole weird concoction permeates my mouth when he smacks his lips like a vacuum over mine.
Some people hear bells when they get their first kiss. Me? I hear teeth clanking. Even worse, I feel his tooth ram into mine demanding my tooth move over so it could reside in my mouth instead.
We’re in the basement of some random sophomore whose name I don’t know whose parents don’t know we’re all here.
My first kiss.
And my first high school party. Not that I didn’t always want to come. Just wasn’t invited. Funny thing is, I wasn’t invited to this one either. Teeny got the invite and then the guilt and brought me, her charity-case best friend, with her.
The darkness all around makes a perfect blanket wrapping me in a cocoon of self pity as I sit waiting, wishing I was home watching old episodes of Jersey Shore instead of sitting by myself in the dark basement with dirty shag carpet watching classmates wearing way too little, drinking way too much.
And making out.
There’s so much making out on every couch in every corner, I start to think maybe I am watching Jersey Shore.
That’s when he makes his move. Kevin Darby.
I know him from Spanish class ---and football. He doesn’t just play football, he is the football team. I think he’s the fullback which means he might even weigh more than me.
But I doubt it.


First Page Contest

It's time for one of my freaking favorite things to do on this blog: run a contest!

The rules are simple:

  • Send me the first page (250 words) of your chapter book, middle grade or YA manuscript (any genre) to buriededitor @ gmail dot com (obviously make that into a workable email address.)
  • Get me your first page by Thursday 10/4 at 11:59pm CST.
  • I will read these and Friday morning I will post my 2 favorites.
  • Then, you all will get to vote on your favorite over the weekend. The winner will be announced on 10/9/2012.
  • The winner gets a 15 page Conference Style Critique (minor detail: You have to get your pages to me by Thursday 10/11.)
  • The runner-up gets 2 books from Pyr, finish copies of Ian McDonald's 2 books. (These were sent to a friend of mine as review copies. Pyr is not sponsoring this post in any way, and they'll probably be surprised when they come across it. However, I see no reason not to share a little smaller press love around.)
I do reserve the right to suspend or cancel this contest at anytime, and it is void wherever prohibited. But, I think this will be fun, and I look forward to reading everyone's entries!


First Page Critiquing

Last week I talked about great first pages, why they are important and gave some examples of my favorite first pages. Now, I think it's time for you all to practice with your first pages. Why? Because next week I'm going to host a first page contest! For simplicity's sake, we're going to call the first 250 words of a work the "first page."

Here's what we're going to do this week:

  • In the comments field, post your first page. 
  • Read others and offer feedback. As always, feedback should contain both positive and negative comments and should always be unfailingly polite. This is not a forum to boost your own ego by knocking others down. We've never had the slightest problems in the past, so I don't expect any now. 

 We'll do this for one week, so start posting now, and get your first page ready for next week's contest!


First Page Wonders

There is nothing like starting a manuscript (or a book) and getting hooked on the first page (or first few pages). Sure, the whole rest of the manuscript better live up to the beginning but there's nothing more exciting than being drawn in immediately.

Fortunately, there are tons of ways for this to happen:

  • Dynamic characters - I don't mean that they do something on the first page. They can, but they can also just be fascinating people, and be showing just how fascinating they are on that first page.
  • Unexpected plot twist - This is hard to do in only a page, but I've seen it done. One of my favorite books, The Amulet of Samarkand, does exactly this.
  • Strong voice - Obviously the voice of your work always matters, but it really makes a difference in that very beginning when you are trying to get someone hooked.
  • A really great idea - If you're world is truly unique or your book has some sort of really fantastic conceit, why not try to work it into the very beginning? (Unless of course it later acts as a surprise twist.)
  • In medias res - Ah, high school English terms. However, starting in the middle of things can be exciting, and it can be a great way to get the story started.
These are all things that can get my heart racing when I start a manuscript. Unfortunately, most of the time the work I see has a slow start. Especially with newer authors, there is a tendency to write a bit to get to know the characters and world of the story with the action and actual book not starting for pages or even chapters into the manuscript. This is absolutely a great way to start a first draft, but by the time I'm looking at a work, that sort of thing should have been edited out. That is of course where writing partners and critique groups come in.

So, before you put that manuscript in the mail (or in the email these days), glance back over your first few pages and see if they are the kind of thing that will really jump out and grab the editor/agent by the throat. Or at least gently catch their attention.

Books I Think Have Great First Few Pages:


A Year in Hades (and not with Percy Jackson or some other character)

I love 'em, but man, these
two are time consuming.
The other day I realized that it had been over a year since I last posted on this blog. A year. It has both felt like a minute, and at the same time decades longer.

It has not been a good year.

In June 2011, my two year old still couldn't really talk. He tested positive for hearing loss due to fluid in his ears which was corrected. He was expected to quickly start talking with a little speech therapy. He did not. Partly this was because his original speech therapist was an absolute ninny, but mostly it was because there was much more going on. In February he was finally diagnosed with dyspraxia (which no one debates) and PDD (which is still fairly up in the air with pretty much everyone including the doctor that diagnosed him with it). PDD or Pervasive Developmental Disorder (or as I prefer Physician Didn't Decide - I forgot where I saw that) means that you have a child who has autistic traits and falls onto the Autism spectrum, but the child does not fit into many of the other specific Autism diagnoses (like Asperger's or classic Autism). If you're curious to see some of what I've been going through, you can see my blog on it: Parenting is Overrated. I think the title says it all.

With the diagnosis has come special schools, lots (and lots and lots) of therapies and new diets. This also coincided with my husband going back to work, and my having to maintain a certain number of hours at the bookstore every week in order to keep our insurance. It was a stressful year. It was time consuming, and it meant the last thing I wanted to do was blog about query letters or book proposals that I didn't have the energy to read in the first place.

But the year has not been entirely in vain. I managed to finish the new Buried Editor website with all sorts of great information like tips and advice.  I've also worked on the Facebook page, and I've been developing exclusive content for it. As one of those exclusive things, I started developing Writing Sprints -- focused writing prompts designed to help with specific parts of your projects. I didn't think I'd come up with many, but to my surprise, I thought of 51. I'm going to put one up a month on the Facebook Page where people can post what they write based on the prompt and get feedback. If you wait just a little over 4 years, you can get all of them off the site, but if you want all of them now, get the little ebook (or in a few weeks the little print book). I'm going to be giving away some copies next month.

I'm not going to make any promises that the blog is back up and running although I'm going to do my best. However, as I've now learned, life can get in the way in a major manner. I think everything is back under control. I think my son's progress is on track. But I only think.