Aug 29, 2014

A Query Kombat Success Story

Writing is a scary endeavor. It's like stepping into the ring with a hundred gladiators and a hundred dragons. In order to find success, you have to standout among the gladiators while still managing to slay your dragon. You can't "do what he/she did," you have to forge your own path (sometimes with the help of other gladiators, and sometimes solo). 

Fear of failure plays a big part in our day to day lives. Not only do we have to conquer that blank page, but we also have to defeat that part of ourselves that tells us we won't make it--that we're not good enough. I'm here to tell you that you will, and you are! But it takes perseverance. As the story below proves, a setback is a setup for a comeback...but only if you believe in yourself and refuse to give up.

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Max Wirestone

There's a certain "there and back again" quality to my story.

A COZY FOR GEEKS was my first attempt at novel writing, but I had flirted with success at screenwriting somewhat in my twenties. That experience-- which involved terrifying conversations with agents that led me nowhere-- had ultimately left me limping away from the writing world, a trail of blood and ego behind me. It was ugly-- although in retrospect, most of my wounds were imaginary. My confession: I was afraid of being a Failed Writer-- to the point that was I willing to give it up. I put it all behind me and instead focused on good, solid life goals: Husband, Librarianship, Kids, Xbox Achievements.

For a while.

Time passed, and through the magic of aging (and probably parenthood,) I found that I suddenly didn't care if anyone else regarded me as a Failed Writer. The thirty-something version of me, paunchier, and with considerably less hair, suddenly regarded the twenty-something version of me as some sort of self-involved thick-haired doofus. And so I started writing again.

I did it completely alone, in secret. No writing groups. No community. When I started submitting, in April, I was sending to ONE AGENT AT A TIME. I was working through WRITER'S MARKET alphabetically.

I eventually started following agents on twitter, and I heard about Query Kombat at the last minute. What the hey, right? I figured I'd lose in the first round (and Carol Ayer's DEAD PRINCESSES DON'T KISS was stiff competition), but I soldiered through. I eventually made it all the way to the quarter finals, where I was slain by the fabulous Betsy Aldredge.

Then the requests started.

I got three requests from the contest itself. But after the feedback from the first round, I had applied changes to my query. Hot changes! Awesome changes! And I wanted to test them out. So I started querying wider. Suddenly, I was rolling in requests.

Next came a "let's chat about your book" email just a few weeks after the competition. Can I just take a second to say that I found all of these conversations a little weird? More power to you if you instantly connected with your agent, but I was like a nervous first-date. I was awkward and bumbling, and that twenty-something version of me who had been rejected by film agents was listening in on my conversation and whispering things like, "run, you fool! It's a TRAP!"

Despite my ramblings-- I ineptly described my next project as a "comedy about the death of libraries"-- I still got an offer of rep. I told the agent thank you and that I would get back in a week. I then DM'd incoherent messages to amazing QK Judges Glen Coco and Omar Comin (N.K. Traver and Tatum Flynn), the content of which was basically: ZOMG!111!!!!1!1! Only longer. I may have initially gone over the 140 character limit. Also there was drinking.

I ultimately got four offers of representation (with a fifth 'let's talk' that came too late,) and so I got to repeat my awkward conversation three more times. I eventually started prefacing the talk with an admission that I was weird at this. Not in real-life, just this. The agents seemed to understand. Although, by conversation number four, I wasn't awkward at all. Talking with agents, like querying and synopsis-writing and everything else along this voyage is just another task that practice makes you good at.

Anyway, the agents were all awesome. I described them to my husband in byte-sized terms. Book blogger, enthusiastic new guy, geek enthusiast, editor-turned-agent. I DMd Tatum Flynn relentlessly, as well as writer friends I had made along the way. People said things like, "go with your gut," and "trust your heart," which sound good, except that my gut did not have a lot of insight. Mostly it was hungry.

Then came the awful bit: I had to pick one of them. If you've ever had the fantasy that at the end of all this rejection you might get the joy of turning down an agent for a change, I'm hear to tell you: it's awful! I liked all four agents. I would have been thrilled to be represented by any of them. Of all the things I'd been forced to write on this process, the rejection letters to agents were the most painful. It's like writing a Dear John letter, only worse. Blech. Just blech.

In the end, I settled with Caitlin Blasdell of Liza Dawson Associates. Caitlin represented lots of books I have in my own library, had a Hugo winner under her belt, and had given me scads of intriguing and detailed notes about my project. She also seemed supportive of a double-genre approach, with the sensible proviso that I write quickly. Now that I've been with her for a few weeks, and have made the first round of changes to my manuscript, I can't imagine having done anything else.

So that's my story. Shaggy, but true. And for you twenty-somethings, if things don't work out now, there's always hope a few years down the road. Worked for me.

Follow him on Twitter @MaxCrowe

Aug 22, 2014

A Query Kombat Success!

There isn't quite an community like the writing community. For such a solitary activity, writers have managed to connect far and wide over every form of social media available. We lift each other up when we're down. We're always there to lend a keen eye or an honest opinion. And each and every one of us feels invigorated and elated when we hear another writer's success story.

I've said this many times, but contests aren't JUST about finding an agent. They're about connecting with other writers who are willing to root for you, cry with you, tell you when something sucks, and go to bat for you when they think you're ready. Of all the stories we've had this year, this one proves that through and through. 

So, without further ado, I'm excited to introduce Candice Marley Conner. Take it away Candice!

First off, thanks for having me, Michelle, and a huge thanks to you, SC and Ravenous Rushing (That's me for all you wondering. It's my Twitter handle) for all the time and energy you throw in your twitter contests!

I still can’t quite believe I received The Call. I’ve seen so many success stories on blogs and twitter and I’m beside myself to add my own.

I wrote my first real manuscript, a chapter book, beginning my senior year of high school and throughout college as it became part of my senior thesis. I queried small publishing houses and received form rejections. For good reason.

Once I graduated, I worked full-time and the only writing I did was a column in a magazine and a monthly company newsletter. But after I had my daughter in 2010, my husband and I thought it best if I stayed home with her. His one stipulation was that I make time to write. So I followed Julia Cameron’s The Artist Way to re-prioritize my life. And wrote two YA manuscripts before I had my son in 2013. I revised, hunted for beta readers without really knowing how to go about it, joined a local Writers’ Guild, entered contests and received some agent attention but ultimately, rejections.

Then I saw tweets about QueryKombat. I initially wasn’t going to enter. I mean, SC Author had in BOLD that this wasn’t a contest for the faint of heart or thin-skinned. And it had the word kombat in it.

But my manuscript deserved a chance to fight and Ravenous Rushing picked me for his team. I was ecstatic. Until I read my combatant's query and first 250. It was amazing; I would have voted for her. I was KO’d after the first round.

By this time, I had made some contacts during the twitter party and one of the judges, Melinda, offered to look at my manuscript after I had put on twitter that I needed help finding ‘plot evolution problems’ as one agent put it. I honestly just expected her to tell me when she grew bored.

But she shocked me by emailing me back that night. She got sucked into my story and had read the entire manuscript. She’d loved it. She got my characters and best of all, she could see my plot problems.

She mentored me for about a month and toward the end, surprised me by offering to recommend it to her agent. She thought she would love my voice-driven narrative and Southern setting. After her help polishing my query, I emailed it to her agent.

It was the longest sixteen days ever. Then I received an email. The subject said “Representation”. She wanted to set up The Call for the next day. We had a three year-old’s birthday party to go to that morning so by the time came for the phone call, I was hyped up on nerves and birthday cake icing. I’m not good at phone calls in a normal situation and even asked “I’m not making any sense, am I?”. Luckily, the agent laughed. She answered all my questions, told me how much she loved my manuscript and then gave suggestions on how to get it ready for submissions. I liked--and agreed--with all her suggestions.

Melinda had advised me to trust my gut, so I did and signed with Priya Doraswamy of Lotus Lane Literary.

Ya’ll, contests are the best way to meet other writers and authors. It amazes me how folks are willing to help you succeed. I’m so glad I entered QueryKombat and put my work out there.


Candice Marley Conner is a mom by day and a writer by naptime. She loves all fairy tales and has to take turns with her three-year-old daughter on who gets to be the evil queen. She feels most at home near water so her characters do too. She has articles published in the Wiregrass Living Magazine, Good Taste Magazine, Tanning Trends and has poems and short stories in Oracle Fine Arts Review. Her YA mystery, THE EXISTENCE OF BEA PEARL is available for submission.

Twitter: @candice_marleyc

Aug 15, 2014

A Query Kombat Success!

If I wasn't so sick, I'd be jumping for joy right now. Over the last month, we have had the honor of posting SO many success stories and today is no different. Today's story comes from Judy Clemens, an author who has a unique and inspiring journey.


When I entered Query Kombat I came to it with a different background than most of the other Kombatants. I’ve been in the business a while. My first book, an adult mystery called TILL THE COWS COME HOME, came out with Poisoned Pen Press in 2004 after years of writing (at that point I had only two manuscripts in a drawer, compared to today when there are…a lot). This sale came through my own submission, after a bad experience with an agent who sent the book to three editors before dropping me like a bad cell phone connection.

COWS, a book about Stella Crown, a Harley-Davidson-loving dairy farmer, was nominated for the 2004 Anthony and Agatha Awards for Best First Novel, which was awesome and wonderful. PPP published a second book in the series, THREE CAN KEEP A SECRET, and I was approached by a lovely agent who wanted to represent me. She did for three books…and then retired.

Having become a part of the Poisoned Pen Posse, I no longer needed an agent to sell them books, and they published five more of my novels, including a sixth Stella book this past December, and a four-book Grim Reaper series before that. PPP is a lovely community to be a part of, and I’m grateful for everything they’ve done for me.

However, my heart had taken a detour to a different place. YA novels. MG novels. Writing for that younger audience. I love to read those books, and I love to write them, but I had no luck getting them published. Eventually I found myself in a place where I wasn’t even enjoying writing anymore. Finally, I stopped myself to ask, “Where is the joy?” and I remembered that the joy should be in the writing, not solely in the final result. I loved the characters and worlds I was writing about, and needed to let that be enough. I wrote more books, and searched for agents, and realized anew what a tough business this is. But I tried not to let it get me down.

And then I thought of the concept for a new book that got me really excited.

And here's how she planned it!

After spending Nanowrimo (link on the book, I had my first 50,000 words. A writers’ retreat in January got me the next 25,000, and I had a first draft. The next few months were spent revising and working with beta readers, and then the next stage of work began...searching for an agent. Again.

I sent out query letters like anyone, and got involved on Twitter after encouragement from Dee Romito (link:, who told me what a great way it is to learn about the industry and enter writing contests. I started following writers, editors, and agents and received a completely up-to-the-minute feel of what was going on with them. And then I found Query Kombat! I entered and was picked for Michael’s team (yay!) (I know! I have such good tastes!) and made it all the way through to the championship round. Along the way people gave great feedback on my query, and I received several agent requests. And then the waiting began!

But not for long.

Within two hours of receiving my email, Uwe Stender of TriadaUS contacted me, requesting the full. I sent it, and less than a week later I answered the call every writer dreams of getting.

“I love your book!”

Cloud Nine, anyone?

So now I am a part of the TriadaUS family, and couldn’t be happier. But this didn’t happen overnight. It happened over a decade of learning, fun, misery, disappointment, support, discouragement, friendship, frustration, and excitement. It’s all wrapped up in there. But writers gotta write, and if we want to get published, we persevere.

And we find the joy.


Judy Clemens lives in rural Ohio with her husband and two children, two cats, and a gerbil named Watson. She is the author of the Stella Crown and Grim Reaper mysteries, and a stand-alone entitled LOST SONS. She loves the people in the writing industry and is excited to be heading out on this new adventure. 

Aug 8, 2014

A Query Kombat Success Story

A couple of firsts today: Our first set of co-authors! Meet Carrie and Betsy, who are also the Grand Champions of Query Kombat 2014. Their entry Shalom Sasquatch not only got the most votes from our judges, they also got the most requests from agents! Check it out and it's easy to see why. So glad they went with one of the agents from our contest!
A huge congratulations to this dynamic duo!

(Left to right: Carrie/Miss Piggy, Betsy/Hermione Granger)

Close friends from NYU, we’d worked together on a variety of creative projects through the years. Some have been more memorable than others, like the time we produced and performed in a dystopian version of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure in an old store front on the Lower East Side, but we’d always planned on writing something original together.

One Halloween, while on a ghost tour of Greenwich Village, we came up with an idea for a YA Paranormal novel. We passed chapters back and forth, just for fun, over the next two years. Once we had written about 40,000 words, we decided it was time to get serious about finishing the book and enrolled in a MediaBistro online class with writer Micol Ostow, which started in January 2013. The class was just what we needed at that time to push us to finish and revise the manuscript. Plus, we met other writers, learned how to work under deadline, how to give and accept feedback, and how to query agents.

After a few more re-writes, we started writing and re-writing queries and sending them out. We even made it into the Nightmare on Query Street contest and got some requests from that along with requests the old-fashioned way. In total, we probably queried 30 people, most of whom were pretty positive. But one theme stuck out over and over, even among those who liked the manuscript. No one was buying paranormal anymore. A couple of very nice agents told us to write something else and to be in touch.  That was all the encouragement we needed.

After a crazy brainstorming session in August 2013, we came up with a wacky idea, to write a YA contemporary romance about Bigfoot hunters. We still had queries out for the other manuscript, but rather than refreshing our inboxes every two minutes, we got excited about writing again. We drafted, revised, and worked with our critique partner and a couple of beta readers, until we felt it was ready.
Then we heard about Query Kombat and thought it would be a great way to test the waters with this manuscript and get some valuable feedback from other writers before wading into querying again. We wrote and re-wrote our query (sense a theme here?), with insight from a few professionals (thanks Lauren Spieller, Kate Brauning, and Taryn Albright).

We know how competitive pitching contests are, so when the hosts announced they were giving away free passes, we entered, and won one from Mike, who loved our short pitch. Phew! We were so relieved to be able to skip the slush and go right into the contest.

We figured the competition would be stiff and we’d be lucky to just get past the first round and get seen by agents. But something happened along the way. We kept winning. At the top of each round we assumed this would be the last round for us – that we would be eliminated. But it never happened. Before we knew it, we were the grand champions and had received 10 agent requests! We were completely floored that so many folks liked our pitch and writing sample so much.

During the contest, we also sent a handful of queries to other agents who were on our short list, a few of them responded asking for partials as well. We expected that it would be a while until we heard anything, but within a few days we had an offer of representation on the table from Agent A who loved the manuscript. We quickly went back to everyone who had a full, partial, or query, because you never know. We heard from all but one agent. Most requested the full and said they would read our manuscript before our deadline. Only a couple bowed out right away, and a few agents came back later on saying they really liked it, but weren’t quite in love. Then two more offers came in from Agents B and C!

We had a long phone conversation with each agent who offered. They were all great in different ways, but we were undecided. Then, two days before we were going to make a decision, we got a fourth offer. We quickly set up a call with the fourth agent, knowing our decision deadline was around the corner. However, before we even ended the call, we just knew, “the way you know about a good melon,” to quote When Harry Met Sally. This was our agent, the one we wanted to represent us.  She really seemed to get what we were trying to do and had great ideas to make our manuscript even better.  We knew we would enjoy working with her and that she would be a rock star champion for our novel.

So now, we are thrilled to say we are represented by Christa Heschke at McIntosh & Otis, who was one of the agents who requested our manuscript during Query Kombat.

If we had to offer some advice, based on our story, we would say to keep writing. You never know if the manuscript you are writing now is the one that is going to get you an agent, or the one that is going to teach you how to write the one that gets you the agent. Also, working on a new project keeps your mind off of all those queries out in the world.

Thanks to all the Query Kombat judges, and especially to Michelle, Mike, and SC for playing literary matchmakers and for creating such a wonderful community!

(Left to right: Betsy, Carrie)
Betsy Aldredge is a former magazine editor turned museum professional. She’s worked at a library and at two independent bookstores including Shakespeare and Company. Born a book nerd, she is happy to pass on the tradition. Her four-year-old daughter is named after a Harry Potter character and already insists on sleeping with piles of books in her bed. She lives and works in New York.

Carrie DuBois-Shaw has had two plays for young audiences produced in New York City and spearheaded the new play development program at The New Victory Theater, a performing arts venue in Times Square dedicated to engaging and entertaining kids and families. She recently relocated to San Francisco, where she is enjoying the abundance of independent bookstores, sour dough bread, and fog.

Betsy and Carrie are members of SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators). They met at NYU where they lived in a haunted dorm, studied theater, and were secretly delighted to be mistaken for English literature majors.

@betsyaldredge /  @carriedubois

Aug 5, 2014

Interview with Ann Noser!

Way back in Query Kombat 2013, we had an awesome entry entitled How to Date Dead Guys. As a testament to hard working and patience paying off, I'm bring you an interview with published author, Ann Noser. (Note: this interview was done prior to publication. The last question reflects that.)


ME: Your novel, HOW TO DATE DEAD GUY, was published by Curiosity Quills in the Summer of 2014. It's got witchcraft, ghosts, and murder. I'm hooked already. Can you tell us a little about your story?

ANN: Quiet college sophomore Emma Roberts remembers her mother’s sage advice:  “don’t sleep around, don’t burp in public, and don’t tell anyone you see ghosts”.  But when cute Mike Carlson drowns in the campus river under her watch, Emma’s sheltered life shatters. 

Blamed for Mike’s death and haunted by nightmares, Emma turns to witchcraft and a mysterious Book of Shadows to bring him back.  Under a Blood Moon, she lights candles, draws a pentacle on the campus bridge, and casts a spell.  The invoked river rages up against her, but she escapes its fury.  As she stumbles back to the dorm, a stranger drags himself from the water and follows her home. 
Instead of raising Mike, Emma assists the others she stole back from the dead—a pre-med student who jumped off the bridge, a young father determined to solve his own murder, and a frat boy Emma can’t stand…at first.  More comfortable with the dead than the living, Emma delves deeper into the seductive Book of Shadows.  Her powers grow, but witchcraft may not be enough to protect her against the vengeful river and the killers that feed it their victims.
Emma is a cross between Whoopi Goldberg’s psychic in Ghost and Willow’s transformation from bookworm to witch in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Inspired by the controversial Smiley Face Murders theory, HOW TO DATE DEAD GUYS will appeal to paranormal fans of all ages. 

ME: What do you want readers to walk away with after they've turned the last page?

ANN: Although this is a fictional story, I’d like readers to feel that this “might have happened”.  As in, this is a logical way someone might fall into witchcraft and what happens next. I’d like for readers to feel a little sad when they’ve turned the last page, because that would mean they miss the characters already.

ME: We all know the road to publication is not an easy one. Can you describe your journey? Was there ever a moment you felt like giving up? If so, why didn't you?

ANN: I’m afraid there were many moments I felt like giving up. I only kept going because I’m so freaking stubborn. Haha. That and I have a great critique group, who let me complain/whine/piss and moan when I needed to, but always made me see how far I’d come and that I just needed to keep at it. They always made me feel better. Seeing my name on smaller publications, like articles in the newspaper and magazines helped, too.

ME: How long have you been writing? Is HOW TO DATE DEAD GUYS your first book?

ANN: I think I’ve always been writing, on and off. I worked on the high school newspaper. I wrote pathetic poetry in high school and college. I wrote a diary, then I burned it (along with most of the poems) at a later date. Good riddance! I write poetry when I’m frustrated, articles to educate people on various topics (veterinary, running, yoga), and novels. HOW TO DATE DEAD GUYS is either my third or fourth book, depending on how you count it.

ME: If you could step in a time machine and revisit yourself at the time when you first started querying, what advice would you give old you?

ANN: I would’ve yelled, “STOP!!! You aren’t ready yet! Join a writing group, revise 500 times, join some online Twitter contests and THEN query.

ME: Contests. A lot of people love them, other don't see the point. What are your opinions on query contests?

ANN: I think they help you: 1) perfect your query, 2) meet people online, and 3) get agent attention. I don’t think they are the end-all, be-all, but I do think they help. I got a request, and then an offer through a contest, so I guess I’m pretty darn grateful I joined them!

ME: How does it feel to be weeks away from publication? Are you bouncing off the walls with excitement?

ANN: It feels a little unreal. I can’t wait to see my cover, to feel MY OWN BOOK in my hands… but I try not to get too carried away thinking about it or else I get so nervous I feel sick to my stomach. (Sorry. I’m a stress-wimp!)


My to-do list dictates that I try to cram 48 hours of living into a day instead of the usual 24.  I’ve chosen a life filled with animals.  I train for marathons with my dog, then go to work as a small animal veterinarian, and finish the day by tripping over my pets as I attempt to convince my two unruly children that YES, it really IS time for bed.  But I can’t wait until the house is quiet to write; I have to steal moments throughout the day.  Ten minutes here, a half hour there, I live within my imagination.

Like all busy American mothers, I multi-task.  I work out plot holes during runs.  Instead of meditating, I type madly during yoga stretches.  I find inspiration in everyday things:  a beautiful smile, a heartbreaking song, or a newspaper article on a political theory.  For example, a long drive in the dark listening to an NPR program on the SMILEY FACE MURDERS theory made me ask so many questions that I wrote HOW TO DATE DEAD GUYS to answer them to my satisfaction.

I’d love to have more time to write (and run, read, and sleep), but until I find Hermione Granger’s time turner, I will juggle real life with the half-written stories in my head.  Main characters and plot lines intertwine in my cranium, and I need to let my writing weave the tales on paper so I can find out what happens next.