Sep 29, 2014

A NoQS Success!

Monsters Rule. Spooks and Minions Drool! That is all I have to say about that. On to the success story!

In the fall of 2012, I accepted a dare from a colleague in the English department where I teach: to join him and a group of our students in NaNoWriMo.  Since I’m one of the principle teachers of creative writing at our school (this haven for intellectual oddballs and the gifted, sometimes called “Hogwarts for Hackers”), it made sense.  I’d had a loose idea for a world and a story in me for years but never made my own writing – or, really, myself – enough of a priority to write it down. But I knew my characters already, and I knew what was facing them, and the thought of finally getting it out was so appealing.

I could never have predicted how that one, agreeable shrug of my shoulders would lead to such a complicated future.

When Nightmare on Query Street 2013 came around almost a year later, I was a first-time novelist with a complete ms and a fistful of loyal CPs found through the hope and happenstance of AgentQuery Connect (I’m looking at you, Michelle and Pete).  I had a query letter they’d kicked up and down cyberspace for weeks, a synopsis, some spiffy first chapters, and …
A word count problem.  Like, to the tune of an adult fantasy manuscript 134K strong.  By the time Michelle, Mike, and S.C. made the all-call NOQS entries, I’d already racked up a month’s worth of rejections and some detailed CP notes, all chorusing “cut this thing down, and maybe it’ll go somewhere.”  Encouraged by my writer-friends to give the contest a go, I wrote my “MC’s greatest fear” paragraph, squinted fussily at my query, spit-shined page one, and sent it all off.
Then I sat down to make good on my submission’s claim that the project was actually 125K.

I know what you’re thinking:  “You … lied about your word count?” 

Well, sort of.  No.  Not “sort of.”  Yes, I did. (Not-so-subliminal message:  DO NOT do this!)  I had a strategy planned out:  I would submit with that word count, dive into my CP notes, and start editing down.  By the time I knew if I’d made the contest, the ms would be the promised length, and really, that tightening needed to happen either way.  I had been reluctant to cut for months, insisting I had already taken out as much as could go (it had been 146K, once upon a time – STOP LAUGHING AT ME). Creating this sense of urgency would make me do the job at last.  (Do not do this… Do not do this… Play with fire and you get burned… Look both ways before you cross the street… DO NOT DO THIS.  Please.)
Poking about the NOQS forum on AQC, I saw Mike tease about dropping his final pick for another spotted at the last minute – a really interesting adult fantasy he couldn’t pass up.  And then, a day or so later, lo and behold: I – or, my manuscript, THE NINE, rather – was a Monster.  The actual manuscript was only down to 130K at this point, not the advertised 125K, and so, even as I gabbled on Twitter with the other contestants and our growing, cheerful fan bases, I worked furiously behind the scenes to cut, cut, cut. 

By the end, I had one ten page, three fifty page, and one full request.  Twenty-four hours after the contest closed, I was down to 122k and sent my beastie off, praying after its electron trail.

Time passed.  By December, two of those partials became fulls.  The original contest full lingered out there, unanswered. 

In February 2014, still haunting the Twitter pages of two agents from NOQS who hadn’t yet decided on the full, I discovered #MSWL.  There, I found a request tweeted by Agent Overwhelming:  a funny, charming, unfailingly polite personage with an impressive sales streak. I had long since decided that querying there was out of my league, but the #MSWL message sounded just enough like my work…

I gave it a shot.

Three hours after I sent the query, it turned into a request for a full.  Nine days later, I was talking to Agent Overwhelming on the phone, going over ideas and details for an R&R.  I babbled.  Lord knows how I must have sounded.  Agent Overwhelming, though, was completely clear:  these kinds of phone calls are rare, and serious, but not a guarantee.  No promises from Overwhelming that writing the revision meant representation – and so, no expectation that the revised ms would be an exclusive, either. 

That, as it turned out, would prove as important to my eventually getting an agent as NOQS itself.

It was just six months after I’d started querying, and I had an R&R.  I planned it down to the finest detail and set aside my entire upcoming summer break to tackle the job.  In early June, it dawned on me that I really should take advantage of the non-exclusive agreement offered.  I contacted all the agents who had read the previous full or had it in hand then (including a small press who had offered on a prior version) and let them know a new copy would be available soon, if they wanted it.

One of the first agents to respond to that offer was Agent October, the agent whose request – even though it wasn’t a full – had had me the most excited during NOQS.  I’d had a stack of raggedy post-it notes in my desk drawer for months prior to actually beginning querying, written in more or less my fantasyland order of “agents I wish would sign me.”  (These were, naturally, also the agents I was most afraid of querying.)  Agent Overwhelming and Agent October’s names were written side by side, with slashes separating them, top of the list.  Imagine my surprise when Agent October responded to the revision offer, confirming that she actually had just recently finished reading my ms.  She’d had some misgivings about it and thought a re-read was in order.  I described the changes I’d discussed with Agent Overwhelming, and she felt they largely addressed her concerns.  She added two points of her own, which I quickly included in my to-do list.  Then I powered on, completing a first draft, CP rounds and notes, and a final draft all by the first week of August 2014.

I sent the revision – practically a speed-skater at 114K (STOP LAUGHING) – to several interested agents, the small press, and (of course) Agents Overwhelming and October. 

I waited, but not for very long.  When the small press editor came back with yet another offer, I sent the word around and found myself on the phone with Agent Overwhelming again.  Not wanting to endanger the small press as an option by making them wait overlong, Overwhelming vowed to finish reading by the following Monday and get back to me.  Other agents followed suit.  Mercifully, the school year was starting again.  I threw myself into the distraction of class prep. 

Monday came, bringing no news with it.  By lunchtime Tuesday, I felt the small press deadline closing in and nudged Agent Overwhelming for a status report.

The response came less than one minute later.

Agent Overwhelming had not been overwhelmed.  The email was polite, professional, encouraging.  Sympathetic.  It ended with an invitation to share future work, and best wishes.  None of that stopped me from sitting slack-jawed at my desk, staring at the screen as if I could will the message away.  It wasn’t that I assumed I was already in.  I am extraordinarily good, actually, at not getting my hopes up.  I had written the revision, telling myself all the while that the reason to do it was because I believed the advice given would make a better book.  Everything beyond that was hope – less than hope, it was a guess, a stab in the dark.  It was that dream-list on a raggedy post-it note.
That well-ordered, rational thinking didn’t console me much. 

I wondered how I could have fooled myself into thinking I was in anybody’s league.  Anything other than bush-league.  I was a first-time novelist, a lifelong writer with a career of putting my own ideas aside in favor of teaching others how to excel.  I was a living embodiment of that horrible adage about how those who can do, and those who can’t, teach.  I remembered the small press offer, but now, as I researched the costs associated with a good publishing attorney to review documents, it seemed the billable hours would equal or exceed my probable earnings.  Whatever THE NINE earned would be almost entirely through my own marketing, something I knew nothing about.  I was in over my head and had been from the start.  I was finally getting my cosmic punishment for my word-count gamble.  I had dared, and gotten close, and it was just that I should get my smack-down now.  Simple as that.

My sadness gave way to a dull sense of foreboding – an absolute conviction that the next 24 hours would be parade of “no”s from the remaining agents.  Instead, at 3:30 that same afternoon, my email winked with a message from Bridget Smith.  Agent October, the first agent to ever request my full manuscript based on reading a partial.  The first agent to want more of my work, knowing what it was really like.  The first name, side-by-side with Agent Overwhelming’s, to have made my dream list. 

She was glad to have read the revision, because she really liked it.  She felt more confident about it, reading it slowly, carefully, taking time to “admire [my] skillful writing”!  Could we talk tonight?

Yes.  Let’s talk now.

A half hour later, my phone rang, and the whole world changed.  I told myself not to listen with rebound-ears.  There was a chance this might not be a fit.  I shouldn’t jump at acceptance because I was still stinging from rejection. 

But it was a fit – a perfect fit.  Bridget had noticed things about the manuscript, details of character and world-building that I had put in almost as Easter eggs.  I’d never counted on a reader finding them, but she had and she got them.  She had insights into the culture of my world, daring suggestions about shoring up storyline, and authentic curiosity. She was the perfect blend of enthusiastic and genuine – never gushing or putting on a show.  And she didn’t shrink from my toughest questions.  She had some editors in mind for submission and felt that the book could go bigger than the small press who had offered to me.  She was ready to really work her experience in the sf/f market.  As the conversation wound to a close, I told her I needed to let the other agents know of the offer – and she asked about Agent Overwhelming.
Was it just my imagination that she didn’t sound terribly disappointed about Overwhelming’s decision to pass?
When my cursor hovered over “send” on my first query back in August 2013, to predict where I’d be in a year, I would never have mapped out this strange, winding road.  I certainly wouldn’t have imagined it would lead right back to the beginning – to my first and fondest hope.

People tell you patience is key to querying, and they’re right.  October 2013 to August 2014 kind of patience.  Luck is part of it, too.  The luck of finding amazing CPs, for one:  Michelle, and Pete, and eventually Maura.  The luck that opens the doors to opportunity:  Mike’s taking a second look at my entry and swapping it in.  There’s an absolute, full-frontal nudity of the ego when querying, and entering contests, and being rejected.  You can’t know when you start if or how you’ll reach your goal, or how many expectations will be broken along the way.  You can’t predict which gambles will pay off and what paths will cross, or how they’ll all suddenly come together, as if it were meant to be.   As if you’d written the end of the story on a scrap of paper before you even began.

You can’t know.  That’s why we try. 

Tracy Townsend lives in Bolingbrook, Illinois and teaches English at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy.  She has studied at DePauw University, the National University of Ireland (Galway), and DePaul University, where she obtained degrees in English, Creative Writing, and Rhetoric.  She is a member of the Science Fiction Research Association and other academic organizations, which has allowed her to write very long things and read them aloud to people who are obliged to behave politely.  Her background as a lapsed Catholic, an assistant martial arts instructor, a comic book fangirl (Make Mine Marvel!), a tabletop role-player, and an obsessive hound for obscure mythologies inspired her writing of The Nine.  Inexplicably, other uses for that resume have yet to present themselves.  She is represented by the strikingly elegant and classy Bridget Smith of Dunham Lit. 

Tracy devotes time she doesn’t have to cooking, gardening, writing, and seriously pondering the treadmill in her basement.  She is married to her high school sweetheart, with whom she shares two remarkable children.  They are – naturally – named after characters from books.

You can find Tracy on Twitter (@TheStorymatic) more often than she really ought to be.

Sep 26, 2014

A World in Perspective

Anyone who knows me knows I'm a writer. Similar to my gender or race, it's just WHO I am. I can't hide it, and I don't want to. Usually when people find out, they say, "Oh, that's cool," and proceed to ask WHAT I write about (which is a pretty hard question to answer without sounding completely bonkers, but I digress--only because most writers [myself included] are a little loony).

Today, however, I was asked a different question: "Dude, why?"

His face looked like this when he asked
Though I answered with a simple shrug, saying "Because...

internally, I was baffled by the question. I spent the rest of the day asking myself "why the hell do I write?" I mean, it's mentally draining, time consuming, and not financially rewarding. On top of that, once I finish a novel, I have to reread it until my eyes bleed, send it out for others to hack to pieces, then rewrite it until my fingers fall off. And don't let me get started on the querying process. 

If writing was sex, querying would be an STD

So WHY do I write? What makes all the BS that comes with it worth it?

For me, the answer lies in all that I've been through. I've experienced immense happiness and crushing sadness. At my lowest, I turned to fiction to raise my spirits. Novels became my escape; they showed me that the world held a lot more than what was going on in MY world. I read stories about  how people hurtled insurmountable obstacles, defeated unbeatable beasts, and became stronger and better than the person they were the day before. Those stories gave me hope. They gave me the strength needed to make it through the tough times. 

Those stories saved my life.

At my happiest (when I was idealistic and walking on clouds), fiction grounded me. I was reminded that the world wasn't all sunshine and rainbows. People were starving, suffering, being enslaved, being tortured... 

I was reminded that beauty is all about perspective...


Fiction taught me that the world CAN be beautiful from every point of view. But in order to accomplish that, I had to get my head out of the clouds. I had to bring my own form of beauty to the ugly parts of the world. 

And I do that through my writing.

My Best Friend Dead, DeadEarth, The Thieves Guild, Black Market Baby, Kids of Kingdom... every story that I have penned has a certain beauty to it. Even if that beauty is just pulling back the mask on the ugly.

I write because I have a dream that the entire world can live with their head in the clouds. And it would be rightly so. 

That's why I write, so why do you?

Sep 19, 2014

Nightmare on Query Street-What You Need to Know!

*Update: No bio or comp titles with your submission, and ONE entry per person. 

It's back, and it's badder than ever.

IT'S Nightmare on Query Street!!!!!!!!! Don’t have a scary manuscript, DON'T WORRY. Just read on.

A brand new year, a brand new evil.

This contest, as it runs in the Halloween time, is all about FEAR.

The Details:

The submission window opens at 12 noon (EST) on October 15th. The window will close at 12 noon (EST) October 17th or when we receive 225 entries.

MichelleMike, and SC will make twelve picks each, and those twelve picks will go up on our blogs from the 22nd through the 25th, where (SURPRISE, change from last year!) there will be a mentor round. OooooooOOOoooOOooo. We've already got amazing mentors lined up, so know that your entries will be amazingly polished when agents come in on the 28th through the 30th. Then, CELEBRATE! Halloween is the day after :)

We are accepting all age categories and genres, excluding picture books and exotica. But be sure to check our list of agents when it goes live to see if they represent your book's genre.

If you plan on participating in the contest, you have to be following all our blogs (MichelleMike, and SC).

It's pretty simple, actually. 

But there's a catch.

Along with your query and 250, you must write a SHORT paragraph (no more than 100 words) about your main character. This is the question you must answer:

What is your main character's most fearsome obstacle? 

The Format:

Send all your submissions to nightmareonquerystreet (at) yahoo (dot) com. Only one submission per email address or person is allowed.

Here's how it should be formatted (yes, include the bolded and everything!). Please use Times New Roman (or equivalent), 12 pt font, and put spaces between paragraphs. No indents or tabs are needed.

Subject Line of Email: NoQS: Title, age category genre

Example: NoQS: Pygmy Hazards, MG humor

Title: MY FANTASTIC BOOK (yes, caps!)
Genre: Adult Fantasy (no caps; age category AND genre)
Word Count: XX,XXX

My Main Character's Greatest Fear:

My MC's most fearsome obstacles is potatoes. (Please, spend some time on this! I know that I will be looking at this to make up for gaps in the query and 250. It gives us a chance to know your characters better. It doesn't have to be horror-scary. It can be more subtle.)


Here is my fantastic query!

First 250 words:

Here are the first 250 words of my manuscript, and I will not end in the middle of a sentence, even if I hit 252 words.

And that's it! Send in that email during the submission window and you're ready to go :) There will be a confirmation email!!

This should be FUN. This is a Halloween-themed contest, so please please please, spend time on the MC's most fearsome obstacle paragraph!!!! It should be a LOT of fun. If you're writing a funny book, make a funny twist on the question, or say your MC is scared of strawberries or something. If it's a serious/sad book, you should have a field day, because the MC's fear might be so heart-wrenching.

This is a new way to pitch, so have fun with it (and don't stress out over it like its a query or something).

So go over and follow our blogs (MichelleMike, and SC) and our Twitters (MichelleMike, and SC) (we're Tweeting under the hashtag #NoQS) to stay in touch with all that we're doing. 

I AM VERY VERY VERY EXCITED. I can't wait to see your answers to the question!!!!

Sep 12, 2014

A Query Kombat Success

The success from Query Kombat keeps on coming! Now we have Holly Jennings, who incidentally will be a mentor for Nightmare on Query Street! You'll remember her from her great NA entry, Making Boys Cry! Here's the agent round post. Congrats, Holly!
In the summer of 2013, I came across Query Kombat for the first time. All I could think was "I wonder if I'll ever write something good enough to make it into that contest." As a short story writer, I'd tried my hand at novels now and again but didn't have anything worth submitting.

That same summer I started reading New Adult books and loved the "you're 18 now, deal with it" consequences. Shortly after, I came across a documentary about 18-year-old kids dropping out of college and trying to make it as professional video game players. What an idea for a new adult book! The geek in me immediately warped the concept into a future where virtual reality gaming is a national sport and gamers are pro athletes.

But wait. That wasn't right. I wrote short stories. I wrote fantasy. They're what I'd come home to every night for years. But with a juicy premise, a kick-butt female protag, and a hunky male love interest, I just couldn't say no.

Yes. I decided to cheat and it was everything an affair should be: fast, steamy, and unquenchable desire. I'd never had a story come out so quickly. I wrote the first ten thousand words in less than three days and it poured out like fourth draft material. It felt magical. I couldn't ignore the little voice that whispered "hey, this time something's different."

I slowly started entering contests and querying in April 2014. I got invaluable feedback from judges and a few partial requests, which ultimately ended in rejections. But they were personalized rejections from agents about what they loved and what wasn't working. Wow. Personalized rejections! Along with recommendations for improvement, I kept seeing the same comment again and again: "Your concept is unique and really stands out. Someone out there is going to love it."

This sent me into overdrive. I entered more contests. I did workshops for queries and opening chapters. Every spare minute I had went into the novel. Then Query Kombat 2014 rolled around. Just a year before I had questioned if I'd be good enough for the contest. Was I going to try? I closed my eyes and sent my entry in. To my complete amazement, not only did I get in, but also received three agent requests and got knocked out just before the semi-final round.

The next day, I sent out my requests, a few of which were soon upgraded to fulls. After radio silence for nearly a month, I decided it was time to send another round of queries into the agenting world, so I spent the weekend researching and personalizing six letters.

On Monday, I checked my email at lunch and had a reply from an agent who had my full. I cringed. Out of everyone who had requested my material, this was THE agent I was hoping would enjoy the book. But after past rejections, there was no doubt in my mind it would be a polite "loved the concept, but X, Y & Z wasn't working for me..." type of email.

I scanned through the message as quickly as I could until I saw phrases like "I'd be thrilled to represent you" and "are you available for a phone call?" Being at work I couldn't scream in the middle of the office. Instead, I bolted for the women's washroom and happy danced in front of the stalls.

That night I had the call. Being someone who's extremely shy, I was terrified. But the agent kept gushing over my book so that helped me relax. A little. I told him I was very interested in representation and needed a week to follow up with others.

Then I panicked. I had so much to do!

I contacted the six agents I'd just queried. You know that email I sent you yesterday? Well, oops. I have an offer so please disregard. A few replied with congratulations and more "your premise looks amazing!" comments which shot me from cloud nine right into outer space.

Of the agents with outstanding partials, a few stepped aside. Two immediately upgraded to fulls and asked for a week to get back to me. As the days went by wondering if I'd get another offer, I realized I didn't care. I already had the agent I wanted right from the minute he requested my book through Query Kombat.

So now I can proudly say I'm represented by Leon Husock of the L. Perkins Agency and it's all because of the contest. Big thanks to Mike, Michelle and SC. Without them, I don't know where I'd be right now.

I can also say I've gone back to fantasy, but this time it's new adult fantasy and I've never felt more at home.

Holly Jennings is a member of SF Canada and writes from her home in Tecumseh, Ontario. Her short work has been published in Daily Science Fiction, AE Sci-Fi Canada, and the Clarion Writer's Craft blog. She now writes new adult speculative novels about being eighteen and lost in fantasy worlds or sci-fi futures. For more, check out her website at or follow her as she attempts to understand Twitter @HollyN_Jennings.

Sep 4, 2014

Nightmare on Query Street

One...Two...We are coming for you.
Three...Four...There will be a slush war.
Five...Six...Get your query fixed.
Seven...Eight...Make your first page great.
Nine...Ten...Yes, we're at it again.

Nightmare on Query Street

October 2014

Face the Fear