Mar 29, 2016

A NoQS Success

Contest success comes in all different shapes and sizes. Sometimes, it's not winning a contest or tournament that determines success, but simply participating, having fun, and meeting new people. Keep that in mind as you read about Karen's journey to finding an agent...

Karen McManus: How I Got My Agent

I was one of those kids who wrote constantly. By middle school, I had an entire library of books I’d written and (badly) illustrated. But once I started the college-career-family trajectory, I let my interest in writing slide.

A few years ago I started reading YA books and was inspired to try my hand at writing again. I spent months writing at night and on weekends, and for the first time since my childhood, I finished a book.

Not a GOOD book, though.

It was a classic first effort that should have been trunked as a learning experience. In late 2014 I didn’t have critique partners or beta readers. Nobody except my sister and a friend had read ever my book. While it had some characters I still love, it also had gaping plot holes, pacing problems, and so much first-chapter exposition that my MC sounded like a tour guide. Plus it was dystopian-themed, which had been off-trend for years.

But I didn’t know any of that. I attempted my first query, which was basically plot teasers and adverbs strung together with clich├ęs like “she doesn’t fit the mold.” Which mold? Who knows. I didn’t specify.

Not surprisingly, my inbox was a mixture of crickets and form rejections.

A breakthrough came when I joined Twitter in spring 2015 and met other writers. I found my first critique partner, who became my writing soul sister. I learned the market and studied writing as a craft, reworking both my query and my novel. I gave PitMad a try. I participated in a YA first-page critique party and met another amazingly talented CP. But while I finally managed to eke out a few agent requests, I realized my first manuscript was fundamentally flawed and put it aside.

(I did enter that MS into the 2015 PitchWars as sort of a Hail Mary, hoping one of the mentors I applied to might help me fix it. They all quite rightly turned me down.)

I wrote another book, a YA contemporary fantasy my CPs praised, and started querying in the fall. I had a better request-to-rejection ratio than my first manuscript, but still heard “just not for me” plenty of times. Then in October I entered Nightmare on Query Street (NoQS), a contest run by Michelle Hauck and Michael Anthony, and was chosen for Michael’s team. That was a huge confidence booster that came with bonus helpful mentoring.

I received three contest requests, but I’d also gotten a couple passes on querying fulls. Things were moving slowly—one step forward, one step back.

Meanwhile, back in September, I’d been inspired with an idea for a third book, a YA contemporary mystery. I wrote it madly in every spare minute—the characters completely took over my brain—and finished a draft in two months. My CPs thought it was The Book, but I wasn’t sure. I put it away for a few weeks, and when I came back to it I saw clearly what plot threads had to be reworked.

I’d met some amazing beta readers during NoQS, and they helped me revise more intensively than I ever had before. I took every opportunity I could find for additional feedback, searching for common issues that tripped readers up and trying to fix them. It was a complete 180 from my early days of writing in a vacuum.

In January 2016 I was ready to jump back into the querying trenches. I’d gotten a subscription to Publishers Marketplace, and had carefully researched agents I thought would be a good fit for my book and the career I wanted to have. I kept getting drawn to Rosemary Stimola’s website, admiring her list and the editors she’d worked with. So one Friday afternoon, I took a deep breath and submitted a query via her online form.

She requested the full three hours later. I’ll let you imagine the unprofessional flailing about that followed.

I sent my manuscript and settled in for a long wait, submitting a few more queries and getting additional requests. I also drove myself crazy looking at QueryTracker statistics and preparing for what felt like inevitable disappointment. But when Rosemary emailed a week and a half later, she wanted to set up a time to talk.

Flailing. Unprofessional. Lots of it, again.

When Rosemary offered representation, her vision for the book was so perfectly in line with mine that I was tempted to accept on the spot. But I had other fulls out between my second manuscript and this new one, and needed to give those agents a chance to read. By the end of the week I had additional offers and considered them carefully, but ultimately Rosemary’s immediate connection to the book won me over. I happily signed with her in February.

I learned a lot while querying, but the lessons that stuck with me the most are these: Connect with other writers. Constantly improve your craft. Above all, even (or especially) when you doubt whether you have what it takes, keep writing. Don’t give up. You never know which of the projects you’re working on will turn out to be The Book.

Updated: In news of the pinch-me-I’m-dreaming variety, Delacorte Press will be publishing my debut and a second book, which is the best postscript I could ever have hoped to add.

Karen McManus writes contemporary and fantasy YA, and is represented by Rosemary Stimola of Stimola Literary Studio. You can find her on Twitter @writerkmc and at

Mar 14, 2016

A Warm Welcome

As has been the trend with Query Kombat, a new year brings new changes. And this year is no different. As many of you know, last year ended a little rough for our QK family. Michelle and I voted SC out of the group, causing some in the writing community to question our judgement.

Truth is, SC found a greater passion in his Write Inclusively campaign. It's a cause he vehemently believes in, and a change many (including myself and Michelle) would like to see come to fruition. Unfortunately, we couldn't see eye to eye on every detail, and that triggered our desire to keep Query Kombat and Write Inclusively (as entities, not ideologies) separate. When we couldn't come to an agreement on the degree of separation, Michelle and I were faced with a decision. And we made one.

SC was an asset to Query Kombat. Hell, without him, I may not have had the courage to see my idea through. Regardless of his day to day involvement from here forward, SC helped mold the Query Kombat tournament, as well as the dynamic of our group behind the scenes. He will forever be a part of the legacy of Query Kombat, and I hope one day we can work with him again.

As I said, though, a new year brings new changes! And exciting ones at that. Today, we're officially welcoming a new member into the QK Crew. Many of you may remember her from QK2014 as an agent round veteran. Now, she'll be behind the scenes helping to make others dreams come true.

So, without further ado, I'd like to welcome Laura Heffernan!

Laura Heffernan is a California-born women's fiction writer, represented by Michelle Richter at Fuse Literary. One Saturday morning when she was four or five, Laura sat down at the family's Commodore 64 and typed out her first short story. She's written ever since. Laura also works as a freelance editor. She's pro-Oxford comma, anti-unnecessary-to be-verbs, and believes cookie dough is a key food group.

When she used to have spare time, Laura enjoyed travel, baking, board games, and new experiences. She lives in the northeast, freezing like the true California girl she is, with her amazing husband and two furry little beasts. Although her growing fuzzy sock collection is becoming impressive, Laura eagerly awaits the return of flip-flop season.

Check Laura's blog to see if you won a query critique. Also, feel free to tweet your congrats using the #QueryKombat hashtag!

Mar 9, 2016

Query Kombat Host Crossword Scramble

Michelle and I are excited to reveal our new host for Query Kombat 2016! We can’t just tell you, though, because that’s not any fun. So, we’ve turned it into a game!

Complete the crossword puzzle below and unscramble the highlighted letters to find the new host’s name. Once you've found it, email both to querykombat (at) gmail (dot) com by Sunday, March 13 to be entered in a drawing to win a query critique from one of the three hosts! Winners announced on all three blogs next Monday!

Don't forget! Follow our blogs/twitter to be eligible to win and participate in contests.

Michael Tweets
Michelle Tweets and Blogs


4. The title of the second book in Michelle's Birth of Saints series is: _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
9. One of the best pieces of advice this host has for new writers is to read
     as widely as possible within your _ _ _ _ _ .
11. The original creator of Query Kombat is _ _ _ _ _ _ _    _ _ _ _ _ _ _. 
14. The title of Michael's first novel is _ _   _ _ _ _   _ _ _ _ _ _   _ _ _ _ _.


1. Our new host is a contest veteran, getting agented shortly after participating
    in _ _ _ _ _   _ _ _ _ _ 2014.
2. Know your appropriate _ _ _ _    _ _ _ _ _ _. Too far off in either direction could
    result in an automatic no.
3. One of the most important aspects of querying is to do your _ _ _ _ _ _ _.
5. The new host is represented by Fuse _ _ _ _ _ _ _.
6. Mike’s first novel is a work of _ _    _ _ _ _ _ _ _. [Category and genre]
7. To find an agent, be sure to polish your _ _ _ _ _.
8. Michelle’s Birth of Saints series is published by _ _ _ _ _ _    _ _ _ _ _ _ _.
10. Our new host is a hardcore fan of _ _ _ _ _, the Vampire Slayer.
12. Long-time co-host and co-creator of Query Kombat: _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _    _ _ _ _ _.
13. Although a reader of nearly every category and genre, our new host primarily
      writes _ _ _ _ _ fiction.

New QK Host Name Scramble: _ _ _ _ _     _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _