I've been waiting for this book since the release news hit book Twitter. The title stemming from my favorite line of all Shakespeare's masterpieces immediately gained my attention, while the blurb and plot kept it for over a year.
When I finally got my hands on it, I couldn't wait to get started. From page one, Gong's lyrical and whimsical prose was captivating and proof of how 'show dont tell' can draw you deep into a long ago world. Using aspects of Romeo & Juliet, without walking within the borders of the original tale, you are transported back to 1920s Shanghai, to a world of gangsters, rivalries and mystery.
For a little more information, check out the blurb: (courtesy of GOODREADS):
The year is 1926, and Shanghai hums to the tune of debauchery.
A blood feud between two gangs runs the streets red, leaving the city helpless in the grip of chaos. At the heart of it all is eighteen-year-old Juliette Cai, a former flapper who has returned to assume her role as the proud heir of the Scarlet Gang—a network of criminals far above the law. Their only rivals in power are the White Flowers, who have fought the Scarlets for generations. And behind every move is their heir, Roma Montagov, Juliette’s first love…and first betrayal.
But when gangsters on both sides show signs of instability culminating in clawing their own throats out, the people start to whisper. Of a contagion, a madness. Of a monster in the shadows. As the deaths stack up, Juliette and Roma must set their guns—and grudges—aside and work together, for if they can’t stop this mayhem, then there will be no city left for either to rule.
Name play stemming from the original characters, new twists to staple features of the tale have you scanning the pages for how this new take will tie in to the story we know, in intriguing and original ways.
Weaving a mythical thread through with the use of a madness and monsters sounded like the perfect rewrite of the world's most iconic love story. And while I love Gong's writing, her characters and the world she created, I couldn't seem to fall in with the monster aspect. It seemed...misplaced. The case of the madness was intriguing, but again...just didn't feel organic to the story when its placed around mysterious insects.
With the follow up, Our Violent Ends, in line for release to close out where the cliffhanger ending left off, I suppose we will see how it all comes together, and intend to get my copy on release day.
Overall, fabulously written and wonderful worldbuilding, but it fell off course with amphibian monsters and rogue insects.
Querying can be a scary adventure to step in to. Taking something you put your heart and soul in to, and share it with the world. Even when you feel like you're ready, you might second guess yourself and that is totally normal.
If you aren't sure if you're ready to start the querying spreadsheets and rejection fears, try Twitter pitch parties. There are plenty available depending on your genre, and once you get the hang of it, they are a blast to take part in.
The general premise of these events is to pitch your story to industry editors and agents in a 280 character blurb. This forces you to get to the point, clear out the extras, and show your talent.
These events are open to COMPLETE, POLISHED and QUERY READY manuscripts. If you haven't finished your book, or haven't sent it through at least 2 rounds of beta and critique partners, I don't recommend jumping into the pitch party pool just yet. They allow you to get in front of agents, but those agents will want to see your best work possible. So make it shine before you pitch!
Things to remember during these events is that 'likes' are for industry peeps online. Editors and agents. Please DO NOT like a pitch unless you are an industry pro. If you want to show support to other pitchers, RT your favs to help them gain traction and attention. But be prepared for some people, such as your own followers and readers, to not know the rules and like your pitches. You will get a little flutter of excitement and hope, then sigh when you find it isn't from a pro. It is all part of the experience!
Here are a few pitch events to consider if you're ready! Check out their websites for more info, or their hashtags on Twitter to peruse some polished pitches.
Launched by author Brenda Drake, happens four times a year and is one of (if not THE) biggest online pitch event on Twitter
Launched by agent Beth Phelan, this event is for diverse authors to showcase their talent.
For science fiction and fantasy manuscripts only.
Romance manuscripts only, pitched on February 14th (Valentines Day)
Horror, Thriller, 'dark' manuscripts only.
Pitch event hosted by agency Curtis Brown, directly to them only. All manuscripts welcome.
Other events you may consider include #pitchwars, #revpit and more, where agented and published authors pair with new writers to polish their manuscripts over several months in preparation for the 'agent round'. Great experience from people who have been through it!
SavvyAuthors blog also features pitch events through the year on their website, where you can pitch directly to select agents and editors in a 3 sentence pitch.
Pass or Pages by Operation Awesome lets you pitch to agents and editors, and they will either ask for pages or pass on the pitch.
Finding the right agent for the right book a the right time is hard. Like a literary form of Russian roulette, that can take years before the trigger is pulled. But once you find that perfect match, you will have a champion for you and your work that can become invaluable.
Some people ask if you NEED an agent. The short answer, no. Not always. The long answer is yes, especially if you hope to sell to one of the Big 5 Publishing houses (Penguin Random House, Hachette, MacMillan, Simon & Schuster, Harper Collins). Agents are the gatekeepers, and most publishers do not accept unagented submissions.
If you want a quick and easy way to search for agents who are looking for your specific genre, try Manuscript Wish List. www.manuscriptwishlist.com. Here, you can search for agents and editors looking for any genre, and browse their profiles to see who might be the best fit for your work.
Additionally, you can try the #MSWL hashtag on Twitter, where agents post specific wish lists they want to see in their inbox at any given moment. It is the best resource for those new to the query trenches to check out who is out there.
One site that is quite helpful during the agent search is querytracker. This site will let you see how long agents usually take to respond, how often they request additional material, and the like. It gives you insight that can help alleviate some of the stress and anxiety that comes with the waiting game.
DO YOUR RESEARCH! Always vet agents and editors before accepting any offer. While those on MSWL are legit, you may come across some who are not and never want to find yourself trapped in a contract you are unhappy with or scammed. No matter how exciting it is, always consider if it is the best option for you before signing.
A good site to research agents is Publishers Marketplace. Here, there are profiles for agents and editors, as well as stats on deals they have made.
A helpful trick I have used is making a spreadsheet of agents I queried, the date I queried, what I sent, and their response. This way, you dont accidentally send your query to the same agent twice, and can keep track of successes.
Dont query ALL your top agents at once. Try going to batches of 5 or 10, and wait for feedback from those before sending out another batch. The reason for this is if many agents are pointing out the same flaw in your query or pages, you will be able to fix that issue before sending to the next group.
The BIGGEST point to mention in querying is to ALWAYS FOLLOW SUBMISSION GUIDELINES. I am guilty of this when I first started, but it never yielded positive results by breaking the rules. It is the easiest way to get ignored or a rejection if you dont do as you are asked on their webpage, so please follow the guidelines. They are there for a reason.
Once you're ready with your list, make sure you have the following prepared:
Query letter. This is a one-page pitch letter that gives a brief description of your work.
Novel synopsis. This is a brief summary (usually no more than one or two pages) of your story, from beginning to end.
Nonfiction book proposal. These are complex documents, usually twenty to thirty pages in length (minimum).
Sample chapters. When sending sample chapters from your novel or memoir, start from the beginning of the manuscript. (Don't select a middle chapter, even if you think it's your best.) For nonfiction, usually any chapter is acceptable.
You will receive either no response (dont worry, this is normal), a partial request, or a full request. If you are using a spreadsheet, track these as they come in.
The general rule of thumb for nudging agents regarding material varies. Some mention it on their website as part of the guidelines how long to wait before following up. With queries, it is rare to follow up. Those who use QueryTracker for submissions always respond, while those using their email vary. With partial requests, three months isnt unfair before checking in, while with full requests, I wouldnt check in before the 6 month mark unless otherwise stated on their guidelines.
If you are lucky enough to get an agent interested, you will get what is referred to as 'the call'. The agent will call you on the phone, discuss the book, your plans for your career, and any other novels you are currently working on or have at the ready. This allows you to get a feel for your connection, so be sure to make the most of it.
And dont be afraid to ask questions! You are interviewing them just as much as they are vetting you, so take the chance to get as much information as you can.
Things to ask can include:
- Sales track record: This is usually the number-one sign of whether you have a good agent. Evaluate her client list and the publishers she has recently sold to. Are the publishers she sells to the types of publishers you consider appropriate for your work? Ensure that your agent has experience and success in representing the type of work you're trying to sell. With new agents, this information may be non-existent, but please dont rule out a new agent because of this. New agents are great champions for new authors, growing their careers together.
- Consider communication: This plays on the personal connection aspect. With my agent we discussed things we had in common beyond books. Chit chat is fine, and establishes connections that are more deeply rooted. But always be professional!
- Enthusiasm: What is the agents feelings about your book? How excited are they to be the champion for you? While sales are the ultimate goal, agents need to LOVE a story to work for it, as they will be reading it multiple times over the next several months. What do they love about it? What do they feel needs work? Does their vision for your story match your own? Take these into consideration.
And remember, you never have to stay with an agent if it isnt the right fit. I adored my agent, and we got along wonderfully. But we were not the right professional fit, so decided to part ways. While it was a difficult decision to walk away after working so hard and so long to get a yes, you have to be true to yourself and what you want out of your career. Some authors change agents two or three times before finding that perfect match, and there is nothing wrong with it.
Think of the agent/author relationship like any other...you have to have a long term plan that matches, communicate, and work well together. If there are any issues, talk them out as best you can. And if a resolution cant be found, or it just isnt the right fit, its okay to say so.
While I mostly read young adult romance, contemporaries that let me fall back into the thrills of being a teen, I cant' deny the draw of a well written mystery. And for the young adult crowd, no one hits the mark quite like Karen McManus. From her debut One of Us is Lying, to the follow ups Two can Keep a Secret and One of Us is Next, she has an uncanny ability to draw you in to a twisty world that makes you believe everyone is guilty at some point.
Her latest, The Cousins, is no different.
Check out the blurb (courtesy of GOODREADS:)
Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah Story are cousins, but they barely know each another, and they've never even met their grandmother. Rich and reclusive, she disinherited their parents before they were born. So when they each receive a letter inviting them to work at her island resort for the summer, they're surprised... and curious.
Their parents are all clear on one point—not going is not an option. This could be the opportunity to get back into Grandmother's good graces. But when the cousins arrive on the island, it's immediately clear that she has different plans for them. And the longer they stay, the more they realize how mysterious—and dark—their family's past is.
The entire Story family has secrets. Whatever pulled them apart years ago isn't over—and this summer, the cousins will learn everything.
Like all her stories that came before, I was unable to put this book down. Everyone was a suspect at some point, and while murder wasn't on the radar as with past stories, the unique twist of why Mildred Story disowned her children without a word leaves you desperate for answers as if you were also in line for the mega inheritance on the line. Surprises jump off the page early on, upping the stakes and proving that you never truly know those around you. But as expected with McManus' previous tales, the twist and climax is one you will never see coming.
This is definitely a book I would recommend for anyone wanting to play detective, or who just wants to read a really well written story of intrigue and family drama.
I was first introduced to Jennifer L. Armentrout's writing after receiving the first book in the Origin series (The Darkest Star) at the 2019 RWA conference. Yes, I will admit, I was WAY late to the game, with Armentrout being one of the most prolific and well known romance writers of the genre.
I devoured the book, and its sequel (The Burning Shadow) within a few days, and I couldn't wait for the next instalment, The Brightest Night, so I could fall back into a world like none other I had ever read.
For those unfamiliar, check out the blurb (courtesy of GOODREADS):
Less than a year ago, Evelyn Dasher was a normal girl, living an unremarkable life.
Now, she's on the run, under the protection of the beautiful, deadly inhuman Luc. She's been betrayed by those who were closest to her. And she's learned truths about herself that she never saw coming--things she once knew, and was made to forget. Truths with devastating consequences. She's caught in the eye of the storm.
He is the darkest star.
You are the burning shadow.
And together, you will bring about the brightest night.
Like I said, I had been waiting for this book for quite some time. Unfortunately, it didn't live up to the expectation, and I actually had to pull myself through the pages.
I had fallen in love with Luc, his charm, charisma, humor, and horrible pick up lines is the quintessential poster boy for damaged heroes we long for in the real world. Evie was coming in to her own, learning her strength and power, and who she really was. I wanted to see more of their journey, of their progress towards overcoming their odds. But all I got was filler chapter after filler chapter of them professing their undying love for each other. And sure, we all like that. It is a romance, after all. But I wanted more. More action, more discoveries, and more insight into the world.
The ending, however....wow. I was not expecting that. Masterfully executed, foreshadowing subtle and perfectly placed, you find ourself staring at the pages open mouthed, shocked and slightly horror struck. The cliffhanger leads up to what is expected to be the final instalment of the series, and despite my disappointment in this book, I will definitely be reading the next to see how it all comes to a close.
There are a lot of little aspects to writing that you may not have considered. As you work your way through the trenches, you will come across terms that are new.
Most of these I learned when I got a book deal. My agent and editor were suddenly asking for log lines, beat sheets, all these things I had no idea about. I had to learn quickly, and adapt.
Here is a little Publishing 101 Dictionary to help you through the confusion.
A short description of a book, movie, or other product written for promotional purposes and appearing on the cover of a book or in an advertisement.
The blurb is usually the back cover info of a book, which can also be the info you provide in your query letter. It gives you an overview of the GMCs of a story, and catches the readers attention
A log line is a brief (usually one-sentence) summary of a book that states the central conflict of the story, often providing a summary and an emotional hook to stimulate interest.
This is a tough one to write, but is similar to your pitches for Twitter pitch events. Introduce the main conflict of the story in this line, or use it to hook a reader.
For example, the log line in Twilight is: If you can live forever, what do you live for?
ASSET INFORMATION SHEET
This is usually a complete overview of a story for an editor, usually used for cover making. With my editor, I provided an AIS to give her an idea of what I wanted my book cover to look like, and it included everything from the blurb, to the description of the characters, cover quotes and the like.
This is what grabs your readers attention and makes them want more. It can be a setting, engaging characters, a unique conflict, etc. There needs to be something new, something that hasnt been used repeatedly, that makes your story stand out.
Since trope is a figurative expression, its major function is to give additional meaning to the texts, and allow readers to think profoundly, to understand the idea or a character. Also, it creates images that produce artistic effects on the audience's senses.
A category of artistic composition, as in literature, characterized by similarities in form, style, or subject matter.
This is an important aspect when you decide to query, because you need to make sure you have categorized your novel in the right genre. With that comes rules of word count and other aspects to be considered.
Genres include romance, science fiction, fantasy, historical, etc.
This is the total number of words your manuscript ends up being. As mentioned above, each genre has general word count requirements that agents and editors will expect you to adhere to. For instance, a romance that is 120,000 words will cause agents to assume you have not mastered pacing, and much of the story is watered down. So try to keep your novel within the appropriate word count ranges as follows:
Flash Fiction - less than 500 words
Short Story - less than 2000 words
Novella - less than 40,000 words
Commercial Fiction - 80,000-100,000
Fantasy - 90,000-120,000
Science Fiction - 90,000-120,000
Romance - 50,000-100,000 (depending on subgenre)
Historical Fiction - 90,000-120,000
Crime/Mystery/Thriller/Horror - 70,000-90,000
Young Adult - 60,000-90,000
Non-Fiction - no set range established, as depends on topic, subheads, etc.
Some writers struggle with the difference between genre and age range. They are different considerations, as there can be adult romance, or young adult science fiction. Placing your novel in the correct category is also important when querying.
Picture book - 4-8
Middle Grade - 8-13
Young Adult - 13-18
New Adult - 18-24 (although most of the publishing industry does not consider NA a category of its own, but rather places these novels in the adult category)
Adult - 18+
For many writers the synopsis is the hardest, and most dreaded part of the writing process. How do you explain your masterpiece in 2 pages?! It is a daunting task, and like anything else, takes practice and several drafts. But it is another querying necessity, so you will need to brave the unknown and dive in.
The synopsis is a brief summary of your story, usually 2 pages. It includes the characters, is a complete progression through the story, and includes any plot twists, a clear description of the GMCs and the ending.
Consider the synopsis like a short walk through your story. From beginning to end, with all the important details. A tip: if you are a plotter, and have a chapter by chapter outline, use this for your synopsis. It will help you work through the story, important details only.
When starting your synopsis, it is good form to provide a quick, one sentence setting outline for the reader. For example: Afterlife is a modern day new adult romance that takes place in New York City. This allows agents to see, immediately, the basics of the story.
In the first paragraph, you would expand on this information. Set up the setting, premise and other world building. It is this paragraph that draws the reader into the world, so include everything that is vital, without too much back story or bogging down. If someone hasnt read your story, what do they NEED to know?
Remember your GMCs. Agents will need to know what your MC is fighting for, why, and what is stopping them, so be sure to include them. Especially the conflict, which is the catalyst for the story in most cases. What issues and road blocks will the MC encounter? What are the stakes? Explain them.
Include the characters growth arc. Readers want to see how your character changes through the story, their growth, so be sure to make it clear through the synopsis. Show how they react to certain things, and bring them to life even though it is a summary and not the story itself.
Plot development is just as important as character arcs, so be sure this is included as well. It is a play by play of what happens. A synopsis is the one place where you are allow to TELL, and SHOW isn't as forcefully adhered to. Include as many details in each aspect as you can without overloading and confusing the reader (especially with new worlds like fantasy and sci fi). Include the most important aspects to help the reader understand the book as a whole.
The biggest part? Include the ending! The synopsis is the commercial before the feature film, right? But in this case, we want you to spoil the ending for us. How are things resolved by the end? Where does the MC end up? How have things changed? Give us everything!
In summary, a synopsis should include:
- character growth
Include these elements, on 1-2 pages (these guidelines vary by agent) and you've got yourself a synopsis!
I don't usually read thrillers. I mean, Karen McManus books are my jam, but I tend to lean towards the soft, fluffy, comforting stories than the ones that leave you checking under your bed before turning out the light.
Natasha Preston changed all that.
After reading The Cellar (her New York Times bestselling novel) I burned through two more of her stories (The Cabin and The Twin) within a couple of weeks. She has converted me, and it all started with the Cellar.
Here is the blurb (courtesy of GOODREADS):
Nothing ever happens in the town of Long Thorpe – that is, until sixteen-year-old Summer Robinson disappears without a trace. No family or police investigation can track her down. Spending months inside the cellar of her kidnapper with several other girls, Summer learns of Colin’s abusive past, and his thoughts of his victims being his family…his perfect, pure flowers. But flowers can’t survive long cut off from the sun, and time is running out….
It is every girls greatest nightmare. Being kidnapped by a psycho, determined to make you into someone else to satisfy his needs. Preston wove a chilling, twisting tale told through multiple points of view, giving you a glimpse of the complete experience from everyone involved.
Trigger warnings, however: rape, abuse, psychological manipulation and more, his story stays with you long after you finish for various reasons.
Overall, it was a great read, twisty and thrilling, and it's easy to see how it ended up on the NYT list.
You've done it. You've written your story, gone through edits, and even received praise from your beta readers and CPs. You're feeling good, proud of your story, and decided to take a leap and try your hand at querying.
Querying is the process of submitting your story to agents and editors for their consideration. It is a long process, like all things in publishing, so if you are not a patient person, this particular experience may be a difficult one. It takes days, to months to receive a response from agents on your query, and even longer on your full manuscript if they choose to request it.
The best way to describe a writing journey is this: it is a marathon, not a sprint. And boy, is it ever a marathon.
Personally, I queried for 3 years before I received my first offer of publication and agent. The offer of publication came 8 months after I first submitted to the publisher. The offer from the agent? Happened over the course of a weekend. A drastic difference between the two steps that shows just how varied it can be.
But before the waiting can begin, you need to submit a query letter. This is a short, concise pitch of your story to agents and editors that allow them to see if it is something they would like to consider. It is the first impression, so make it the best you can.
Here are some important query letter basics you will want to keep in mind.
5 Basic Elements to Query Letters
- The basics: genre, word count, title
- The hook: the description of your book and most critical elements only
- Comparative titles: books similar to yours that will allow agents an idea of what you are about
- Author bio: a little bit about you
- Thank you and closing
The entire query letter should be a single page, single spaced, and around 400 words. Short and sweet is key.
Always personalize the query if you can. If it is a specific agent or editor you are submitting to, please address them as they prefer. PRONOUNS ARE IMPORTANT! Use their submission guidelines, or even social media accounts and follow those to the letter. The easiest way to end up in the rejection pile is by not following the rules.
You want to catch the agents attention, so be sure to avoid unnecessary information. The blurb of your story is a short, concise paragraph or two explaining your story, but NOT giving away the ending. The hook is the most important thing an agent is looking for, and a strong one is key. To see if your hook is strong, go back to your GMCs. What does your MC want? Why do they want it? What is keeping them from reaching that goal? Introduce your character and their GMCs upfront, before your bio and housekeeping details. It is the book the agents want, so give it to them.
Things to avoid when writing your blurb:
- is it more than 300 words? Trim it down!
- does it give away the ending? Only the synopsis should do that
- how many characters do you mention? Stick to the main characters only, such as the MC and the love interest or sidekick
Comp titles are important, because they can help the agent see what your story is like before they even read it. Important things to remember about comp titles are that they should be within the same genre as your story, no older than 5 years, and try to avoid two that are too similar to each other. For example, Wattpad favorite White Stag used Twilight meets Game of Thrones as its comp titles, and it allows for a clear, fantastical picture of what the story is all about.
This is all about you, but it needs to be short. a few sentences at most. Dont waste the entire page talking about yourself, because it is the story the agent wants. Here are a few items to include:
- publication credits: whether industry, self publish, magazine, online blog or the like, mention places where the agent can see some of your work
- your profession: for most of us, writing isnt our full time gig. If you have another career, mention it so the agent can get an idea who you are away from the page
- credentials: do you have a masters in creative writing? Mention this! Dont have any educational credits? No big deal.
- awards: are you a watty winner? Mention that! It shows that you have what it takes to stand out in a crowd
Here is my personal bio that I include in my queries.
I am a Registered Nurse by trade, but avid reader and enthusiastic book lover all my life. My own writing experience lies in the online and social media realms, hosting various popular fan fictions and other stories through Wattpad. Additionally, I am a former writer for the pop culture website Fangirlish.com, covering book reviews, celebrity interviews and special features.
It mentions my life away from the keyboard, and a few publishing credits. But the biggest thing is that it is short, and doesnt detract from the blurb.
Again, short and sweet. Usually one or two sentences thanking the agent for their consideration, and saying you look forward to hearing from them. I sign all queries off with 'Regards' rather than anything too familiar and unprofessional.
This is where you add the information about your story. Genre, word count, and any social media you have should be added at the bottom of the page as follows:
Genre: Young adult romance
Word count: 70,000
Some agents want you to include your social media and website addresses so they can check them out if the are considering you. Your behaviour online is important, and will be vetted by agents, so keep that in mind. It is fine to have fun, joke and talk to friends, but if you are using your professional accounts for this, consider whether you would want a potential agent to see what you tweet.
I've been swimming in a sea of romance novels recently, rarely venturing out of my safe little HEA bubble. It's my own fault: I've been trying to do revisions on my work work (most of which is romance) and needed to submerge myself in the realm of all things heart-eyes. Taking a break from writing, I've been carving out a bent in my TBR pile, many of which are books from Wattpad writers. Some I've hated, others I've felt indifferent, and some draw me in to the point that I just can't get enough.
Clique Bait by Ann Valett falls into the final category.
It is the perfect mix of revenge, the battle between good and evil (high school version) and a little touch of (somewhat expected) romance all blended together into a captivating page turner that I finished in 3 days.
Curious? Here is the blurb (courtesy of GOODREADS):
Chloe Whittaker is out for revenge. Last year her best friend Monica’s life was unceremoniously ruined by the most popular students at their high school, so this year Chloe plans to take each and every one of them down. She traded her jeans and T-shirts for the latest designer clothes, deleted everything on social media that would tie her to Monica (and blow her cover), and carefully devised a way to befriend the members of the popular clique. Now all that’s left to do is uncover their deepest, darkest secrets and reveal them to the world.
Chloe has the perfect plan…that is, until she begins to fall for one of the people she’s determined to destroy.
Chloe is relatable, and determined, but far from perfect. She messes up, walking the delicate tightrope between social royalty and obscurity, all under a veil of blackmail. You go through most of the book wondering exactly what happened to bff Monica, and only find out in the final quarter of the story what drove Chloe towards her mission.
The one thing I didn't get was this: if Monica treated Chloe so badly in those final months, why go to all the trouble to avenge her? Maybe it's me, but if someone shunned me, and chose popularity over years of friendship, I can't say I would risk social expulsion and torment to bring down those I felt wronged her.
But I'll admit it made for an amazing book, filled with situations I am pretty sure many teens now days face. The categories of the social hierarchy was perfectly executed, and gave a visual to the delicate balance of high school.
If you want mystery, vengeance, and twists and turns, this book is for you!