Monday, July 25, 2016

#PimpMyBio for #PitchWars Mentee - YA Sci-Fi

Hi there, PitchWars universe!

For anyone who doesn't know what PitchWars is, it's a yearly contest hosted by the lovely and brilliant Brenda Drake. A slew of talented authors and editors take time out of their busy schedules to take on a mentee and help make their manuscript shine for the highly anticipated agent round.

Hundreds of hopeful mentees flock the #PitchWars feed as they stalk potential mentors. And while not every hopeful will be picked, there is still a ton of perks to participating (including finding new CPs, bonding with mentors, and so much more).

Who the heck is this and why should you care?

I am a self-proclaimed adventurer, amateur Attan dancer and YA writer.
Growing up as first generation American and coming from a obscenely large Afghan-Uzbek family (and by large, I mean over 500 people large), I've had my fair share of awkward teenage moments and culture clashes that have led to full on cataclysmic battles. While navigating American and familial culture felt at times tiresome, I wouldn't trade my experiences for the world. In fact, I think going through all the hurdles of finding my perfect balance led me straight to my true love: writing.

As far as my writing interests go, I write anything from sci-fi to fantasy to historical. While I enjoy reading the occasional contemporary/teen romance, for the life of me I simply cannot write them. Call me a natural dreamer, but if my stories don't have some sort of fantastical element to them, I often feel like something is missing. </3

What I'm submitting:

This year, I'm submitting my YA sci-fi THE TIME SLAVE.

I've nurtured this story over the year it took me to write it and then the next year it took to edit, polish and query. Seeing as this is my baby manuscript (yes, it is my first written manuscript), I've been through hell and back for it. I've done 4 major revisions where this story looks nothing like its first form (that first draft has been buried deep underground for no one to see, ever). I've loved watching the natural evolution of TIME SLAVE with each edit and I know future revisions will only continue to make it stronger. I AM NOT AFRAID OF MAJOR EDITING. BRING. IT. ON.

Here's my baby manuscripts little blurb:

Hidden beneath the skyscrapers of modern-day Manhattan lies a technologically advanced compound. Kept within its walls are Time Slaves, an indentured community forced to pay their debts to the compound with time.

THE TIME SLAVE story line is set in motion when Time Slave Liam's sister disappears. Suspecting less than honorable intentions from the compounds leader, Liam decides the only way to get his sister back is to trade for something of equal importance to the compound.

Enter Sahar Ihsan, the next in line to lead the compound. Liam's plan is foolproof: Take Sahar. Trade Sahar for sister. Problem solved.

But when Sahar reacts badly to the mention of an underground compound, let alone Time Slaves, he worries he's taken the wrong girl. Add in her uncanny ability to calm the storm inside of him and he's put himself in a terrible predicament.

As he introduces her to the world her family created, he struggles between trusting her and sticking to his original plan. If he chooses incorrectly, he'll lose more than his sister, he'll lose his entire world and everyone that matters in it.

With fledgling romance, family secrets, and embracing one's inner darkness, THE TIME SLAVE challenges the notion of what it means to be a hero/villain and realizing that they might just be one and the same.

To check out other mentee bios, click this link!


Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Novice Series: Cold Query vs. Twitter Contest

After completing my baby manuscript in September 2015, I knew I needed an agent if I wanted to break into the publishing industry. I officially began the querying process in October 2015 (with my not-so-polished-and-terribly-titled manuscript). The choice to start querying came accidentally.

The moment happened when I was casually twitter-stalking and stumbled upon Nightmare on Query Street.

For those of you who are unaware, NoQS is a writing contest that gives unpublished and unagented writers a chance to showcase their query and first 250 words in front of a panel of agents.

In my doe-eyed stupor, I entered. I already had my 250 (which, of course, was brilliant) and I didn't know what a query letter was, but I had 2 hours before the submission window opened. Two whole hours! How hard could it be?

My false sense of inflated ego.
After googling "What is a Query Letter?" and feeling pretty confident, I zoomed through it in 30 minutes, prepped my 250 and hit send.

Bam. Instant agent exposure.

With confidence brimming out of my eyeballs, I decided to also send out a batch of letters to agents. Coincidentally, PitchSlam, another contest, was open to submissions. I entered that too.

I couldn't believe my luck. All this excitement and forward momentum in one day!

Agent reaction to my terrible query.


Rejection was a cold and unforgiving friend that week and the 4 weeks that followed.

Since that embarrassing moment in my life, those 4 weeks forced me to question the process. Which method works better: traditional cold querying or entering Twitter contests?



For my fellow aspiring authors, this is tricky to answer. No doubt, success stories have sprung from both methods, but the answer lies within what is best for your baby manuscript.

Before entering any Twitter contest (or pitch contest), it's important to do your research. Not all contests are created equal and not all contests will be best for your manuscript. For example, I recently entered #FicFest and while I received requests and amazing reviews of TIME SLAVE, the most recurring comment was the mentors did not feel they could do justice to a sci-fi story.

Much like the process of researching agents before sending query letters, it's equally as important to research mentors, judges, slush readers and agents participating in Twitter contests before entering to give yourself your best chance. So fret not if you weren't chosen! Neither was I!

From my experiences in the Twitter-verse, I realized TIME SLAVE is not meant for Twitter contests and fairs much better the good ol' fashioned way of cold querying. While it's not nearly as fun as getting caught up in the excitement of a contest, it's the way that works for me.

So chin up, my writerly friends! Everyone's journey is different. We'll get there, together. One rejection at a time.

With love,

DZ.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Author Series: THE MIRRORMASTERS debut by Lora Palmer! RAFFLE GIVEAWAY!

When I set my goal to see my baby manuscript in print, I thought there was only one true way to publication. What I've learned in my experiences is the road to book release isn't the same and shouldn't be the same for all authors.

For everyone in the querying trenches, I decided to start an Author Series featuring a wide range of authors with their debuts! Just like the material we write, the publishing world is filled with diversity and options. Sometimes all we need is someone to show us the way! 

Without further ado, I'd like to welcome the fabulous Lora Palmer and her debut, THE MIRRORMASTERS!

DZ: Congrats! Can you tell me a little bit about THE MIRRORMASTERS?

LP: Leah Ellis never knew why she was found abandoned on the beach at two years old. Content with her adoptive family and small town life, she hadn't thought much about it over the years. That is, until her life takes a bizarre turn when she begins seeing images in mirrors she can't explain--cloaked figures using powers that manifest like lightening bolts, or flash-frozen beaches on another world beneath a purple sky.

She practices mirror-gazing, driven to understand these images and their possible connection to her forgotten past, and discovers that it's kind of addictive with its wild, boundless power coursing through her veins. Soon, she learns to control what the mirror shows her.

When new neighbors move in, Leah is shocked that they're dead ringers for the people in her visions. According to Brian, with the gorgeous ice-blue eyes and his father, she is a MirrorMaster--an alien with a gift that lets her travel through mirrors, even to worlds light years away. Her birth parents sent them to take her from Earth back to her home world of Jantyr, a planet she doesn't remember. They've searched for her ever since she disappeared.

But Leah's long-lost birth sister, a sorceress, activated an ancient device to trigger a cataclysm on Jantyr as a bid to consolidate her own power. Leah must return to Jantyr, master her new found ability in order to locate and wield crystals that will disable the device and thwart her sister's plans. Otherwise, the destruction will consume the entire galaxy, including Earth and everyone she loves.

DZ: The concept is so interesting! What inspired you to write it?

LP: It started with this story idea I'd had as a kid and would act out with my friends. Orignally, it was a time travel story about two girls who discovered a mirror in an attic, and it took them into the past. Then, as I set down to re-work what I'd first written, what came out was much different than the original story. Now, the main character, Leah, has the gift of controlling mirrors to view, even travel to, other places. Then, everyting else, like the cataclysms her birth sister triggered on their homeland fell into place around that.

DZ: Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?

LP: I think deep down I probably did! Reading was definitely one of my favorite past times as a child, and I was writing little stories--even in crayon--from the time I learned to read, so I'm told :). Of course, I also wanted a career that involved helping others, so I also work with young adults at a local residential facility. During college and beyond, I kind of got away from writing until maybe about 10 years ago or so. I loved writing role play becaue it was fun creating stories with a partner, and then I finally decided to get back to writing original stuff of my own.

DZ: Can you tell me a little bit about your journey to publication?

LP: It's been quite a journey to reach this point! Over the past few years on and off, I queried MIRRORMASTERS. A couple years back, I submitted to Astraea Press following a full request from a Savvy Authors pitch opportunity. It didn't work out at the time, but I kept querying, revising, getting feedback from beta readers, more revising, and more querying. And then, following #Pit2Pub in July, two of my pitches were favorited by Stephanie Taylor, owner and Editor-In-Chief of Clean Reads and my full manuscript was requested. After doing a little dance of joy, I submitted again, noting that I'd made substantial revision since my previous submission, and a few weeks later, I woke up to a lovely email that included a contract!

DZ: For other aspiring authors who are struggling through the querying trenches, what kind of advice would you give them?

LP: Persistence does pay off! Keep writing, keep editing, keep querying, and find a really good critique partner and betas to help you get your manuscript in shape. Oh, and once your manuscript is ready, Twitter pitch parties like #PitMad and #Pit2Pub can be a great way to connect  with industry professionals interested in your work. Checkout out AgentQueryConnect and QueryTracker forums. These are places where you can learn from other writers, tons of useful information about the publishing industry, as well as workshop your query to get it into shape. the main QueryTracker site also came in handy for keeping track of queries sent and their responses.

THE MIRRORMASTERS is available on  AmazonSmashwords and Kobo !

**MIRRORMASTERS GIVEAWAY!**
Ended! Congrats to Dani C.!



Lora Palmer writes science fiction and fantasy for young adults. Bucks County, PA is her home, where she resides with her wonderful husband and their mischievous cat. She has earned a graduate degree in Psychology and works at a local residential facility serving autistic children and teens. in her spare time, she also sings in a praise band, Chalice Sounds.

Check Lora out on her blog and Facebook! Don't forget Twitter and Instagram!




Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Intern Series: Top 5 Submission Mistakes Writers Make!

When I'm not working on my baby manuscript, I'm working on other writer's baby manuscripts. While I love my published books, there's something really special about getting a book in the early stages of its journey.

I love knowing that in some small way, I've helped aid a fledgling manuscript into becoming the shiny finished work presented to the world.

With that being said, being a submissions intern at a small press means sifting through tons of potential manuscripts...

And when I say tons, I really do mean tons.

Due to the volume of submissions, it's a difficult balance between seeing if the work fits our needs and if the state of the manuscript is ready for the next step towards publication. If you've wondered what the difference is between what makes the cut and what doesn't, wonder no more!

From reading submissions, I've noticed a trend of simple, easily avoidable mistakes writers make when submitting that weaken their chances.

1. Lack of polishing: First impressions are everything. In an industry that is extremely subjective, the amount of submissions that come through that haven't had a thorough polishing is alarming. While a few typos and grammatical errors won't give way to insta-rejection, a sample littered with them makes me question the experience level of the writer. Before submitting, always do a quick read through to catch any last minute errors and for those of you sending attachments, don't forget to disable track changes! There's nothing that says I'm not ready for the next level like a manuscript littered with track changes in Microsoft Word.

2. Ignoring submission guidelines: Yes. It seems self explanatory, but the amount of submissions that come incomplete or missing required materials are shooting themselves in the foot. I get it, I really do. The dozens hundreds of query letters we send to potential agents and presses are staggering. I understand mixing up which agency or press requires what, but for the love of God, please double triple quadruple check. Your manuscript could be brilliant, but if I'm being honest, if it came down to requesting more of a submission that followed guidelines and one that didn't, you can bet all your cookies I'm picking the one that took the time to listen.

3. Incorrect audience/genre labeling: When reading through submissions, I trust the writer has done their homework in knowing their target audience and genre their submission is written in. There is nothing more disheartening than reading through a submission with potential and seeing incorrect protagonist ages/themes for MG, YA and NA. Even worse is when I think I'm reading a cozy mystery and instead I get high concept science fiction... You get my point. As a writer, it's your responsibility to have written something that can be defined. If you're having trouble, the AQC forums will save your life. Seriously. Use it.

4. Ignoring agency/press genre requirements: If an agency or small press specifically states that they do not represent or publish a particular genre or type of manuscript, they mean it. No, you won't change their mind. And no, we don't like having to sift through materials we can't use. It's like biting into your favorite chocolate bar and finding out it's melted. It just makes a mess of everything. Always do your homework on who represents work similar to your own.

5. Using incorrect comps: With query letters, many people are on the fence about whether or not to use comparative titles. Personally, I don't mind them. It's nice to get a mini visual of a mash up between two different books. But, if you aren't sure on which titles are appropriate (for example, using comps that do not align with your manuscripts genre/audience), or if the only books you can compare your work to is a major film or widely successful book, I advise excluding it from your query all together. If you compare your manuscript to a finely tuned and extremely polished book, I'm going to be even more critical of your work and more often than not, you're going to fall short. Don't do this to yourself. You owe it to your work to give it your best shot.

Querying is hard. I know it. But if you learn nothing else from this post, remember this:
Take the time to fix the little things. 
I promise you, in the long run, it will make all the difference for you and your baby manuscript.

DZ.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Novice Series: Evolution of the Query

So you wrote your manuscript? Awesome!
(Seriously, this is awesome. Please take a hard earned moment to celebrate with Mr. DiCaprio)


And now you want an agent?
(Just when you thought the hard part of actually writing the novel was over....)



WELCOME TO THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF QUERYING!

We all covet the day an elusive agent swoops down and takes our baby manuscript into their arms and loves it just as much as we do. But before that magical day happens, we have to battle with the dreaded query letter.
A query letter, by definition, is a one page letter meant to entice an agent to request your work. It is your manuscripts sales pitch.
Having only 5 months of querying under my belt, I'm still pretty new to the process. For all us novices out there, whether you're contemplating your query journey or in the same boat as me, there's one important fact you need to know:
Your original query and the query that lands your first agent are going to be two entirely different beasts. 
And to prove it to you, I'm going to *shudders* show you my baby manuscripts first query letter and point out the painfully obvious What-Not-To-Do's.

Baby Manuscripts First Query:
New York City is breeding a terrifying secret. In an underground Compound, two babies were born. One boy. One girl. She was to become the Generational's heir; he was branded as a Recondite. Based on an ancient system focused on duty and paying back debts, their fates were inevitably sealed... 
Until Liam decides to rip fate apart with his bare hands. Hell bent on destroying the system that kept his family choking on fear, he sets his sights on the only person that can help him get what he wants: the heir. 
Sahar Ihsan lived 20 excruciating years under the magnifying glass of her community. The rules were simple: protect the community and in turn, the community will protect you. Desperate to break free from their scrutiny, Sahar allows herself one night to shatter all the rules. But everything goes terribly wrong. In a single breath, Sahar's world collides with Liam's at neck splintering speeds when she finds herself drugged and thrown into Liam's plan for revenge against the Generational. 
Sahar is on the fight for her life until she stumbles upon the secret her community has kept hidden from her. Riddled with half answers and incomplete truths, Sahar trusts no one and seeks out her answers in the most unexpected places, starting and ending with the men she was never meant to meet. 
One boy. One girl. Two lives never meant to cross until destiny forces its way in. 
RECONDITE, complete at 93,000 words, is the first of a potential thrilling trilogy about love, family, and the power of choice. 

Wow. That was painful to read. It's embarrassing to think I sent this out to actual agents.

Let's dive in with what went wrong:

1. FORMATTING: If you've never written a query before, stick to the basic 3 paragraph template (hook, conflict, stakes). It's MUCH cleaner and easier to read. (Extra pro-tip: keep it concise, 250-300 words max!)

2. TENSES: A query letter is written in third person present tense. The beginning of this letter was in past tense, which is no good. Start the query where the story starts. Otherwise, it's coming off as dumping backstory.

3. FOCUS: Pick ONE main character and hone in on their central conflict, their motivation and their stakes. If your novel is written in multiple POV's (like mine), it's natural to want to showcase everyone. DON'T DO THIS. Like this query, it's easy for one main character to steal the spotlight. For example, Sahar takes center stage. While I set up the beginning with Liam, I forgot to tie him and his stakes into the final paragraph, making it confusing for an agent to grasp what's going on.

4. CLICHES AND VAGUENESS: Just, don't. Specificity is the special sauce to all query letters. You have to give away information. Showcase what makes your main character special and different. Give the agent a story they haven't read before. And please, avoid avoid avoid using terms like "fight for their life",  "everything goes terribly wrong", "neck splintering speeds", and the best one yet, "rips fate apart with his bare hands." Yeah. Don't. You're welcome.

5. GENRE/AUDIENCE: A query needs to mention who the intended audience is and what genre. This can either go in the opening of the query or at the very end, along with the title (always CAPITALIZE the title) and a brief personalization to the agent/any writing experience you have. If you don't mention the genre, an agent has no idea what to do with your book. This letter is missing that part completely.... Don't be a forgetful dummy like me. One last note on this, DON'T tell an agent the themes of your book like I did. They should gain that from reading your query, therefore if you're doing a good job, you don't need to spell it out for them.

Phew. That was brutal. My current query is VASTLY different from this hot mess. If you've made mistakes like me, don't worry! The beautiful thing about querying is you can always revise, revise, revise! Keep polishing those letters until they do your baby manuscript justice!

Notice any mistakes that I missed? Comment below and let me know!


Here's to hoping our baby manuscripts find their forever agents!

DZ.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Book Review: The School for Good and Evil

THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL 
by Soman Chainani
Audience/Genre: MG/YA Fantasy/Fairytales
Publication Date: May 14, 2013 by HarperCollins
Rating: 4 out of 5

THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL is a twist on what we know about the fight for good and evil. Despite its main characters being twelve, much of the content and language reads like it is more suitable for an older teenage audience. Chainani's book reminded me of HARRY POTTER, but much much darker.

**If you are a parent, I advise reading the book first before giving it to anyone who is under 12 years old.**

In a village Beyond the Woods, lives two friends named Sophie and Agatha. The girls are complete opposites. While Sophie is beautiful, Agatha is ugly. But appearances aren't everything when the School Master visits their village to take two children to his School for Good and Evil.

Sophie goes with the School Master willingly while Agatha does everything in her power to rescue her only friend. Repeat this sequence about fifty more times and that is the overall arc of the book. When arriving, Sophie had her heart set on becoming a princess in the School for Good. Instead she gets plopped into the School for Evil to become a witch. Ugly Agatha, on the other hand, begins her training in the School for Good to become a princess. Neither girl is happy with their circumstances and try to take fate into their own hands, only to realize there are mightier powers at hand controlling their destinies.

I like that this book explores lives beyond the popular Disney tales. THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL leans more on the darker side, even though one of the schools has classrooms made of candy. Chainani raises the question of defining what makes someone good and what makes someone evil. At the end of this fabulous journey, readers will learn that it's not as simple as calling someone good or evil. The story reminds us that even fairytale characters are human, capable of good and evil acts and it is not who you are that defines you, but what you do.

I know I'm late to the party, reading this book almost three years after it was released, but I will say, while it borders HARRY POTTER look alike in setting and content, it transported me back to my twelve year old self, when the world was an endless expanse of possibility. And not many books do that.

Highly recommend for adults and teens!

DZ.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Novice Series: NA vs. YA

The journey I've gone through with THE TIME SLAVE has been a rocky one.

In the past 4 months of completing the first draft I have: 
  • Received 6 rejections from agents.
  • Failed getting into 2 Twitter contests.
  • Changed the title.
  • Did a re-write.
  • Changed the title again.
  • Received 9 more rejections from agents.
  • Did another re-write.
  • More rejections.
  • Another title change.
  • Converted from New Adult to Young Adult.
  • Got into 2 Twitter contests.
  • Got 7 requests from small presses.
  • Received 4 requests for fulls from agents.

Excuse me? 

Let's rewind. If you notice in my timeline, the differentiating factor from rejection to request was changing my audience. But, if nothing else about my query letter or manuscript changed, why was I getting so many rejections? 

I fell into the publishing black-hole of the dreaded NA category. The original version of THE TIME SLAVE was written as NA for one specific reason: I wanted a compelling story that had all the adventure of a YA novel with a protagonist in my age range. I grew up reading YA and when I hit my twenties, I still wanted books like that, but with a protagonist I could relate to. 

While I absolutely love reading YA books, sometimes it's hard to fall in love with the story if it's not believable. For example, how can a 14-year-old, who can't legally drive or vote, have the power to change the world and lead a revolution?

I'm sorry for those of you who love that kind of thing, but I'm not buying it. If my protagonist is going to save the world, they're going to also be able to get into their local bar and have a celebratory drink. 

The decision to change from NA to YA came from my Honest Writer Friend. The conversation went as follows:

Honest Writer Friend: I love your story and the premise is awesome...
Me: Why am I sensing a "but"...
Honest Writer Friend: ...but...
Me: *dread*
Honest Writer Friend: The fact of the matter is the New Adult market is a tough sell. If your book isn't a heavy hitting romance, it most likely won't get picked up.
Me: *protectively holding baby manuscript* Maybe I'll be the one who breaks the mold and start a new division of NA!
Honest Writer Friend: *virtual-reality slap* Unless you're a successfully published author with a huge platform, the only thing you'll be changing are the boxes of tissues for your tears.
Me: *silence*

Honest Writer Friend wasn't telling me anything I didn't already know. I had about 15 rejections telling me the same exact thing. Still, it was my baby manuscript and I loved it the way it was, but I had reached the inevitable crossroads. 

I had to choose: shelf my beloved baby manuscript or change it.

Did I fall into a publishing trap? Maybe. 

Did I not do enough research on the market before writing my novel? Most definitely. 

As a new writer, I'm going to make tons of mistakes and I'm going to learn from them. In this particular instance, I learned there are circumstances we cannot directly change as emerging writers and that's a hard truth to swallow. But that doesn't mean that change will not eventually come. It also doesn't mean that my experience with NA rings true for other authors.

There will come a time where my vision of NA books will grow popular and when it does, I will read them voraciously. I just won't be the one writing them. (Yet.)

Until then, I'll continue to trudge my own way, with my baby manuscript in hand. 

DZ.