Before we get to our fantastic post today, I have a winner to announce.
The winner of MY NEAR DEATH ADVENTURES is Paul Greci!
Congrats! E-mail me your address so I can send you your book. Please e-mail me by the end of Wednesday or I'll have to pick another winner.
I've got a special treat for you today. Debut author Stacey Lee and her awesome agent Kristin Nelson are here to share on how you can make your query stand out. And I've got a fantastic giveaway for you that includes a query critique by Kristin! Kristin is one of my dream agents so I wish I could enter too.
I loved Stacey's YA historical novel, UNDER A PAINTED SKY., that releases tomorrow. I don't usually read historical fiction but I loved the 1800's Western United States setting. And Samantha, a Chinese girl on the run, and her friend, Andy, a runaway slave, are such great, memorable characters.
Here's a blurb from Goodreads:
A powerful story of friendship and sacrifice, for fans of Code Name Verity
Missouri, 1849: Samantha dreams of moving back to New York to be a professional musician—not an easy thing if you’re a girl, and harder still if you’re Chinese. But a tragic accident dashes any hopes of fulfilling her dream, and instead, leaves her fearing for her life. With the help of a runaway slave named Annamae, Samantha flees town for the unknown frontier. But life on the Oregon Trail is unsafe for two girls, so they disguise themselves as Sammy and Andy, two boys headed for the California gold rush. Sammy and Andy forge a powerful bond as they each search for a link to their past, and struggle to avoid any unwanted attention. But when they cross paths with a band of cowboys, the light-hearted troupe turn out to be unexpected allies. With the law closing in on them and new setbacks coming each day, the girls quickly learn that there are not many places to hide on the open trail.
This beautifully written debut is an exciting adventure and heart-wrenching survival tale. But above all else, it’s a story about perseverance and trust that will restore your faith in the power of friendship.
So here's Stacey and Kristin!
Stacey: Today my agent Kristin Nelson and I are giving you the Dope on Trope.
Kristin: Otherwise known as Concept Trends in the Query Inbox!
Stacey: Authors don't like to hear the word ‘trope’ in the same sentence as their manuscripts, but here's the thing: tropes are not necessarily bad. In the broad sense, a trope is simply the use of figurative language in literature. However, it is also used in the more specific sense to mean a common pattern in a story or a recognizable attribute in a character that conveys information to the audience. Some examples include the character trope of a jilted lover, which can convey s/he has revenge on her mind; the character trope of a man with the chest full of medals, which might tell you that the character thinks he's a badass; the plot trope of a love triangle, which may tell us that complications will ensue. Tropes are the tortilla chips of the banquet, designed to get the guacamole to the mouth faster.
While there are some character tropes that should be retired forever, like those that perpetuate offensive stereotypes (e.g., Asian speaking broken English and making a dum luk pun), or those that have been so overused as to be cliché ('it was all just a dream' endings), many are unavoidable (the mean girl, the protective father), and some, we even seek out (admit it, you wanted more vampire-boy-can't-have-girl books after TWILIGHT).
The problem is, if you do have tropes in your manuscript (and who doesn’t?), how do you present them as fresh? Here are three tips.
1) Make sure your trope contains unique elements. In the case of UNDER A PAINTED SKY, I used the trope of girls disguising themselves as boys, something you see most often in historical fiction (e.g. SCARLET by A.G. Gaughen, BLOODY JACK by L.A. Smith, and LEVIATHAN by Scott Westerfeld), when girls had to defy the roles assigned to their gender in order to do the things they wanted to do. In the case of UNDER A PAINTED SKY, the setting is 1849 American frontier, and the main characters are a Chinese girl, and a runaway slave. With enough unique elements, the trope becomes fresh again.
You might also consider flipping the trope. In Rae Carson’s GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS, the main character is a ‘girl of prophecy’ trope, but the author flips it on its head by making the girl overweight and lazy.
Kristin: I have to echo Stacey on this point. Whenever I see queries that say “so and so led a normal life until her twelfth birthday when she receives a magical gift, then is transported to a fantastical world where she must over come dark forces,” it’s going to be a pass. I receive dozens of queries a day with that same, general description. The real question is why this particular girl? What will make the reader want to read about her? The second catch is to capture your unique voice in the query pitch itself. A distinctive voice will shine a spotlight even if your story has all the known tropes: receipt of magical object on definitive birthday, forces of darkness, etc.
Great writing trumps all. Agents, awed by good writing in a query letter, will always request sample pages.
Stacey: 2) In the case of character tropes, go deep. The deeper you dig into a character's psyche, the less
Kristin: Real details can be essential to help your story jump off the page. Every character is unique/individual and if we have sense of that person, that can add interest to the pitch.
Stacey: 3) Make the trope a source of tension. Don’t just have a bad boy because bad boys are hot, but use the badness as a source of conflict. In Simone Elkeles’ PERFECT CHEMISTRY, when the girl finds that the bad boy who loves her once made a bet that he could lure her into his life, his ‘reputation’ as a gangster makes it unlikely that she’ll ever believe/forgive him.
In UNDER A PAINTED SKY, the girls’ cross-dressing is constantly a source of tension, as if they are discovered as girls, they will be unmasked as wanted criminals.
Kristin: Even as a reader of approximately 50-75 queries a day, I’m still surprised when something hits the cultural zeitgeist and becomes a trend in the query inbox. How does that happen? How can 10 people have the same story idea in the same week and send me a query about it? I wish I knew! I started a tracking list just to keep readers who follow me on Twitter and Facebook apprised of what was showing up in the inbox. And so folks understand, I’m not making a judgment of any kind on the trend. Just stating a fact of what I’m seeing.
When a trope or topic starts trending in the inbox, do agents become more immune to the concept in general? Yes and no. I’m certainly going to be more on my guard in terms of requesting to see sample pages if it feels too familiar but on the other hand, an amazing, well-written, intriguing query will always get a request—even if I saw the same type of concept in a dozen email queries previous to reading this one. A writer’s unique voice can be everything when bringing a story to life.
And because I know Lit Ramble readers will be thinking, “what are the trends currently happening, tell me please!” Here is what I’ve seen “trend” just in the last three weeks.
* Heirloom of incredible power. Or some physical object of magic or power lands in a character’s hands
* Characters who must journey to hell, through hell, to save a friend or family member.
* Dreams! Haunted by dreams when the narrator goes to bed at night. Characters living another life in their dreams. Nightmares experienced that turn out to be real. Dreams as gateway to another world.
* Fantasies where the narrator hails from an all-women, matriarchal society (Not sure why that is popular at the moment but I’m seeing a lot of this trope!)
* Magicians or characters learning to be master illusionists.
* Characters having to time travel to solve an issue in the now.
* Fantasy stories where Chinese culture is the cornerstone of the world building
* Stories with monks, monasteries, stolen artifacts
Stacey: There goes my monks in space idea.
Kristin: But even if your story has one of the above elements, press on! It doesn’t mean your novel isn’t “good” or can’t find a home. As the old adage states, there are no new stories under the sun, just new ways of telling them. So find that unique angle within your own novel and shine the spotlight of great writing there. It will make the difference between a pass or a request!
Stacey: Hope these tips help. And thank you Natalie for having us on Literary Rambles!
Thanks for all the incredible advice, Stacey and Kristin. And Stacey is one of the founders of We Need Diverse Books. More diversity in books is such a critical issue right now. I asked Stacey to tell us a bit about this group and what we can do to help get more books with multicultural characters published.
Thanks for asking about We Need Diverse Books! We're a nonprofit
organization created to address the lack of diverse, non-majority
narratives in children’s literature. We believe that our books should
reflect the world in which we live. In 2013, the Cooperative
Children's Book Council found that of the 3000 books published, only
7.5% had any diversity at all, this despite our country being almost
40% diverse. The numbers are slowly improving thanks to increased
awareness on this issue, but we still have a long way to go.
You can help by buying diverse books and/or requesting them at your
library, as well as recommending the diverse books you've liked to
others. You can let publishers know when you've enjoyed one of their
titles - write the author a letter via their publishers. If you are a
publisher, agent, editor, librarian, or bookseller, take a stand and
make sure diverse titles are a priority. If you are a teacher or
educator, create a diverse reading program. If you are an event
organizer, commit to diversifying your panels.
You can find Stacey at:
And you can find Kristin at:
Please visit our website www.nelsonagency.com for submission guidelines and also check out Kristin’s Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/
Stacey and her publisher G.P. Putman's Sons Books for Young Readers has generous provided an ARC of UNDER A PAINTED SKY for a giveaway. And Kristin Nelson kindly offered a query critique to one lucky winner. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment through March 28th. If you want to me entered for the query critique as well as the book giveaway, you must let me know in the comments. I’ll announce the winner on March 30th. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, please leave it in the comments.
If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. The book giveaway is for US and Canada. The query critique is international.
Here's what's coming up:
On Wednesday I have a giveaway of FLUNKED FAIRY TALE REFORM SCHOOL, a new MG fantasy.
And next Monday I have an interview with debut author Erin Entrada Kelly and a giveaway of BLACKBIRD FLY, her multicultural contemporary MG novel.
The following Monday I have a guest post by Caroline Rose Starr and a giveaway of BLUE BIRDS, her new MG historical novel.
Hope to see you on Wednesday!