QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Agent-Judged Contest Closed!

Our contest with Natalie Lakosil closed at 9 am this morning.

Please do not contact Ms. Lakosil or the Bradford Literary Agency directly regarding the contest. Winners will be posted here, on the blog, and put directly in touch with Ms. Lakosil once she has selected the winning openings. She anticipates to have the results by mid-February.

If you have any questions in the meantime, you can post them in the comments or shoot me (Stina) an email using the email address in the sidebar of the QueryTracker Blog!

Thanks again to everyone who entered, and to Ms. Lakosil for judging!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Agent-Judged Contest Is Now Open for Submission!

Agent Natalie Fischer Lakosil from the Bradford Literary Agency will be judging the contest, which opens at 9 am EST on Monday, January 30th.

The contest entry window is 24 hours and will end at 9:00 am Eastern Standard Time on Tuesday, January 31st.

This contest is open to the following genres:

Commercial fiction, with an emphasis in children’s literature (from picture book to teen), romance (contemporary, paranormal and historical), and upmarket women’s fiction. Specific likes within those genres include historical, multi-cultural, paranormal, sci-fi/fantasy, gritty, thrilling and darker contemporary novels, and middle grade with heart.

Ms. Lakosil wants to see the first 100 words (plus or minus 1/2 sentence--don't just cut it off mid sentence) of COMPLETED novels and a one sentence logline. There is a limit to only ONE entry.

Submissions must be made via our online submission form. (A free QueryTracker.net membership is necessary to use the form and can be accessed from the form page.) Only entries received through the online form will be accepted. Entries emailed directly to the agent or agency will be disqualified. Any entries with logline longer than a single sentence or with an opening longer than 100 words (it can be less than that, but no more than a few extra words over) will be disqualified.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to post them in comments!

Best of luck to everyone and special thanks to Ms. Lakosil for judging!

* Please note: Sometimes the email notifications from this blog do not go out right when the post is published (a Google Blogger issue we cannot control). If you are an email subscriber, please realize this email might arrive after the contest has begun. 

Saturday, January 28, 2012

January Contest Reminder

Agent Natalie Fischer Lakosil from the Bradford Literary Agency will be judging our next contest, which opens at 9 am EST on Monday, January 30th.

This contest is open to the following genres:
Commercial fiction, with an emphasis in children’s literature (from picture book to teen), romance (contemporary, paranormal and historical), and upmarket women’s fiction. Specific likes within those genres include historical, multi-cultural, paranormal, sci-fi/fantasy, gritty, thrilling and darker contemporary novels, and middle grade with heart.

Ms. Lakosil wants to see the first 100 words (plus or minus 1/2 sentence--don't just cut it off mid sentence) of COMPLETED novels and a one sentence logline. There is a limit to only ONE entry.

At 9am on January 30th, we will make a submission form for the contest available on the QueryTracker.net website. (A free QueryTracker.net membership will be necessary to use the form.) A link will be posted on this site at the start of the contest. Only entries received through the online form will be accepted. Entries emailed directly to the agent or agency will be disqualified. Any entries with logline longer than a single sentence or with an opening longer than 100 words (it can be less than that, but no more than a few extra words over) will be disqualified.

* Please note: Sometimes the email notifications from this blog do not go out right when the post is published (a Google Blogger issue we cannot control). If you are an email subscriber, please realize this email might arrive after the contest has begun. Therefore, you should visit the QueryTracker Blog whether or not you receive an email about the contest on January 30th to get the link to the submission form.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Publishing Pulse: Jan 27, 2012

Contest Reminder

Our contest with agent Natalie Lakosil will open Monday at 9:00 am EST. For more information, click on link in the sidebar for Latest Contest. 

Success Stories

There are three new success story interviews this week. Congratulations
Around the Web

Winners of several notable children’s literature awards were announced this week, including the prestigious Newbery and Caldecott Medals. Congratulations to all the winners.

Publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt struck a deal to publish and distribute Amazon Publishing’s adult books in the fall.

The ARR (Association of Authors’ Representatives) has been discussing the current situation of agent members helping clients with ePublishing current or backlist titles. Agent Kristin Nelson explained what this means.

Agent Jessica Faust discussed the appropriate response for when you receive a rejection. She also explained what ‘not right for my list’ might mean.

Are you making this sloppy mistake when sending out query?

Agent Vickie Motter shared some tips on formatting your manuscript. With a growing number of agents reading requested material on their eReaders, her advice will help you prevent them from going cross-eyed while they read yours.

Check out this short video on 29 Ways to Stay Creative.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Stina Lindenblatt writes young adult novels. In her spare time, she’s a photographer and blogging addict, and can be found hanging out on her blog, Seeing Creative.  

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Catching Your World on Paper

Courtesy of heban
World building.

If I were to stereotype, I'd say it's something that every author who writes speculative fiction is intimately familiar with. And yet, it's a tool that all authors--regardless of genre--can make good use of in deepening their stories and bringing them to life.

World building, in it's most basic form, is the process by which an author takes the story as it is in his or her mind and carefully reconstructs it on the page.

In speculative fiction, it involves creating a new world from the ground up. In other genres, especially in contemporary settings, it involves catching the world and pinning it in strategic places in the story.

So what's involved in a world? There are three main components to any world:


For any people in any world to live together, they have to be able to communicate with each other. How this is done--both verbally and nonverbally--will depend on the people and their world view. What's important to this people? What do they value? Have disdain for? Fear? What sounds do they make, and why? How formal or informal is the language, and in which situations?

Having a basic understanding of the people's language will enable both the author and the reader to have a better understanding of the world and the characters that populate it.


Culture covers a wide range of things: architecture, morals, values, laws, dress, grooming, fashion, foods, expressions, governments, religion, customs, art, daily life, etc. A person's culture helps to shape who they are. How they see the world. And how they react in certain situations.

Having a basic understanding of the people's culture can help the reader connect with the characters better, and can also present all kinds of opportunities for conflict.


How the world is shaped and formed will have a huge impact on who populates what areas, if they are to be populated at all, and how they must adapt in order to survive and flourish. Geography will also shape a culture and language as people integrate it into their daily lives.

During the world building process, it's highly likely that you will have more built than you may ever use--and that's okay. More than okay, actually, because the more world building that makes if from your mind to the story, the more real and vibrant your world will feel to the reader. (Caveat, like everything else, there is a balance. All world building and no story makes for a very dull time.)

Once the basics are down--even in a contemporary setting--it's all a matter of details. Of allowing the world to intrude upon the characters, to help shape who they are and who they will become. It will inform potential conflicts in the story, and deepen the sense of history of the tale.

Some great resources I've used for my own world building include: allowing my muse (a.k.a. my subconscious) to run wild, Patricia C. Wrede's world building questions, and Holly Lisle's world building series that (for now) includes language and culture.

What about you? Any good world building resources out there?

 Danyelle Leafty (@danyelleleafty) writes MG and YA fantasy. In her spare time, she collects dragons, talking frogs, and fairy godmothers. She can be found discussing the art of turning one's characters into various animals, painting with words, and the best ways to avoid getting eaten by dragons on her blog.

Monday, January 23, 2012

one for the record book

Last week I ended up in my basement searching for something. I found a box of stuff from my desk at the previous house, and I pulled out a journal-type book a friend (a multipublished SFF author) had given me right after I got my first publication contract. She said, "Record everything here, that way you'll always have the information handy."

I'd dutifully followed her instructions...for the first four publications. And then afterward, well, I'm not too good at remembering to do things like that. Organization, people. Organization. (Which is why you may have noticed this blog post is about four hours late going up. Organization.)

So there I was in the basement, this piece of my past in hand, and I paged through it. My first novel. A short story I'd published right after that. A short story in an anthology. And then...

And then a story I'd forgotten I had published at all.

Now I remembered the story. It was a flash humor piece, jotted down in about two hours, worked over for another few weeks, submitted...and if you'd asked me before that moment, I'd have said rejected. 

Instead I found myself looking at a page with a magazine name, an issue number, and which pages the story appeared on. Which means not only did it get accepted for publication, but it got published, and somewhere I must have a copy of this issue. Only I had no clue it had ever happened.

(This is the point where my lovely literary agent may be wishing my mother had locked me in the basement and never allowed me access to the postal system.)

I'm going to go out on a limb and assume I'm not the only writer who has organization problems. For me this was not really an issue: I never tried to republish the story, but you can see where if I had, two magazines claiming first rights to a story might both get a little ticked off at the author with a memory problem. That's not even going into the legal problems that would arise if there was major money involved. (I assume the market paid under $50 for my flash humor story. Maybe under $5. I don't remember.)

Therefore, I will tell you what my wise publishing friend told me. First, find a place where you will record everything. Everything. If you get a letter to the editor into the paper, you will record it there. Guest blogging? Speaking to your friend's son's high school class? You will record it there. My friend gave me a blank journal because we were in the early 1990s, but you might feel a spreadsheet is the better way to go. (I like the blank book idea, though. It makes it feel special-er. Like history in the making.)

You will record:
- the title
- the publisher, along with its location (whether it's West Cupcake, VA or http://awesomemarket-dot-com)
- the ISBN if there is one
- the publication date
- the page numbers if it's in a magazine
- the name you published it under if you ever plan to use a pseudonym
- the amount you were paid, if any

Rule Number One for my life is "don't be an idiot," but since as you can see I routinely violate Rule Number One, good record keeping can only help matters.


Jane Lebak is the author of The Guardian (Thomas Nelson, 1994), Seven Archangels: Annihilation (Double-Edged Publishing, 2008) and The Boys Upstairs (MuseItUp, 2010). At Seven Angels, Four Kids, One Family, she blogs about what happens when a distracted daydreamer and a gamer geek attempt to raise four children. She is represented by the riveting Roseanne Wells of the Marianne Strong Literary Agency.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Publishing Pulse for January 20, 2012

Success Story

Congratulations to Melodie Wright, who has recently signed with agent Tricia Lawrence of Erin Murphy Literary Agency. Read Melodie's success story on Query Tracker.

Publishing News

It's been a landmark week in the history of the Internet. On Wednesday, many websites went "dark" to show their opposition to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the U.S. House of Representatives or the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) in the U.S. Senate. Wikipedia shut down completely, as did many others.

If you haven't heard much about this legislation (beyond the blackout reactions) it's a good time to read up on the subject. Many are concerned that, in an effort to control "internet pirating", the laws will impose censorship on everyone--pirates and ordinary citizens alike.

Chuck Wendig speaks out against the proposed laws and Tim O'Reilly discusses the White House's response. Because of the pressure created by those blackouts, the legislation lost a lot of support. You can see if your Representative opposes this legislation. If you are interested in doing so, you can also sign Google's petition.

The legislation goes up for vote on January 24th.

Conference Calls

In more positive news, many writers, agents, and editors are looking forward to the upcoming conference season.

Attention, romance writers! Registration is now open for RWA2012, which will be held July 25-28 in Anaheim, CA.

Also, my group (Pennwriters) will be hosting our 25th Annual Pennwriters Conference May 18-20 in Lancaster, PA.

Writing conferences are fantastic ways to network with agents and editors, to meet up with writer friends new and old, and to take in workshops that help us hone our crafts. Most of all, they are an opportunity for us to leave the confines of our solitary writing efforts and simply enjoy being one of a fabulous group of peers.

Have a conference you'd like to mention? Want to encourage a new writer to attend their first one? Leave a comment and spread the word.

To the Blogs!

Rachelle Gardner writes about timing and trends and the "maybes" that sit on agents' and editors' desks for months—perhaps "no response" doesn't mean "assume rejection", after all.

Janet Reid prefers simple uncluttered queries—read about tips to keep your queries free of unnecessary information.

Vickie Motter goes a step further and clarifies what your query is not supposed to be.

In this older post, author Roni Loren describes her experiences at a writers conference and shares what she learned during an agent version of the Gong Show. Check out the list of things that may get your query "gonged" by an agent.

And Don't Forget...

...about the upcoming contest.

Agent Natalie Fischer Lakosil from the Bradford Literary Agency will be judging our next contest, which opens January 30, 2012. She'll look at the first hundred words and a one-sentence logline for children's lit, romance, and upmarket women's fiction manuscripts. Find details about specific genres as well as the guidelines here and start working on your pitch perfection.

Unsure how to write that killer logline? We can help.

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

Ash Krafton is a speculative fiction writer who resides in the heart of the Pennsylvania coal region, where she keeps the book jacket for "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" in a frame over her desk. Visit the Books of the Demimonde blog for updates on the release of her debut novel, Bleeding Hearts: Book One of the Demimonde, forthcoming in March 2012 through Pink Narcissus Press.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Writing Q&A: Using the Insanity Defense in Your Story

Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is intended for writing purposes only and does not represent psychological or legal advice.

A reader/writer asked us, 

What is the insanity defense?

and we decided to go all out. For psychologist Carolyn Kaufman's psychological perspective on Psychological Disorders and the Insanity Defense, visit lawyer Leslie Budewitz's Law and Fiction blog. For Ms. Budewitz's legal take, keep reading!

The underlying premise is that a person cannot be held responsible for criminal behavior if mental illness prevented him from understanding that his actions were wrong. This inquiry focuses on the defendant’s mental status at the time of the crime.

The test has changed significantly since the defense was first recognized in 1843. Courts applied several standards from the 1950s to the early 1980s. The 1982 trial of John Hinckley, who shot President Reagan, highlighted the controversy and prompted legislative changes. In most cases, there is little doubt that the accused committed the crime; the real issue is insanity. In Hinckley’s case, the defense arose early, and psychiatric evaluations–which took four months–began shortly after his arrest. The standard applied at trial was whether Hinckley could  “appreciate the wrongfulness” of his actions, and the government had the burden of proving that Hinckley was sane. After three days of deliberations, the jury found him “not guilty by reason of insanity” on all counts.

After the trial, Congress and many states changed their laws to shift the burden of proof to the defendant, meaning that a person claiming the defense must prove its essential elements. In essence, the presumption of innocence is now paired with a presumption of sanity. Currently, in federal cases, the defendant must prove that he has a "severe" mental disease which made him "unable to appreciate the nature and quality or the wrongfulness of his acts." (I say he for simplicity’s sake, though I suspect most such criminal defendants are male–Squeaky Fromme and Lorena Bobbit aside.) The language of state standards varies somewhat, but is similar. Note that proof of mental illness alone is not enough.

Several states give jurors an additional verdict choice: “guilty but mentally ill.” A handful of states (Idaho, Kansas, Montana, and Utah) do not allow the defense at all, but allow the defendant to introduce evidence of mental conditions to show that he did not have the level of knowledge or intent (“mens rea”) for the crime charged. In other words, he tries to prove that he could not form the intent to purposefully or knowingly kill another. If he meets his burden, the state will be unable to prove all elements of the crime charged, and he will be acquitted by reason of mental illness–essentially the same result as under the insanity defense.

A defendant found not guilty but mentally ill may be confined to a mental institution if commitment standards are met, and released if he becomes no longer mentally ill. Hinckley is confined to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C. In 2003, a judge ruled he no longer presented “a serious danger” to himself or others, and approved unsupervised visits with his parents. If he establishes that he is no longer a threat to himself or others, he will be released.

In December 2011, Hinckley’s lawyers sought his release on lengthy unsupervised visits to his widowed elderly mother, arguing that he is no longer dangerous. Government lawyers opposed the petition, presenting evidence that when out on unsupervised free time, he did not go where he claimed but instead went to bookstores and looked at books on Ronald Reagan and presidential assassins.

A defendant found guilty but mentally ill will be sentenced and kept in government custody for the length of his sentence. Where he is held depends on that state’s procedures and facilities, but it’s typically a prison mental health unit. If he becomes no longer mentally ill while still serving his sentence, he will be transferred to an ordinary prison unit. Once his sentence is complete, he must be released although civil commitment is still possible.

The defense is not limited to murder cases. Lorena Bobbitt argued that she was temporarily insane when she severed her husband's penis with a kitchen knife, and a Virginia jury agreed; she was released after psychiatric hospitalization.

The insanity defense is still much in debate. The heart of the disagreement is the tension between treatment or protection, and punishment. Advocates say the defense allows mentally ill offenders to obtain needed treatment and keeps them out of the prison system, where they lack treatment and are often victimized. A humane society must recognize that some people cannot be held to the same standards of conduct as the rest us because of mental illness they can’t control. Others believe the defense allows the guilty to escape punishment for their crimes, and suspect defendants of faking mental illness to get an acquittal or avoid prison. Justice Department statistics say the defense is raised in only about 1 percent of cases, and succeeds in only 25 percent of those. A large percentage of acquittals result from plea agreements, where the prosecutor agrees that the defendant should be sent to treatment, not prison. Ideally, the evaluation process detects attempts to fake mental illness, which can trigger an enhanced sentence.

But the insanity defense was anathema to Ted Kaczynski, who insisted on representing himself in part because his court-appointed lawyers wanted to raise the defense, while he believed he was sane. By legal measures, he was right. His writings and his arguments to the court demonstrated that his paranoid schizophrenia–a diagnosis he rejected–did not prevent him from understanding that his actions were wrong.

The insanity defense looms large in Otto Preminger’s 1959 classic, Anatomy of a Murder, based on the novel by Robert Traver (the pen name of Michigan Supreme Court Justice John Voelker), starring Jimmy Stewart, Ben Gazzara, and George C. Scott. Just be aware that the law on insanity has changed, as has the admissibility of evidence of a woman’s dress, behavior, and reputation in a rape case.

For details of John Hinckley’s trial, see law professor Doug Linder’s Famous Trials website.

The insanity defense dates back to 1843–writers of historicals should start their research with an article on the evolution of the defense on Professor Linder’s website or the Supreme Court’s historical review in Clark v. Arizona (2006).

And here’s a state-by-state summary of laws on the insanity defense from Find Law.

Leslie Budewitz is the author of Books, Crooks and Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law and Courtroom Procedure (Quill Driver Books, 2011). She is a practicing lawyer and a mystery writer living in northwest Montana. Read an excerpt and more articles for writers, or send her a question, at www.LawandFiction.com , and visit her blog at www.LawandFiction.com/blog.

Leslie’s short fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen, Alfred Hitchcock, ThugLit, and elsewhere. Her cozy series, The Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, will debut from Berkley Prime Crime in 2013.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Making Your Dreams Your Reality

By Kristy Lahoda | @KristyLahoda

I’ve had a lot of dreams since I was young, and at first glance, one might say I have failed to fulfill them. In fact, there are days when I almost convince myself that this is true. Thankfully, those days are few and far between.

Though my life hasn’t turned out exactly the way I envisioned it, in a way, I believe I have fulfilled every memorable dream I had in childhood. I remember sitting in the hallway during church services when I was young and writing books during the sermons. I wanted to be an author. Next, I wanted to be an architect.

By late elementary school, my best friend and I were pretending that we were detectives and forensic chemists and making up “secret” mixtures. Fast forward to high school, when I absolutely loved chemistry. It was during those years that I became fascinated with explosives. In college, I majored in chemistry and decided I wanted to be a forensic scientist. This was before forensic science was on the general public’s radar—before CSI Las Vegas aired. I graduated and was offered a job at a private forensic lab and turned it down. Was this a mistake? Mostly, yes. But, a lot of good things came out of my choice.

I decided that I didn’t know anything about forensics or analytical chemistry and that I should go to grad school and learn before working in a crime lab. Knowing what I know now, nothing trumps experience. I was fortunate enough, however, to do my research for a professor who had worked at the FBI as an explosives researcher. It was a perfect fit for me. Another really good thing to come out of my decision to go to grad school was meeting my future husband the last year I was there!

I also got the itch to start writing a forensic crime novel, but only wrote about twenty pages. I never had a plot and thought that things would just come to me as I wrote. I didn’t spend much time writing, so I didn’t get anywhere. After a short post-doctoral stint, I hoped that I would be able to get a job in the explosives field. Nothing. In fact, I was unemployed for almost two years. While unemployed, I began to get the itch to write a book again.

I did profuse amounts of research and filled up several notebooks. I came up with ideas, talked them over with my husband, and we brainstormed together. I had a plot and an outline of the first fifteen chapters and an idea of how I wanted the ending to turn out. Just after I wrote the Prologue, I was offered a job as a science content editor at a major educational publishing company.

Over three years later, I have yet to work full-time in the forensic field, but is that stopping me from finding fulfillment? Does that mean that I can’t still enjoy forensics? Of course not! I’ll let you in on a few nuggets I’ve learned along the way.

First, don’t give up on your dreams! Second, sometimes you just have to get creative. You never know when an opportunity will present itself. Third, there are many avenues for achieving similar goals—this is where creativity comes into play. Professionally, editing never entered my mind, but after being unemployed for so long, I got creative in my job search. I realized that being a science content editor combined my interest in writing with science. A year and a half ago, I got the opportunity to be an explosives analyst contractor for a crime lab. This has greatly enhanced my writing—it comes straight from the source, not just what I imagine working in a crime lab to be like. Living what you are writing about goes a long way with agents.

I have found a way to incorporate the different things I wanted to be growing up with the reality of not always getting to do what I wanted or what I envisioned my life to be like as a grown up. I wanted to be an author, architect, detective, and a forensic explosives chemist. In reality, I am a full-time editor and an explosives contractor, who has found a way to combine my passions—I am the architect, or writer if you will, of forensic explosives suspense. I want to encourage you to find a way to incorporate your dreams into your life.

Are your dreams long forgotten? If so, find them! What are you passionate about? What do you enjoy doing? Take away your obligations and/or money limitations for a moment. If you could do anything, what would you do?

Now, is there a way to incorporate your dreams into reality? Are you unemployed? Make good use of your spare time. When you aren’t looking for employment, which admittedly can be a full-time job in and of itself, start working on things you’ve been meaning to do. Maybe you haven’t had the opportunity to live out or experience your dreams in the way you were hoping. Since you are a writer, maybe this can be through writing…or maybe there is another avenue that you haven’t yet thought of! I am here to tell you that you can use the gifts and talents you’ve been given despite your restrictions, you just may have to get creative.

Kristy Lahoda, Ph.D.is an explosives analyst contractor in a crime lab as well as a science content editor for a major educational publishing company.  She writes Christian forensic suspense and discusses forensics on her blog called Explosive Faith.  You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

If you have a forensics question for Dr. Lahoda that you'd like to see answered on the QueryTracker Blog, send your question via Carolyn Kaufman using the email link under Contact Us in the right-hand column of the main QTB page.