Tuesday, May 8, 2018

5 Things Every Query Letter Should Have

You've likely spent a few months revising your manuscript, making sure to remove clutter words, tighten scenes, strengthen plot-lines and create kick-ass characters you're sure readers are going to love (or hate). It is now ready to go out to agents and editors in hopes of publication. But agents receive thousands of queries per month, how do you make yours stand out?

First and foremost, remember that your query is a letter and should be addressed as such. You can address the agent with the standard Dear Saritza, or Ms. Saritza (though I prefer the informal Hi Saritza to Ms. or Mrs.) but DO NOT start your query with To Whom It May Concern, Dear Agent or Ladies and Gentlemen. Our names are everywhere, take the time to personalize your query and make the effort to show the agent you've done your research.

I recommend reading How To Write A Query Letter by Rachelle Gardner as the first stop in your research. Her blog is a an invaluable resource to aspiring authors, so make sure to bookmark her site and spend some time learning about the transition from writer to author.

Now, I can't speak for (nor do I dare to) any other agent but I can tell you what I look for and hope to see in the queries I receive. It starts with the voice! Hook me from the get-go and make sure to include information about your character, plot, setting, conflict and resolution.

  1. Character(s) - who is your main character? What's important about them that I need to know right away? If it's a romance, introduce the main character, then their love interest.
  2. Distinctive Plot - give me a glimpse of your plot or the events in your work that set it apart from others in your genre and this is where you get to make your voice shine. It should read like what you'd like the back cover of your book to say.
  3. Setting - where are you taking me? Time and place are important to the genre and it can be achieved with one sentence: The barrio is no place for secrets.
  4. Conflict - what are the stakes? Why should I care about this book? Make it compelling and make me want to devour the work in one sitting.
  5. Resolution - I represent romance authors. I need to see the Happily Ever After or Happy For Now in your query and clearly represented in your synopsis. But even outside of romance, I like to see that the book provides the reader with a clear resolution to the conflict.
These don't have to be in any specific order but I like to see all five in a standard query letter. Now, this is not true of every agent, so make sure to research.

You can find my submission guidelines on our agency website here.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Women's Fiction in Romance #MSWL

I read a lot of Romance novels. It's my not-so-guilty pleasure and one I'm never ashamed to speak about or seen enjoying but it wasn't always the case.

While living at home (with my very religious mother), I had to sneak my romance novels (and any horror or suspense books) into my room or leave them in my band locker to read during lunch or between class periods and band practice so my mother wouldn't throw them away. But many of the Women's Fiction titles I'd bring home, my mother simply glanced at the cover and "paid me no mind." What's interesting is that some of the WF titles I'd read in the late eighties/early nineties while in school were steamier (and sometimes scarier) than some of the romance novels, horror books and suspense titles I'd be shamed for reading at home.

In Women's Fiction, as a young woman, I'd find more main characters that looked like me where romance was still very much about the love and pleasure of the Caucasian, heterosexual, cisgender female finding her happily ever after with the equally labeled man of her dreams, in titles like Waiting to Exhale and The Joy Luck Club, I saw women of color dealing with heartache, abuse, oppression, and shame, then standing up for themselves to change the world around them. Sometimes there was a handsome man courting them, sometimes there were sex scenes, abusive scenes but like in the romance novels, there was hope and a future for the heroine.

In the 80s and 90s, there seemed to be a very distinct line between the two genres (at least on the shelves of the library sales I'd shop as a teen). Today, that line between Women's Fiction and Romance is blurring (if the Goodreads genre lists are any indication) and allowing for a greater crossover for authors whose works fit both the romance formula as well as what the Romance Writers of America organization defines women's fiction to be: "a commercial novel about a woman on the brink of life change and personal growth. Her journey details emotional reflection and action that transforms her and her relationships with others, and includes a hopeful/upbeat ending with regard to her romantic relationship."

So, all of this is to say that I'd love to see more of that crossover in the queries I'm receiving. Do you have a Sophie Kinsella meets Debbie Macomber? A Terry McMillan meets Beverly Jenkins? An empowering tale of a woman getting her company AND her man? I'd love to see it! Follow my submission guidelines and send me your query today.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Announcement: Starting April 15th, I will be open to queries again

That's right! I am finally re-opening my query inbox! I can't tell you how excited this makes me!

On Saturday, April 15, 2017, my query inbox will be open for business!

Cannot wait to read all of your wonderful works and find more gems to sign.

My submission guidelines remain the same but I will be focusing primarily on romance both in the young adult and adult markets with a focus on representing and advocating for #OwnVoices authors. I will also continue to acquire strong, feminist erotica and erotic romance in the adult market. If your work does not pass the Bechdel Test (at the very least) it's not going to be something I'm interested in representing.

In the Erotica & Romance market, I’m particularly interested in contemporary romance stories featuring persons of color, cowboys/vaqueros, intercultural relationships, small-town contemporary romances and historical romance set in 19th century America and the Caribbean. Would also love to see a historical romance set in 1920s through 1940s or during the 1980s in the South, specifically. Am also looking for hard science fiction romance (space opera, interplanetary adventure with a romance story at its core) and erotica featuring accurate depictions of the BDSM lifestyle and kink communities.

In the GLBTQ market, I am always looking for more erotic romance and sweet romance stories featuring characters who identify as queer. I’m also actively seeking #OwnVoices young adult and new adult GLBTQ romance titles regardless of a romantic element. (But love a good love story so if it happens to also be a romance, even better!) Would love a sports romance featuring GLBTQ characters in non-traditional sports: lacrosse, extreme sports, martial arts, rodeo, etc.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

What does "High Concept" mean?

We were discussing "High Concept" or "Commercial Appeal" at the office yesterday and realized this is something that trips up many authors and agents. So here are my very random thoughts on the subject.

Source: Creative Commons
What is High Concept?

First, let me say what it's not:
  • It's not your whole book.
  • Not inherently lowest common denominator plot (like a literary or think piece plot).
  • Not just a movie pitch (Stranger Things: ET meets Aliens and every other 80s movie).
  • Not another term for gimmicky.

High Concept has five elements:
  1. broad appeal, 
  2. ooh factor, 
  3. originality, 
  4. standout setting, and 
  5. illuminates a universal human truth.

Source: MemeMaker
  1. The premise has broad appeal which I know is kind of vague since appeal is really subjective but the concept should be distinct, easily parsed with a clear premise that is immediately intriguing and taps into a wide range of readers' interest.
    A great example today was Kami Garcia's upcoming YA pitched as Fast and the Furious meets Romeo and Juliet. You know from that high concept pitch to expect a high octane adventure with suped-up cars and star-crossed lovers in rival gangs/groups.
  2. It has an "Ooh Factor" built in. Or as Corvisiero Literary Agency, Jr. Literary Agent Cate Hart put it, "where originality meets familiarity." For example: Truthwitch by Susan Dennard – what’s original – a world of magic; what's familiar is the twisting of the Tristan and Isolde tale and the Arthurian Legend.
    This IT factor can be delivered in the execution or the premise – a story we know retold with a unique structure, a twist on a trope, mash-up of two genres. Think about what catches your eye in a flap copy or new TV show (again Stranger Things – the familiar of Spielberg and King, yet a new take on the classic “pre-teen friendship plus horror sci-fi" trope.) But the mash-up or trope needs to be one with wide appeal. If your mash-up is too unique or your trope is too niched, it loses its commercial appeal because not many readers may know the trope or pieces you're mashing up to go, "oooh, I can't wait to read that!"
  3. Originality and Familiarity - What are the stakes? Why should we care about the protagonist's plight? The reader should engage with the main character immediately and feel like the stakes are as high for them as it is for the main character. In The Neverending Story, Bastian is immediately immersed in this world where Atreyu's plight is tied to his own.
    Look at your stories, what are the stakes for your main character? Are they high enough to make you breathless with anticipating their next move? Will readers feel like they want to stick with your character all the way through to the end of the story and come out of it feeling like Bilbo returning from his great adventure? A little crispy, a little heartbroken and still exhilarated by the experience.
  4. A standout setting that's still familiar enough for the reader to connect and engage (there's that word again) in. Think the Red Queen where it’s set in this distant future, but still a familiar world, or kind of like the Shannara Chronicles – 4000 years in future and man has evolved into elves and ogres, trolls, etc. Harry Potter where the muggle world is just one part of this greater wizarding world we get to explore.
  5. A Story That Illuminates Universal Human Truth. Your concept needs to be more than the book. It should challenge expectations, provide insight by illuminating a universal truth. It has to be about something that's bigger than the book (Hunger Games, a book about children killing children.)
I hope this post is helpful when you're working on your next projects or polishing up your current WIPs for mass market appeal. The examples listed are primarily for YA and MG but they really apply to all fiction genres and age-groups.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Welcome Mayra Cuevas to Corvisiero Literary Agency

Allow me to introduce the latest #TeamCorvisiero member, Mayra Cuevas, whose contemporary YA romance TETONKA WILDERNESS CAMP FOR YOUNG LADIES (and tiny pigs) hooked me with just the title. I mean, there are tiny pigs in the title! You can’t go wrong with that, right?

Mayra still remembers the exact moment when she decided she would write novels one day. She was twelve years-old curled up with a copy of Isabel Allende’s Casa de los Espíritus (The House of the Spirits) in her home in Puerto Rico. Inspired by Allende and later by Gabriel García Marquez she decided journalism was the best career choice for someone who wanted to tell stories.

Since then, Mayra has worked as a TV and digital journalist for CNN, HLN, In Session on truTV (Court TV) and EFE International News Agency.

She has reported on domestic and international events but nothing compares to the thrill of finishing her first fiction manuscript.

Mayra has a bachelor’s in communications and master’s in investigative journalism. She has taught workshops on research for writers at the Romance Writers of America national conference. She also volunteers with the We Need Diverse Books organization.

When she is not working on a story, Mayra volunteers at her local Buddhist meditation center, where she serves on the board of directors. She is also an avid traveler and cook.

Mayra lives north of Atlanta with her husband, also a journalist, two teenage step-sons and their cat. Their family’s claim to fame was appearing in Season 2 of Buying and Selling with the Property Brothers.

In her blog, MayraCuevas.com she writes about craft, publishing, culture and spirituality.