Guest Post: Author Miranda Kenneally - Querying Isn't Algebra


Today I have a special treat for you guys. Soon-to-debut YA author Miranda Kenneally! She's sticking with your theme this week and giving us the low down on queries and her own querying experience. AND, if that wasn't awesome enough, she's giving away query critiques to THREE lucky winners. So make sure you enter the contest AND LEAVE A COMMENT! :)

Now over to Miranda...

Thanks to Roni for having me today! I’ll be up front with you all. I’m a TERRIBLE blogger. Seriously. I only blog if I have something semi-important to say or if I need to rant about something. I can’t just sit down and blog. Unless y’all want to hear about Star Trek or Mexican food or wine or The Beatles. Or want me to write a long list of books I think you should read.
So, naturally, I had a hard time coming up with something to discuss today. Therefore I’m going to expand on a post I did several months ago about queries. My agent (Like Roni, I’m also repped by Sara Megibow) said she agrees with my thoughts 100%. I hope most of you haven’t read it. And even if you have, I have a surprise at the end of the post after some other random thoughts.
Querying Isn’t Algebra: There’s No Set Formula
Recently I participated in an online chat about queries. Everyone was throwing their ideas out, so I decided to give some opinions, based on what worked for me.
First, some stats. I sent out 17 query letters. Based on my letter and sample pages, I received 9 requests for a full. Also, I broke just about EVERY query letter “rule” there is: I wrote in first person; I used more than 500 words; I used a freaking split infinitive; and I wrote a long paragraph about myself.
So during this chat, I said:

“I think it’s a good idea to compare your book to other books. It will show that you read in your genre and that you understand the market. For instance, if you’ve written a book about angels, you should say, ‘My book is different from HUSH, HUSH and FALLEN because _____.’ Why? Because everyone already has their angel book, so yours really needs to stick out if you want to get pulled out of the slush.”
This piece of advice, which worked for me when I queried, just set people off. Other chatters said, “You should never compare yourself to other writers!” and “Comparisons like that make agents mad!” and “You should never say you’ve written the next HARRY POTTER or TWILIGHT!”
That’s not what I said.
I’m not trying to tell you what’s right or wrong in terms of querying, but what MATTERS. All that matters is that you’ve written a crazy awesome good book that people will want to read. Who cares what you write in your query letter as long as you show:
1) A powerful hook
2) Originality
3) Voice
4) A command of English grammar
5) A link to your website/blog/Twitter feed
6) You aren’t a complete nutjob
** Of course, follow the agent’s/agency’s guidelines.
This is just my opinion, but I’ve seen other people who’ve broken all the “querying rules,” and have ended up getting agents and book deals.
Query what feels natural and forget the formula.
Spend the time you use looking for the formula to edit and make your book even more awesome.
Here are some random thoughts on writing, querying, the publishing world, etc:
·         I don’t critique queries very often (NO TIME), but nearly every time that I have read one my first impression was that the book itself wasn’t ready to go to an agent. For instance, someone will have written a 50,000 word mainstream novel for adults and I have to say, “I think you need to double your word count. Add more themes or subplots or something.”  Not only should you know your audience, you need to know what books in that genre read like.
·         Another problem I’m seen is too much voice. I know you’re wondering how too much voice can be a bad thing. I struggle with this myself, so I like to point it out when I can. This is using three or more sentences to tell something that you could show in one. Example:
“And then he kissed me. I didn’t like it. He didn’t know what he was doing. I wish we hadn’t kissed in the first place, because he’s obviously never kissed anyone before. Ugh. Gross.”
“And then he kissed me. I might as well have been making out with an eel, and it was that particular eel’s first kiss ever.” (Terrible example, I know, but I hope you get what I’m saying.)
·         Know the market. Read, read, read. I read a ton. At this point, I actually read more than I write. For enjoyment, and to study. I study plot arcs. I study character development. I study plot twists and upping the stakes. This is going to sound ridiculous, and it might lessen your enjoyment of reading, but you need to get to the point where you can basically tell what is going to happen in a book. You need to know how to pick up on clues and how they fit in with the overall plot and the author’s themes. There are only a few authors who can pull a fast one on me (e.g. Courtney Summers, and geez, Beth Revis just totally threw me for a loop with her new book ACROSS THE UNIVERSE.)
·         Social networking is a must. However, working toward perfecting your craft is the most important thing you can do. I spent a long time writing and writing and writing before I ever got involved in Twitter and the writing blogosphere. If you want to break into publishing and you can’t write, none of the blogging/social networking matters. So write, write, write.
·         It does not get “easier” once you have an agent. Sure, your access to the publishing world is a whole hell of a lot better, but that doesn’t mean you can slack off or stop being original. If anything, I’ve had to work a lot – a LOT – harder since I signed with an agent.
Anyway, if you’re interested, I’m giving away a query critique to three people. But you have to fill out the form AND in the comments, recommend a good young adult book to read, and tell me why you loved it and what sets it apart from the rest of the market. Roni will pick the three winners at random.
Thanks for having me today! J
 Miranda Kenneally is the author of SCORE, a contemporary YA novel about football, femininity, and hot boys, coming from Sourcebooks Fire in late 2011. She enjoys reading and writing young adult literature, and loves Star Trek, music, sports, Mexican food, Twitter, coffee, and her husband. Follow her on Twitter or Facebook. Miranda is represented by Sara Megibow at Nelson Literary Agency.