From the Editor’s Desk: The Night Girl by James Bow

Well, hey, look at that. I managed to do a second post before two years had passed this time. I did tell you I’d try to be back more often. Huzzah!

Much like the last one, this one features a cover reveal / mini-book review of a title I’ve had the privilege to help find its way down the long, winding halls of the publishing pipeline. As a reminder, this series contains my own, non-compensated and purely voluntary insights into what it is I loved about this project, both as an acquisitions editor and as a reader. We good? Good.

First, check out this fun cover designed, as ever, by the talented Ashley Ruggirello:

The official back cover copy is still being finalized, so for now, it’ll have to remain a mystery. But if you’re super intrigued (as well you should be), I’d suggest heading on over to the author’s website, where he’s posted a press release that will certainly give you a taste of what to expect from this quirky, yet surprisingly resonant and timely novel.

Bow makes a great point in his afterword (which you’ll all get to read, if you’re so inclined, in just a few short days, as this one’s springing onto shelves this coming Tuesday, September 10th), that his hometown of Toronto is every bit deserving as a setting as the more prolific Los Angeles, London, or New York. But to say this novel is Toronto-centric would be a disservice to what Bow has masterfully created. One of the hallmarks of great urban fantasy is, of course, it’s setting, but I’ve never read one where the city itself was so much a presence in the tale as to almost become the MC itself. Bow’s love for the town he grew up in is obvious, as Toronto breathes, hulking and massive and ever present, on the page. It’s honestly one of the things I loved best; you literally could not tell this story set someplace else.

Sure, some of the plot points could be universally applied to any urban backdrop, but there’s something magic in the way Bow has crafted the setting that makes it feel intrinsic to the tale of Perpetua Collins and the paranormal underbelly of a town humans take for granted. But while Perpetua’s story deals with a lot of heavy, timely themes, there’s something almost . . . innocent in the way in which it’s told. This is very much the modern equivalent of a fairy tale. I hesitate to say it has an almost Disney-esque sparkle, because many of you will consider it a detriment, but there’s something about it that keeps drawing me back to that comparison. I could easily see this among Disney’s roster, and not just because of the goblins, trolls, and faeries. No, it’s an essence to the prose itself, an ineffable, yet utterly familiar quality to the light of its cinematography.

Don’t let that comparison fool you, though. Bow has packed this novel with fair folk who make the Celtic traditions proud, a narrative of struggle and poverty that’s all too familiar to anyone born below the age of forty (yes, millennials, I might be looking at you), and a conflict rife with prejudice and injustice that makes this tale an extremely relevant, timely allegory to our countries’ shared political state. I might not be Canadian, or ever set foot inside the city limits of Toronto, but there was much in this tale that I could overlay on American cities and soil.

I walked away from this one satisfied, happy, but with a sobering, thoughtful view of today’s societal views. And that, my friends, is one difficult combination to pull off. So, if you’re in the market for a read that’s both quirky, thought-provoking, innocent, and dark, I would definitely consider checking this one out. Add it to your Goodreads TBR today!

From the Editor’s Desk: The Skylark’s Sacrifice by J.M. Frey

Why, hello there! Remember me? I know, it’s been an age since I last posted. Trust me, the cobwebs I had to break through to get in here were embarrassing in their thickness. But don’t worry. I brought a hefty broom and cleaning supplies and will soon be posting with regularity again. So, if you’ve happened to miss reading my random musings on all things publishing (with a smattering of martial arts, book reviews, and art-related stuff), you might want to keep an eye on your inboxes. I have some big things planned in the coming months.

And what better way to kick that off than to share an upcoming release I’m so, so excited for? As you recall—if you recall—From the Editor’s Desk was a feature where I could showcase titles I’ve been lucky enough to assist with. Unlike a regular book review, I have in-depth experience with these titles, and I wanted to be able to share some of that insight with all of you—not as a means of financial gain (I’m not being compensated for my reviews, and the opinions here are entirely my own), but as a means to support the authors who entrusted me with their book babies, and to introduce you to books I think are deserving of the precious space on your TBR.

So, now that everyone remembers what it is we’re doing, let’s dive in, shall we?

First, check out this amazing cover, designed by the lovely Ashley Ruggirello:

Cover Image for The Skylark's Sacrifice by J.M. Frey

Robin Arianhod is on the run. Trapped behind enemy lines, her only choice is to lose herself in the sprawling capital of Klonn. But hiding in the shadows is a disservice to the rocket pack she escaped with, and to the man she once considered foe. Instead, she’ll enact his plan, harness the incredible power of the pack, and stop the war from the inside.

Wanted posters stalk her every move as rumor fuels the Skylark’s rise, and her attempts at vigilantism attract the attention of more than just the city guards. Robin finds herself embroiled in the machinations of a mysterious underground rebellion—Klonnish citizens as tired of the war as she is. 

But are they really her allies, or are they using the Skylark as bait? And can she really trust that her former archnemesis turned his coat? Or will the secret of his true identity lead Robin, and her newfound friends, to their deaths?

Rife with high-flying action, subterfuge, and deception, The Skylarks Sacrifice is the explosive conclusion to the saga of war-torn Saskwya, and the one pilot who can change it all.

Isn’t it gorgeous? It’s also just freshly revealed, as of today. 😉

I’m also sure that many of you caught that this is the second title in the series, the first having been released while I was off on my prolonged hiatus. Why, then, did I choose to feature this one when I did not feature the first?

Well, once in a great while, a series comes along that is more than just enjoyable. Don’t get me wrong, I’m always honored beyond words for the opportunity to work on anyone’s book baby. But I’m also human, and have my own preferences as a reader that have nothing at all to do with my task as an editor. And this series perfectly encapsulates nearly everything I have ever wanted in my reading experience.

Cinematic in a way that’s just begging for a graphic novel or film adaptation (and has inspired more than few fan-art ideas in a mind that has rarely ever given in to that temptation), it resonated with me on a level that was half satisfied joy, and half jealousy. It at once feels like something I would have written, and something that I would be ecstatic to even halfway manage to emulate, if I were to try.

Rich world-building, high-flying action sequences, subterfuge and deceit, enemies-to-lovers romance, a twisty and clever narrative arc, and emotional resonance that is off the chart, it comes amazingly close to earning the title of my perfect read. It’s definitely among my all-time favorite book series, for sure.

Releasing into the world on September 3rd, 2019, I really cannot recommend it enough. Filled with social commentary that is relevant and timely, characters who crackle to life on the page, and Frey’s signature ability to just absolutely gut a reader, it’s a stellar experience. I can’t say anything more without risking spoilers, so please, just go read it for yourself. I would dearly love someone to discuss it with, once the obligatory spoiler-free period is over. 😉

The Skylark’s Song (Book 1)

Amazon // Barnes & Noble // Smashwords // REUTS Store // Goodreads

The Skylark’s Sacrifice (Book 2)

Amazon Kindle Pre-Order // Goodreads

The Types and Importance of Queries

Scattered Books Photo

Queries. Pitches. Synopses. Three words that strike fear into every author’s heart. And rightfully so — selling your book to an agent or editor depends on your ability to encapsulate your story’s heart into a few simple sentences. For most people, that’s a nearly impossible challenge. But perhaps if we look at why this practice is necessary, it will help you understand how to do it. So, I’m going to show you what I look for in a query. Keep in mind that these are solely my opinions, and other agents or editors may look for something else, but if you plan to follow along with #REUTSsubs in the near future (I’m currently working on resurrecting that feature), this will give you a glimpse at the thought process behind my decisions.

Let’s start by looking at the three potential ways you go about introducing your work to an agent or editor. They are:

  1. The Traditional Query Letter & Synopsis
  2. Pitching in Person
  3. Elevator Pitches on Social Media

All three serve the same purpose — hooking your audience into asking for more. That’s a phrase I’m sure you’ve all heard thrown around in writing seminars, but what does it actually mean? In essence, it means you break through someone’s focus enough to grab their full, complete attention and get them to react. In other words, it’s a sales tactic.

Now, I know many of you just groaned. Sales is about as far from writing and creativity as you can possibly get. But the truth is, publishing is a business. There are bottom lines to be met, production costs to worry about, returns on investments that have to happen, etc. So when you send in a proposal (which, let’s face it, is what these things really are — sales proposals), what you’re really doing is arguing why we should become your business partner for this venture. And you’d darn well better be convincing. Don’t you think?

So, how do you achieve that? What makes a sales proposal appealing to the potential buyer? How do you turn indifference into “OMG, yes, I must read this”? Well, I look for a couple of key ingredients:

  • Interesting concept and premise
  • Unique attributes
  • Market potential

That’s it. Every time. Seriously.

Whenever I’m reviewing a pitch/query/etc, I ask myself the same three questions:

“Does this make me excited as a reader?” (This is more of a visceral reaction than a true question. Basically, I’m looking for that internal pique of interest, that “oooooo” factor.)

“What makes it different from everything else in its genre?” (The more specific the better on this front. Diverse cast? Unique twist or angle on the familiar? New setting?)

“What is it similar to/where would I put it on a shelf?” (This is ultimately the most important because it tells me A: where it fits within the REUTS catalog, and B: where it fits in the larger market and who its readership might be.)

All right, now let’s look at how you apply that insight, shall we? Because each type of pitch listed above is a slightly different opportunity to sell your work, and you shouldn’t use the same blanket strategy for each.

The Traditional Query Letter & Synopsis

First off, a query is not a synopsis and vice versa. They’re two separate entities used to achieve the same goal, but one is the lead singer, and the other is the band. You need both, but they serve completely different roles in the process.

Your query letter should be no more than 3-5 paragraphs, and its sole job is to pique the reader’s interest. It has to fit that criteria I listed above. It needs to give just enough information for me to tell whether or not it could be a fit for REUTS. So focus only on the most important aspects — the conflict and stakes that drive your story, sprinkled with a little info on the world/character and just a hint of what makes your manuscript different from the rest. Give me the heart of the tale; I don’t care about the rest yet.

Other things I need to know are genre, target audience, and comp titles (comparable books that might bear similarity to yours). Genre tells me where it fits in the bookstore and who it might appeal to, target audience tells me who I’m going to get to read it, and comp titles give me an instant snapshot of what to expect in terms of feel/tone/theme/style, etc. (One caveat on choosing comp titles: aim for ones that aren’t genre heavy-hitters, but that are prominent enough I’m likely to have heard of them. Also, the more unique the mash-up, the quicker I’ll be able to pin-point my expectations as reader.)

And that’s it. 3-4 paragraphs should easily be enough room to capture all of that, once you isolate the key things an agent/editor looks for. Your final paragraph should be about you, what you bring to the table in terms of experience, etc. Honestly though, most of the time, we kind of skim that info. Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it to us, just that more weight is placed on the content of the story than your particular pedigree.

IF you’ve achieved your goal and hooked my interest, I’ll dive right into the sample pages (because a great pitch does not always mean great execution), and if those pass the quality test, I’ll check out the synopsis. A synopsis is a glorified outline. It tells me the highlights of your story in 1-3 pages. It should capture the emotions, the main conflicts, some of the character motivations, and the entire narrative arc. The details of your world, sub-plots, supporting cast, etc, aren’t as important; the structure of your overall story is.

Manage to hold my interest through all of that, and guess what? You’ve just earned a full manuscript request. (I’m pretty sure this is the process most agents/editors go through, but some of the particulars may vary a little.)

Pitching in Person

Ah, now, this is a whole different game — one part speed dating, one part American Idol audition, all rolled into a giant ball of anxiety for everyone involved. But it’s a very viable option if you have the chance. Out of 55 total pitches I heard at the Willamette Writers Conference last summer, I requested samples (and even some fulls!) of 48 manuscripts. The idea behind this is much the same as the process above, except you only have 4-10 minutes, if you’re lucky, and have to talk to an actual person. Terrifying stuff, for sure.

So what’s the key in this scenario? Be a human. Don’t stiffly recite your memorized query letter while you stare at the table. Engage with us! Take that query you wrote above and hone it even more. In a 10 minute pitch session, your pitch should take up no more than 2-3 minutes, max. Give us the bare bones, the core of your story, and then let us come to you. Think of it like baiting a wild animal; you don’t give away the whole dinner up front, you toss out some crumbs and lure us into the trap. Or, in other, less poetic words, give us time to ask questions.

A face-to-face pitch session should feel more like a conversation, and every agent/editor will hone in on something different. So leave yourself room to answer those questions. If you don’t, and you babble through all 10 minutes, you might end up not getting a request at all. Because that tidbit in the middle that you glossed over? Yeah, that was the one thing that agent/editor was looking for, and you didn’t give them time to find that out.

Your mission in an in-person pitch is simply to get that business card (See? American Idol golden ticket, right?) and a request to see more. That’s it. You’re not going to be signed on the spot, and you’re not going to give us your entire book on a silver platter. It’s simply the first step to a longer conversation.

Elevator Pitches on Social Media

Have you guessed the reason behind this order yet? It’s because they get progressively shorter and shorter. Much like pitching in person, an elevator pitch on social media should comprise the basics of your story. It should only contain the hook, the thing that is most likely to get people to stop and say “ooo, that sounds good.” You have 140 characters, so every letter has to count. Which is why you really only want two things (aside from genre/audience): the stakes/conflict, and what makes your story different. Again, you’re not trying to cram your whole book into 140 characters; that’s madness. You’re only trying to get us to want more. Which is why including that unique-factor is crucial.

To win this round, all you have to do is get a favorite from one of the stalking agents/editors, which then results in a submission of what? The first type of pitch: a traditional query letter and synopsis. It all comes back around to create a massive circle of Submission Hell.

But there you have it, a breakdown of both why pitching is necessary and my particular thought process for evaluating them. I would be remiss if I didn’t note that this article originally appeared on the REUTS Publications blog, and I have syndicated it here for a couple reasons. One, I realized I have yet to actually talk about queries over here, and I hate trying to rewrite something I’ve already written. And two, I wanted to bring that blog to your attention, in case you didn’t know we had one. As the Acquisitions and Editorial Director for REUTS, it’s my sometimes job to add helpful articles and info over there too, specifically in regards to a post series titled Adventures in the Slush Pile, which will showcase the query/response process in real time. So if you’re a fan of #tenqueries on Twitter, that might be something you’re interested in. And if not, then don’t worry. I’ll syndicate some of the more helpful articles here as well, when time and permissions allow.

Until next week, happy pitching! 😉

From the Editor’s Desk: Ghosts by J.M. Frey

Welcome to the resurrected Book Review Wednesday! I have a whole slew of amazing books to review and share with you all, so rather than detract from the content I know many of you have been missing (the articles on publishing/editing/writing), I decided to add a posting day. Or, rather, to resuscitate one. So Friday will be returning to the snark-filled, sometimes-helpful articles you’ve all grown to love over the years, and Wednesday will be reserved for sharing book information, should I happen to have something to share. Sound good? Good.

Today’s offering is the newest release from J.M. Frey. Some of you may remember my review for the first book in this series, The Untold Tale, from a few months ago. Well, this is the next installment, a prequel novella that’s nothing short of fantastic.

Ghosts

by J.M. Frey

Ghosts

For seventeen years, Bevel Dom has been the author of his own story. Or, rather, he’s been the author of The Tales of Kintyre Turn, the illustrated scrolls chronicling his adventures as first the squire, then the colleague, and then finally the friend of legendary hero Kintyre Turn. But there are some stories that Bevel doesn’t write down, doesn’t tell to eager audiences of bright-eyed boys and sighing bar wenches in taverns. Some he simply folds into his heart and keeps. This is one of those tales.

In this prequel novella, fans of The Accidental Turn Series are offered a glimpse into the lives of Bevel Dom and Kintyre Turn shortly before their arrival at Turn Hall and the events that follow, further expanding upon the world and characters seen in The Untold Tale and the the upcoming sequel, The Forgotten Tale, coming Summer 2016.

First, let me just say that I adore Frey’s work. Not only is it intelligent, inclusive, and well-written, it’s also a refreshingly solid addition to the fantasy genre and a heck of a lot of fun. It’s the perfect example of fantasy written for modern times, with all the charm and appeal of its predecessors, and none of the staleness. And as a long-time fan of the fantasy genre, that trait alone is highly appealing.

But I think the thing that truly sets Frey’s work apart is the depth of emotional resonance she manages to pack into everything, be it novel or short story — or, in this case, novella. Written in the same fluid, yet classic-feeling style as the rest of the series, Ghosts gives readers a look into the inner mind of one Bevel Dom, sidekick to the infamous Kintyre Turn. Happening just before the events of The Untold Tale, Ghosts lays the groundwork for one of the novel’s “twists,” and expands upon the richly textured world of the series as a whole.

Bevel’s voice sings off the page with lively (and sometimes crass) wit, a stark contrast to the more refined notes Frey gave us in Forsyth, and the ensuing shenanigans paint a layer of the ridiculous over what is actually a rather heart-wrenching tale. Those who have read the novel will find the insight into the lives of Forsyth’s heroic brother and his lesser-known squire to be a satisfying extension of the arc seen in The Untold Tale. But you don’t have to read the novel to enjoy this small taste of the series. It can most definitely be read as a standalone, and I highly recommend that anyone looking for a new voice in fantasy give this novella a try. It packs a lot of punch for little investment and will introduce you to what is potentially one of the best new fantasy series out there. And I don’t just say that because I happened to have the honor of editing it, I truly believe that Frey’s work is not to be missed.

Book Links: Amazon | Goodreads | Barnes & Noble

 

The 2016 Conference Circuit

Happy Friday everyone! While today is, in fact, April Fool’s Day, this post isn’t a joke. Trust me, my normal MO when I see April 1st looming on the calendar is this:

april_fools_by_xkari_chan-d5q3xbb

But it’s also a Friday this year, and I promised myself I would try and get back into posting more regularly. Which means I’m going to brave the prank-laden waters and send something out into the internet void. It’s not my usual style of article, but I still think it’s pretty cool. Or at least moderately helpful. So, here goes . . .

My 2016 Conference Schedule

(aka Where to Stalk Me)

Now that I’m the acquisitions director for REUTS Publications, I find myself involved in more conferences/workshops/book fairs. I also realize that many of you follow me because of that there job title, and might actually want to know about the various places you could come stalk meet me. So I’m adding a new page where I’ll list any cool events I’ll be attending throughout the upcoming months/years. Sound good? Good.

Here are this year’s current planned appearances (that sounds so weird! Like I’m famous or something. Haha. But I guess that’s what you call it?):

lakeflywriters_logo

 

May 13-14: I’ll be there manning the REUTS Publications table in the WWA’s Bookstore and Writer Services Market, so be sure to come and say hi! REUTS Pub founder and Creative Director Ashley Ruggirello will be on site hearing pitches that day, as well, in case any of you are interested. 😉

PNWA Logo

July 28-31: I’m super excited to be attending the PNWA Summer Writers’ Conference this year. I’ve heard great things about it, and I look forward to both accepting pitches from amazing authors like you and having the opportunity to participate on a few panels (including one with my good friend, Cait Spivey)! There will be lots of chances to find me at this one, so if you’re in the Seattle area, check it out.

willamette-writers-conference-logo

August 12-14: This will be my second year attending the Willamette Writers Conference as faculty, and I’m extremely honored to have the opportunity. If you can’t make it to Seattle to see my presentation with Cait, you’ll have a chance to catch it again here. We’ll be giving you tips on what to do after you’ve received an edit letter, how you implement suggested changes into a work you thought you’d already perfected. It’s going to be (we hope) insightful, and include things you might not have heard about the author-editor relationship, so hopefully we’ll see you there! (I’ll also be accepting pitches here again, as well as providing a few Advanced Manuscript Critique opportunities, so be sure to check those out too if you’re planning on attending and want to work with me.)

Boise Bookfest

October 15: The details of this one are still being worked out, but I believe I’ll be accepting pitches, presenting on an as yet undecided topic (likely regarding fight scenes in fiction), and potentially hanging out at a REUTS Publications table to talk all things books with whoever wants to chat. Maybe I’ll see some of you there?

All right, that’s all I’ve got this week. I do hope to see some of you at these events. Remember, I don’t bite, and chocolate is not required to talk to me but is always appreciated. Oh, and I have martial arts training, so maybe keep the stalking to the non-literal type? ‘k thanks, bye.