Perfect Pitch: Samira Ahmed's Love Hate & Other Filters

Oh, hi there writers!

One question I get asked all the time, is how to craft a good query letter. At conferences. On Twitter. From random acquaintances on Facebook. So, what better way to help querying writers... than to start sharing a couple outstanding examples?

Welcome to my little "Perfect Pitch" series here on the ol' blog, where I'll post query letters from my clients. The queries that hooked me, and the books that sold afterwards.

Samira Ahmed's LOVE HATE & OTHER FILTERS hits bookstores everywhere on January 16th with Soho Teen and January 18th with Hot Key Books in the U.K. She's gearing up for her book launch and her book tour.

And fun fact, all this started with a tweet. And a different title.

Let's check out that query, as well as that tweet. And if you find all this helpful, please pre-order Samira's debut on Amazon, B&N, and IndieBound, and add it on Goodreads. Signed copies with limited edition art are available from Anderson's too.

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First, that tweet!

I love Twitter contests. I spent a lot of time scouring through Beth Phelan's #DVPit and Brenda Drake's #PitMad. And it's hard, trying to master just how to sum up your entire novel in 140 characters (though Twitter does have more now).

Here's the tweet that caught me immediately.

"She wants to make films & kiss boys--her Muslim parents forbid both. Will a terrorist & Islamophobia shatter her dreams? #pitmatch #YA #CON"

Somehow, in that tiny tweet, Samira was able to convey not just the internal stakes for the main character, but the external ones. The emotional turmoil and the very real danger on the outside. We get important character pieces. We know there's romance, we know the character's background, we know her family struggles. In. One. Sentence.

Masterful.

When you're playing along in those kind of pitch contests, try to pack as much as you can in. In that quick blip. You can do it.

Now, the query letter. Because when you do these Twitter contests, you still have to send a traditional query letter. So it's still important to get that query right, because you could still lose the agent's interest with one that's written poorly.

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Dear Mr. Smith,

Thank you for liking our #PitMatch connection! I'm excited to share my query for SWIMMING LESSONS along with the first 50 pages of the manuscript that you will find attached as a Word docx.

Seventeen-year old American-born Maya Aziz lives between worlds. Between the proper world her parents expect for their good Indian Muslim daughter and the one she envisions for herself. Between her small Midwestern town and her dream of going to film school in New York. Between the mundane reality of her every day and her imagination where she gets advice from Ilsa Lund and Holly Golightly. Between her conflicted longing for the Homecoming King and the Suitable Boy.

With the help and humor of her two best friends, Maya navigates a senior year that’s enlivened by teen angst, romance, a bit of magical realism, and swimming lessons at a secret pond—but a suicide bomber disrupts it all.

Told via brief inter-chapters, the aftermath of this act of domestic terrorism has repercussions in Maya's small town, changing her life forever. This intercalary story builds to the bombing and delves into its genesis and aftermath in ways both intimate and profound.

SWIMMING LESSONS, complete at 80,000 words, was one of three finalists for the 2015 Sheehan YA Book Prize. It is a contemporary young adult story, with a whiff of The Love That Split the World meets Quantico, set in a space where cultures collide, where the definitions of self and other are blurred, and where last names can be a threat.

I was born in Bombay, India, and currently live in Chicago. I have also lived in Vermont, New York City, and Kauai, where I spent a year with my husband and two young children searching for the perfect mango. I received my BA and MAT from the University of Chicago and taught high school English for seven years. My creative non-fiction has appeared in Jaggery Lit and Entropy.

Currently, the full manuscript is under consideration by three other agents. I will let you know immediately of any change in status. Thank you for your time and interest.

Best,

Samira Ahmed

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So let's talk about this query and why it's so great, using my favorite "the hook, the book, the cook" query construction:

The Hook: Samira already got me with the hook in the Twitter pitch event, so she didn't need to open with one. However, you'll see her dive into that format later on, when she talks about how long the book is. She shares really unique comp titles, and delivers a kick ass marketing line with "set in a space where cultures collide, where the definitions of self and other are blurred, and where last names can be a threat." I ended up using that while querying the book to editors!

The Book: She sums up the entire novel in three paragraphs, the last of which dishes some interesting notes on the format of the narrative, something that totally sold me the second I started reading the book.

The Cook: And the bio is perfect. Not only does she talk a bit about herself, she digs into her writing. Where her non-fiction has been, the awards this manuscript was nominated for. She's even open with the fact that other agents are reading it.

This, my friends, is perfect pitch.

And again, if you find all this helpful, please pre-order Samira's debut on Amazon, B&N, and IndieBound, and add it on Goodreads. Signed copies with limited edition art are available from Anderson's too.

Win One of Two Sets of Laura Tims' Books For Your School Library

Story time.

Samira Ahmed's LOVE HATE & OTHER FILTERS comes out in two weeks, and I'm just so excited about it. I've told the story a few times, about finding Samira in a Twitter pitch contest. But there was someone in the middle of all that, who pointed me at her.

Well, the person that connected us, is YA author Laura Tims.

She was playing along as "matchmaker" in the pitching event, and thought Samira's book might be up my alley. She was correct. And now, here we are, with a book hitting stores in two weeks.

Now, Laura Tims has two outstanding books out, The Art of Feeling and Please Don't Tell. She writes really fantastic, unique YA contemporary. TAOF is about a teen boy who can't feel anything (like, literally), and a girl who was hurt in an accident, and how they come together. PDT is about a teen girl who murders someone. What! You can learn more about those books via the Amazon pages I linked.

Now, as a thank you for bringing me and Samira together, we're giving away two sets of both of Laura's books to a school library. Maybe you're a teacher with a small library in your classroom, or maybe you're a librarian who could use some new books in your stacks. Or, perhaps you have a teacher / librarian friend, who could use a little surprise.

Well, this giveaway is for you.

Enter the Rafflecopter below (and for those of you who don't really do social media, you can leave a comment about your school library below), and I'll pick two winners the day Samira's book hits. Good luck!

And thank you Laura! (more…)

Opening for Queries Again, Here's What I'm Looking for in 2018

Happy New Year, bookish friends!

I'm open for queries again on January 8th, and these are the kind of books I'm looking for... as well as the sort I'm not.

If you're new here (hi!), it's a good idea to check out some of the books I've already been lucky enough to work on. Here's a running list, and there are a few on the homepage. I also keep a manuscript wishlist here, that I update now and again. This post is basically a condensed version of that, paired with some of my favorite reads of 2017, to give you an idea of what I love.

Now then, let's dig in!

Young Adult: These books hold the biggest piece of my heart. I'm eager to find diverse stories (especially in sci-fi and fantasy), YA that does a bit of genre blending, LGBTQ+ stories, and heartfelt contemporary stories that'll make me laugh and/or cry.

What sort of reads do I dig? My favorite YA novels of 2017 were Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert, Want by Cindy Pon, Starfish by Akemi Bowman, Dear Martin by Nic Stone, The Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana, They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera, The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli, and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. That should give you an idea of the books I adore.

Science Fiction & Fantasy: I love accessible fantasy and sci-fi. John Scalzi, Cory Doctorow,  Fran Wilde, Chuck Wendig, Kat Howard, and Cherie Priest are among my favorites. My author Mike Chen's Here & Now & Then is a good example of what I like in genre.

S.A. Chakraborty's City of Brass and Sleeping Giants (as well as the sequel Waking Gods) by Sylvain Neuvel were my favorite SFF reads of 2017.

Cookbooks: I love platformed cookbook projects, from writers who know how to use a camera, or have a partner in food-writing-crime that can. And if you have an idea that isn't quite there yet, let's brainstorm!

I'm hard pressed to think of examples from last year, but my own author Lindsey Smith's book Eat Your Feelings is a good one.

Non-Fiction: I really like books that focus on pop culture, geekery, or teach readers about the odd and the unique... and I love it when all of that collides at once. Mary Roach's work is a great example, as is my own author Alex Ruben's book on Missile Command.

I'm also very interested in essay collections and memoir, from people who are writing and publishing pieces actively. My client Bassey Ikpi, whose memoir is due out in 2019, is a great example. You can spot her writing for Vice, The Root, Catapult, and numerous other outlets.

Some of my favorite essayists lately are Michele Filgate, Brandon Taylor, Mira Jacob, Morgan Jerkins, Nicole Chung, R. Eric Thomas, and Ilana Masad. They wrote pieces that made me cry, laugh, and think about my life last year. Morgan Jerkins' and Nicole Chung's books are two of my most anticipated reads of 2018.

Literary & Commercial Fiction: This year I really want to discover some unique voices in literary and commercial fiction. The sweet spot there, is work that does a bit of genre mashing. Think Station Eleven, The Last Policeman (one of my favorite books ever), The Night Circus, and novels by Tom Perrotta, especially like The Leftovers. I like literary novels with a splash of quirk.

My favorite adult novels that I read last year were The Last One by Alexandra Oliva and Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton. Yes, I know they came out in 2016, but I read the 2017 paperbacks thanks. These were brilliant and the perfect examples of what I'm looking for.

I recently sold a literary novel that's in line with these, that I can hopefully announce soon.

What I'm Not Looking For & Dislike:

And now, a roundup of the kind of books I'm not looking for, as well as story lines I dislike. If you're working on something in any of these genres / categories, or something that tells this kind of story, I'm not right, sorry.

And there we have it. Send me your books. Have a pitch? Here's how to query me.

Deals: THE OAT MAMA COOKBOOK by Kristy Kohler and Eliza Larson Acquired by Da Capo Press

Last deal announcement of 2017. Here we go.

I know I tweet a lot about how my darling wife has a pretty huge impact on the kind of books I end up working on. I talked with her a lot about Lindsey Smith's cookbook Eat Your Feelings and Bassey Ikpi's memoir Making Friends With Giants. Lindsey's book will be out next week (gasp!) with St. Martin's Press / Wednesday Books, and Bassey's hard hitting memoir out in 2019 with Harper Perennial.

So... she has excellent taste.

Back in September, when we were eagerly awaiting the birth of our lil' one, Langston, she was looking up lactation cookies. Desserts that help with breast milk production. The ones in stores tasted awful, but the recipes she had found were amazing... and I was shocked to discover there wasn't a cookbook out there featuring these. One that dishes out recipes to help moms with breastmilk production.

Well... my friends, meet the team behind Oat Mama, Kristy Kohler and Eliza Larson.

Their website and company, Oat Mama, delivers wholesome, delicious bars, teas, cookies, and snacks that help women with breastmilk production, offering up a wholesome and actually tasty alternative to what’s available in stores.

And now, it'll be a book in 2019.

I'm so thrilled to say that Kristy and Eliza's wonderful book has been acquired by Claire Schulz at Da Capo Press. It's my sincere hope that this book will help a lot of mothers everywhere for years to come, and I'm just so happy it'll be out in the world. Da Capo's Lifelong imprint puts out some truly gorgeous cookbooks.

Here's the blip from Publisher's Marketplace:

Bakers, moms, and founders of a popular lactation foods brand, Kristy Kohler and Eliza Larson’s THE OAT MAMA COOKBOOK, featuring recipes to nourish breastfeeding mothers, with full meals, snacks, desserts, and drinks created to increase milk supply and support health, to Claire Schulz at Da Capo, for publication in Spring 2019, by Eric Smith at PS Literary (World).

Congrats Eliza! Congrats Kristy! Thank you for trusting me with this truly special project.

In the meantime, be sure to follow Oat Mama on Facebook, on Instagram (Eliza's photography is AMAZING), and check out their blog.

Deals: MISSILE COMMAND by Alex Rubens Acquired by Overlook Press!

I love video games.

This should come as no surprise to those who know me. And going into agenting, one of my dreams was that I would get to work with some video game journalists. There are so many phenomenal stories behind the games we adore, and I wanted to help get those stories told.

Well, when Alex Rubens pitched me his book, I was ecstatic. This was precisely the kind of book I wanted to work on, and by one of video game journalism's brightest talents. Alex has written for... well, everyone. IGN, Kotaku, Giant Bomb, G4, Polygon, PC Gamer, Xbox Magazine, Complex... the list goes on and on.

And now he's writing for Overlook Press. I can't believe I'm writing this post with that iconic elephant logo in it.

I'm thrilled to announce that Alex Rubens' debut, MISSILE COMMAND, will be published at the end of next year. Few people know that the creator of the classic, important game crafted it to protest nuclear war... and subsequently become obsessed with it, sending him in a downward spiral as his game rose to fame.

It's the story of a creator who sacrificed his own well being for a message he believed in and an industry he loved. It's an important story, and I'm so glad Alex gets to tell it.

Here's the blip from Publisher's Marketplace:

Alex Rubens's MISSILE COMMAND, a deep exploration of the unseen challenges of creating one of the most iconic arcade games in history, as well as a portrait of the wild silicon frontier of 1980s video game culture, to Adam O'Brien at Overlook, for publication in October 2018, by Eric Smith at P.S. Literary Agency (World).

Congrats Alex! I can't wait to see this story on bookshelves everywhere.

In the meantime, follow Alex on Twitter for updates.