How I Got My Agent! (Or the art of never giving up)

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I’ve been wanting to write this post for awhile, but I wasn’t sure on the timing. Should I do it right after I signed? But that seemed a little soon. What about after you get a book deal? Well, I’m still waiting on that. And submission can be a long process, so I decided to go ahead. No need to wait. Besides, maybe it’ll get my mind off the fact that actual editors at actual publishing houses are reading my manuscript.

I won’t bore you with the long, drawn-out story of how I became a writer. Maybe that’s for another day. Let’s enter at the scene where I have a publishable YA Post-Apocalyptic manuscript just waiting for the right agent to snap it up. I researched agents and how to write a query. Wrote. Revised. Wrote. Revised. Etc., etc. Created a list of agents I felt most strongly about, which of course starts out sort of scientific with pluses and minuses and trying to order them based on who you think you would work well with and give your book the best shot. But it always ends up being more of a “feeling” because cold, hard facts mean nothing if you can’t work with the person. And since you don’t really know the agents personally, you have to go by their interviews, websites and blog posts.

So anyway, I had my query, my manuscript, and my list of agents to query. I got started: right about the time YA Post-Apocalyptic had reached its zenith. And nobody wanted my story. I received plenty of full requests, and a lot of “Wow! Love the writing. But YA PA is a hard sell. See me with something else when you have it.” Which is super encouraging. And a let down, but mostly encouraging. I’d been around long enough to know how the industry worked. And personalized rejections were a lot better than form. (I got plenty of those too!)

But then a certain rejection showed up, and I was disappointed, but also elated. I remember thinking while researching this agent, “This is someone I can see myself being friends with even if publishing weren’t involved.” I’m not sure what it was, but I could just tell she was my kind of people. And though it was a rejection, it was sweet and sincere, and I felt an instant connection. So I did something I’d never done before. Ever. I tweeted a thank you to this agent for her a rejection that almost felt as good as a full-request. Almost.

Now, I don’t recommend you do this. I mean, you could, but it depends on the situation. I had other personalized rejections and I didn’t make any other contact. Because agents are busy people, and you can come across needy, or unprofessional, or just plan annoying. But like I said, I could just tell there was something else there. (At least, I hope so. Otherwise maybe I was needy and annoying, but apparently it didn’t hurt me in the long run.)

The agent responded with a heartfelt thank you. And that was that. She moved to the top of my agent list for future manuscripts and I went back to work. But in my mind she had joined  a small group of agents that I really, really wanted to work with in the future.

When I was ready to query again, she was one of the very first agents I contacted. But sometimes, the agents you contact first aren’t always the first to get back with you. As I said before, agents are busy people. They might not get to your query until months after you’ve written it. Time went on, rejections and requests filtered in, and my query spreadsheet filled in with dates and notes, red for rejection and green for requests.

Then I got her full request. I was more than happy to send it her way. She gave me a timeline for when she would read, and I let her know how many other fulls I had out. And then the unthinkable happened. I had an epiphany about a major change to the book. I thought about it for a few days, decided it had to be done, then gathered my courage and asked if she would wait a few weeks to read a revised version. Once again, this is not always the best thing to do. It’s usually better if you have feedback from say another agent and decide to make changes, or a good excuse as to why you just made yourself look totally unprofessional, but all I had was a new set of beta notes and an AhHa! moment. Agents, to my understanding, would much rather wait on reading and see your best work, but I have to believe this makes you look a little flaky. Still, she was happy to wait and I revised and got her the MS as quickly as I could.

I’ve kind of forgotten the timeline after this. I don’t remember how long she had my MS, or how many other fulls I had out at the time. In fact, I tried not to think about any of it too much, because once the MS is in their hands, there’s nothing you can do but write another book or send more queries. Needlessly worrying is not helpful. (We do it anyways.) But it’s not helpful.

The day I found that little email in my inbox that said, “I love your book. Let’s schedule a call.” I was shaking for the rest of the day. We set-up a day and time to talk, and I spent almost a full week alternating between excited squealing to my husband and my sister, and convincing myself this was not, in fact, THE CALL, but only a courtesy to let me know she couldn’t represent me. Which made very little sense, but hey, I have heard of it happening before.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a nervous wreck by the time we actually talked. I have social anxiety as well as a phone phobia, so yeah, that part wasn’t the most fun, but my intuitions were correct. This agent was the sort of person I would get along well with. She listened to me gush about my book, what I hoped for it, what I wanted to achieve and most importantly, she understood how I felt about not only bringing more diversity to children’s  literature, but also my ardent need to do it correctly and cause no harm. Despite my nervousness, it went well. And at the end of the conversation, she offered me representation.

It was like watching a huge part of your dream come true. Surreal and amazing and terrifying all at once. Of course, I felt like there should have been fireworks over my house, but city ordinances and all, so no explosions. I asked for the customary two weeks to think it over and to notify any agents with outstanding fulls or queries about the offer. We agreed to another day and time for a call and I went about the business of contacting the handful of agents with outstanding material.

Those two weeks were unreal to me. When there’s a deadline for decisions, publishing can move fast. I had double digit fulls out at one time and that has never happened to me before. But it was anxiety-inducing too. Because all the while I was excited to see my book being read by many fabulous agents, there was a part of me that wanted them all to reject ASAP so I could call the offering agent and accept. I told myself that wasn’t good business, that I needed to be open to other offers and think about my career and what was best for that. But really I just wanted to accept the person I’d already connected with, the one I was feeling comfortable and excited about. It was a long two weeks.

In the end, I called Valerie Noble and told her she was the one I wanted representing me, my books, and my future endeavors. Sometimes your first instincts really are correct and I’m so glad I found her as my agent. She has to listen to me ramble on about my books, diversity in literature, and of course my kids on occasion. It can’t all be business! But I’m lucky to have found her and so excited to be partners in the publishing journey.

And just a little side-note to end this post. I know this has been said before, but I’ll say it again. NEVER GIVE UP! My connection with Val didn’t start with the first book of mine she wanted to represent, it started with the one she didn’t want to represent. Writing a book, even one that doesn’t get published, is part of the journey. It’s practice, and querying that book makes connections. So don’t give up after one or two or even three. I think Beth Revis had eight trunked manuscripts before she was published. So keep it up. Your goals can come true too! Good luck!

More of my posts on querying:

Queries! Queries! Queries! : Researching Agents

Queries! Queries! Queries?? How to Write a Query Letter

Agent Research: I Forgot to Tell You Something!

Silver-Linings in Those Rejection Letters

Rejection Spike

I understand now, why some authors use a rejection spike. In case you’ve never heard of this, it’s a spike or a nail or something you use to “display” all those rejections you receive. I used to think I wouldn’t want to see that solid, tangible reminder of my failure to attract an agent. I felt the growing pile would only make me feel miserable and make what I’m doing seem futile and pointless. Now I know better.

You know what makes you feel like you’re shouting into the void of oblivion with nothing, not even your own echo, as evidence you’re alive and there and trying? Utter silence. The crickets chirping in the Inbox is a dreadful and eerie sound, er absence of sound. It is truly the worst thing an author can face. Give me a hundred letters that say “this just isn’t right for me” over the blankness of an empty Inbox.

It’s not that I’m disheartened by my inability to acquire an agent in four weeks. (Okay, maybe a tiny bit.) This process is often long, hard and full of lessons. I’m only just beginning. There’s been a few requests, some form rejections, and even a few personalized with nice things to say about my writing. This is far from over, but those unanswered queries ring with the sound of silence, even when the Inbox is closed to my ever searching eyes.

So I may get a spike. Or a nail or something hard and pointy (but kept well away from children!) I may print off those e-form-rejections and the couple of personalized I’ve received, and just impale them for posterity. I don’t know if it will make me feel better, but it has to be far more satisfying than just crossing someone off the spreadsheet. And at least it will feel like I’m doing something!

**Note: Advice from a fellow author on Absolute Write on dealing with rejections: Write more f@#&ing queries. The regular kind won’t do. It has to be f@#&ing queries! It made me smile. 🙂

More of my posts on querying:

Queries! Queries! Queries! : Researching Agents

Queries! Queries! Queries?? How to Write a Query Letter

Agent Research: I Forgot to Tell You Something!

Silver-Linings in Those Rejection Letters

How I Got My Agent (Or the art of never giving up)

The Query Process: Its Own Brand of Crazy!

Reject Key Means Decline Or DenyAs if the grueling process of writing an entire novel isn’t enough, now you have to find an agent to represent your book for its best chance of publication!

I know I jokingly said in an earlier post something to the effect of, “How much time can querying agents take?”, but that was a little tongue-in-cheek. I actually knew researching agents, crafting personal letters and compiling submission material to meet guidelines would be time consuming, I just didn’t realize how much.

And that’s not even considering the mental and emotional strife I’m dealing with. *Refresh email* *Refresh email* *Refresh email* *Partial request!* (Writer’s high) *Form Rejection* (Writer’s low) I think that’s why I find myself emotionally distancing myself from my novel right now. A rejection sends me into a flurry of, “What did I do wrong? What can I fix?” The emotional distance of finding the right business partner for the business document I have written is far less mentally taxing than waiting to see if a brilliant lit agent I admire will give my literary baby a nod of acceptance.

And it’s only week two. I’ve only dipped my toe in to the proverbial shark-infested waters. I’m not calling you literary agents sharks by any means. It’s just that to a writer seeking approval, it can feel like our egos are chum floating in the mixed waters of self-confidence and abject misery. *sigh*

Well, off to research more agents, try to find someone you think you can connect with through nothing but interviews and webpages, and write another sparkling query that will hopefully garner the right attention. This is far harder than actually writing the book, but I would like to say “Thank you!” to all the agents who have taken the time to read my letters. It can be just as hard for an agent to find that diamond in the slush pile, as it is for we writers to find the perfect partner for a literary career.

What kind of querying experience have you had? Do you use a rejection spike for rejection letters? What helps you to keep going, even after multiple rejections? And how many rejections before you say you’ve had enough and move onto another project?

Let down . . .

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I’m a little sad this morning. First, the Lions lost yesterday to the Buffalo Bills. It was a game they should have won, but hey, it’s early in the season. I still have hope of a good run. And I’m not one of those fans that gets down on their teams. I believe until the very bitter, bitter, end. But the Lions only gave me a little downer, it was the Tigers that clinched this mood.

They’re one of the best teams in baseball. Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, David Price: these are some of the tops guys in their respective positions. And that’s not even including guys like Tori Hunter, a veteran player who brings leadership and amazing skill to the game. We picked up J.D. Martinez, a guy the Astros didn’t want. The Astros! And he turned out to be money in the bank. That was a great acquisition. And there are a lot of other guys. Good players. Good team mates. Of course, we won’t talk about that bullpen. I just can’t. I can’t.

And in case you don’t follow baseball, we Tiger fans had high, and realistic, hopes of getting pretty far in the post season. Maybe even going all the way. The first half of the season was amazing, and boy did we fans Believe! After the All-Star Break, things went a little downhill. We had to play catch up just to win the division, but they did. American League Central Division Champs four years running. And then came the Orioles.

Sadly, the Orioles had our number this series. The Tigers gave me hope in the 9th with a hit by V. Martines and then J.D. Martinez getting the RBI, but that was it. A quick double play ended the season for us. I am sad.

But it’s not all bad. We have a great team and I look forward to what next year brings. I’ll always support my guys through thick and thin. And on an even brighter note, I got a request for a partial on Friday. My first!

I am totally freaking out!!!

I am totally freaking out!!!


That was supposed to be a gif. It didn’t work.

I’m trying not to get my hopes up, but at least it looks like my query is decent enough to attract attention. So that’s great. I’ll just keep plugging away at this query process, but the agent who requested? She’s one of my top picks. Feeling pretty good right now!

Except when I think about the Tigers . . . 😦

Agent Research: I forgot to tell you something!

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Okay, so I didn’t actually forget, I discovered something I’d like to share in addition to my original post Queries! Queries! Queries! Part 1: Researching Agents. Originally I talked about taking notes on the agents you research. Well, actually I’m not even sure if I said that. Yikes!

Anyway, you should research agents you are interested in and keep extensive notes on them. What are their submission guidelines? Be detailed! What books would they like to see cross their desk? What do they represent? Who do they represent? What genres are missing from their lists? (Don’t include genres they say they don’t want to represent.) Do they like personalized intros? Or getting right into the heart of the query? Do they want comparative titles or does this annoy them? Read their website, interviews, Publisher’s Marketplace page, QueryTracker, etc. Why?

Because this will help you craft the best query possible. Your intro can be based on the info they specify. You can eliminate pet peeves they have that other agents don’t. There are so many reasons to know everything you can about the agent you are querying, and you may have noticed my Submission Spreadsheet doesn’t have room for all of that info.

Here's an example of my spreadsheet. Sorry if it's too small to read!

Here’s an example of my spreadsheet. Sorry if it’s too small to read!

That’s because I kept paper notes and only included that which was important for query tracking in the spreadsheet. This is where what I forgot to mention comes in handy.

I lost my notes. Hey, I wrote them a year ago. And I lose things all the time. This is an organizational problem. Sure, I had to re-read everything I could find on the prospective agents anyway, just to verify that all information was still accurate, but I could have just been verifying, instead of re-writing all my notes. I had my spreadsheet, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. So this time I created a word document and saved it in my Submissions Folder for my MS. No losing it now! Every tidbit I found on an agent is saved for posterity, or until I need it again!

And on re-researching if you’ve done your original research a year, or even months before: DO IT! I can not stress this enough. An agent may have changed agencies, changed their submission policies, or as I found about one of my top ten agents, no longer accepting submissions until they dig themselves out of the slush pile that has consumed their office. Always verify before you hit SEND!

***Author’s Note added 10/3/14 at 11:00am***

Annnnd I forgot something else. In re-reading both my posts on querying agents I realized not once did I mention finding the right agent for you! Big sales, famous names, and representing authors you like won’t matter if you and the agent don’t have the same ideas for your career. I’ve heard it recommended to attend conferences and find ways to meet agents in order to get the best idea if you would work well together, but this is not realistic for most of us. So our best bet is to troll the internet for every interview, guest post or website that mentions our prospective agent. Not only so we can craft the best query to achieve representation, but so we can determine if they are the sort of agent we want representing us in the first place. Good luck to all agent-hunters. I hope you all find the best agent for you and achieve publishing success!

What tips do all of you have for researching agents? What do you look for when trying to find the perfect agent? And if you have one, what do you like about him or her?

More of my posts on querying:

Queries! Queries! Queries! Researching Agents

Queries! Queries! Queries?? Hot to Write a Query Letter

Rejection Spike

Silver-Linings in Those Rejection Letters

How I Got My Agent (Or the art of never giving up)

QUERY DAZE . . .

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So I just hit SEND on my first query, and I sort of feel like throwing up. It’s just one of many, but in honor of this momentous (at least to me!) occasion, I’m going to post my query and first ten pages for all of you to see. Minus the pertinent info. I don’t need anyone from Australia calling me in the middle of the night! 🙂

Dear Ms. Dream Agent:

When I discovered you were (Amazing Author)’s agent, and (Another Amazing Author)’s as well, I knew you would be at the top of my list. I adore (Amazing Author)’s musical prose, and (Another Amazing Author)’s (Awesome Book) was a punch in the gut from which I have yet to recover.

I Have No Name (96,000 words) is a YA Post-Apocalyptic novel that fits somewhere between Mindy McGinnis’s stark, gritty Not a Drop to Drink and the commercial appeal of Demitria Lunetta’s In the After. It follows Nona, a girl emotionally crippled by loss, as she slowly realizes there’s more to life than just survival.

At sixteen, Nona’s best friends are a mannequin named Frank and a Ruger 9mm. Frank’s the strong, silent type, but the Ruger keeps wild animals at bay. After two years alone in a remote Michigan town, survival is all that matters.

When a band of plague survivors called the Community claims Nona’s deserted town, she and the Ruger tell the trespassers to get lost, but they don’t take the hint. Especially Joshua McKinnell, whose friendly banter isn’t silenced by the sight of her gun. Joshua’s grin and Nona’s need for human contact whittle her resistance, and before she knows it, Nona has a friend. The Ruger remains strapped to her leg—old habits die hard—but poor Frank’s abandoned to a crumbling dinner. He was never much of a conversationalist anyway.

Just as Nona accepts the Community, she’s captured by the American Brotherhood. They’re known for brainwashing child-soldiers and enslaving survivors, so Nona expects the worst, until Will Kennedy, a friend from her past, steps in to claim her. Technically, she’s a slave, but Will treats her like a guest. As Nona navigates the dangerous Brotherhood society, she discovers Will has been finding good homes for survivors and requesting kids be assigned to his unit, all to protect the innocent. Friends don’t hold friends hostage, but Nona can’t help liking Will, though she’s terrified of the rush she feels whenever he’s near.

Before Nona can decipher her heart, Will and the Brotherhood are ordered to lay siege to the Community’s stronghold. This is one situation the Ruger can’t help. Nona must convince both sides to back down before full-scale fighting breaks out. But if that fails, she’ll need all her survival skills to protect Will and Joshua, the friends she never meant to make.

Though this is my first query, I will be submitting to more agents in the near future. I have included the first ten pages below, per your guidelines. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
Jennifer Austin

Address

Phone Number

Email

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I HAVE NO NAME

by

Jennifer Austin

THE GIRL

CHAPTER ONE

I watch them stroll down Main Street through the scope of my rifle. Maybe men, maybe boys. Too hard to tell from here. There are two of them, and they wade through weeds and saplings clawing through the crumbling pavement, their boots crunching on broken bits of glass and brick and asphalt. A brown bottle passes between them, and they take long sips, laughing and talking, though they’re too far away to make out words.

With the sun at my back and hidden behind the metal sign above the diner, the barrel of my gun resting in the crook of the rusty “N”, I don’t think they’ll see me. Not unless they look hard, and they aren’t. Too interested in that bottle.

Sweat prickles my skin, and I quietly wipe slick palms one by one on my cargo pants. This stifling August heat doesn’t help, but that’s not why I’m flush and sweaty. Or why my heart beats like a trapped rabbit’s. I haven’t seen another living soul in two years, not since the Black Flu took the last ones. Part of me want’s to run down the street screaming for joy, but mostly I want them to go away.

Aching muscles protest my vigil and I take a quick glance at my watch. Inherited from Dad. Wide leather cuff with a big silver face inset with a moon and stars. Underneath my skin is white and pasty. And sweaty. I shift the band, itching the skin. I’ve been here awhile, arms supporting my rifle and legs cramped from sitting. Shifting my weight, broken glass from long-gone marquee lights grinds under me, so I stop. My heart stops too. I can’t be heard. Dad warned me about men, and what they’ll do to defenseless women.

Leaning back I give my eyes a break. They’re a few blocks away, moving closer. With a rush of breath I blow sandy hair from my clammy forehead. Just a habit. Not long enough to get in my eyes anymore. Shaved it off almost a year ago. Don’t know what came over me. Everything I guess. Believing you’re the last person alive can make you crazy.

I return to the scope, and to wondering why they’re here. Sand Beach is a tiny, derelict town with nothing but Lake Huron to the east and overgrown cornfields to the west. There’s a cache of supplies, but as fast as the plague took its toll, there are supplies everywhere. And they can’t be here for me, or they’d have gone to my farm.

Could be Gangs of Detroit, but I haven’t seen them in years. Probably died out like everyone else. Besides, they’re wearing military fatigues. And not the desert tans featured in old Newsweeks, but green camo. Assault rifles dangle from their shoulders, handguns strapped to their legs. U.S. Army? If they still exist. But now they’re closer, and I can see they’re just kids. No older than me, so sixteen maybe. One’s taller than the other, but both are slight. Camo shirts rolled up to the elbows hang loosely on boyish frames.

Drifters, then? Haven’t seen any of them in years either, but I guess that would be best. Take what they want and move on. But why would drifters have matching uniforms? No, they’re too organized. My grip tightens, breath trembling. Organized could mean civilization, but is that good or bad?

Dad’s voice whispers in my ear, “You can’t trust no one, Ladybug.” With a jolt, I find my finger curled around the trigger. Dad would want me to, but I can’t. Kill the first two people I’ve seen in years? Trembling nerves shiver across my body as I lay my finger along the stock of the gun, back where it belongs.

I’ve made up my mind to wait them out, when gravel crunches behind me. I whip around, but my barrel clatters against the metal “N”. It’s caught in the crook.

“Drop it and turn around,” a voice commands, quiet. Muscles tense, I set down the gun, rising to the balls of my feet with measured movements. When I turn to face him, I stay low. I’m not giving the two in the street an easy target.

Twenty feet away, a third man crouches on the flat roof, his rifle pointing at my chest. I blink at the sight of him. There’s something surreal about this one. Cold, calculating eyes in a face that’s . . . perfect. He’s a sun-kissed model in a teen magazine. The ones who advertise clothing, but wear very little.

Military fatigues, assault rifle, everything the same as the other two, but he’s not playing soldier. Though he’s older, I think the difference is those eyes. He looks like someone you shouldn’t mess with. And I let him sneak up on me.

“That one, too. And the knife.” He indicates my Ruger and knife with the tip of his rifle. I lay them both gently on the roof. Why is he so quiet? It’s obvious he’s with the two in the street.

I keep my eyes locked on his. Icy pools of Arctic blue. Concentrate. Don’t worry about his stupid eyes. There’s another knife strapped to my calf, hidden by my pant leg. Something else Dad taught me, but the guy will probably shoot me before I reach it. And he’s much bigger, so hand-to-hand fighting is out anyway.

But his heaviness might be useful. The roof of the diner is rotted in places. Most of the town is falling apart. Maneuver him toward a weak spot, the ones I’ve learned to avoid, and let gravity do the rest.

“I need you to listen,” he whispers, but I’m not. I’m planning. Mapping where I need to be, and where I need him to be. A voice in the back of my head says, Pay attention. But I don’t like being on this end of a gun.

Before he can say anything more, I run. He follows, his heavy boots pounding the roof. “Wait,” he stage-whispers, though being quiet now is pointless. With a loud crack, the roof gives out, and he disappears into the hole.

Skidding to a stop I think about going back for a gun, but there’s a gaping void between me and my rifle, and the man’s is nowhere in sight. From inside the hole an arm appears, clutching the edge of debris. He’s pulling himself back up. There’s no time. I have to get away. Find a new place to hide.

Shouting in the street reminds me there are two more to deal with. The rickety ladder on the side of the building is not an option. They’ll be there before I reach the ground. No, I knew my choices to begin with. I’m going to have to jump.

Backing up a few steps, I get a running start. I need speed as I head for the back of the dinner and the narrow alley separating me from escape. The alley is wider than I remember, but there’s no time for second thoughts. My foot hits the lip, I take a huge leap and sail through the air.

Feet slam into the roof across the alley, and a shock of elation runs through me, but it’s short lived. Falling forward I smash into the sloped roof. My breath escapes in a painful umph, and the world spins. It’s only when the rough shingles scrap my belly I realize I’m sliding. Hands scramble for a hold as rotting shingles slip through my fingers. When space opens beneath my feet, my heart drops into my stomach, and I slide over the edge. My fingers wrap around an exposed 2×4 at the last second, and I’m dangling, the ground a good ten feet away.

Gritting my teeth, muscles straining, I try to pull myself up, but it’s no use. My skinny arms don’t have the strength. Below, the two boys gape at me. Probably think I’m crazy. They motion for me to let go, but I shake my head even as my grip loosens. After a few more agonizing seconds, the blood pounding in my ears, my fingers slip, and I fall.

They catch me. Well, sort of. Arms around my waist and chest, sandwiched between them. But my foot hits the ground hard, twisting, pain stabbing through my shin. Their arms knock the wind from my lungs, but I’m focused on the throbbing, swelling ache spreading through my ankle. It’s a moment before I’m aware I’m leaning against the taller boy, unable to bear my own weight.

Tall Boy laughs, pulling me closer. My skin crawls at the contact. It’s alien and wrong, the scent of sweat, cigarettes and alcohol smothering me. The smaller boy clutches one of my arms, yanking it like a child fighting over a toy.

“Don’t worry, Scrub,” Tall Boy laughs. “She’s enough for both of us. Let’s get somewhere Will can’t find us.”

Dad’s warnings are a siren in my head, but I tamp down the hysteria. Keep them off guard, I think, leaning heavily against Tall Boy.

“Trent, I thought I heard Will up there.” Scrub is pointing at the diner, but Trent isn’t listening. With his arm around my waist, his hand rests on my stomach. When it slides to my chest, egg and biscuit from breakfast rise in my throat. I choke it back. But I keep hold of the anger that came with it. It’s time to make my move.

Trent doubles over with a hard knee to the groin. His red face makes no sign of breathing, and he’s clutching himself with both hands. Clenching my free hand into a fist, I drive it into Scrub’s face before he knows what’s happening. The crunch of cartilage vibrates through my hand and blood spews from his nose. He let’s go. I’m free. I turn and run.

I barely make it two hobbling steps before something slams into my head. Lights explode behind my eyelids, pulsing and throbbing, and my mouth fills with a metallic taste. Weightless and falling, I hit the pavement, crashing back to reality. Trent, his face an ugly mask of violence, kicks my chest and I curl into a protective ball.

“Frank,” I scream, “Frank, help!” A kick to the back stops my yelling, but it doesn’t matter. I cover my face with my hands. Frank can’t help me. There’s no one to help me. One sob escapes my throat, but I stifle the next. I won’t let them see me cry.

The blows continue, but now there are more. Scrub has joined Trent. Payment for his broken nose. Play dead. You can take it. Just survive.

“Stand down! Stand down!” A distant voice shouts the order, and feet hammer the pavement. It’s the man from the roof. There’s a reprieve, but I remain curled, waiting, not daring to move. After a few seconds and no more strikes, I hazard a peek through my fingers. Both boys stand rigid, staring into space. Trent’s face knots in pain while blood dribbles from Scrub’s nose and down his lips.

Kneeling beside me, the man asks, “Are you okay?” He lays a hand on my leg, but I jerk away. Pulling myself to a half-sitting/half-lying position, I scoot backward until I hit a building. Flaking paint crackles against my T-shirt, and I lean my head against the rough wooden boards. Tears streak my face, but I swipe them away.

The man sighs, his face dark. I glare back, but he isn’t angry at me.

“Will, we was only—” Trent begins, but Will cuts him off.

“Report, Private!”

“Sir,” Trent says, resuming his rigid stance, ”we caught her when she jumped from the building. We offered assistance—” I snort in disbelief ”—but she attacked us. We were only trying to subdue her for questioning.”

Wiping a trickle of blood from my split lip, I gauge Will’s reaction. His eyes follow the motion, his jaw clenched in a hard line, but he only shakes his head.

When Will doesn’t say anything, Trent loses his stiff posture. “Girl as pretty as this, she’ll get bought by some Assembly member or something. Sucks wasting her on an old man.”

I don’t know what surprises me more: the idea I could be sold or the existence of more people. Where have they been all this time? Why have I been left alone? I search Will’s face for answers, hoping he’ll contradict Trent, but he’s unreadable.

“We still get our cut though, right?” Trent demands, but he’s a cowering dog when Will’s attention snaps back to him.

“Yes, you’ll get your percentage of the Sponsorship. Now stand watch while I talk to her.” Will indicates either direction of the narrow alley, and Trent and Scrub take up position.

When Will walks toward me, I tense. His blond hair curls around the edge of his hat, and his blue eyes are no longer cold. More like tropical waters on the postcard Aunt Jessie sent from her honeymoon. I remind myself he’s still the enemy. Saving me from these boys doesn’t change that.

“What’s your name?” he asks, flashing a dazzling smile as he crouches next to me. His tone is friendly, now that he’s not ordering his soldiers about.

My answer is caught in my throat. It’s not that I never speak. I do. But this conversation is real and the strangeness swallows my voice. “I have no name,” I finally croak with a scowl. I’m still a prisoner, and based on the previous conversation I’m not out of danger yet.

“You have to have a name,” Will says with another smile. “Everyone has a name.”

“I have no name,” I repeat, my voice clear and strong this time, but I break eye contact. I discarded that name, that person, years ago. Back when life discarded me. I’m nobody now. No name, no future, and no hope, just survival. But I fear those eyes can see inside my head. See things I don’t want to think about.

Query Letter: HELP!!!!!!

Stress. Woman stressed

All right dear readers, I’m going to post my query and look for some advice. I’ve been through many rounds of Query Letter Hell on the Absolute Write forum, and this is my latest and greatest. I plan on posting it in QLH in a few days, but if I can improve it before that would be awesome. If you have an opinion, I’d love to hear it! And I’m begging on hands and knees in case you can’t see me through your computer!

Dear Reader:

At sixteen, Nona’s best friends are a mannequin named Frank and a Ruger 9mm. Frank’s the strong, silent type, but the Ruger keeps wild animals at bay. Two years alone in a remote Michigan town and survival is all that matters.

When a band of plague survivors called the Community claims Nona’s deserted town, she’s torn between the need for human contact and the crippling memories of her dying family. She and the Ruger tell the trespassers to get lost, but they don’t take the hint. Especially, Joshua McKinnell, whose friendly banter isn’t silenced by the sight of her gun. Before long, Nona calls Joshua a friend and is helping the Community restore her town. The Ruger remains strapped to her leg—old habits die hard—but poor Frank is abandoned to a crumbling diner. He was never much of a conversationalist anyway.

Just as Nona settles into life with the Community, she is captured by the American Brotherhood, a militaristic-society from Virginia. They brainwash child-soldiers and enslave new members, so she isn’t expecting protection from her Sponsor, Will Kennedy. Will hates the Sponsorship system, and treats Nona more like a house guest than a servant. Friends don’t hold friends hostage, but Nona can’t help liking Will, and maybe something more.

But Nona doesn’t have a chance to decipher her feelings for Will. The Brotherhood army, including Will, lays siege to the Community’s stronghold. Nona must escape and find a way to convince everyone to back down—or choose a side to fight on. All she really wants is to protect Joshua and Will, the friends she never meant to make.

I HAVE NO NAME (96,000 words) is a YA Post-Apocalyptic that fits somewhere between NOT A DROP TO DRINK by Mindy McGinnis and IN THE AFTER by Demitria Lunetta. Thank you for your time and consideration.

And yes, I know I need a bio. And I know I need a personalized intro for each agent. And I might even redo that whole last para, but I wanted to include it for clarity. This is mostly just to get the meat of the query perfected, and then I’ll create a personal letter based on each agent. Just would love to know what everyone (anyone?) thinks about this so I can improve this letter! Thanks everyone!

Oh, and I was considering adding something like:

Frank was never this much trouble.

or

Maybe she should have stuck with Frank.

after . . . friends she never meant to make, or somewhere in the last para. Thoughts?