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How to succesfully query a Literary agency or a publishing firm By Book Agent Jen Rofe for GLA | Posted Tn Odu for Phantom House Books Literary Nigeria

Literary Agent Jen Rofe (Andrea Brown Literary) for Nick James’s YA novel, Skyship Academy: The Pearl Wars (Sept. 2011; Flux). The book was called “a fast-paced adventure that delivers solid action sequences throughout” by Publishers Weekly, while Booklist said, “This first novel is a refreshing departure from the strict dystopian trend. There are plenty of plot surprises and action sequences to keep the pages turning, and the treatment of terrorist attacks and environmental concerns will prompt readers to make connections with their own lives.”

Dear Ms. Rofe:

Fifteen-year-old Jesse Fisher can’t pass a test, pilot a space shuttle, or make it through a day without tripping over his own feet.

Now his clumsiness has cost Skyship Academy a precious Pearl. While on a foolproof mission designed for a trainee, Jesse is ambushed by Cassius, star operative of Madame, the Academy’s ruthless archenemy. And instead of fighting back, he nearly gets himself killed.

In a future Earth drained of its natural resources, Pearls are more valuable than a stack of gold. Just one can power an entire city for months. Madame, the leader of the depleted American government, seeks Pearls to further her own profit. To control them, she needs the power locked inside of Jesse–a power he’s completely oblivious to.

When Madame sends Cassius to capture him, Jesse–eternal klutz and clueless fighter–has a chance to prove he’s not as mondo pathetic as everyone thinks he is. But round two with Cassius yields unexpected revelations as both boys begin to unravel a past that ties them directly to the mystery of Pearls.

Of course, none of this will matter if Jesse can’t find the skill to fight back before Madame’s forces close in and shut him down forever.

Skyship Academy is a 45,000-word YA adventure with series potential aimed at the middle school market. As requested in your submission guidelines, the first ten pages are included at the bottom of this email. A full manuscript is available upon request. I look forward to hearing from you.

Nick James

Commentary From Jen:

Sci-fi has never been my “thing.” I’m not a fan of Star Trek, Star Wars puts me to sleep, and I can count on one hand the number of sci-fi books I’ve read (until recently, the answer was one — and that’s because I literally had no other book option at the time).

Then I received a query for Skyship Academy: The Pearl Wars by Nick James. Nick’s query wasn’t perfect — the storyline was muddled and he labeled his manuscript a YA aimed at the middle grade market. Still, there are a number of reasons why I was compelled to review Nick’s sample pages. Here are four, in a nutshell:

In September 2008, Nick’s query stood out from the multitudes in my inbox for paranormal romance and suicidal teen YAs. Skyship fell into a genre that wasn’t yet popular but that wasn’t too far off from what was gaining traction — dystopian. Hunger Games had been released around the time I received Nick’s email, and I anticipated that light sci-fi in the vein of Skyship would take hold in the market, as well.
The storyline captured my interest. Mysterious pearls from space are the world’s most important energy source, but nobody knows where they come from, and a clumsy teen can control them, except he doesn’t even realize it?! Wow!! Count me in.
The conflict seemed exciting. The government is after Jesse because of his power to control pearls, so he’s on the run. He also has limited time to figure out how he’s connected to the pearls. Which, to me, meant two things: ticking clock and action! Which leads to reason four.
I felt certain this story would appeal to teen boys. From where I sit, finding books that will appeal to boys is no easy feat. Writing them is even harder. As far as I was concerned, Nick James had it in the bag.

In 2009, we sold Skyship Academy to Brian Farrey at Flux. The book was released this fall (2011). Nick is presently writing a sequel.

Courtesy: Chuck Sambuchino (GLA), Tn Odu
For Phantom House Books Nigeria

New Age Creative Literature: The future of the Nigerian Book Industry | Tn Odu, Literary Agent, Phantom House Books, Nigeria

With the turn of the century, Nigeria as a country has bagged almost every conceivable literary prize that matters…save the Pulitzer. Nonetheless, these are only few who’ve escaped the bottleneck of a lacking book industry. Still, its book industry and appreciation of creative fiction is a charade. It’s no surprise why recognized authors at home are usually African’s in Diaspora with the help of their wealthy and effective power pushers, or is it mongers, but we thank God/god/nature/the universe (whichever you believe in) for the turn of the century.
Blessed are the LNG and the Lumina foundation trying to redress the current situation by giving writers & publishers a little reason to step into the fray. $100,000 and $20,000 is still too little make the changes necessary. I first they up the prize to $300,000, splitting an even hundred across the classes of literature (and the writers of course) for the prize or an even 20 for the Wole Soyinka award. Who seconds? We’re not asking for hands here, our forefathers having ruined it all. It’s the least they can do.
Nigerian fiction has a lot to offer creatively. New authors come up with ideas and creative writing style to please editors. Believe me, I read them everyday. Unfortunately for these authors, only a few editors are privy to review their works. And fewer publishers to publish them.
Why many of these authors think they can make foreign publishing houses by querying foreign agencies, puzzles me. Many foreign publishing houses (I having worked closely with one) prefer to take up local book authors/writers than their foreign counterparts. Same goes for the agencies. And why wouldn’t they? Aside from the fact that it’s far cheaper and wedges a hole in the communication gap thing? So, I ask you. Would you, if you knew your writers were equally as good?
Of what use is fighting against the system as basic as the rain. Every country for its industry. Every industry for its people. Every people for their country. The cycle is as simple as that, dummies! (dummies being a very loose word to fit). As long as resident Nigerian authors don’t figure this trend out, they continue to bask in their cloudy castles hoping for the rains to bring down an acceptance letter. Even more enticing—an advance? Huh?
Humph! The Nigerian Book Industry will always hinge on its parent the Nigerian Book Industry! No fruit goes bigger than its nursing tree, that’s for sure. Since that affects the average Nigerian writer, let me rephrase that, ‘Since the Nigerian book market is failing, the average Nigerian is left abandoned, and unexplored.’ Poor, if you’d prefer the term. We aren’t just loosing a reading culture. We are loosing a writing culture as well. The two feed off the same cord.
For more of these creative fictional works (and their authors) to be emphasized, Nigeria has to rework her book market. We need scores of awards? We need scores of publishers? We need scores of agencies and authors? Where is the red carpet, or ^&$&*’s sake?
Having worked on both sides of the coin(publishing that is), I see better. Self-publishing is highly scorned at by agencies not willing to sign resident Nigerians up (apart from the fact that no publisher who wants an author whom squanders his/her advance to tackle a visa to meet up your book signing. Unless, you would. If you were half-human). But, what more do you expect from Nigerians in general. It’s all they have.
None the less, without our own publishing houses and self-created agencies showcasing and appreciating our work, our industry will continue to linger at the bottom of the sea, not to be seen across our vast literary landscape. We kill ourselves here. Our country eats us alive. We eat what’s left of our writers raw. Don’t even get me started on the huge margins of 150 million people…We eat what’s left of our literary, day by day.
Enough bitching about the government and the publishing houses…everyone knows we impaled that gander already. To the writer’s involvement in this whole charade. Stop blowing hot air about how good you write. Get published and let the people decide how good it is!
No writer writes not to be read, silly. No matter who you are and what you write.
Ps. This is blog post. Not a manuscript. all you loose pair of eyes