The Scorch Trials by James Dashner: My New Favorite Book

Every once in a while a book comes along that really changes your outlook on literature. At least it does for me. It’s rare, but it happens. The Scorch Trials by James Dashner did that for me. It opened me up to a genre that I never knew I loved–postapocalyptic science fiction for teens. I finished reading his first book in the series, The Maze Runner, feeling eager for more. He leaves you with a bit of a cliff hanger, wondering “what’s next?!”

So I immediately logged onto Amazon and ordered book 2. I have spent the entire month of March reading it, not because it was bad, or ridiculously long. The exact opposite, in fact. It was brilliant. Ten times better than The Maze Runner, and twenty times better than most teen books on the market.

In The Maze Runner, Thomas, along with a group of teenage boys and one girl are trapped in a place called the Glade which sits right next to a giant maze. Even though their memories are wiped and they have no idea why they’re stuck in there, they realize that they have to find a way out. But it’s not easy with these deadly, unearthly creatures called Grievers roaming through the maze at night. By the end of the book, they find a way out (but I won’t give away the “how”). But when they reach the outside world, it’s nothing like they expected. There’s been an apocalypse, and most of the survivors have been infected by a disease called the Flare, which essentially makes you crazy, wither and die.

In The Scorch Trials, the boys realize that their problems are far from over. In fact, in the Glade they lived a life of luxury compared to what’s to come. After being nearly starved to death, they learn about their next adventure (and by adventure, I mean a horrifying, deadly, depressing and questionable journey through a desert and the remains of a city, inhabited by crazy people who are infected by the Flare). And the worst part? They are infected, too. If they don’t make it to the “safe haven” in the alloted time, they won’t receive the cure.

Thomas knows that this is just another test by the organization called WICKED. He knows that they are studying him and his friends to see how they respond to the “variables.” And he knows that he was somehow a part of WICKED before his memories were wiped. How does he know all of this? Because his memories are starting to come back in his dreams.

The increase in intensity from the first book to the second is astronomical. I went days without reading it just because I was afraid I would read through the night and finish it. But yesterday I did finish it (sad face). And again I’m left wondering, “what’s next?!” I can’t wait until October for book 3. I just can’t.

James Dashner, you’re my new hero. (Please send me an advanced copy of your book to review. Pretty please?)

Rejection Letter #2

Today, I recieved my second rejection letter, which I sent to Sara Megibow at Nelson Literary Agency. I will certainly give this agency a strong kudos for their efficent response time. I sent the email query yesterday, and they responded in less than 24 hours. Here’s what they had to say:

Dear Author:

Thank you so much for sending the Nelson Literary Agency your query. We’d like to apologize for the impersonal nature of this standard rejection letter. Rest assured that we do read every query letter carefully and, unfortunately, this project is not right for us.  Because this business is so subjective and opinions vary widely, we recommend that you pursue other agents. After all, it just takes one “yes” to find the right match.  

Good luck with all your publishing endeavors.

I had high hopes for this agency, so this rejection was a harder hit than the last one. Fortunately, there are plenty more agencies out there, so I’m going to dust myself off and keep plugging away. And start writing book 2! Hurray!

Facing the Facts: My First Query Letter Stank

Today, after recieving my first rejection email, it realized something. My query letter did not live up to the quality of the sample “successful query letters” that I read online. It was way too general. Even though my novel is for young adults, I hardly mentioned the kids. And the interesting plot lines didn’t even make it into the query. I was trying to keep it short and sweet. So instead of giving specific details, I gave sweeping generalizations of the book’s plot and even the overall series.

Boy, did I blow it.

Today, however, I hopped back on that literary horse and revised the query significantly. It actually helped me see the real plot-drivers in a different light. The key points that wound up in my final draft were not necessarily the key points I intended to emphasize when I first started writing. But that’s just the way the cookie crumbles, I guess. Writers can plan and sketch and storyboard all they want, but at some point they have to let their characters take the reins. (Sorry…too many horse metaphors).

Facing The First Rejection From A Literary Agent

Most literary agents claim that their response time can take up to 6 weeks. Well, this morning–just three days after sending in my first query letter–I recieved my first rejection. Talk about efficiency! Of course, the rejection stings a little. But it sure beats waiting a month and a half to discover that they’re not interested in your work. (And now I can add a page to my Rejection Scrapbook). I know I was going to wait until I secured an agent before posting the rejections, but I’m too excited. This rejection was from Dan Lazar from Writers House (written by one of his assistants):

Dear Nicole,

Thank you for your query. Dan Lazar asked me to reply after he evaluated your submission. We’re afraid your project does not seem right for our list, but thank you for thinking of Dan, and best of luck in your search for representation.

Short and sweet. I would have liked some critical feedback that would have helped me reshape my query letter. But I understand that agents are busy. I’m just hoping that there is nothing explicitly wrong with the query (a typo, a misused word, an uninteresting pitch) that will make all agents overlook me.

I sent my query to one other agency on March 23, 2011. And I’ve yet to recieve word from them. Cross my fingers. If I have time, I will send out my query to another agent this afternoon, and keep this two-at-a-time thing rolling.

Pressing That SEND Button: Sending Out A Query Letter For The First Time (Yikes!)

Wow. Whenever I imagined myself sending out my query letter for the first time, putting it in the hands of someone else, I never realized that the hardest part would be hitting the send button. Yesterday, I sent my query to an agent. I’m almost finished editing (just fixing typos, and extracting need-to-know information from book one in order to move onto book two), so I figured it was time to get the ball rolling. In the moment, it was certainly a rush. Luckily, today my nerves have settled enough for me to write about it.

I did a lot of reseach before contacting an agent. Which agency (or agent within an agency) would be interested in reading my novel? What have they sold before that is similiar to my work? What are they looking for in future clients? And of course, how should I present my book to them. I had to find out if they accepted email queries (which to me is ideal…who doesn’t want to save paper?), and if they wanted just a query or also a snippet from the book. My book was a challenge with that last one. Some agents request the first chapter of your book along with the query, or the first five pages. But the first chapter of my novel (the prologue) is very different from the rest of the content. It’s set in the 17th century, whereas the bulk of the novel is in present day. But the prologue is so important to understand the story. For my content, I sent the first five pages of both my prologue and first chapter to give the agent a sense of the two different writing styles. Hopefully that doesn’t deviate too far from their instructions that they’ll decide to pass on me.

 If you’re looking for an agent, but don’t know where to begin searching for one, grab an up-to-date copy of Guide to Literary Agents, or Writer’s Market . If you’ve never heard of these books, pay attention. They contain listings of all the agents and publishers in the market (as well as magazines, writing conference information, etc). Their listings include very important information: what genres they’re looking for, whether they’re accepting new authors or unsolicited manuscripts, their website and contact information, books they’ve recently sold, their commission, and so on. Last year, I went through and highlighted all the agents who accepted YA novels. Then I sorted through those to find out which agents would be the best fit for my book. You can find most, if not all, of this information online. But it’s much easier to use the books. They’re concise, organized and easy to bookmark. I strongly recommend reading them.

Once I’ve secured representation, I will post which agents I sent to, which I recieved rejections from and which one took a chance on me. I’ll even post the responses from the agencies, as well with the query letter that worked, just to give you an idea of what you’re looking at.