How can you be afraid of that sweet, smiling face? Don’t be fooled. If you’re a YA or NA author, you should be very afraid of Jessa Russo, because she is the YA/NA Acquisitions Editor for Curiosity Quills Press and a criminal mastermind judge in the Haunted Writing Clinic and Contest. That’s right, she’s the one who delivers that very frightening “yes” or “no” response to your YA and NA submissions. Horrifying.
If that’s not frightening enough, you should know that Jessa is also in a romantic relationship with a ghost. Or, is that the main character in her debut novel, Ever? It’s hard to keep track of these things.
And now, everything you need to know to quell your deep fear of Jessa Russo…
What are the most common query mistakes you see?
I’d say that the most common query mistake I see is TMI: Too Much Information. If you list all seventeen and a half characters in your 250 word query, you can imagine I might be a bit confused.
And it’s not just characters, but places and objects as well. I want to know the nitty-gritty base of
your story, the part that will suck me in and make me devour your book in order to get to those
seventeen characters. Tell me about your main character, their love interest (if applicable), and their
enemy (if applicable). Then tease me with the details without going into too much detail. Here is an
easy formula from Jill Corcoran’s website.
In TITLE, X-year-old Main Character needs to (define problem) before (obstacles).
Although, I’d suggest adding a final part to that: or else (disaster) will happen.
So, something like this: Seventeen-year-old Amos must hunt down and defeat the warriors who killed his parents,
while winning the heart of his long-time crush Susie, all before his eighteenth birthday, or else the world will end on
You’ve told me who your MC is (Amos, 17), who he loves (Susie), who his enemies
are (the warriors), and what his quest is (defeating them), along with what the consequences could
be (the end of the world). I am not confused by excess information or too many characters. Does
Susie have a psychic ability that will aid in Amos defeating the warriors? Yes? Then add it. But
only if it is a huge piece of the plot. Is Susie part of the warriors and that’s why this poses such a
problem for Amos? Then tell me that. But don’t start telling me that Susie has a one-eyed cocker
spaniel named Lucifer and her mom has a wooden leg, or that Amos is short for Amosopherdink …
UNLESS those points are very, very relevant to the story.
Also, I have to stress AGE. Always, always, always include the protagonist’s age.
How would you describe an ideal query?
An ideal query sucks me in – has me nodding or smiling from the start, or has me on the edge
of my seat. Depending on the theme, obviously. I want to be pulled in and dying to rip into your
manuscript. And I don’t want to be overloaded with information. If I have to reread your query too
many times, I’m going to be frustrated (or left feeling stupid), and that’s not a good start.
Are there any queries you’ve found that you’re willing to share as an example of a great
I can’t think of any off the top of my head, but I can say that if you haven’t been lurking on the
Query Shark blog, you should. That’s the very best place to learn
about query mistakes, and query wins.
How far into a submission do you usually get before you have an idea of whether or not you
want to read more?
I usually like to request the first three chapters. By then I will be able to tell if I’m confused, if I’m invested in the characters, and if I’m excited to keep going.
What are some turn-offs that you might find on page one?
Changes in tense (bouncing from past to present), or a character’s age not matching his/her voice.
As writers, we have to be very careful that our YA characters sound like young adults – not 30-
something-writer-moms trapped in a sixteen-year-old’s body. Lol
What are the characteristics of a great first page? What makes you want to read on?
I want to feel something for your characters – even as early as the first page. I want to BE your
main character, so I have to be able to see and feel things the way he/she does. POV can be a very
powerful thing and when done correctly, I can be sucked right into your book from the very first
What types of submissions are you looking for now?
I love all things paranormal, with paranormal romance being at the top of the list. I am focusing on
Young Adult and New Adult only at this time, though we do have other submissions editors who
handle adult submissions. I am REALLY into aliens right now and would love some alien-based
paranormal romance. I also really enjoy ghost stories (obviously), and I will forever love vampires/
werewolves. Basically, all those themes that supposedly “no one is reading anymore?” Yeah, I want
Tell me a little bit about you.
When not writing, reading or editing, I’m painting or spending time with my family and friends. I’m an unashamed fan of all things paranormal romance, and that will never change.