Welcome! Please sit down, make yourself comfortable, and have a brownie or three...

Friday, February 25, 2011

Upcoming Events/Crusader Challenge #1

Mark Your Calendars:

February 28 (Monday)- WriteOnCon Live Chat with Agent Suzie Townsend and Editor Maria Gomez

March 1 (Tuesday)- Operation Awesome Secret Agent Contest. Genres: YA (especially thriller, cyberpunk, horror, historical romance); MG; women's fiction; romance (especially with a strong, female heroine. Format: 140 character limit. There are 75 spots, so make sure you keep an eye on their website (usually they open in the morning, but it was a little later in the day last time).

Be on the lookout:
Shelli’s blog, Market My Words, is having a March Agent Contest with Diana Fox. The date isn't set, but you may want to follow Shelli's blog so you don't miss is. Ms. Fox is looking for young adult fiction (all genres), science fiction/fantasy, romance, historical fiction, thrillers, and graphic novels.

Agent Move:
Natalie Fischer has officially moved to Bradford Literary--see her post HERE. She's still not open to submissions yet, but keep an eye on her. She accepts YA, children's, MG, romance, historical, and multicultural.

Random News Tidbit:
Weird Al Yankovic's picture book hits NYT Bestseller list! Click HERE.

The First Crusader Challenge- In 300 words or less, tell us:
· one secret
· one lie
· one interesting quirk
· one annoying habit
· one of your best character traits, and
· one of your favourite things in the whole world.
The post must include the random words, “bloviate,” “fuliguline,” “rabbit,” and “blade” (tee hee).

-My favorite grade was kindergarten, and I still send a Christmas card to my former teacher every year. I don’t want to bloviate, but I’m certain that I’m still her favorite student ever!

-When my sister’s pet rabbit was dying, she ignored it while I fed it pineapple juice from a plastic syringe and read it The Velveteen Rabbit. I never told her because I didn't want her to feel guilty for being a bad pet parent.

-I was on the basketball, soccer and fencing teams in high school, but only played soccer in college. I was no good at basketball and Mom didn’t want me keeping a fighting blade in my dorm room, even with the protective tip.

-When I’m driving alone during American Idol season, I belt out “Mustang Sally,” the song I would try out with if I ever got the chance. Speaking of the car, I always set my car clock 7 minutes ahead, and I never drive more than 7 miles over the speed limit.

-I love cooking, though I’ve ruined many a recipe because of my tendency to be a salt fiend—I usually salt my food before I try it, something that embarrasses my food-snob husband.

-My 2-year-old refuses to say “quack,” and instead makes a guttural noise that’s a very accurate imitation of a wild fuliguline. She gets weird looks at Toddler Time, but I just smile confidently, knowing that my kid has it right and the rest of them are living a lie.

-I’m a pretty good listener and have been known to give stealth hugs when I feel it’s necessary. One of my favorite things is the smell of burning wood or the scent that comes from a wick when you’ve just blown out a candle.

*I may have revealed something about me that isn’t strictly true, can you guess what it is?

Happy Friday!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Looking For The RIGHT Agent - A Tip To Increase Requests

Would you like to raise the percentage of requests your query reels in?

It might be as simple as rearching just a little more before hitting send. You can go:

BROAD- Query an agent who reps your category (young adult, middle grade, adult).

SPECIFIC-Query an agent who reps your genre (middle grade fantasy, contemporary young adult).

REALLY SPECIFIC-Query an agent who reps someone in your genre who has a similar style.

Let me clarify one thing—by “similar style,” I mean just that. Agents don’t want to rep the exact same plot written in the exact same voice—that’s the opposite of the “new and fresh” that many are looking for. I’m talking about going the distance (okay, or spending an extra thirty minutes on the internet) to see if they tend to represent humorous and heartwarming, lyrical and haunting, quirky and unique, commercial and high-concept (or all of those), and figuring out if your manuscript might be a match for their list.

Try this:

1. Think of a few books that you might use as a comparative title. If your book is edgy and written in verse, you might compare it to a Ellen Hopkins book. For the sake of this exercise, I picked her novel Identical.

2. Go to Amazon.com and type in those books.

3. Scroll down to see “Customers of this book also bought…” Usually those books have a similar style or plot point. Scary books will give you more scary books, fantasy will usually give you fantasy, edgy breeds edgy, etc.

Make a list of the books and authors. When I typed in Identical, I got a bunch of other Ellen Hopkins books, but pressing the right arrow gave me more options. Four authors listed were: Patricia McCormick, Lisa McMann, Allison van Diepen, and Jay Asher.

5. Go to THIS AWESOME QUERYTRACKER TOOL to find out who represents the authors. If your author isn’t listed, you may have to do some Googling or move on to the next author on your list. My search gave me the agents Laura Rennert of Andrea Brown (reps Ellen H. and Jay Asher), Michael Bourret of Dystel & Goderich (reps Lisa McMann), and Ashley Grayson of Grayson Literary (reps A. van Diepen).

6. Check those agents and see if they're accepting submissions (and if you think they’d still be a fit). If you're submitting an edgy YA book, it's a good sign that these guys have repped something similar in style (not a twin version of an existing book), and there's decent reason to believe that yours may interest them too.

7. Please, please, please, make sure you’ve read the book they repped if you’re going to mention in a query!

By no means will this guarantee you a bunch of requests, but if you’ve polished that query and those first pages (okay, and preferably the entire manuscript as well) until they shine, I think your chances of getting page requests are better if you really look for an agent who you think is Ms./Mr. Right, not Ms./Mr. Right Now.

**Psssst~ this is kind of fun to do! I just tried typing in The Mysterious Benedict Society, and got a bunch of fun titles/authors to look into. I don't even write things like that, but it's kind of neat to see which agents represent your favorite authors.

See you on Friday!

Friday, February 18, 2011

6 Things You Should Be Writing About

About a month ago, lovely agent Brenda Bowen (Sanford J. Greenberger Associates) posted about award ceremonies. She referenced Virginia Euwer Wolff’s remarks at the 2001 National book awards (the winning book was True Believer).

Ms. Wolff mentioned September 11th, and how she (like many writers) wondered how they would ever write again and if it would matter. She went to visit the World Trade Center site with her son while she was in town for the ceremony.

The following is an excerpt from her speech:

What I saw was living proof of Faulkner's six. Faulkner said in 1949 in the Nobel speech that if we are not writing about these six things we are not doing our job. They are love, honor, pity, pride, compassion and sacrifice. I think of them as Faulkner's six. I used to have them on my wall until I memorized them and now they're on this wall in here.


Are these things in your manuscripts? One or two? All six?

Reading Brenda’s post and Ms. Wolff’s words made me want to examine my reason for writing—my reason for telling stories. Because at the end of the day, whether we’re writing middle grade adventures or literary horror, these six elements should be somewhere, reminding us to find and exhibit grace where we still can. Our characters are fiction, but we write from a place that’s not.

Anyway, it was a nice reminder for me. Keeping the “Faulkner six” in mind while writing certainly couldn’t hurt :)

Have a wonderful weekend!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

50 Things Your Manuscript Is Judged On

My heart candy poem thing sort of fizzled out when I realized the majority of the phrases were impossible to read. I was basically left with the phrases, "Get Real," "See Ya," and "No Way," which don't make for very encouraging poetry (although, it did make me think that rejections would be much sweeter if agents would just send us candy hearts like that).

Instead, I'm going to share a judging sheet from a Young Adult novel contest. I think most of these apply to all categories and genres, so hopefully the list will give you some things to think about. We're told time & time again that we've got one shot to impress, so here are a few things that the average judge/agent might be looking for.
At this point, many agents are so flooded with queries and partial/full submissions that they are looking for reasons to reject (not that they're not super-nice-friendly-awesome people, but when you're going through a pile of three-hundred, any reason to move on is a good one). Look over your manuscript, look over this list, and don't give them a reason.

*This sheet is based on people reading 5-10 chapters, so the synopsis is a little more important here (so that judges can have an idea of where the novel goes). That's why it has 10 points taken into consideration.*
*My apologies for any format issues...I love you Blogger, but you're not cooperating this morning :)
*I know this goes against the rule of "keep blog posts fairly short" and I promise not to do it often :)


[ ] 1. Is the entry presented professionally - in correct manuscript format?
[ ] 2. Does the entry follow required format of this contest?
[ ] 3. Are the grammar, spelling, and punctuation correct?


[ ] 4. Is the first chapter compelling? Is there an intriguing hook? Does it make you want to
continue reading?
[ ] 5. Does the author use the senses (sight, hearing, smell, touch, taste) appropriately to create a
vivid experience?
[ ] 6. Does the author show rather than tell? Is the writing active and not passive? If passivity is used, is it appropriate for the scene and unobtrusive?
[ ] 7. Is the writing style clear and distinct with appropriate use of adjectives/adverbs?
[ ] 8. Is exposition presented in a believable and well-balanced manner?
[ ] 9. Do the scenes flow smoothly? Is the manuscript well-paced?
[ ] 10. Is the story told in a fresh, clear, and focused manner, without irrelevant digressions?
[ ] 11. Does the author present the work in a distinct style/voice?


[ ] 12. Does the book open at the right place, and does the opening reveal something
important and/or hint at the story conflict?
[ ] 13. Are the central character(s) introduced at an appropriate moment? Is this first
appearance believable and intriguing?
[ ] 14. Are the opening situation and introduction of characters presented in a clear manner, without
unnecessary confusion? If some information is withheld for suspense, is it done effectively?


[ ] 15. Is the protagonist recognizably young, and behave plausibly for his/her age, time, and culture?
[ ] 16. Is the central character/protagonist an active character? Do his/her actions affect the course of
the plot?
[ ] 17. Can you identify with the central character(s), even if he or she isn't sympathetic?
[ ] 18. Does he/she interact realistically with other characters?


[ ] 19. Are the other major characters all necessary to the story? Do they play essential roles?
[ ] 20.. Is each major character well-defined and distinctive?
[ ] 21. Do the actions of the major characters have an effect on the plot?
[ ] 22. Are their interactions with the central character plausible, given the ages involved?


[ ] 23. Do the motivations of the character(s) create genuine conflict, not contrived or forced?
[ ] 24. Is the conflict (or conflicts - internal/external) strong enough to carry a story of this type
and length?
[ ] 25. Are the goals of the central character established or foreshadowed?
[ ] 26. Do you see conflict rising in an effective way as the story goes on?


[ ] 27. Do the story events fit the Young Adult themes? Is this clearly a story aimed at younger readers
and not adults?
[ ] 28. Are the story events believable even if they are extreme in some way? Is the plot free of logic
[ ] 29. Does the plot promise to develop as a comprehensive whole, not just a series of
episodes without much linkage?


[ ] 30. Is there a clear sense of time and place, as perceived by a young person?
[ ] 31. Does the setting add depth and/or conflict to the experience and journey of the young

[ ] 32. Is the Point of View approach effective and appropriate for this plot and a Young Adult book?
[ ] 33. Does POV create empathy and understanding of the character(s) and a good vicarious
experience for the reader?
[ ] 34. Does the POV presentation enhance the story, such as by creating suspense, giving a unique
perspective on an event, creating an intriguing character voice, or increasing the level of


[ ] 35. Do the characters sound like real people? Are character voices consistent with their age,
education, gender, ethnicity, etc.? Is the dialogue appropriate for the time and place of the
[ ] 36. Does each character have a distinct voice that reflects his/her age and culture?
[ ] 37. Is the exposition (information transfer) in dialogue natural to the speaker and situation?
[ ] 38. Do the dialogue passages effectively use paragraph length, word choice, placement and type of
quote tags, punctuation, vocal idiosyncrasies (like sentence fragments, etc), action, and
introspection to create a conversation experience both inside and outside the quotation
[ ] 39. Does the dialogue move the story forward and cause plot change?
[ ] 40. Do the conversations between characters reveal and change their relationship?


[ ] 41. Is the synopsis presented in an acceptable format and does it clearly define the period,
situation, and locale of the story?
[ ] 42. Does the synopsis present a story of appropriate length and approach for a Young Adult novel?
[ ] 43. Does the synopsis tell the story in a clear chronological fashion, with the cause-and-effect
dynamic of events identified?
[ ] 44. Does the synopsis clearly show the actions of the major characters and how they affect the
[ ] 45. Does the synopsis answer all the questions the reader might have about the plot?
[ ] 46. Does the synopsis describe the conflicts and show how they rise in tension and
resolve in the end? Does the ending answer the story questions?
[ ] 47. Is there a presentation of the emotional cause and effect of story events?
[ ] 48. Are the characters, their motivations, and their conflicts clearly defined in the synopsis?
[ ] 49. Do transitions between events effectively link one event to another and promote the
ease of the reading experience and the coherence of the plot?
[ ] 50. Does the synopsis make you want to read the rest of the book?
See you on Friday!

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Berenstain Bears Stay Relevant After 50 Years

I recently read an article in The Washington Post online about the real Berenstain family. Husband-wife couple Stan and Jan Berenstain wrote the Berenstain Bears books for fifty years (Stan died in 2005 at the age of 82), and now their son Mike is taking up the family business. They write and illustrate in the same studio, located in Bucks County, Pennsylvania (which serves as the inspiration for Bear Country—fun little fact for you).
(*Photo of Jan Berenstain working in her studio*)
I loved our Berenstain Bears books growing up. They were an institution in my home and I feel lucky to be the daughter (there are 3 of us) who inherited them. That said, they seem a little different as I’ve gotten older. It’s been interesting to watch the series evolve.
They started with Brother and Sister Bear going to the doctor and dentist and to school for the first time, having a babysitter, spending a week at Grandma’s, learning about Santa Bear and strangers and new pets…and then there was a shift as they got older.
There were sibling fights and and lies and best friend spats and peer pressure and stealing. With the environmental movement came Berenstain Bears Don’t Pollute (Anymore). There’s one book where Mama Bear has a mental breakdown in the car from trying to shuttle everyone around to activities. I’m sure it’s true to life, but somehow the magic of Bear Country was lost to me when I read that one. There are also books about online safety and childhood obesity. Which is…good, right? I mean, if the kids can relate, then I suppose that’s great.

As a former teacher for little ones, I can tell you that the kids still love the new books, but me? I get a little nostalgic for the older books (but I’m a nostalgic kind of gal in general who—shhhh—still kind of wishes she had her 1979 Buick Park Avenue with a CB radio, 8-track player, baby-blue interior, and a V-8 engine…and I drove that to high school in 1998).
Part of me wonders what it would be like if Frog and Toad were still having new adventures. Would they be talking about the dangers of internet stalkers or Facebook bullies?
Frog & Toad Fight Amphibian Obesity

Overall, I say kudos to the Berenstains for “keeping it real” and staying relevant. It’s a reminder to me that, as writers, part of our research is to study the classics (just the other day, Writers House agent Steven Malk tweeted that “everyone should read The Great Brain series” from the 1970s), but we’re very much encouraged to keep up with what’s been published in the last five years. This gives us guidelines to see what publishers are buying and distributing. The Berenstain Bears are simply adapting to the market’s needs. I just don’t like seeing Mama Bear all stressed out.

Did any of you read those books as children, or read them to your kids now? Just wondering if you’ve noticed the shift in subject matter and if it strikes a chord with you.

Happy Friday! On Tuesday, I’ll be using my leftover Valentines heart candy to attempt to write, *gulp*, a silly poem. We’ll see what phrases I end up with (I’m guessing a lot of “Hugs” and “Be Mine”).

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Hunger Games Movie, Agent News, And More!

-The Hunger Games Movie Date Has Been Announced!!! For those of you who haven’t heard, The Hunger Games movie is schedule to be out March 23, 2012. If you haven’t read any books in the series, you’ve got about a year to get obsessed.

-The Perks of Being a Wallflower (author Stephen Chbosky)is being turned into a movie. In 2009, Chbosky’s book hit the #3 spot on the American Library Association’s top ten most frequently challenged books of 2009. Percy Jackson actor Logan Lerman will play the lead character, Charlie. Harry Potter actress Emma Watson will play one of his two best friends, Sam. Click HERE for more info.
-Comic book lovers rejoice…or maybe not. A new comic book biography of Britney Spears is scheduled for release in March. Not sure if I’m joking? Click HERE, my friends.



Open to Queries Again- Awesome agent Laurie McLean of Larsen-Pomada took December and January off…yep, that means she’s open to queries again (she likes 10 pages and a 2-page synopsis pasted into email queries). Here’s a quote from her submissions page:
“for the YA and middle-grade markets I am searching high and low for YA romance, anything post-apocalyptic or vampiric (don’t see that too often these days, so vampire novelists, take note!), dark fantasy (no sweet fairy tales), dark reality (dealing with contemporary issues) and anything interesting. YA is super hot right now and I love the teen voice!”
Closed to Queries-Weronika Janczuk of D4EO Literary will be closed until March 8, 2011, and will update her submissions page/what she'll take when she returns (Mandy Hubbard from that agency takes MG/YA). Rachelle Gardner of WordServe Literary is closed the first quarter of 2011.


-Lora Rivera of Claire Gerus Literary Agency was featured in Guide to Literary Agents. Click HERE for the post. She's especially interested in reading guy-focused YA, fresh middle grade, and solid (not ironic) adult literary fiction. She likes fiction that subtly tackles important real-world subjects. QUERY ONLY- no sample pages pasted or attached unless requested.
-D4EO Literary will be announcing a new agent later this month. Stay tuned for a new querying opportunity! UPDATE--YA Highway just made a little announcement...click HERE for an interview with Kristin Miller, the newest agent!!!.
That’s all for today. My fifteen-year-old stumbled out of her room this morning to announce that the school just sent an email saying there was a snow day. "I SO need this," is a direct quote. Ahhh, the joys of youth. Can someone please send me an email giving me a snow day from the dishes, laundry, and diaper duty???
See you Friday!
PS~Hello to my new followers! Again, the heart of my blog is in the link lists on the side—some of them are lengthy, but please know this is like my own personal learning library (particularly the section on honing craft) and I add to the lists whenever I find something useful. The links I choose are ones that I consider to have longevity—you can return to them again and again for relevant writing tips.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Words From A Newbery Medalist

During the recent SCBWI Conference in New York, Linda Sue Park gave a keynote speech that I wish I could have heard. Ms. Park won the Newbery in 2002 for A Single Shard (which I read a few weeks ago and loved…if you haven't already, please read it!). I first discovered her while reading Project Mulberry, one of the most refreshing contemporary MG books I’ve read in a long time (it includes clever conversations between the author and protagonist that put a big smile on my face).

Though I couldn’t attend the conference, once again I turned to Twitter to live vicariously through others. And you know what? I gathered more than a few gems from those who passed on the wise words of a wonderful writer. Without further ado, I present some of the Linda Sue Park quotes that were passed along to the public:

*You never love a book the way you do as a child.
* Our attention to craft today matters more than ever, and it matters to young readers.
*Books are just about the only place left where young people can encounter written language with the luxury of time.
*To write in a strong voice, you need to have a keen awareness of the rhythm of the words.
*Voice is word choice for meaning and nuance and sound, word order for structure and rhythm.
*Voice is the best words in the best order to serve the story.
*If you want to get good at writing, you have to put in the time training, which is reading.
* If you read enough good books, you begin to build a mental standard.
*How long does anyone spend becoming a professional? Writers must invest a lot of time in training.
*Don't believe in yourself. Believe in the work.
*What matters is the doing. What matters is the work.
* It's hardest in the place where you have a desire to do something but don't know if you can do it.
*Sometimes the writer needs to get the hell out of the way and let the story happen.
*Let the story matter more than your feelings.
*If you’re not afraid of the challenge that’s not courage; it’s a chemical malfunction in your brain.
* Courage is when you are afraid of something but do it anyway.
*I try to make every sentence I write worth reading 62 times.


-Authoress (of Miss Snark’s First Victim) posted this mysterious message on Twitter yesterday afternoon: *hem hem* Launching something BIG AND NEW AND EXCITING on MONDAY, FEBRUARY 7!! STAY TUNED!!! :D. You should head over there on Monday anyway for the latest Secret Agent Contest (details HERE), but it sounds like she’s got something else to reveal too….nice use of a cliffhanger, Authoress!

-The Crusaders—Rachael Harrie is running a social networking and platform-building opportunity on her website, Rach Writes. Want to increase your blog readership, discover excellent new blogs, and meet some cool people? Head over to this blog post for details: Second Writers' Platform Crusade

Happy Friday, and have a wonderful weekend!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Few Ladies Who Pay It Forward!

Thanks to Shelli’s blog contest on the fabulous Market My Words, today’s post is dedicated to expressing my appreciation for a few people who have been a source of assistance during my writing journey (I had trouble limiting it to one person):

For Services in Craft Advancement and Critiques- The incomparable Authoress of Miss Snark’s First Victim. With Secret Agent contests dating back three years this July, she has provided countless opportunities for the writing community to offer/receive critiques from peers and agents. I’ve learned so much from reading the fantastic entries and reading agent responses to excerpts. Authoress, you are the epitome of Pay It Forward!
For Contribution to My Knowledge Base- Miss Kimberly of Meetings With My Muse- I recently won a gift card to use on this Thursday’s Writer’s Digest webinar with Mary Kole. I’ve already told her this, but I’m giddy with delight. Such a generous giveaway! Here’s to you, Kimberly!
For Inspiration- Miss Brittany over at Hills & Corkscrews-I’ve been following this young lady since she was 12. She’s now the big 1-3, a certified teenager. The fact that she is so proactive with her passion is truly an inspiration. She sets goals, deadlines, and has participated in the daunting National Novel Writing Month multiple times!! Plus, she’s super sweet and has wisdom beyond her years that she may or may not be aware of. See this post to get to know her a little—read the whole thing, don’t skim, and then hit the Follow button :) Thanks, Brittany!

**Please note** The original genres that Authoress posted for this month’s Secret Agent contest have changed. The contest now includes Middle Grade, so the eligible categories are:
-Romance (no SFF or subgenres thereof)
-YA (no SFF or subgenres thereof)
-MG (no SFF or subgenres thereof)
(SFF is Sci-Fi/Fantasy). Mark your calendars for the February 7th entry windows. Click HERE for details.
**One more thing: Jill Corcoran of The Herman Agency has updated her what-I'm-looking-for list. She'd like to see:
-Romance, especially romantic comedies. Not goofy, silly chic-lit with no underlying heart/intelligence/soul but full-fleshed, make me laugh/cry/yearn/scream romantic comedies.
-Original/Out of the box paranormal MG or YA that keeps me at the edge of my seat and has a fantastic payoff at the end.
-Middle Grade that captures the reality of Middle School with an intriguing plot plus authentic emotion. 7th and 8th grade =hormonal roller coaster where kids strive to be independent yet are still such babes in the woods.
-Literary with a commercial hook.
-Commercial with literary prose.
See you on Friday!