Friday, April 30, 2010

12 How to Know You're Querying Too Soon

A couple of days ago, I blogged about Nathan Bransford's Agent for a Day experiment. On Wednesday, he posted the first thirty pages of the five random queries used in the experiment on Wednesday, and then yesterday he posted his takeaway from the experiment. What I found most striking was that he had picked the five queries at random from a sample submitted for the contest--and they were all pretty good. From the sample pages provided, the manuscripts themselves also had promise. But Nathan mentioned that they all needed "some work and polish before they'd be ready." In other words, the writers queried too soon. Which isn't to say that he would necessarily take on any of the writers down the road, only that they didn't give themselves the best possible chance.

This is something I struggle with, too. I've come to look at the process of getting a manuscript published as if I am the agent for my characters. It pains me to think I'm not doing a good job representing them as much as it pains me to think I might not have written their story well enough. But how do you know?

How do you know when you've done the best you can do? How do you know when you are ready to query?

Does anyone else have this problem?

I've found a couple of good posts on the subject, but I'm still waiting for the epiphany that will keep me from doing it again. Janet Reid recommends that we succeed in writing a brilliant one-page synopsis and write a second novel before querying the first one. What do you think? Does that resonate?

Here are the links:



P.S. - Here's a great post by Write It Sideways about the 25 Reasons (Janet Reid says) Your Query Letter Gets Rejected.  (Janet Reid is the Query Shark for those of you who haven't seen her fantastic blog site).

P.P.S. - I had to come back and add this. Either Nathan's blog got a lot of us thinking along the same lines, or we are into the realm of the kind of coincidences you should avoid in fiction. Roni Griffin from Fiction Groupie just reposted an earlier blog about Should You Query Your First Novel, and her post is fantastic.

Check it out here:

Thursday, April 29, 2010

10 Are You a Writer?

I’ve been thinking a lot about Rachel Gardner’s blog post yesterday. She refers to writing as “a lifestyle,” and it’s hard to achieve this with so many other daily demands around us. While I agree with her that a writer pursuing publication can’t be flippant about the craft, I have to admit that I have a difficult time balancing writing, reading (books and blogs), editing, critiquing, meeting, and blogging. Oh, and don’t forget that just slightly time-consuming thing called submission. Yet, all of these are necessary pieces to the publishing puzzle. I suppose it’s a personal choice, as Gardner discusses, where you must sacrifice something if you want to cross that line from writing as a hobby to writer.

I’m curious, what’s your secret to getting in consistent, uninterrupted writing time? How do you juggle your life’s demands with all of the many components on the path to publication? And, is this all a matter of semantics? Do you consider yourself a writer, regardless of what your other daily requirements may be?

Happy Pondering!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

3 New Agent at FinePrint Looking for PBs

Marissa Walsh, the new KidLit specialist at FinePrint is looking for picture books and mainstream YA & MG manuscripts. Check out the information and guidelines at:

Happy submitting,


0 Great Opening Sentences

Another great contest last week was the one posted by Jim McCarthy of Dystel & Goderich in which the D&G blogowers were asked to submit and choose the best first sentence from an unpublished YA or MG manuscript. Check out the top nine and some fascinating discussion here:

There is a lot to be learned from the commentary and the lines themselves, and Jim promises more to come on Thursday at 5:00 pm when he posts the winner.

Polling is still open, so go cast your vote. And BIG congrats to Ara who, as of yesterday when I cast my vote, was in the lead.

Happy voting,


2 Secrets of Query Success: An Agent's Perspective

The ever intrepid Nathan Bransford has come up with an intriguing experiment: shuffle a slushpile in an agent's shoes. He has randomly chosen five queries from the 150+ submitted by willing participants, and we, his minions, were instructed to pick one that we (in our slinky agent's footwear) would choose for a submission request. In truth, he has posted the first thirty pages of all five submissions so that we can see how well the queries match the writing.

Fascinating, no?

Check out the queries and the votes at:

Then check out the pages at:

Happy reading,


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

4 New YA & MG Pitch Contest Now Open is hosting a contest with literary agent Chris Richman of Upstart Crowe. Submit a single sentence pitch, up to 25 words, for your YA or MG novel by going to the link below before 6:00 am EST on April 28th. You'll need to be a free or premium member of and a follower of the QueryTracker blog.

Good luck and happy pitching,


5 The Curse of Knowledge

We all enjoy writing and illustrating for the sake of the art, but we have to accept that this is a business, too. Knowing your audience is key, as discussed in this post from Editorial Anonymous. The awareness that the adults in a child's life are generally the purchasers of books is what I refer to as "the curse of knowledge." This concept can muddle our instincts and take the focus off of the real judges- the children. As someone who works with children and books every single day, what appeals to them is what ends up appealing to me to buy. What's more, once they become capable of independent reading, they may insist on reading things that defy what appeals to an adult.

At the core, the stories that resonate often defy age limits because they contain universal truths. Kids must be able to relate to our stories and it is our job to listen to what they want or need as writers. If you write in a way that's going to try and please adults, you will probably miss the mark completely. You risk creating a story that appears didactic or old-fashioned. And what child do you know that likes to be told what to do or how to think?

Now, Martina and I have been having a conversation lately about how this same concept applies to a YA versus an adult book. We both spend a lot of our reading time in the world of YA, but we agree that Stephanie Meyer's The Host was much more enjoyable for us than the Twilight series. Little did we know until Martina did a little digging that The Host is considered an adult novel, and of course, Twilight is YA. As YA lovers, we were a little surprised at this discovery.

The point is, call it what you want to call it, but categorizing books or speculating why someone may purchase a book shouldn't drive your story. A fabulous book will  be picked up for being just that. Labels certainly help a purchaser to locate a book, but I think we can safely say readers know there is a gray area that defies categorization. Besides, word of mouth is the most powerful force behind the proliferation of a really good read.

Be informed and educate yourself on what's out there before you write or illustrate. But, don't forget to tell a good story. Above all, write for children (hence, children's publishing). I think if you stay balanced, you won't go wrong.

We'd love to hear your thoughts on this. Post to comments!


Monday, April 26, 2010

8 Know Your Selling Point

Three different blog posts this morning got me thinking about the parallels between marketing a book and marketing a manuscript. The Intern blogged about whether a writer should bother to do a website or a trailer for a manuscript before the book is picked up. Then I read the BookEnds query recap. And after that, I took a break to watch an interview with bestselling author Casey Sherman on the BubbleCow blog.

Now, as you may already know, I am NOT the queen of the query letter, and my fondness for the dreaded synopsis ranks right up there with cow tripe in my list of all time favorite things. I don't have a website for my work, nor do I have a book trailer put together. That said, I have no lack of enthusiasm for my stories. I could talk about my characters all day, and I'm fortunate that the people who have read my manuscripts have done so not just once but several times and are almost as crazy as I am. Which is to say that they talk about my characters as if they are real people, too.

So when I think about some of the bland, boring queries I've sent out, I cringe. And I realize that part of the problem was that I knew too much about the story to identify the selling point. Fortunately, I've learned a little bit since I started querying. For one thing, I already have the one sentence pitch done for my current WIP, and for the next one on the list. I'm not letting myself get derailed by other aspects of the story that I've fallen in love with along the way. I'm also making darn sure I nail down the BIG concept before I write in the future.

Writing a book is a different job from selling a book, according to Casey Sherman. You have to put aside your Hemingway hat and put on your P. T. Barnum hat, and it's up to you to be able to do that to make your writing pay.

Hmmh. Making your writing pay. Novel concept.

Sherman also made a couple other great points:

The goal is to tell a story, and if you are a good storyteller your success will come.


If you can't articulate the synopsis of your book very quickly, then the reader won't as well.

I put those thoughts together with the takeaway from the other blogs I read this morning, and here is my epiphany: the need to write a query letter isn't just some arbitrary punishment agents inflict on writers because they're mean. It's an important rite of passage for the work.

If we can't articulate the reason why an agent should read our manuscript well enough to get a request for more material, how are we going to convince a potential reader to buy the book? And no, I don't believe that's the publisher's job. Hopefully we are going to have interviews and school visits and book signings to do. That's where our enthusiasm and our ability to tell a story, and to tell it well, are going to have to shine.

So what's your book about? What's your selling point? What makes YOU love YOUR story enough to need to write it? If you can't answer that question, take time out to figure it out before you query, before you continue writing. I am convinced you will end up with a better book and a better bottom-line because you did.

Nathan Bransford asked for opinions last week about whether the query process worked. I said I thought it was probably better to have the agent read the first part of the manuscript before reading the query letter. Now I think I'm going to change my mind. I do think the query is important. But I think it works only when the writer takes the time to make the query truly reflect the work.

Someone on the BookEnds blog this morning wrote:

It still bothers me that some of us who follow directions and do our research are lumped in with those "others" who can't or those who are void of common sense.

I don't think we're lumped in with the others. Not having the "bam factor" as the above poster suggested isn't something an agent can overlook just because we followed instructions and completed the minimum requirements. I've made huge mistakes in querying--pretty much, you name it and I've goofed. I don't intend to make mistakes again, but I'm human and Murphy is not my friend. The one mistake I won't ever make again is assuming that agents will automatically be able to divine the brilliance of my manuscript, like Karnac the Magnificent, through some magical means. I have to show them, clearly and convincingly.

What do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts....

For further reading (and listening):

Happy pitching,


About the Author

Martina Boone is the author of Compulsion and Persuasion, out now in the romantic Southern Gothic Heirs of Watson Island trilogy from Simon & Schuster, Simon Pulse. Illusion, the final book, will be out in October of 2016. Martina is also the founder of, a three-time Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers Site, and, a site dedicated to encouraging literacy and reader engagement through a celebration of series literature. She's on the Board of the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia and runs the program to distribute books to underfunded schools and libraries.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

4 A Great Plot By Definition

Martha Alderson, AKA the Plot Whisperer, posted a great definition of plot on her blog this past week. Of itself that might not seem too exciting. But I loved how she did it, by gradually adding to the definition the same way many of us writers approach a story. She began with plot as a series of scenes:
Plot is a series of scenes that show outward action.
And ended with plot as the core of a well-developed novel:
Plot is a series of scenes deliberately arranged by cause and effect to create dramatic action filled with conflict, tension, and suspense to further the character’s emotional development and create thematic significance.
As she added to the definition, she explained the significance of each story element. I particularly loved that she included thematic significance as part of the plot. It is so often overlooked, or tacked on, but when done well it is the unifying force that weaves everything in the plot together. In effect, it is what makes a great novel great. The Plot Whisperer points out, "It is the main thrust of your presentation and what you hope to prove through your story. The theme is the why: what you want your audience to take away after having read your story."

Read the full article:

Happy plotting,


Friday, April 23, 2010

3 The Writer's Post-Rejection Survival Guide

Okay, I am reading a lot of depressing posts about rejection and giving up. Come on, folks. Seriously? Did you give up in college? Did you stop in the middle of having your first kid and say, "This is too hard, doc. Think I'll pack up my labor toys and go home." (Well, okay, possibly you did -- but you didn't actually GET to leave.) The point is, think back to all the times you did something in your life that was hard. You didn't conquer it overnight. If it was easy to succeed, it wouldn't mean much.

I write because I have a story to tell. The sad fact that when I'm done, I love my characters so much I want to share them is a separate issue. But whether or not I sell a particular story or book, I love the process of being creative and the joy of meeting and interacting with my fellow writers. That's priceless. Don't you love that part of writing?

So what if you get a rejection? Sometimes there's a nice note scribbled on it, or a request for a full, an invitation to send something else, or a bit of praise that makes you smile. And sometimes, you get--YAY--an acceptance.

So rejections? Bring 'em on. None of this talk of quitting or despair. (You know who you are!) You aren't in this alone.

But if you need a bit of cheer and affirmation, here are some of my favorite sites about rejections. Enjoy!

Have any other links to share? Let us know and spread the support...

Hang in there everyone!


7 Writer's Tools: Worksheets & More

We all work differently, and different stories need different types and levels of planning for our novels. There's no right way and no wrong way, but sometimes it's good to mix things up.

If you aren't completely satisfied with your story planning process, check out some of the planning tools below.



Character Development



Happy planning,


About the Author

Martina Boone is the author of Compulsion and Persuasion, out now in the romantic Southern Gothic Heirs of Watson Island trilogy from Simon & Schuster, Simon Pulse. Illusion, the final book, will be out in October of 2016. Martina is also the founder of, a three-time Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers Site, and, a site dedicated to encouraging literacy and reader engagement through a celebration of series literature. She's on the Board of the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia and runs the program to distribute books to underfunded schools and libraries.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

2 And You Are...???

BookEnds, LLC reminds us that it's important to always query as a professional, and not like an old friend. Just because you've met an agent or editor in person doesn't mean they will remember you or the conversation that you had. Rather, query in a way that provides details to refresh their memory and maintain a professional tone. If you've invested the time, money, and courage to attend a conference and approach an agent or editor, you don't want to blow your chance to use this encounter in a query. Thou shall avoid any reason to be rejected in your query!


2 Writing the Perfect Climax and Ending

Guest blogger Kat Zhang did a great article about Endings and Climaxes on Let the Words Flow today. It reminded me that we all spend a lot of time worrying about the beginning of a novel, and far too little time thinking about the end. This is, I believe, the reason a synopsis, outline, or other form of plan is necessary. Otherwise, it's just too easy to write yourself into a corner.

Kat's advice is sound. Here's my takeaway:

1) Have the protagonist solve the final problem.
2) Make sure the protag has earned any victory through growth, courage, self-sacrifice, and hard work.
3) Ensure all tools the protag and antag use have been woven and layered in throughout the book.
4) Take time for wrap-up in the denouement, hinting at how the protag's growth will change the world around her going forward.

Read the full article:

And for further information on climaxes and endings:

Write a satisfying climax,


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

6 Jody Hedlund Identifies First Chapter No-Nos

I'm loving this post by Jody Hedlund on what can go wrong in your first chapter to turn someone reading it off. From neglecting to include a strong hook to trying to get too much in too quickly, her thoughts are insightful for anyone working on a novel.

Happy Writing!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

1 Tell-Tale Signs of an Amateur Writer

Alicia and Theresa, the two editors behind edittorrent, have a great, new post out on Irony, Juxtaposition and Coincidence in writing. But in my usual ADD way, I went back to an earlier post of theirs on the Marks of an Amateur writer. They put it out there as only the start of the list, but I have to say it's a darn good start. So what do you think, does your manuscript give away your amateur status? Or do you present your most professional work?

Happy editing,


Monday, April 19, 2010

4 Act Now! Limited Time Offer! No Query Necessary!

Nothing kicks off the week like a contest. What I love about this one from Dystel and Goderich is that it's SO accessible. All you have to do is post your first line from your manuscript. If you win, you get a full, yes full, manuscript consideration. My favorite part? No query necessary!  Woo hoo!

Happy Monday!

1 Copyright, Fiction, Facts, and Two Fantastic Writers

Two of my favorite authors of all time--and who knew one was a huge fan of the other? Great stuff on copyright, novels, fiction and more.... Thanks to Story of the Week from The Library of America for An Interview with Mark Twain. 

Here's how it begins:

You are a contemptible lot, over yonder. Some of you are Commissioners, and some Lieutenant-Governors, and some have the V. C., and a few are privileged to walk about the Mall arm in arm with the Viceroy; but I have seen Mark Twain this golden morning, have shaken his hand, and smoked a cigar—no, two cigars—with him, and talked with him for more than two hours! Understand clearly that I do not despise you; indeed, I don’t. I am only very sorry for you, from the Viceroy downward. To soothe your envy and to prove that I still regard you as my equals, I will tell you all about it.

They said in Buffalo that he was in Hartford, Conn.; and again they said “perchance he is gone upon a journey to Portland”; and a big, fat drummer vowed that he knew the great man intimately, and that Mark was spending the summer in Europe—which information so upset me that I embarked upon the wrong train, and was incontinently turned out by the conductor three-quarters of a mile from the station, amid the wilderness of railway tracks. Have you ever, encumbered with great-coat and valise, tried to dodge diversely-minded locomotives when the sun was shining in your eyes? But I forgot that you have not seen Mark Twain, you people of no account! . . .
My favorite quotes?
“I never read novels myself,” said he, “except when the popular persecution forces me to— when people plague me to know what I think of the last book that every one is reading.”

“And how did the latest persecution affect you?”

“Robert?” said he, interrogatively.

I nodded.

“I read it, of course, for the workmanship. That made me think I had neglected novels too long— that there might be a good many books as graceful in style somewhere on the shelves; so I began a course of novel reading. I have dropped it now; it did not amuse me. But as regards Robert, the effect on me was exactly as though a singer of street ballads were to hear excellent music from a church organ. I didn’t stop to ask whether the music was legitimate or necessary. I listened, and I liked what I heard. I am speaking of the grace and beauty of the style.
“Personally I never care for fiction or story-books. What I like to read about are facts and statistics of any kind. If they are only facts about the raising of radishes, they interest me. Just now, for instance, before you came in”— he pointed to an encyclop√¶dia on the shelves— “I was reading an article about ‘Mathematics.’ Perfectly pure mathematics.

“My own knowledge of mathematics stops at ‘twelve times twelve,’ but I enjoyed that article immensely. I didn’t understand a word of it; but facts, or what a man believes to be facts, are always delightful. That mathematical fellow believed in his facts. So do I. Get your facts first, and”— the voice dies away to an almost inaudible drone— “then you can distort ’em as much as you please.”

Read the full article here:
Happy reading and  have a great Monday,

Sunday, April 18, 2010

2 YALSA 2010 Teen Top Ten Nominations

In alphabetical order by author, the 25 nominees are:

Watersmeet by Ellen Jensen Abbott
Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
Hate List by Jennifer Brown
Heist Society by Ally Carter
Fire by Kristin Cashore
City of Glass by Cassandra Clare
The Roar by Emma Clayton
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen
Incarceron by Catherine Fisher
hush, hush by Becca
If I Stay by Gayle Forman
Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl
Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci
Dragonfly by Julia Golding
The Reformed Vampire Support Group by Catherine Jinks
I Am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to Be Your Class President by Josh Lieb
Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler
Witch and Wizard by James Patterson
By the Time You Read This, I'll Be Dead by Julie Anne Peters
Bloodhound by Tamora Pierce
Strange Angels by Lili St. Crow
Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya by Nagaru Tanigawa
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
City of Fire by Laurence Yep

more info:

2 Master Plots and How to Make Them Count

Nicole Humphrey at It's All About Writing posted on the age-old plot question. How many plots are there really? It's worth the read.

I personally like both the answer that's given in many writing classes, which tends toward the thousands, maybe millions of possibilities, or Aristotle's answer, which is two, one that begins with good fortune and ends in bad fortune versus one that begins with bad fortune and ends with good fortune. Why? Because I believe that plot and character are intertwined in any good story. A good writer can take the same plot, use different characters, and end up with a completely different result according to what the characters would do and why they do it.

Does it really really matter whether the plot elements of two stories are the same? Look at King Lear and Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres. Or Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story. Or something even more basic: take the fable of the tortoise and the hare, and switch it up with a cheetah and an eland (the slowest antelope). The cheetah can run at speeds between 70 and 75 mph, but it can't keep that up very long and has to rest after sprinting to lower its body temperature. The eland is slow, but it can trot almost indefinitely. The outcome of such a race would probably be the same as the race between the tortoise and the hare. But the key to plot--again back to Aristotle--is cause and effect. And now the two stories suddenly look a little different. Slow and steady may still win the race, but the cause of the cheetah losing is a physical limitation instead of hubris.

At this point, the writer in me takes over. What if the cheetah really wants to win? What can he do to make it possible to keep going instead of stopping to rest? What would the eland do if she knows the cheetah can't keep up? (Cheetah's only hunt successfully 50% of the time anyway.) What if the eland is hungry and far ahead? Would she stop to eat?

In 20 Master Plots and How to Build Them, Ronald Tobias presented a list of lowest common denominators for sound plotting.
  1. Make tension fuel your plot.
  2. Create tension through opposition.
  3. Make tension grow as opposition increases.
  4. Make change the point of your story.
  5. When something happens, make sure it's important.
  6. Make the causal look casual.
  7. Don't rely on luck.
  8. Make sure your central character performs the central action of the climax.
So, to change up my plot between the cheetah and the eland, I'd make the outcome uncertain. I'd ratchet up the tension. Maybe I'd make the eland hungry and the cheetah starved. Maybe I'd make the cheetah the protag and the eland the antag. Who knows?

So many possibilities, so little writing time....

Here's a quick tool from Read, Write, Think. Teachers use it in the classroom to teach kids how to plot, but it's a quick way to help organize a plot by looking at the basic elements against the classic plot pyramid.

Here's another link to a list of picture books that illustrate four kinds of character-based conflict (character vs. character, character vs. nature, character vs. society, character vs. self).

And here's my old stand-by, the complications worksheet:

Happy plotting,


Further reading:
20 Master Plots and How to Build Them by Ronald Tobias
Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell
Blockbuster Plots: Pure & Simple by Martha Alderson

Friday, April 16, 2010

2 7 Sins and 7 Secrets from Bruce Coville

Freelance editor, children's book lover, and graduate student Bethany Olson provided a succinct recap of Bruce Coville's speech from a 2009 SCBWI conference. Wonderful advice and lots to think about.

Bethany also offers a free critique for the first 10 pages of a children's or YA manuscript along with quotes on editorial services. This is an editor with spunk and drive!

Have a great weekend,


0 Inspiration For Children's Writers From Crossfit

I seriously doubt many of you have ever even heard of Crossfit. Beyond writing for children, it's my other passion in life, a philosophy of fitness that I've been following for about three years now that has totally changed my world. If you spend a little time on the website, it's hard to see how anyone in the children's publishing world has anything to do with the world of Crossfit. The images they post for the daily workouts can be a little intimidating. Not to mention that today I can barely walk as a consequence of one of their workouts! But they often include great articles on their site that have nothing to do with fitness. They also post quotes that seem to always resonate for me in both the world of Crossfit and children's publishing. Today's quote was so appropriate for those of us aspiring to be published that I had to share:

"For my part, I rather distrust men or concerns that rise up with the speed of rockets. Sudden rises are sometimes followed by equally sudden falls. I have most faith in the individual or enterprise that advances step by step. A mushroom can spring up in a day; an oak takes 50 years or more to reach maturity. Mushrooms don't last; oaks do. The real cause for an enormous number of business failures is premature over-expansion, attempting to gallop before learning to creep. Sudden successes often invite sudden reverses."
- B.C. Forbes

And just in case you're wondering, there is a Crossfit Kids website, too! Maybe Crossfit and children's publishing aren't so different after all!

Happy Friday!

0 Mary Kole Asks: What Does Your Critique Group Mean to You?

Today's post on poses a very interesting question: What does your critique group or partner mean to you? It's a must-read for evaluating whether you're growing as a writer within your group. It's important to be challenged and to challenge those you work with, in return. It's also important to provide justified feedback, not just commentary.

Beyond the obvious wonderful advice, this post got me thinking. After meeting with Martina in our group this week, I have to take a moment to sing their praises. We represent totally different people with noticably different lives. Each of our styles and voices are unique. But our love for writing for children brings us together each week and the result is pure joy. The friendships that I have formed as a result of these meetings are truly cherished.

What's your critique group look like? How many people are involved? Are you meeting in-person or online, or possibly using both? How often do you meet? What's the most beneficial aspect of your critique group? If you're not involved in a critique group, what's holding you back? Post to comments. We'd love to hear from you!

Much Love to My Ladies and Happy Meeting,

0 Dialogue Refresher Course from Roni Griffin

Great recap on all things dialogue:



2 BEST Query Letter Advice EVER

Seriously. Too good to pass up. And read the rest of the blog.

Enjoy and TGIF!


1 Writing Yourself to Failure from Penny Sansevieri

Thanks to Deb Gersh Hernandez (@DebGH) for pointing me to Penny Sansevieri's (@Bookgal) post in the Huffington Post on Why (Some) Authors Fail. Important advice for authors on the importance of knowing your market, your fellow writers, and your craft.

Happy reading,


1 Shortcuts to Writing Well from Richard Bausch

Here's a wonderful reminder about the limitation of shortcuts and how-to manuals when it comes to learning the craft of writing. My favorite quotes?

This one:

If you really want to learn how to write, do that. Read Shakespeare, and all the others whose work has withstood time and circumstance and changing fashions and the assaults of the ignorant and the bigoted; read those writers and don’t spend a lot of time analyzing them. Digest them, swallow them all, one after another, and try to sound like them for a time. Learn to be as faithful to the art and craft as they all were, and follow their example. That is, wide reading and hard work. One doesn’t write out of some intellectual plan or strategy; one writes from a kind of beautiful necessity born of the reading of thousands of good stories poems plays… One is deeply involved in literature, and thinks more of writing than of being a writer.

And this one:

To my mind, nothing is as important as good writing, because in literature, the walls between people and cultures are broken down, and the things that plague us most—suspicion and fear of the other, and the tendency to see whole groups of people as objects, as monoliths of one cultural stereotype or another—are defeated.

Read the full article:



0 Making More Writing Time: Tips from Jody Hedlund

Just read another true and useful post on Jody Hedlund's blog. She writes inspirational historical romances, but her advice is no less true for YA and children's writers, and her list of suggestions goes beyond just the determination required to plant yourself in front of the keyboard every day. Take a look:

Don't worry if you aren't the kind of a writer who can squeeze in keyboard time consistently. I tend to write in fits and spurts around work and kids and everything else, so I don't do well with forcing myself to sit at a keyboard every day to write new copy. Marketing and revision also get in the way. I set goals for the week though, and I make sure I am writing something every day even if it isn't fiction. I also try to remind myself, on the days that frustration sets in, that any time I am thinking about my WIP--plotting, characterization, whatever--that counts as writing. The next time I sit at the keyboard, that will come back for a payoff.

We all have our tips and tricks. All you have to remember is never to give up!

Happy writing,


Thursday, April 15, 2010

2 Best Books on the Craft of Writing

Just read this post on Jody Hedlund's blog with an awesome list of books on the craft of writing suggested by a number of tweeting writers.

Here are a few more of my favorites:

How to Grow A Novel: The Most Common Mistakes Writers Make And How To Overcome Them by Sol Stein
The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life by Noah Lukeman
Writing the Blockbuster Novel by Albert Zuckerman
Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer Can Afford to Ignore by Elizabeth Lyon
Fine Print: Reflections on the Writing Art by James J. Kilpatrick

And for anyone writing fantasy for kids, I would like to recommend:

The Green and Burning Tree: On the Writing and Enjoyment of Children's Books by Eleanor Cameron

(And yes, for those of you who have read WW--that is where it came from. It's been twenty years since I first read this book and it has stuck with me ever since!)

Happy reading!


2 Ingrid Sundberg on Submission Do's and Don'ts

A completely fabulous article on anything you want to know about submitting to the Andrea Brown literary agency -- and on the agent submission process in general.

Happy submissions,


2 When Life Gives You Lemons, The Literary Lab Makes Lemonade!

Have you ever gone to open that manuscript you've been slaving over on your computer, only to find it won't open? Or, perhaps your most recent updates to your story weren't saved properly. Or worse, your computer crashes altogether. We can all identify with the frustration that The Literary Lab discusses on their blog today. What I love is that writer Michelle Davidson Argyle has turned this agonizing experience into a contest. The prize? A free critique!

Good Luck!

0 Faith Hunter on Choosing Your Words

Here's some food for thought on word choice and pacing. The principles she illustrates are spot on. She also provides some interesting examples and analysis.

Pace yourselves when writing and eat some chocolate,


0 Calling YA Writers: New Query Posted

We've received a new query submission for critique. Please pitch in with your thoughts, and feel free to send us more queries for help.

Thanks for supporting your fellow writers,


5 Confidence and Being a Writer

For the past two days, I have been kicking myself for accidentally sending out several query letters with typos. There's a long, boring story about how this happened, but the story doesn't matter. I feel unprofessional and horrible about wasting the time of the agents who received the letters. But then I came across a couple of wonderful posts this morning where writers talked about confidence (or lack thereof) and whether they wanted to keep writing if they couldn't get an agent interested in their work.


For me, seeing these posts came at the perfect time. They made me remember this is a process, and I'm going to make mistakes even though I try not to. I'm not writing to become a best-selling author, although if I can possibly achieve that, I will. For all the stories out there like Stephanie Meyer and her six month journey to stardom, there are lots of quiet journeys that start with two or even a dozen books that never went anywhere. For those writers, each misstep resulted in knowledge, growth, and the ability to see more in the world around them. I know I pay more attention to the quirks and coincidences of life because I write fiction, and I definitely think more deeply about the people I meet. I consider and study my craft, and I become much more humble every day discovering the bottomless ocean of things I do not know.

I make mistakes. I'm not perfect. And that's okay.

I gave up writing fiction for a while because I started a business. Putting in seventeen-hour days trying to make that work while simultaneously raising kids and juggling the house, the husband, the pets, and the other things we all do made me think there wasn't time to write. But as I read those posts this morning, I realized I'd been growing as a reader and a writer all that time. So I'm not going to angst about what might have been or what is or isn't selling now. I've got three exciting book ideas stacked up after my current YA WIP, and I have to write those just to get to know the characters.

Should you quit writing if you aren't getting love from agents?

Are you working on something new? Are you excited about an idea for something new?

Worry less about the past. Get writing! If  you're writing, you are a writer.

Good luck and keep the faith,


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

5 A Simple Trick to Inspire an Entire Story

I must admit I was inspired by a saying for one of my own manuscripts. So when I stumbled upon this post today, I had to pass the concept along. Sometimes, all it takes is a small seed, or concept, to jumpstart you into writing an entire story!

Post your favorite phrase or saying to comments. Maybe you'll inspire someone's writing!

Search for phrases:

Happy Phrasing,

0 Kathy Temean: Donald Maass' on Writing Great Characters

Kathy Temean, busy children's author and illustrator and Regional Advisor for the New Jersey SCBWI, has posted a recap of the character development section from Writing the Breakout Novel by literary agent Donald Maass.

This is the second post I've seen today on the importance of character development, so I'll add my two cents. For me, everything in writing starts with character, including my desire to keep reading or writing. What's the point of spending time with someone boring?

Happy characterization,


0 More SLA Top 100 Children's Novels

Okay, REALLY have to stop reading/blogging and start WORKING this morning, but had to share these two links.

First, the results of the SLA Top 100 Children's Novels Poll as posted yesterday:

Next, the almost rans:

Interesting, but I still see a lot of things missing and some questionables. That's what makes this whole industry so great. I get to spend time wondering why someone else loves a book I only like, and feels "eh" about a book I love.

Happy wondering,


0 Nathan Bransford on How to Be a Successful Writer

In his usual pithy way, Nathan Bransford has delivered a great reminder about the most important thing a writer needs to achieve success.



2 K.M. Weiland on Unveiling Backstory

K. M. Weiland, author of Behold the Dawn and A Man Called Outlaw, does a great job of keeping the reader turning pages. Her latest video post on How to Tell If Your Backstory Is Boring uses The Three Musketeers to illustrate how to incorporate backstory into your novel seemlessly. The Three Musketeers happens to be one of my favorite books, and Dumas does backstory beautifully, so I think it is a brilliant example.

View the video at:

I like to think of the process of cutting backstory as maintaining urgency. If my backstory interferes with the reader's need to know what happens next, I have to cut it. And I know and angst about every single spot in my work where I have to incorporate backstory and can't do so in the midst of conflict. Seeing the video this morning inspired me to go back and revisit a couple of scenes. My thought for the day: backstory creeps on sneaky feet.

Happy writing,


0 Fashion Meets Publishing!

This is a great post that brings the facets of dressing for success and trying to get published together.

What's not to love?

Happy Styling,


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

2 KidQueries

Need help with the query for your young adult or middle grade novel? There are plenty of places on the Web where you can get peer help with an adult query, but so far we haven't found much dedicated exclusively for children's writers to help each other. So here it is. KidLit Query Help. Go here for instructions.

Happy querying!

Martina & Marissa

1 Cortese Literary Offers FREE Edit for YA and Children's Lit

Amie Cortese of Cortese Literary is offering free query help and manuscript critiques via her Web site. According to the site, she is a published author and former educator with a Master of Arts degree in English. She wants to make a career out of mentoring new authors and introducing them to the publishing industry, and is now taking on new writers. Check out her submission requirements here:

Happy submitting,


Monday, April 12, 2010

0 Children's Writing Classes Online

We all know it’s hard to find time to write. But at the same time, we need to continue to hone our craft. So in the pursuit to improve my writing skills, I began taking a convenient writing course online. This course, Children’s Book Writing I, runs ten weeks through Gotham Writers’ Workshop. The idea of an online course doesn’t appeal to everyone, but I completed my Master’s Degree in this format and found it very user-friendly. After a little research, I took the plunge and registered.

Let’s start with the nuts and bolts. Gotham has a website that is simple to use and the instructor is easily accessible. Class size is limited to eighteen students or less, making the experience intimate. The weekly lecture is posted online and can be read in less than fifteen minutes. The lectures cover a variety of topics, from plot and dialogue to revising and the publishing world. The lecture is complemented by a relevant and manageable assignment. Four students per week post samples of their own writing on the website for classmates to comment on. Beyond garnering feedback on your own writing, critiquing others’ work each week is a useful step in growing as a writer, too. The fees involved in the course are reasonable and can be found at Gotham's website.

There are several children’s book writing courses that are offered in an online format. After researching the many courses that are out there, I chose Gotham because I liked the idea that they specialize specifically in writing. If you’re thinking about taking a course, visit some of the links below.

If you have taken a writing course, we would love to hear about your experience! Please post it to comments.

Other Online Course Offerings:
Stratford Career Institute

Happy Writing!

0 Sarah Ockler: What To Do When YOU Get THE CALL

Sarah Ockler, author of Twenty-Boy Summer and Fixing Delilah Hannaford (out in November 2010 from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers), just posted a wonderful article about not settling when it comes to literary agent offers. If you have a query out there, this is a post you do not want to miss.

Hoping you all get to put Sarah's advice to use,


0 Sarah Wylie: New Contest and Opportunity for Writers

To celebrate the two-book deal her agent, Suzie Townsend of FinePrint Literary Management, just negotiated with Margaret Ferguson Books, Sarah Wylie is hosting a contest and providing an incredible opportunity for three lucky winners to get closer to their publication goals. The grand prize winner will get a lunch date with BOTH Janet Reid and Suzie Townsend from FinePrint. Plus Suzie Townsend will critique the first 30-40 pages of a manuscript for A SECOND WINNER, and THREE MORE WINNERS will get query letter critiques from by one of the following agents: Kathleen Ortiz, Joanna Stampfel-Volpe, or Colleen Lindsay. And there are other great prizes, including copies of Hex Hall, Silver Phoenix, and When You Reach Me, and more. (Including packs of Twizzlers, yum!)

So head over to enter now:

Good luck!


1 Cornell DeVille: Query Letter Contest

Cornell DeVille is hosting a query contest -- the first 50 entries will be judged by an agent from the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, who will also request a full manuscript from the winner. It's a great opportunity, so hurry and send your entry.

Get the contest rules here:

Good luck,


0 Nancy Springer: Bringing Play into Your Writing

Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter, the authors of Spilling Ink: A Young Author's Handbook, just posted a great article from guest blogger Nancy Springer who has penned many successful children's books, including the Enola Holmes series. The post, entitled: Nancy Springer: "Hey Hey Play" (And, yes. Another book giveaway!) is both true and insightful. You have to be able to play and experience joy to bring the best out of a story. Even if the story is tragic, unless you provide a contrast in your work, you will ultimately fail to help the reader experience and identify with that tragedy. To show the bad, you have to show the good, so relaxation and play become even more important.

I especially love the quirky examples Nancy Springer provided of ways to "play" -- and I'd like to point out that quirks are what makes characters great. Bringing a sense of a characters hobbies, likes, and eccentricities into a story makes both the reader and the writer understand and remember that character much better.

Go read the post at:

Happy playing,


0 New iPad Opportunities for Children's Writers

There's discussion out there about what the iPad will do to publishing. For the children's book, the iPad can offer new opportunities. Publisher's Weekly this past week was quick to provide examples of early adopters and industry leaders in story app efforts. Given the amount of the initial investment ($499), some are even speculating that parents might be willing to buy more books to read on the iPad than they might otherwise buy in traditional format. I know from personal experience that reading electronically has its charm. In fact, I go through more eBooks because I always have them with me and read in any spare moment. Which means I get used to having a book available, which means I need new books more often.... Instead of fearing the iPad, perhaps we should be looking forward to having early adopters help turn out a new generation of avid readers.

The iPad launched with two important apps that will already change the way parents read to kids. A Story Before Bed is a new service that lets parents record themselves reading a book. Kids can then play back that recording any time. It includes a library of 100 books to choose from. The International Children's Digital Library (ICDL) app from the University of Maryland provides access to a 4,000 title library of online children's books from 64 countries. (Check it out at

As the iPad spawns the inevitable list of new applications, it will be interesting to see who first comes up with a viable one that allows children's writers to upload manuscript texts and sell them directly. I'm not sure that will necessarily be a good thing--I'm a big believer in the collaborative effort between editors and writers creating a better book--but I suspect it is coming.

Want to know more about the iPad and its effect on children's books? Check out the links below:

See what reading a regular book on the iPad looks like:

Happy speculating,


Sunday, April 11, 2010

0 Jill Corcoran: Formula for a Query Letter

Jill Corcoran, a literary agent with the Herman Agency, represents chapter book, MG, and YA authors. Her blog is always full of great insight, but her latest post provides one of the clearest and most succint how-to guides I've seen on writing a better query letter. Click over and see how to make your own queries more successful....

Happy querying,


0 Laini Taylor on Plot vs. Story

Laini Taylor, author of the Dreamdark books and Lips Touch, just did a breakout section on plot at the SCBWI Western Washington 2010 conference. I found the recap article posted by the chapter very helpful.

She had a lot of great thoughts on plot, including: "The plot is the sequence of events over which your themes, your premise, your conflicts, and your character growth play out."

Read more at:
Additional information from the Western Washington conference is here:
Makes me wish I lived on the west coast!

Happy reading,


0 Colleen Lindsay Re-Opens to Queries

Agent Colleen Lindsay is open to queries again as of the 10th. Main interests are mainstream young adult and middle grade novels. See her guidelines before sending anything!

Happy querying!


2 Twitterific List

Editorial Ass shared an article that just ran in The Huffington Post. This article highlights the 50 Best Book People to Follow on Twitter. If you're on Twitter, it's a must-see list!

We want to know,  who do you follow in the publishing world? Post to comments!

Happy Tweeting!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

3 Depressing Numbers from a Kid Lit Agent

Jennifer Laughran from Andrea Brown just updated her Ask the Agent post on her blog, and I found something there I thought you should see. Here is is:

A question posted by Drachen Jager:
Hi Jennifer,

I have a question about percentages. You said above that you accept approximately .1% of what crosses your desk (which, I gather, is pretty normal for an agent). What I'd like to know is, what percentage of manuscripts you request make it out of the slush pile and on to your client list?

I have two manuscripts out on requests right now (one partial) and I'm just wondering what my odds are. They've both been out for over a month which I hope is good news since both requests were made within a week of my query (going under the (possibly flawed) assumption that if they read queries so fast they probably have at least looked at my MS).

Thanks! You're doing a great thing here and I'm sure it's a big drain on your time. I'm sure I speak for everyone here when I say we really appreciate your efforts!
Jennifer Laughran's response:
Umm... I have no idea. I would say that I request about 1 full in every 50-80 queries. And of those fulls, I end up repping possibly 1-2%
Don't know about you all, but I need a drink. And a dose of genius.

Dare I say, 'happy submitting'?


8 Successful Kid Lit Query Letter Examples

There are lots of query how-to's out there, but I'm hard to educate. I wanted examples and they are hard to find for YA or MG fiction. Having gone through the exercise, I figured I'd share the few paltry samples of "good" or successful query letters I managed to scrounge up. Hope they help you....!/note.php?note_id=228756054088

If you find any other examples, please let us know.

Happy querying!


P.S. 5/2/10 -- Cornell deVille ran a YA/MG query contest last month judged by Jamie Weiss-Children, an agent from Andrea Brown. She chose three winners. Check them out at:

2 Free Edit for Your YA or MG Novel

Deborah Halverson, formerly with Harcourt Children’s Books, has set up shop as a freelance editor. She's also running a contest to commemorate the one-month anniversary of her new Dear-Editor blog. The prize? A free substantive edit for a middle grade or young adult novel up to 85,000 words in length.

Good luck,


2 Improving Your Fiction: 246 Rules from 28 Modern Writers

Thanks to Linda S. Wingerter at Blue Rose Girls for pointing me toward the recent Guardian articles that coaxed 28 famous authors into giving  up their secrets to writing wonderful fiction. The two-part series asked each author to provide Ten Rules for Writing Fiction. Obviously, some of these writers are better at fiction than at math, but the tips range from helpful to hysterical. Well worth the read.

Find the articles here:

Happy perusing,


1 Cornell DeVille on Nailing Down the Query

Since I am STILL struggling to write the right query for my YA novel, I was floored by the simplicity of the approach proposed by Cornell DeVille. He incorporates the character types he described in an earlier post about the hero's journey plot format (see that post, and also our Complications Worksheet for a cheat-sheet) to impose an incredibly simple order and logic to the mysterious art of the novel pitch. At the moment, he's my hero.

Happier query writing!