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where book news, agentish advice, party planning, cute animal pictures and general shenanigans collide.
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1. Middle Grade Webinar 8/14

By popular demand (really!), I'm revisiting my Writers Digest class, WRITING AND SELLING MIDDLE GRADE FICTION. Last time I taught this webinar we had 100+ participants and it was really fun, and I hope interesting and inspiring for attendees! Here's what you need to know:

* The live webinar will be held Thursday 8/14 at 1pm Eastern. BUT! If you can't attend live, NO PROBLEM - everyone who has signed up ahead of time will get the webinar on-demand, and have access to all program materials for a year

* Everyone who has signed up ahead of time will get a critique of EITHER the first 500 words of their finished/WIP middle grade OR their query. Your choice.

* EVERY question will be answered, either during the presentation or in writing afterward -- if you can't attend and ask during the live presentation, you may simply send in your question to WD, and I will get to all of them.

This class is probably most useful for:

* Folks who are either ready-to-query or who are in the query trenches but haven't yet hooked an agent (or perhaps, have gotten rejections but don't know why!)

* Those just starting their Middle Grade writing journey (or perhaps don't even know where to start!)

* Published or unpublished writers in other categories who are considering transitioning into Middle Grade.

You can sign up for the Webinar with critique anytime until 8/14. Check out the Writers Digest website for more info or to register.

And if you have ANY questions about this class, please ask here or on Twitter!


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2. Story Structure from South Park

This has been ALL over social media in the past couple days, but it is really smart plotting advice from Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the creators of "South Park" and "Book of Mormon." Like... REALLY smart and simple advice, not just for film but also very much applicable to children's book writers. Take two minutes and watch!

If you've ever gotten a critique that your picture book "read like a series of lists" or "was more like a vignette/series of vignettes" . . .  or perhaps your novel was "too episodic" . . .  THIS is what those critiquers probably meant, and how to fix it.

http://www.theafw.com/blog/south-park-writers-share-their-writing-rule-1/#.

What do you think?

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3. Infinite Repeat = More Micah!

OK so it might be weird to have a crush on a fictional teenager but... MICAH, though. Micah is the ultimate Badboy-with-a-Heart-of-Gold from THE ART OF LAINEY. He's a mohawk'ed, punk-rock-listening dude with a troubled past who also btw is super caring and kind and a huge fan of fancy baking and would love to make and feed you a scrumptious triple-chocolate-mocha-mousse-delight. I'm just saying. #yum

INFINITE REPEAT is a novella by Paula Stokes that gives us Micah-fans what we have wanted -- a story told from his POV that gives readers a glimpse into his backstory. It takes place entirely before THE ART OF LAINEY -- in other words, you don't need to read one to read the other. So if you haven't met Micah yet, here's a great chance to do so.

Obviously I love Micah and want to read about him just doing anything pretty much... but my favorite thing about INFINITE REPEAT is the relationship between Micah and his little sister Tris, who was one of the unexpected minor-character stars in the original book. Tris and Micah are such a compelling duo, and I totally platonic-ship them. I could read their conversations and banter all day. And I love how they are constantly both pushing each other and protecting each other. LOVE LOVE SIBLING LOVE!

Anyway, listen, enough out of me. I want you to get to know Micah. INFINITE REPEAT is $1.99 and can be found wherever e-books are sold. More about the book and all buy links on the Epic Reads site.

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4. Spamvertisements Are Not Your Friend

What the heck are spamvertisements? They are that thing where a totally random "marketing guru" or "social media creative" - or just intrepid author with boundary issues - starts spamming people they don't know with advertisements about their or their poor client's latest book/project. The people being spammed AT are people who are big in that specific field (like in the case of books, they would be agents and editors) -- or just generally famous, like obviously Neil Gaiman, Veronica Roth, Stephen Fry, etc. -- or are huge "professional readers", popular bloggers and the like. If you look at their timeline it will probably look something like this:

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5. Let

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6. Should I Stay or Should I Go?

I got a comment on the blog that was important enough that I wanted to make a post about it.  Identifying info has been scrubbed for anonymity.

Dear Literaticat,

I got an agent several years ago at what is considered a really great NYC agency, but I'm not happy. My agent frankly scares me and is often not nice, and they want me to take my books in a direction I'm not comfortable with at all. . . So we're at a stand still.

I feel like a girl in bad relationship - afraid to break up in case no one else wants me, (everyone is always all, "Wow, you're with Fancy Pants agency?!") but I'm not really getting anything out of this relationship. I always envisioned an agent helping me build my career and that so isn't the case. They make me cry, and we're definitely not partners in this.
 

Signed, Should I Go Solo Again?

Dear SIGSA,

There are all kinds of things an agent might do for you. But here's what I think an agent MUST do: Be ethical, communicative, savvy about publishing, and work with you to help you achieve your career goals. That means giving advice - but also following your directions. After all, they are supposed to be acting on your behalf. That means, basically, as far as the publishing world, they are an extension of you. You don't have to LOVE your agent -- but I think you do have to respect them and trust that they have your back.

"Nice" is a personality attribute -- it actually isn't a basic requirement for an agent. It may be a requirement for YOU to work with a "nice" agent -- and that's fine! Now you'll know that for when you go agent-hunting again. Some people rub along best with those who are more like motherly nurturers, or excitable cheerleaders, or thoughtful therapists, or detail-oriented accountants. Some people really do want agents who are total unmitigated bastards . . . but even those total bastards still have to follow the base standard above with regard to their own clients.

[As an aside: I don't consider myself particularly "nice," in fact. I think I'm GENERALLY GOOD and KIND-HEARTED and COMMUNICATIVE and FUNNY (and also HUMBLE obviously haha just kidding not that) -- but "nice" is not a word I'd use to describe myself, and that's OK.]

Just like any long-term relationship of any kind, you aren't always going to love everything your agent tells you (and assuredly, vice-versa!) - and given enough time there WILL be weird communication breakdowns or confusions - but usually any issues like this can be worked out with a clarifying email or frank conversation.

If you simply can't have a frank conversation, though, that's a huge problem.  If they're doing things you don't want them to do, and not doing things you do want them to do, and not telling you things you need to be told, and making you cry and feel worthless, and you are actively afraid of them??? That's . . . not good, to say the least.

It sounds like you are in an extremely dysfunctional relationship with your agent. If I was in your shoes, I'd ask myself:

* Am I getting what I need from this relationship? * (Make sure what you need is within their power to give, too, obviously. "Timely communication" IS within their power. "Boatloads of cash" isn't - hopefully it will come as a result of both your work, but it is never guaranteed, of course!)

* If I'm not getting what I need, have I clearly articulated to this person what my needs are, that they are currently not being met, and what I need in order to continue the relationship? *  (If so, has the problem not resolved or gotten worse?)

* Would I be better off WITHOUT this person than with them? * (Hint - if you always get off the phone with them feeling like shit, or if you dread seeing their name in your inbox, the answer to this is probably yes.)

It sounds like the answers to these questions are No, No because I'm too afraid of her, and YES.

Even if this agent is REALLY SUCCESSFUL and GREAT for her other clients, it seems clear she is not a good agent-fit for you.  So, yep . . . time to move on, no matter how scary it is. Trapping yourself in a bad relationship is not going to help you move forward. Better to be flying solo and free than shackled to something that is holding you back. But you already knew that, probably.

Be brave! And good luck.


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7. Pub day for THE DARK METROPOLIS

The DARK METROPOLIS is a city that brings to mind the devil-may-care excesses and menace of Berlin between the wars. Here, corruption and vice are rampant, disappearances warrant only a shrug from the authorities.... and people who die don't always stay dead.

Sixteen-year-old Thea Holder is struggling to stay afloat. By day she nurses her ill mother, by night she works at the decadent Telephone Club. Unlike most other girls at the club, Thea refuses to go out with men and accept favors to supplement her wages, so she is barely able to make ends meet. When her best friend at work, Nan, stops showing up, Thea is the only one who is alarmed and tries to find her.


Thea's search for her friend leads her to a strangely attractive silver-haired boy whose touch is a gift, and a curse. Together, the two will uncover nightmarish secrets about how the city is really run. Secrets that some rich and influential people will do anything to keep hidden. 

 
Drawing on influences as diverse as Fritz Lang's Metropolis, Cabaret and Sabriel, this is a dark 1920's fairy tale; haunting, romantic and suspenseful. 


Jackie Dolamore is the author of the awesome fantasies MAGIC UNDER GLASS, BETWEEN THE SEA AND SKY, and MAGIC UNDER STONE -- but I personally think that THE DARK METROPOLIS is her most daring and sophisticated book yet. 

PW: Dolamore brings the elements of her complex storyline together with flair, and an extended climax provides closure and reveals new sides to the characters. Heroes, villains, and those somewhere in between all have strong motives.

Booklist: Dolamore builds an intriguing fantasy world, vaguely reminiscent of a war-ravaged twentieth-century Europe with the glitz of the Gilded Age, old-country magic, and an underground dystopian flair.

You can buy the book at Oblong, through IndieBound, from Powells, Barnes and Noble, Amazon, or anywhere fine books are sold.


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8. All About the Offer Etiquette (And How to get a Fast Pass!)

You're querying, and you get an offer. NOW WHAT?

GOOD IDEA:  If you get an offer of representation, and it's an agent you would not be sad to work with*, you should absolutely let the other agents who have the full or partial** know, to see if they want to read quickly and maybe hop on board the Offer Train. You might phrase it something like: "Thanks so much for your interest in AWESOME MANUSCRIPT! I've had an offer of representation, and I've told the offering agent*** that I need a week**** to get my ducks in a row. So if you are also interested, could you please let me know by [a specific date a week or so from now]?"

PROBABLE RESULT:  This will always get me to take a look at the ms if I haven't already, or to read faster if I'm already reading. However, it will also have me reading toward NO. In other words, unless I absolutely flippin LOVE this book, I will pass rather than get into a beauty contest over it. I can't make somebody Revise and Resubmit if they already have offers, after all! The good news is, you can safely assume that anyone who DOES end up entering the fray at this point really is keenly interested in the book.

* BUT WHAT IF I DON'T WANT THE FIRST AGENT?  IF on the off-chance you query somebody, they offer, and then when you speak to them you realize that you don't share a vision for the book at all and you really would be sad to work with them -- I STRONGLY SUGGEST you simply and graciously decline their offer but DO NOT let the other agents know and make them rush. You are more likely to get a thorough read and a fair shot if the agents aren't being rushed.

** BUT WHAT ABOUT THE PEOPLE WHO ONLY HAVE QUERIES?  Say it's the same situation as above, but you also have a bunch of just-queries out there who haven't had time to even possibly request a full -- by all means, feel free to reach out to them as well and see if they'd like to see more. Something like: "I know you might not have even seen this query yet, but I wanted to reach out to you because I've had an offer of representation. If this query seems like something you'd be interested in, I can give you a week with the full. Otherwise, no worries, I understand you might not want to rush!

Again, I will probably glance at the query and decide in a split second if it seems worth my time to pursue. Usually I will step aside, but sometimes, rarely, I'll decide to get the full and then it is the same deal as above. Happy to read, reading fast, but reading toward No.

*** BUT WHAT IF THEY ASK WHO THE FIRST AGENT IS? Well then, you tell them, if you want to. It's not a trick question. I've said it before and I'll say it again -- I ask for three reasons: 1) I'm curious/nosy. 2) I'm interested in who my competition is -- I'm friends with a lot of agents, and if you've also queried a colleague and I honestly think they'll be better for you, I'd probably stand aside (or else offer myself but say something kind like "you really can't make a bad choice here" while inwardly seething at my frenemy. JUST KIDDING. Or am I?) and 3) I want to make sure it's not a schmagent or scamster. I like writers and I don't like people who dupe them!

**** BUT IS A WEEK ENOUGH TIME??  You can keep the first agent on the string for a week, even week and a half, no problem, totally normal. Two weeks, OK, if there's a major holiday or BEA or something involved, but they'll start to get a little antsy. Anything longer than that -- or if you have a "firm deadline" then extend it -- and they'll very likely feel like you are just out there using them as bait to fish for "better" offers. That's an ugly feeling. After all, they did everything right - they read quickly and had an offer for you with no fuss or muss -- why are they getting treated like a chump?

I've gotten an "I have another offer of rep, please read quickly" email at all kinds of inconvenient times: While on Hawaiian vacation. At an SCBWI conference. At the Bologna Book Fair. During Christmas break. Guess what? In all those cases, I was able to read and come to a decision within the given time. It's not rocket surgery. Believe me -- if these other agents really want to work with you and your book, they can figure it out in under two weeks.

TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD IDEA:
LIE

I recently got a query from somebody. An hour later, I got a note saying, basically, "I have an offer of representation, but I really want to work with YOU! Can you read immediately?" AN HOUR? Well that's extremely odd, and a glance at the query told me it would have been a pass for me in any case, so I wrote back something like, "This is not a great fit for me, so I'll stand aside, but congrats on the super-speedy offer! Wow!"

I then immediately told a colleague on gchat about the odd exchange -- not naming names or anything, just "Hey, this really weird thing happened at work today."  She looked through her inbox and found the exact same situation, with the same hour-later update, from another day. We told another colleague via email. She found the same query, same update, but with a few key words changed, from the week before. Say what?! That went out to an agent list-serv. Within a half hour, we'd found twenty or so different agents who had had the virtually the same query from five different "aliases," each of whom "had an offer" an hour later and wanted a quick response. All of us passed. Some of us had asked the person "who made the offer?" and the response was nebulous.

WHAT THE. Is somebody telling people this is how to query? Is it a maddening new micro-trend, or just one person with a lot of email accounts trying to be clever? Either way, STOP IT. And YES, we talk to each other.

Yeah I know. I shouldn't really have to tell a bunch of grown-ass adults that LYING IS A NO-NO, and a bad way to start a relationship that is meant to be based on trust, but. Apparently somebody out there is giving the verrrrry bad advice that writers should try and game agents. I could give you a laundry list of reasons this is a super bad idea, but I am pretty sure the perpetrators of this piece of dubious "wisdom" will never read this, and all of YOU are smart enough to put it together on your own.

Now carry on, and may your offers of representation be plentiful!  :-)

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9. New Book Alert: THE TRUTH AGAINST THE WORLD

When Olwen Nia Evans learns that her family is moving from San Francisco to Wales to fulfill her great-grandmother's dying wish, she starts having strange and vivid dreams about her family's past. But nothing she sees in her dreams of the old country--the people, the places--makes any sense. Could it all be the result of an overactive imagination . . . or could everything she's been told about her ancestors be a lie? 

Once in Wales, she meets Gareth Lewis, a boy plagued by dreams of his own--visions he can't shake after meeting a ghost among the misty cairns along the Welsh seaside. . . A ghost named Olwen Nia Evans.
Sarah Jamila Stevenson's third book is an extremely evocative and enchanting ghost story set in Wales. It is not the kind of supershiny blockbuster where some overly-beautiful teen has to wear black leather and save the world or overthrow the government . . . it is a smaller story. The type of story that will be more likely to whisper into your brain and get under your skin, with characters you'll think about long after you've closed the book. 

Buy TRUTH AGAINST THE WORLD at Oblong, Indiebound, Powells
Book Depository, Barnes+Noble, Amazon or wherever fine books are sold.

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10. The Revise and Resubmit Shuffle

I get a lot of #AskAgent questions about the ol' "Revise and Resubmit" -- so I figure I'll tackle them all here, and if you have more you can put them in the comments.

Q: "I've heard "R+R" or "Revise and Resubmit" -  but what does it mean?" 
A: It means that an agent has read the author's full manuscript, and while they are not ready to commit to offering representation, they see potential in the author or the story and they are willing to provide notes and an opportunity to, well . . . Revise and Resubmit. ;-)

Q: "How can I tell if the agent is just giving general feedback as they might with any nice personalized rejection, or if they really want to see the book again?"
A: Every agent works differently, but to my mind there are three types of rejections:

*Impersonal - A form letter - might be long or short, but ultimately, there's no feedback, nothing personalized to you specifically, just a kind "not for me, thanks."
*Personalized - Notes you/the book by name - says a nice thing (or a few) about the manuscript, maybe notes a problem (or a few), but is a no all the same.
*R+R - clearly took some time to write, gives extensive notes on the strengths and problems with the manuscript, perhaps there is even a phone call to discuss, and there is an invitation to resubmit explicitly stated.

Q: "But what if I don't agree with their notes, or don't want to revise?!"
Then you say something nice like "thanks for taking the time to write this!"And then don't fret about it. That's fine. Nobody is forcing you to take the advice or to resubmit! (Though you might find that the advice gets better the more you let it settle in your brain... so don't burn the email or anything.)

Q: "How often do you give a "Revise and Resubmit"? 
A: They are pretty rare. Of the hundreds of queries I get, I reckon I request about 5% fulls. Then about 5% of the fulls I read will result in an R+R. Some of those people will choose to revise, some won't. Of the ones that do revise, I still might ultimately turn down for any number of reasons . . . but if they've taken the notes on board and done a great job, I'd say they are likely much closer to getting representation if not from me, then from somebody else.

Q: "I've heard writers call R+R's "The Slow No" -- they say this is just a nice way to reject somebody, and there is little chance the agent will change their mind once you revise."
A: This is quite wrong. I do not give extensive feedback unless I really do see great potential in the book, and I do NOT say that I want to read it again if I don't really want to read it again. I mean - no. Never. I just can't spend extra time thinking about or looking at things I don't like, and I wouldn't string anyone along in this way "to be nice" because I don't think it IS nice to string people along!

Q: "But come on, get real, have you ever actually SIGNED somebody after an R+R?"
A: I have signed several authors after an R+R, in fact. These are authors who took the feedback I gave and really ran with it -- not just giving a micro tweak here and there to their manuscripts, but really doing awesome full-on revisions that took their books from "promising" to "OMGAMAZING." I had no idea if these folks could really revise, or would want to revise -- but I am so glad they did, and so proud of them and their books!

Q: "OK but what if we decide to write a totally different book instead. Should we query you again, or avoid since we never did that R+R before?"
A: In my opinion, if I've ever had a full of yours in the past and given any personalized feedback (not just an R+R), and that feedback resonated with you, you should definitely try me again on your next book. I have offered authors rep on the second or even third book they've queried. Sometimes an author's earlier work was good but just not quite there -- but they get better and better, and I am always pleased to see these names again the next time! (That said, if you thought my advice was lousy or something on the first book - you might try another agent at my agency for the next one.)

Q: "You responded to my full two years ago and I still haven't finished the revision. Is there a time limit? How long should this take?"
A: There's no time limit. It takes as long as it takes, and I'd rather you take it slow and do a smashing job than rush and half-ass it. . . don't worry about me, I've got plenty to read. Of course I may check in from time to time to see how it's going -- no pressure, just sometimes it's hard for me to forget about a character! :-)  If you think it would help to give yourself a fake deadline, try 4 months. But don't break your neck over it.

Anything I forgot to ask myself on your behalf? Ask away!

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11. YA Highway Web Awards

Hey there! This blog was nominated for a YA Highway Web Award for agent blog. Which is pretty cool considering how infrequently I update (whoops, probably shouldn't have said that!)

ANYway, if you'd like to vote for me, or anyone else, head on over to YA Highway.


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12. The Straight Dope on PM

There are several ways and places that a book deal might be announced, from a blog announcement, to a newspaper or magazine piece, to an online listing. Probably the most ubiquitous of the online listing services is the Publishers Marketplace announcement. I get questions from people who are confused about this service all the time, so I'm going to tell you all about it, and maybe bust some myths, too.

Publishers Marketplace is a subscription-only publishing news website that also has a listing of new deals updated daily. It's a quick way to tell who has sold what and to which publishers, and who might rep the kinds of books you write. There's also a much-more-basic free daily roundup, "publishers lunch" available by email -- but to get into the full site and really dig around, you'll have to subscribe. It costs $25 a month, and a month's worth of subscription is a tool that might help your agent search a lot. I personally use PM to look up book world news, editors interests and see who-reps-who nearly every day!

However - there are caveats:

* PM is a very good resource - but it isn't the only resource. Remember this is a self-reporting service, and not all agents report all sales. In fact, I'd go further and say that MOST agents don't report all sales, and some agents don't report any sales at all. A sparse or nonexistent record on PM is NOT an indication that a given agent is "bad" or a schmagent. . . plenty of EXCELLENT agents and agencies opt-out entirely.

* Use your good judgement and follow up questionable claims with more research. There is nobody policing these announcements. If Josie Q. Schmagent "sells" a book for $1. to Joker's Wild Press in Someguysbasement, NV and wants to report it, she can. A record on PM does NOT mean that an agent or publishing company is automatically good, or even legitimate. If something sounds dubious, dig deeper.

So why DO agents report sales?

* It can sometimes be a way to drum up some early foreign or other subrights interest. Sometimes.

* They are agents who are still establishing themselves and want to show that they have a number of sales to big-5 publishers.

* Or they are agents/at an agency with a specialty or who otherwise want to be sure that potential queriers can easily discern the types of books they rep.

* Or they simply have a competitive streak and enjoy seeing a good number next to their name - (Guilty!)

* They have clients who have a big social media presence and they want to have something "official" to brag about.

* Habit.

Why might agents NOT report sales?

* The publisher has asked them to hold off for some reason (for example: they want to do a big publicity push closer to the date of release, it's a new imprint that hasn't been announced, etc).

* The author has other stuff going on that might be considered competitive or deadlines for other books coming up or some other conflict that the agent would rather not get into a scheduling tango over.

* It's a topic/theme that is SO timely and important that they want to be sure nobody knows about it in advance.

* The agency or the author are old-school and prefer not to air their beezwax in public, or they or their author are superstitious and prefer to wait on bragging until the book is closer to being available.

* They don't need or want new clients, and don't care what the interwebs say or don't say about them.

* They are busy and forget.

* Habit.

What else should I know about PM?

* PM has it's own "house style", to wit, all deal reports have to be in one long sentence without superflous editorializing; Agent-submitted reports are edited by the PM-sters, and the agents can't get in and re-edit the listings themselves -- so, if you notice sometimes the listings sound peculiar, it's not that the agents are just dum-dums who don't know how to sentence.  (See what I did there? It's hard to put a lot of info in one sentence, y'all!)<!------><!------>

* The infamous money ranking system is not used by everyone. What do I mean? There's a place within the deal where PM encourages the deal reporter to use their lingo to rank the size of deals.  

"nice deal" $1 - $49,000 "significant deal" $251,000 - $499,000
"very nice deal" $50,000 - $99,000 "major deal" $500,000 and up
"good deal" $100,000 - $250,000

The thing is -- there is a HUGE FLIPPIN DIFFERENCE between ONE DOLLAR and 49 THOUSAND DOLLARS. How are those two the same category? That's ludicrous to me, and kinda tacky. Me, I prefer this oldie-but-goodie from Scalzi: Real World Book Deal Descriptions.

* PM is not aimed toward writers. If I had to hazard a guess, I'd say the majority of people who read PM are agents, subrights agents, scouts and editors. Then writers. In other words - while this might be a tool that proves useful to you, is not necessarily FOR you, and it might not always be interesting to you. If you want writer-oriented info, there are other places to obtain it.

* PM is not PW -- easily confused, I know! PW = Publishers Weekly. This is a print and digital trade magazine that also collects and reports on book world news but is read by lots of booksellers and librarians as well as editors and agents (and writers). Subscriptions to the proper magazine are quite expensive but you can get newsletters like the "Children's Bookshelf" twice weekly for free, and some big deals are announced there as well. This is more like a press release for the general reading public -- listings in PW tend to be more detailed and have author photos and such, but of course, as it is a publication, they pick-and-choose what shows up rather than taking all comers as PM does. So, PW is more fun to read - though less useful as a down-and-dirty research tool.

Hope that helps! If you have other questions, put them in comments. xo

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13. Happy Book Birthday to THE ART OF LAINEY

THE ART OF LAINEY is about a girl who is all set to have the summer of her life, when she is dumped by her "perfect" boyfriend Jason - no reason, no warning, in public. Determined to get him back, Lainey and her BFF decide to go all Zhou Dynasty on Jason's ass and win him back using strategy culled from that ancient Chinese tome, The Art of War. Needless to say, things go haywire quickly, and shenanigans (and lovenanigans!) ensue.

Paula Stokes is the pseudonymous author of the Venom trilogy, but THE ART OF LAINEY is her first book under her own name. And it's a totally yummy bon-bon-delight.

 
  I hear you asking. . .             . . . Hey,  Jennifer!

Who should read THE ART OF LAINEY by Paula Stokes?

* People who are fans of Stephanie Perkins, Sarah Dessen or Susane Colasanti *

* People who like adorable romance, witty banter, and FEEEEEEELS *

* People who appreciate well-drawn and realistic CHARACTERS *

* People who are down with strong female FRIENDSHIPS *

* People who like ROMANTIC TENSION *

* People who like to SMILE *

* People who are ALIVE *

* YOU! *


Buy THE ART OF LAINEY from Oblong, Powells, IndieBound
Book Depository, Amazon, B+N or anywhere else fine books are sold.

And follow author Paula Stokes on the Twitter! @pstokesbooks



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14. Pour with Confidence

ONE DAY, in my early 20's, I was visiting a friend who worked in a pub. It was mid-day - there were a few customers eating sandwiches and having beers, but no other employees. Suddenly, her phone rang. It was a family emergency - she had to leave! She looked around - realized there was nobody to cover her. She tossed me the keys - showed me how to ring the register - and left me to cover the rest of her shift. Well.

This was a beautiful day in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Bars there don't just stand empty - soon enough some tourists came in, and some regulars - a couple of people I kinda knew, but mostly strangers. I'd never worked in a bar or a restaurant, but there I was, suddenly in charge - so what could I do? I had been to theatre school. . . so I acted like a bartender. I chatted. I poured beer. I mixed drinks. The thing is - mostly people ask for either beer, or for things with two ingredients - Jack and Coke. Gin and Tonic. Easy peasy! If something came up I didn't know, I'd turn my back for a minute and cheat with the Mr Boston's book.

When a tap ran out, I called that one "out of order." When the ice ran low, I filled a bucket. When the lemons ran low, I chopped up some more. When somebody asked about food, I scurried back to the kitchen to tell the (surprised, but not easily ruffled) cook.

You've heard the phrase "fake it til you make it" -- well, that applies here. Nobody KNEW I had no clue what I was doing. So I pretended I DID know what I was doing. Not only did I pretend I knew what I was doing - I pretended I was GOOD at what I was doing. And guess what? NOBODY FIGURED IT OUT.

They gave me a job. Somewhere along the way, I actually did learn not only what I was doing, but also, how to be pretty good at it. Soon enough, I was training new bartenders. And I taught them my trick: POUR WITH CONFIDENCE. 

The biggest mistake that most brand-new, totally un-trained bartenders make is . . . they are hesitant. They touch the bottles like they are about to break, and pour like they are pouring into a dainty dolly cup at a children's tea party. When they do that, customers totally pick up on it, even if it is subconsciously. When customers feel like they aren't in good hands, they get skittish. A hesitant or weak bartender will get fewer or lower tips, and they'll certainly have less fun on the job.

So even if you ARE new, pretend like you know what you're doing. Stand up straight. Look customers in the eye and smile. Actively listen to what they are asking for. Grasp the bottle firmly, and pour like you mean it. Give them what they want with a minimum of fluster and a bit of flourish.

I hear what you're asking. "OK well, thanks for the trip down memory lane, weirdo, but what does this have to do with ME?" Well, my little chickadees, the same principle applies to approaching agents.

If you were a bartender, you probably wouldn't introduce yourself to a new patron by crumpling up an old dishrag and throwing it at them, or by creeping up to them and bursting into tears. Those would be BAD INTRODUCTIONS. So. Begin as you mean to go on. When you are approaching an agent - DON'T say "I don't really know how to write a query" or "I don't know how to be a writer" or "I'm not really a writer" or anything of the kind. I get this all the time. Daily. But I mean - hello, this query letter is all I know about you.

If you treat the query letter like a professional introduction that it is, I'll accept it. If you tell me you're a writer, I'll believe you. If you tell me you're "bad at queries" or "not really a writer" or "a clueless newb". . . well, I'll believe that. Is that really what you want me to believe?

Obviously there is such a thing as going overboard. If you say "this book will make your dreams come true!" or "I'm the second coming and a rock star rolled into one!" or "you'll be making a huge mistake if you pass THIS up" or similar . . . well that's just being a big-headed jerk-slash-crazyperson.

Don't be over the top -- but DO be confident and professional, even if you don't exactly FEEL those things. If you can do the wordy equivalent of standing up straight, looking the agent directly in the eyes, smiling, and giving them what they're asking for with a minimum of fluster and a bit of flourish. . . well, you may or may not get an agent this time, but you will both project and get respect.

Pour with confidence and get those tips, babies!

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15. Welcome to the ART OF SECRETS!

One winter Sunday a couple of years back, I got a query from an author named James Klise. Even though this author did NOT follow the query instructions (naughty boy) -- I happened to catch it in spam and opened it immediately because I was already familiar with his work (he won a Stonewall honor for his first book, Love Drugged) . . . and because I was sitting at my computer and kinda bored. (Hey, honesty!) The query I read kinda knocked my socks off:

A fire destroys...
A community unites...
A miracle appears...
A crime unfolds.


When the Chicago apartment of 15-year old Saba Khan is destroyed by fire, her school community comes together to help. Students organize a massive auction, where one of the donated items is revealed to be the work of a local "outsider artist" named Henry Darger (1892-1973). The art is worth a fortune. Who keeps the money? Saba's classmates, who found the art? Saba's school, which is hosting the auction? Or Saba's family, which desperately needed help in the first place? Most important, how long will it take for this community to realize that they are ALL victims now - not of a fire, but of a brilliant, carefully plotted scam? Told in short chapters, multiple voices (adults and teens), and full of surprises, [THE ART OF SECRETS] is a fast-moving and provocative tale of greed, schemes, and the American Dream.
I generally hate questions in queries -- but even WITH them, I was most intrigued. So I requested the material immediately. Jim sent me the manuscript immediately. I read it immediately. And I called and offered representation immediately. (This is . . . abnormal, to say the least!) -- and within 24 hours, I had myself a new client. And soon enough we had an amazing publisher, Algonquin Young Readers, who helped make a good book GREAT, gave us a super-cool title and cover, and who have been angels from heaven to work with.

So, what made me fall so hard for this book in the first place? As I explained to Jim, it was like NOTHING I'd read before. It was the book equivalent of throwing open the windows on that first beautiful spring day and letting in that gorgeous-smelling crisp breeze -- it felt like a deep breath of fresh air.

THE ART OF SECRETS breaks alleged YA "rules" -- and not only does it break the rules, it breaks them knowingly, with a sledgehammer, while wearing only a cheeky grin.  It has ten points of view! Half of them are grown-ass adults! NONE of them are reliable! There's not a romance at center, forget about a love triangle! It asks questions about class and race, greed and generosity, that do not allow for easy answers! Instead of being told in a straightforward narrative, it's a mystery told by way of a series of interviews, emails, journal entries, texts and clippings! I could go on, but you get the idea. It's risky and provocative and refreshing and basically awesome.

But don't take my word for it -- here's an excerpt from the *STARRED* Booklist review: "This art mystery is that rare book that will be passed around by teens as well as teachers in the faculty lounge, discussed and dissected and immediately reread to scour for hidden clues and motivations. The incidents at Highsmith School will stay on readers' minds long after the last page."  TRUTH!

Get in on the secret yourself. THE ART OF SECRETS is available in 
hardcover, ebook, and audio versions wherever fine books are sold. 

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16. Pinkwater Backlist Bonanza!

I'm delighted to announce that a whole bunch of Daniel Pinkwater books that have never before been digitized are now available in DRM-free electron versions for reading on your magical device. No more will you be forced to suffer the indignity of touching paper to get your Pinkwater fix!

In alphabetical order -- choose your favorites (or heck, buy them all for the low-low price of $2.99 each, I mean really, what a bargain):

Young Adults





 

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17. New Release - GAIJIN: American Prisoner of War by Matt Faulkner

"Amazing art and a moving story drew me into this compelling, historically important graphic novel." -- Graham Salisbury, author of Under the Blood-Red Sun, winner of the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction

"Matt Faulkner has crafted a beautifully drawn novel that simmers with rage."  -- Matt Phelan, author/illustrator of The Storm in the Barn, winner of the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction

"Powerful. . . Matt Faulkner tells his tale with fierce graphics and moving delicacy." -- George Takei

Based on an episode of Matt Faulkner's own family history, GAIJIN tells the tale of a half-Japanese boy in the 1940's who, along with his white American mother, is sent to an internment camp in Northern California after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. 

The internment of Japanese-Americans is one of those things we don't really learn enough about in school. . . and it wasn't that long ago. Despite the fact that many of the people affected by the internment had been in America for generations, were home-owners, had businesses and were upstanding members of society, they were thrown into makeshift "camps" with very little warning, their homes and rights stripped from them, and they had no recourse. Could such a nightmare scenario happen TODAY? Spoiler alert: Yeah, absolutely. 

GAIJIN is a beautiful graphic novel, and an important one. If you (or the kid in your life) are at all intrigued by history, this is a must-add to the library. Ages 9+

Buy the book at your local independent bookstore, Book Depository, Barnes and Noble, Amazon, or wherever fine books are sold.

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18. Happy Book Birthday to The Grudge Keeper by Mara Rockliff

Ahoy! I've been a bit off the grid for a couple of weeks because I was traveling for the Bologna Book Fair and a mini-Vacay (followed immediately by being ridiculously ill - Boo!) -- but I'm pretty much back at my desk, at least MOST of my brain present now. And so I can bring you the latest from the New Release files:

THE GRUDGE KEEPER by Mara Rockliff, illustrations by Eliza Wheeler, new from Peachtree!

Cornelius the Grudge Keeper is a little old man who collects all the peeves, snits, huffs and imbroglios the people of his village stir up against one another. He stores them all in the nooks and crannies of his crooked cottage, until one day . . . . well, I'll let you read about it yourself. Suffice to say, this picture book is funny, whimsical, and has the look and feel of a modern classic. The heightened language makes it a total delight to read aloud and the beautiful images are worth taking the time to pore over.

I call the GRUDGE KEEPER "The Little Picture Book that Could." It had a long, long path to publication. How long? Let's put it this way, it was originally submitted to publishers before I was even an agent. It sold in Summer of 2010, which I remember distinctly because I negotiated the contract in the passenger seat of my car, driving through Nebraska on a road-trip move from SF to NY. We finally got lucky enough to get the PERFECT illustrator in another ABLA client, Eliza Wheeler, in 2012 (which was JUST before her picture book MISS MAPLE'S SEEDS debut'ed on the NYT bestseller list and she rocketed to fame with the illustrations to Holly Black's Newbery Honor book DOLL BONES -- so great timing, Peachtree!) -- and now, here we are, at long last, I can brag about it to the world!

You can get your own copy at your local independent bookstore, at MY local independent bookstore, at Barnes and Noble, Book Depository, Amazon, or wherever fine picture books are sold. :-)

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19. Query Hiatus FYI

As of November 20, 2012 (that is, Midnight Eastern Time tonight) I am closed to queries. I will reopen to queries January 7, 2013.

If I already have your work, you should hear from me by January 7. (That's the point of taking the break, I have to catch up!)


I'm sorry to say that I cannot respond to new queries sent during this time.

The exceptions will be: work that I've requested -- conference material -- client or editor referrals -- and people I actually know in real life. If this is you, please be sure you've said so, along with the word Query, IN THE SUBJECT LINE of your email. Otherwise, your query will be deleted.

For all other regular queries, please feel free to try any of my colleagues at Andrea Brown Lit, or else try me again in January.

Thanks again for thinking of me in regard to your work.

Wishing you all the best, and Happy Holidays,

Jennifer Laughran
Andrea Brown Literary Agency

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20. MG Webinar!

Reminder that tomorrow, Thursday, Feb 20, 1pm E, I'll be revisiting my Writers Digest class Writing and Selling Middle Grade Fiction. This webinar was very popular last year, but I know a lot of people who wanted to attend didn't know about it in time -- so I'm delighted to have the opportunity to teach this again.

Important to note:

---- > If you are signed up, you do NOT need to attend live -- you'll have access to the course materials for a year.

---- > Every participant will get their choice of either a critique of 500 words of their MG novel (complete or work-in-progress) OR a query critique.

---- > ALL questions asked during the webinar will be answered! (If you can't make it during the event, you can email the questions you have to the moderator and we'll get them answered for you)

Let me know in the comments if you have any questions about the webinar - and I hope to see you there!

xo JL

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21. Hoppy Valentine's Day!

Every year I send a bookish Valentine created by one of my phenomenal artists. (The tradition started because, frankly, I could never get it together to send Christmas cards on time - but hey, I love pink and red and LOVE, so, it stuck.) The 2014 card is by the amazing Cynthia von Buhler.

To my friends and colleagues, on the internet and off -- and to the lovely readers of this blog -- You're awesome. Have a wonderful rest-of-your-winter, and may spring arrive soon!





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22. Three Book Birthdays

Three new YA client releases today! WOW WOW WOW! I'm not going to get into a whole long ramble about them because, frankly, I think these hot covers and titles do more to speak for the books than I ever could. Click the jackets for more info or to buy.

WHITE SPACE by Ilsa J Bick is mind-bending creeptastic horror in the vein of Inception. Click for more...

THE GLASS CASKET by McCormick Templeman is a dark and chilling fairy tale-esque story in which something wicked stalks a forest village. Click for more...

THE TINKER KING by Tiffany Trent is the awesome followup to THE UNNATURALISTS - full of magical steampunky goodness. Yum yum! Click for more...

http://www.oblongbooks.com/book/9781442457591http://www.oblongbooks.com/book/9781606844199http://www.oblongbooks.com/book/9780385743457

Enjoy these reads, and stay tuned, this is just the beginning of 2014's bounty! ;-)

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23. ALA and MARTY McGUIRE x 3!

So this past weekend I spent at the ALA Midwinter Conference in Philadelphia which, despite freezing slushy weather, was absolutely splendid (of course! BECAUSE LIBRARIANS ARE THE BEST!) -- and which culminated, Monday morning, in the ALA Youth Media Award announcement. The ALAYMA are better known as the Newbery, Caldecott, Printz and other shiny medals given to excellent children's books every year. Ever since I was a kid I've been OBSESSED with these awards -- ever since there has been internet capability, I've watched the live stream of the announcement -- and finally, for the first time, I got to actually BE IN THE ROOM!??!

Not gonna lie, I freaked out a bit. Really. I mean, I pretty much started crying the first time one of my friend's books got an award (which was the first award given!) and didn't stop til the end. Happy tears obviously! Just, you know. A lot of emotions floating around the room, that's all. FEELINGS! CATHARSIS! CAPS AND EXCLAMATION POINTS!

Now I'm  home again and settling back into the routine. And I realized, even though it feels like a Monday, that in fact today is TUESDAY. Which means it is NEW BOOK RELEASE DAY. Which means it is time to present to you a brand-new book from Kate Messner. Welcome to the  third installment of the Marty McGuire series, MARTY McGUIRE HAS TOO MANY PETS!

The astonishingly talented illustrator of the Marty series, Brian Floca, wrote about Marty here. . . and Brian also just happened to win the Caldecott Medal yesterday for his newest solo picture book (which means, yes, he was one of the folks I was screaming/crying about.) NICE! Here's Kate's blog post on the topic.

You can buy the book from Oblong, Barnes and Noble, or wherever fine books are sold!

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24. My Year of Reading Romances

Whenever I read a ridiculous op-ed about the state of YA literature or some such, where the author has clearly read five YA books total, I want to sit them down, give them a stern talking-to and a book list. Whenever I meet a person who "really wants to write for kids because it is so easy," I want to box their ears and force them to read a mighty stack of picture books.

Here's what I think: If you want to consider yourself an authority on any category or genre of book, you have to read at least 100 books in it. 

If you want your knowledge to be about the CURRENT state of the genre, then a handful of "classics" are fine, but the majority should be published in the last 5 or so years. Seriously. Spend a year reading your face off in any one category or genre, and I assure you, you'll end up with favorite authors, pet peeves, a working understanding of tropes, a strong grasp on what is actually being published, and most of all, opinions that are based on something besides conjecture. You'll be, if not a real expert, at least an avid amateur who speaks the language.

So, okay, about Romances. When I was twelve or so, my good friend Pamela and I would raid her mom's romance book library. Pam's mom read a TON of mass market paperback romances (mostly featuring Broad-Shouldered and Smouldering Highlanders), and she made frequent trips to the local paperback exchange to refresh her collection, so we always had something new to read. Then Pam and her folks moved out of state, and I went away to high school, then college -- and while I always read a lot, Romance Novels were utterly forgotten.

Until late 2012, when I bought a romance e-book on somebody's recommendation. I don't know what the title was -- just that it was a good choice because it was nothing related to work, just pure pleasure reading, and relaxing fun during a stressful time of year. And as soon as I finished, I bought another. And another. And my whole Christmas break I devoured them. And somehow, January happened, and I was still reading.

ANYway, I decided to start keeping track of what I read starting Jan 1, 2013. I read about 150 romance novels in 2013. (Of course I also read kids and YA books, and some regular fiction and nonfiction, and books and manuscripts for work -- I'm not counting those.) The vast majority of those (130 or so) were Historical Romances, and probably 100 of those were published in the last five years. So yeah. I'm caught up. I may not be an expert, but I really do know this genre quite well. And while my obsession may have run its course, I'd still be open to repping something of this nature if I found one I loved.

In the meantime, I'll be a fan from the sidelines. Here's what I tend to like: a bit of adventure, a ton of witty banter, preferably a cool brainy heroine who does something besides simper, and if there is cross-dressing or an unusual setting, all the better! In no particular order, these were some of the books that stuck with me during the Great Romance Read of 2013 -- Maybe you'll read some of these and love them too?

Courtney Milan - HEIRESS EFFECT: All of Milan's books are terrific, but I really love this Brothers Sinister series. In this one, an extremely rich girl who is not marriage-minded does everything possible (short of contracting a contagious disease) to get potential suitors to stay the hell away from her. Witty and fun and oh also I totally ugly-cried at a certain point.

Elizabeth Essex - ALMOST A SCANDAL: Ugh I love this book. A girl dresses as her brother and takes over for him in the Navy. She acquits herself well and nobody figures out her ruse. . . well, nobody except the Captain, that is. Too bad they are off at sea and he can't expose her for a fraud OR deposit her back in London . . . she'll just have to keep dressing as a boy and, well . . .  *rowr*

Tessa Dare - ANY DUCHESS WILL DO: All of Dare's books are delightful - most set in the little village of "Spindle Cove" (aka Spinster Cove), a beach community full of ladies who are pretty much off the marriage mart for one reason or another. In this one, a Duke is charged by his mother to get married. She declares she can make any lady into an appropriate Duchess, so he just needs to choose. NOW. So he picks the most inappropriate wench he can find, determined to foil his mother's plan. (Bonus: has a bookselling subplot!)

Meredith Duran - A LADY'S LESSON IN SCANDAL: A girl from the slums breaks into the home of a nobleman and holds him up at gunpoint, determined to right a wrong done to her mother years before. But she finds the little old man she expects is in fact long gone - and her captive is young, hotblooded, naked as a jaybird, and convinced that she is a secret heiress.

Cecilia Grant - A LADY AWAKENED: A widow's estate is about to go to a real jerk. Sooo she conceives of a cunning plan... if she can prove she's with child, she'll get to keep the estate and the people who depend on her will not be harmed. But she only has 30 days... *cue sexytimes*

Sherry Thomas - NOT QUITE A HUSBAND: Actually I've liked all Sherry Thomas's books, but I chose this one because it is set largely in India and Pakistan, and features a tough woman doctor. It wasn't my favorite while I was reading it,  but I've thought a lot about it in retrospect. Pretty much I just think Thomas is a swell writer, who tends to deal in outrageous plots (Another one, BEGUILING THE BEAUTY, is about a transatlantic ocean voyage, a widow disguised as a Baroness, and revenge!)

What have been some of YOUR favorites?

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25. Happy Book Birthday to THE VIOLET HOUR

So apparently I am a dum-dum who didn't realize that yesterday was not only a Tuesday, but THE Tuesday -- the day my author Whitney Miller's debut novel THE VIOLET HOUR officially hit shelves!

THE VIOLET HOUR is an intense horror-psycho-thrillride that oh wait also has snarky dialogue and great friendship and, yanno, kissing. It's about a girl named Harlow Wintergreen whose dad just happens to be the charismatic leader of a huge cult called VisionCrest.

Harlow is excited that her father is letting her come along with the other children of the ministry elite on a PR junket to Asia; even more so since her best friend and the boy she has crushed on forever will be with her. 

As the "first daughter" of VisionCrest, all eyes are on her, and she is expected to be perfect... but Harlow has a secret. She hears a voice in her head. A voice that tells her awful things, and shows her visions of a dizzying, blood-soaked alternate reality. From the moment they land in Tokyo, the voice seems to get louder and more insistent. The meds the doctors gave her don't seem to do any good, and the more desperately Harlow struggles to keep her mind and behavior under control, the more completely she is overwhelmed by the terrifying voice. It whispers to her. Shows her the deadly possibilities. Almost as if it has a will of its own.

Harlow is increasingly afraid of what the voice is showing her -- and more than that, what it might might make her do. When the fantasies bleed into reality and people begin to turn up dead, Harlow must expose her secret to the boy she loves and face the monster within, or else be consumed by it. But will it be too late?

Clickity for a fun interview with Miss Whitney (plus a giveaway). Or go peek at Whitney's rad website.

Or just buy the book by tree or e: Indiebound, B+N, Book Depository, Kobo, or Amazon. 

And, if you're near SF, you should totally attend Whitney's launch party at Books Inc Opera Plaza on 3/14. I'm told it is going to be spectacular. Wish I could be there, if you go, you'll have to give her creepy hugs from me!  Xo!

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