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1. How I Found My Literary Agent: Cassandra Dunn

“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Cassandra Dunn, author of THE ART OF ADAPTING. These columns are great ways for you to learn how to find a literary agent. Some tales are of long roads and many setbacks, while others are of good luck and quick signings. If you have a literary agent and would be interested in writing a short guest column for this GLA blog, e-mail me at literaryagent@fwmedia.com and we’ll talk specifics.

GIVEAWAY: Cassandra is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Please note that comments may take a little while to appear; this is normal).


cassandra-dunn-author-writer         the-art-of-adapting-novel-cover

Cassandra Dunn is the author of THE ART OF ADAPTING (Touchstone/Simon
& Schuster, July 2014). Kirkus Reviews said of the novel, “Dunn’s debut novel
treats readers to a family in transition. . . . A neatly wrapped, happily-ever-after
tale of a broken family that survives and thrives.” Dunn received her MFA in
creative writing from Mills College. She was a semifinalist for the Amazon
Breakthrough Novel Award and a finalist for Glimmer Train’s Short Story
Award for New Writers. She’s published 12 short stories. She is represented
by Harvey Klinger. Her website is cassandradunn.com, and you can
connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.



Like most aspiring authors, I had no idea what I was doing when I started seeking out an agent. I had a completed manuscript, and I was proud to have a finished novel. Was it ready to go out into the world? Not even close. But I didn’t know that at the time.

I finished my MFA program with a memoir that I soon abandoned, got married, had kids, got lost on my writing path, and eventually found my way back to writing, this time focusing on fiction. I wrote some short stories, and managed to get a few published. I chose an unpublished story that had been selected as a Glimmer Train finalist and kept adding to it until I had a novel. A terrible, unbalanced, meandering novel full of rookie mistakes, but a novel just the same. I was hooked. And I knew that I could do better.

I wrote a second novel, a little deeper than the first, full of bigger tragedy and greater risk, and I entered it in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award competition. It survived round after round of cuts, eventually making it to the semifinals. I gave it a brief (too brief) revision based on some of the reviews it had received and on feedback from an online novel workshop. Then I assembled a list of new agents who were actively list-building, and started sending it out. I got enough requests to see more of the novel to know that my query letter was decent, but each agent ultimately passed. I was about 60 failed queries in when I decided to shelve that novel and focus on the next one, which was coming along quickly.

(Can writers query multiple agents at the same agency?)


That novel, The Art of Adapting, came from my heart — the scenes and characters waking me in the morning, my fingers and wrists cramping each afternoon from not being able to type fast enough to keep up with my thoughts. It was personal, inspired by my uncle, and it mattered to me more than anything else I’d written. I finished a draft in three months and sent it to two trusted friends for feedback. As I waited to hear back from them, I worked on more short stories, publishing a handful of them. I wanted agents to see that I was serious about writing, publishing, pushing myself.

I revised The Art of Adapting with the notes from my beta readers, and started compiling a list of agents. This time, I decided not to start with junior agents. I aimed for my dream agents right off the bat, because, why not? I was methodical. I researched, looking for agents who wanted women’s fiction, who had positive feedback from other queriers, who had recent sales and impressive author lists. I made a list of 25 agents, knowing I might need more than 50 eventually, and broke them into groups of 5. Each Monday, I was going to query 5 agents, taking the time to craft a personal letter for each of them. I was not going to check my email every 30 seconds to see if any of them had responded. I was going pass the time working on short stories and attending writing conferences to make connections and conquer my shy nature. But then the unthinkable happened. One of the agents in my very first query group responded right away. Harvey Klinger asked for the first chapters. Then the whole book. And then he offered to represent me.

(Learn why “Keep Moving Forward” may be the best advice for writers everywhere.)


The book wasn’t ready to go out to publishers. It was still chock full of rookie mistakes that made me cringe (show, don’t tell!). Over the next few months Harvey helped me revise the entire manuscript chapter by chapter. He’s a tough but encouraging critic, and his guidance was one of the best gifts I’ve ever had as a writer. I felt like that revision phase was a test of our relationship, to make sure we were a good fit. For me to see if he really got the heart of my story, and for him to see that I could take criticism and was determined to do the work necessary on a project.

And that’s my best advice for aspiring authors. Be determined to do the work. Not just the fun part of writing that first draft, but the long, heart-wrenching editing passes where you kill your darlings, the awkward networking, the bio-building of getting your name out there in some capacity. And when your work is as ready as you can make it, aim high. And show don’t tell.

GIVEAWAY: Cassandra is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Please note that comments may take a little while to appear; this is normal).


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2. WD Poetic Form Challenge: Golden Shovel Winner

Thank you for all the golden shovels this summer! With more than 700 comments, I felt like I had to “dig out” of a pile of golden shovel amazing-ness. This form seemed to really appeal to everyone, and I can see why, because it’s kind of like a poetic puzzle.

My initial short list included 21 poems, but I’m always stuck having to pick one winner. This time around, the winner is Margie Fuston for her poem “When the Moon Fell,” which uses the opening line of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven.”

Here’s the winning Golden Shovel:

When the Moon Fell, by Margie Fuston

–after Edgar Allan Poe

The moon dropped from the clouds once.
I found her behind my house, lying upon
a patch of dried-up needs. She wore a
frown. I thought she always smiled at midnight,
but up close she looked dull and dreary.
We sat in the dirt in solidarity for a while.
I asked if she ever wished on stars, and I
sighed when she told me no. Together we pondered
what made the air and the clouds too weak
to hold us up. Eventually, we tired and
I tried to lift her back, but I found myself too weary.


2015 Poet's Market

2015 Poet’s Market

Pre-order the Latest Poet’s Market!

The 2015 Poet’s Market is now available for pre-order at a discounted price. Get the most up-to-date information for publishing your poetry, including listings for book and chapbook publishers, magazines and journals, contests and awards, and more!

Plus, this edition includes information on poetic forms, poet interviews, articles on the craft and business of poetry, and so much more!

Click to continue.


Here is the Top 10 list:

  1. “When the Moon Fell,” by Margie Fuston
  2. “Composer,” by William Preston
  3. “A Man With Secrets,” by Daniel Roessler
  4. “Not Everyone Appreciates My Lit Humor,” by Linda Hofke
  5. “Passing,” by James Von Hendy
  6. “Habeas Corpus,” by Daniel Ari
  7. “Things I’ve learned along the wrong path,” by J. Lynn Sheridan
  8. “The Hunt,” by Shethra Jones-Hoopes
  9. “None of These Say What Needs to Be Said,” by Gabrielle Freeman
  10. “Very Funny,” by Naomi Poe

Congratulations to Margie and everyone in the Top 10! And thank you to everyone who took the time to participate and comment on each others’ poems.

The next WD Poetic Form Challenge is likely to go live in the next few days. Meanwhile, click here to check out all 700+ comments for the Golden Shovel challenge.


roberttwitterimageRobert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community and author of Solving the World’s Problems (Press 53). He loves reading poetry, writing poetry, and studying poetry–but he especially loves sharing poetry and is happy that Poetic Asides is a place that accommodates just that.

Robert is married to the poet Tammy Foster Brewer, who helps him keep track of their five little poets (four boys and one princess). Follow him on Twitter @robertleebrewer.


Check out other poetic posts:

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3. Writing On the Rails: Survival Tips for Traveling Authors

murderorientexpressAfter years of crisscrossing the country by car, plane, train, bus, and even on foot for stretches, one of my favorite modes of transportation remains the railroad. Yes, it can be a little shabby, but not nearly as bad as some bus stations I’ve seen. Plus, it has a great literary history: Jack Kerouac and his Beat buddy Neal Cassady were both railroad employees, and numerous works taking place on the rails continue to thrill us, such as Christie’s Murder on The Orient Express, Theroux’s The Great Railway Bazaar, and Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Hunter S. Thompson once amusingly wrote, “Many fine books have been written in prison,” and I believe that many fine books, stories, poems, and articles have been written on the gently rocking cars of the railway. I’ve enjoyed some excellent writing sessions during my railway jaunts from New York City to destinations far and wide (mostly New England, but I’ve traveled as far as Texas by train), and I’ve picked up a few pointers that might make your own writing-on-the-rails experience a little more enjoyable. Some of these are common sense tips, but hopefully you find one or two items below that help make your trip more productive.

Have a “Bug-Out Bag”

Like most travelers, I stow my non-essential luggage overhead or leave it in the good hands of the porter (if there is one) and I keep my writerly items nearby in my “Bug-Out Bag”: a laptop with power cable, notepad, pens, a couple of books, iPod, phone, phone charger, and any research materials (if needed). I’ll talk food/drinks later, but these are the basics if you’re going to be traveling for more than an hour or two. If you bring just a laptop, you may find yourself in a romper-room of a train unable to concentrate, or if you bring just a book and notepad, you may find yourself in a nice quiet car with all the time in the world to tinker with your novel. Be prepared and bring enough tools and entertainment for any situation.

I try to keep this bag as small and light as possible because it’s going to take up lap or foot space when you’re sitting for hours on end, and it’s going to be the thing you grab first if you need to get off the train in an emergency. Yes, I know they say leave everything behind, but I assure you, I’m not the only writer who would fight flame, flood, war, and famine to rescue an unfinished manuscript.

And make sure your phone and laptop are charged up because not all trains have power outlets. I primarily ride NYC’s Metro-North railway and Amtrak, the former lacking outlets in every seat, the latter having them only by the window seat. Which leads me to…

Seat Selection

When selecting a seat, be aware of where the sun will fall as you travel. Example: If you’re heading due north in the morning, you might want to sit on the left side of the train to avoid the glaring morning light coming through the right side. Traveling due west? Sit on the right side to avoid the southern sun as much as possible. Almost no trains I’ve used in my 34 years have had curtains or draw-down shades like an airplane, so be prepared for sunlight.

As for where on a car to sit…I’d suggest avoiding the bathroom, for obvious reasons.

I always aim for the window seat, and I pick this seat for very specific reasons. The aforementioned power outlet location is one. Nothing is more awkward than having to reach over or around someone to plug in your dying laptop, although you should be prepared for someone to do the same to you when you’ve nabbed the window seat.

Second, the view can be inspiring. Need to describe a town or countryside in your story? Keep your pen handy and take notes. I love all of the little towns along the Hudson River, and you get an up-close view of each station and their waterfront areas on the line between New York City and Albany.

Third, when you’re in the window seat, you only (in theory) have one person you might have to deal with directly—the person beside you. If you’re in the aisle seat, you have the person next to you, the person across the aisle, people walking past you over and over, and those kitty-corner ahead and behind chatting and fumbling and distracting you. This may also happen by the window in a particularly noisy car, but you have a better chance of avoiding most direct contact when you’re by the window. And speaking of noise…

Noise Pollution

Fair warning: I am a childless writer, so I’m a bit biased and narrow-minded when it comes to traveling in the presence of children. I’m not a fan, and I cannot count the number of crying babies and inattentive parents I have imagined exiling from the train in various creative ways. Granted, yes, some poor little kids are starving or sick or frightened, and I sometimes think of my nieces and nephews and take pity, but other cookie crunchers can shout and scream for hours on end for no discernable reason and they will destroy your creative output.

It’s in your best interest to not blow your top and end up serving a nickel in the county pen, so I suggest you:

  • Move your seat to a quieter car, which is possible on many trains, but you may not find an ideal seat once things begin filling up. Some trains, though, have cars specifically designated as no talking/no noise cars. This is also referred to as Heaven.
  • Plug in those ear-buds and play some soothing instrumental music, the sounds of a rainstorm, or heck, even some AC/DC to drown out the noise and crying around you. Remember, “Rock & Roll ain’t noise pollution…”
  • Apply duct-tape to their…no, wait, that’s a surefire way to end up in jail (DON’T do that, although you may want to apply the tape to your own ears…might not be a bad idea). Instead, and if you have a heart of gold, you might want to ask if the parent struggling with the child needs a hand. They may say no, but they might need just a few minutes of help to get things in order, and doing so might rescue them and save the day for everyone else within earshot. You never know.

Usually, when things are too loud for writing, I stick with my iPod, filled to the brim with music and podcasts to get through those bouts of crying kids, young hedge-fund analysts talking to everyone they can about their salary (this happens more than you’d imagine), or people who cannot pry their cell phone from their ear. What, afraid to be alone with your thoughts for more than 10 minutes? Seems like it. Music has brought down my blood pressure more times than I can count, so don’t leave home without it.

Creature Comforts

Some of you may not want to leave home without water and at least one snack. I left this out of my Bug-Out Bag only because many long-distance trains have snack cars with very basic selections of sandwiches and drinks, but not all do (short runs almost never do). Find out ahead of time, because if the train does offer food, that’s one less thing to pack beforehand. And even though it may be more expensive, I’m a buy-on-the-go kind of traveler. I think it adds to the adventure to scrounge from whatever’s available aboard the train (usually meager…this isn’t The Darjeeling Limited) or at the station, but some of you may want to be a little more prepared. Probably wise.

Sleeping on a noisy train may also be impossible, but I find sleeping in a quiet train relaxing and easy to do. Yes, my parents had to drive me around the block to get me to sleep—I was that kid. If it moves, I can sleep in it, but if you have trouble, bring a pillow (most trains do not have them), inflatable neck brace, eye mask, etc. Of course, if you’re sleeping, you’re not writing…then again, on a five-hour trip, you may want a nap. Do what you need to do to get comfy.

I suggested bringing two books because if there are delays and you burn through one, you don’t want to look down and realize you only have the greasy, dog-eared travel magazine to read and re-read over the next three hours when you’re taking a break from your writing. I shiver at the thought.

And if you want to watch a movie, please plug in a headset. Parents, ditto for your kids. No one wants to hear your tots watch Frozen five times in a row from Boston to Chi-Town.

Writing Effectively

Here’s where the wheel meets the rail, so to speak. When the stars align and you get a relatively quiet car, a long stretch of straight track, and you know just what you want to say, you can get a ton of inspired writing done. One of the biggest questions at this point is: How do you prefer to write? I work from a laptop, but the real-world application of writing on one’s lap can get unrealistic really fast. My laptop gets scalding hot over a five-hour trip. Heck, it’s gets toasty after a 90-minute jaunt, too.

Pull down the folding tray, you say? Good idea, but I’ve encountered many a rail rider who plopped down (some quite literally throwing themselves into the seat) and cranked back the seat to recline as if they were trying to tackle the game winner in their glory days back in Pop Warner football. This sends the fold-down tray right into your solar plexus, or at least it does when I ride Amtrak. And I’m not a big dude, just your average-joe-waist-size writer, so if you come in the extra-lovin’ size, this could be a very big problem. I’d move seats if you can. Otherwise, I’d use a pillow, scarf, your Bug-Out Bag, or a jacket so you can to rest the laptop on your lap. It may not be perfect, but if you’re on a roll, don’t stop just because someone needs that 14% more recline in order to catch some Z’s.

You can also find a seat at the end of the car, that area that has two rows facing each other. Those often have fold-out trays that come out of the armrest and no one can shove it around on you. But then you have to stare someone in the face the whole ride. This could either be the most beautiful person in the world or the most frightening, and either could be a distraction.

Also note that you won’t have a lot of extra space no matter where you sit, so if you have a bunch of folders with research papers and notepads, outlines and character studies, you might find yourself juggling a pile of paper while also typing. It can get frustrating. You could stick them in the seat pocket ahead of you, but learn from my mistake: I have twice, TWICE, left a manuscript I printed out to proof or a folder of notes for a novel in the pocket, and Amtrak wasn’t able to find either lost item. No amount Alka-Seltzer (or as book-lover Bernard Black calls them, “Fizzy-Good, Make Feel Nice”) is going to cure that heartburn and heartache. Use those pockets if you must, but be careful.

w8639_500px_72dpi_1I also find that if you plan ahead and you know exactly what you want to work on before you fold down that tray and begin typing, it will help you stay productive. Writing on a train can often come in bursts due to distractions, so if you’re going to wing it, you may just get warmed up when you have to stop and start all over again. Be prepared going in and fire away the first chance you get.

You can find more effective writing tips for authors on the go in You’ve Got a Book In You by Elizabeth Sims and Writer With a Day Job by Aine Greaney. Check them out! They’re both chock full of quick tips and inspirational write-wherever-you-can ideas.

Amtrak Residency

And finally, the Amtrak Writer’s Residency. Most of you have likely heard of this by now, but Amtrak has a program for authors who want to work on the go. I have yet to apply for this, and I don’t know all of the finer points of the residency, but I have friends on both sides of the fence concerning the quality of the program, some saying it’s a wonderful option for the traveling writer, and others telling me that they think it’s a scam and falls well short of promises. I don’t know which is true, but I may yet apply. Two writer friends who applied and were rejected received a 15% discount coupon toward their next ticket. Not a bad consolation prize, considering the price of a ticket isn’t getting any cheaper. I cannot say that will happen every time, though, and I highly advise you to read the fine print. Don’t allow anyone to take advantage of your work just for a free ride to Detroit.

Have any of you participated in the Amtrak Residency? If so, feel free to leave your opinions below, along with any other writing tips you might have for authors on the go!

James Duncan is a content editor for Writer’s Digest Books, and is the founding editor of Hobo Camp Review: Poetry & Prose from the Road. A lover of all things noir, James resides in New York City, dreams of the days of Humphrey Bogart and Edward Hopper, and is the author of the short story collection The Cards We Keep and the upcoming poetry collection Berlin. For more, visit www.jameshduncan.com.


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4. 3 Ways to Save Your Backstory from the Cutting Room Floor


Backstory is crucial to the novel writing process. It gives your character substance and drive while adding depth, history and realism to your fiction.  It takes a great deal of hard work to develop your character’s backstory. Unfortunately for the sake of the novel, much of that hard work ends up on the cutting room floor.

That doesn’t mean all that hard work has gone to waste. There are many ways for you to repurpose those backstories into moneymaking and author platform building opportunities.

shannandoah diaz

Shennandoah Diaz is a writer and freelance Branding and Communications expert based out of Austin, Texas. Diaz works with independent publishers, small businesses, experts, and authors to build killer brands and engaging content. Passionate about education, Diaz teaches workshops for the Writer’s League of Texas and other professional organizations that empower writers to take charge of their brand and their writing career. Learn more by visiting shennandoahdiaz.com or follow her on Twitter (@shennandoahdiaz). 

1. Short Stories for Submission

Often our character backstory is centered on a core event that changes the character’s life in a big way. That dramatic event is a great point of focus for a short story. Short stories can range from flash fiction as short as six words to works as long as 5,00020,000 words. There are dozens of contests and outlets, both paying and non-paying, that publish short stories on a continual basis. Some outlets that post these opportunities include Duotrope, local writing groups, area universities, and of course there are several competitions throughout the year hosted by Writer’s Digest. Duotrope also allows you to create an account to track submissions so you know what you sent, where, and when.

Each published piece is more than just a feather in your cap. It helps you prove your characters’ appeal and story premise in a paying market, demonstrates that you are a writer who can deliver, and helps you start getting paid for the work you’re already doing.


2. Website Freebies

It is crucial for an author to invest in building his or her platform on an ongoing basis. Digital media requires regular content to attract attention and followers. Backstories packaged as short stories, blog posts and vignettes make great content for author websites and fans. You can wait until after you’ve tried publishing through a paying outlet, or go ahead and offer it as a free download on your website as a way to attract readers and thank your existing fans.

Just remember to edit carefully, and if possible, get a second pair of eyes on your work before you post it for the world to see. There are many freelance editors available who can provide a professional critique of your work for a nominal fee. The expense is worth it when it comes to your website and author platform development. You want to make sure you’re always putting your best foot forward, and don’t want to get caught posting a story that doesn’t flow or that contains improper grammar.

The nonfiction research you did for your story is also great to share. The nonfiction or “truth” side to every story is a major contributor to creating interest for your book. Did you research vintage balloons for your story? Write a blog post about it. Did you visit an old ghost town for the setting of your novel? Share the pictures you took.  Maps, historical information, how-tos, diagrams and other informative pieces bring life and context to your work. Most of all, they draw in readers. Share your research as blog posts, downloads, and images. You’ll be surprised how many people you reach that might not have connected with you otherwise.


3. Multimedia

Stories are told through many media, not just the written word. Video, music, photography, and other art forms are also great ways to convey and share your character’s backstory. Pair up with a local aspiring film director to turn your backstory into a screenplay for a short filmt, or take a cue from Scott Sigler and post the screenplay as a competition for your followers. You can even take it a step further and use your backstories for a series of podcasts to drum up interest in your work.

If you have a pile of nonfiction research on a historic place, profession, or some other aspect of your story, you can turn those into interesting how-to videos and informative podcasts. Many fiction authors have become subject matter experts on things like espionage and dead presidents by employing practices such as these. There are several inexpensive tools available.

Camtasia is great for doing professional looking videos that capture images and presentations on your computer screen. The interface is very simple and easy to use, and there are dozens of tutorials available to get you started. Animoto is great for making mini-videos using photos and stock clips, and requires little to no technical expertise. Their existing storehouse of images and music make it easy to create and share book trailers and mini informative videos in a matter of minutes.

Podcasts have become increasingly popular due to iTunes and online media such as BlogTalk Radio. There are several Podcast tools that let you record right from your computer. You can offer podcasts directly on your website or use mass distributors like iTunes and BlogTalk Radio to reach a wider audience based on topics of interests.


Really there are no limits as to how you can repackage your stories and research. You already did the work. Now it’s time to make it work for you.

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5. Dodged a bullet!

Last Saturday July 26, 2014 was the 16th Chum Bucket of 2014.

It's been running since July of 2012. In that time span I've received ONE reply that was slightly snotty.

Then Saturday, I got this:

"Why don't you read the inside of my butt, you smartass little cunt."

Now, you might think this would get me all ruffled and righteously angry.
You'd be wrong.

My first, last and only thought is "whew! Dodged a bullet on this one!'

Part of the query process is sorting out the folks you want to work with from the sort you don't.  Guess where this querier falls? And so nice to know so early in the process.

Can you imagine the querier's response to an editorial rejection? To a "review" on GoodReads? An Amazon one-star review?

Whew indeed!

I really do have to laugh because along with that email I got about eight others that thanked me, either just very politely and simply or much more effusively.  I know this guy is an amusing anomaly in a long run of otherwise amazing interactions.

I will say this though: this is the kind of response that burns bridges forever.  There's absolutely no coming back from this no matter how sincere any kind of follow up might be. 

Queriers are in a tough position. There's absolute no doubt about that. But, you can make it worse, and flying off the handle is one very good way to do it.  Flying off the handle with insulting, invective filled language is a better, faster way. Flying off the handle with insulting, invective filled language when you know you agreed NOT to is the very best, fastest, most thorough way. Please don't find out for yourself.

0 Comments on Dodged a bullet! as of 7/28/2014 11:16:00 AM
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6. New Literary Agent Alert: Rachel Brooks of L. Perkins Agency

Reminder: New literary agents (with this spotlight featuring Rachel Brooks of L. Perkins Agency) are golden opportunities for new writers because each one is a literary agent who is likely building his or her client list.


Screen shot 2014-07-28 at 12.04.09 AM


About Rachel: Before joining the L. Perkins Agency, Rachel worked as an agent apprentice to Louise Fury. In addition to her industry training, Rachel has a business degree and graduated summa cum laude with a BA in English from Texas A&M University-CC. Rachel is actively building her client list. Find her on Twitter: @RachMBrooks.

She is seeking: She is excited about representing all genres of young adult and new adult fiction, as well as adult romance. While she is looking for all sub-genres of romance, she is especially interested in romantic suspense and urban fantasy. She is also on the lookout for fun picture books. She’s a fan of dual POVs, loves both print and ebooks, and has a soft spot for marketing-savvy writers.

How to submit: Send a query letter (with an author bio in it) and the first 5 pages of the manuscript pasted into an email (no attachments) to rachel [at] lperkinsagency.com. Please only query one agent at this agency.



The biggest literary agent database anywhere
is the Guide to Literary Agents. Pick up the
most recent updated edition online at a discount.


Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:


Want to build your visibility and sell more books?
Create Your Writer Platform shows you how to
promote yourself and your books through social
media, public speaking, article writing, branding,
and more.
Order the book from WD at a discount.


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7. What All Agents Want in a Great Young Adult Novel — July 29 Webinar (With Critique) by Agent Carlie Webber

Teens are discriminating readers with a lot of demands on their time, so what can you do to ensure that your novel is the one they’ll all be dying to read? And does your book stand a chance at getting you an agent if it doesn’t have wizards, vampires, or a dystopian setting?

Literary agent Carlie Webber will share her ideas on what all agents want in a great YA novel, regardless of subject matter. The live webinar on July 29 will open with a presentation on what it means to write authentic YA voices, and will explain why crafting a YA voice is a different challenge from creating one for a tween or adult protagonist. After showing examples of strong voice, Carlie will show how setting, pacing, and tension all work with the voice to create a memorable novel. She’ll also talk about the elements that separate middle grade novels from YA, and YA from adult. Carlie will also address the art of writing controversial content, and the perennial question of how writers should – or shouldn’t – tackle YA literature trends.

This webinar will treat YA as an age range, not a genre, and it will include examples from contemporary and historical fiction, plus science fiction and fantasy written for ages 12-18. It all happens at 1 p.m., EST, Thursday, Tuesday, July 29, 2014, and lasts 90 minutes. Sign up for the webinar here.

Screen shot 2014-07-28 at 12.34.34 AM           Screen shot 2014-07-28 at 12.34.05 AM


All registrants are invited to submit the first 500 words of their novel. All submissions are guaranteed a written critique by literary agent Carlie Webber. Carlie reserves the right to request more writing from attendees by e-mail following the event, if she deems the writing excellent.

Please Note: Even if you can’t attend the live webinar, registering for this live version will enable you to receive the On Demand webinar and a personal critique of your material. Purchasing the On Demand version after the live event will not include a critique.


– The elements of crafting a memorable YA voice
– How setting and plot work to support the voice
– Why a teen protagonist’s voice will sound different than a pre-teen or adult
– How to incorporate great pacing and tension
– How to work in enough technology and slang to sound current, but not so much that your book is dated before it hits shelves
– What you can and can’t present in terms of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll
– Why writing to trends is a double-edged sword. Sign up for the webinar here.


Carlie Webber refused to major in English in college because no one would let her read Stephen King or R.L. Stine for class. After college, she obtained a Master of Library and Information Science at the University of Pittsburgh and worked as a YA librarian and professional book reviewer for publications including KIRKUS REVIEWS. Wishing to explore her interest in the business side of publishing, she enrolled in the Columbia Publishing Course. After working for the Publish or Perish Agency/New England Publishing Associates and Jane Rotrosen Agency, she has established her own agency, CK Webber Associates. In addition to YA, she is seeking middle grade, mystery, thriller, suspense, science fiction, and fantasy. Follow her on Twitter: @carliebeth

Sign up for the webinar here.


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8. 5 Essential Tips for Writing Killer Fight Scenes

Fight scenes are dangerous territory for writers. On the surface, they seem as if they’re guaranteed to keep the reader glued to the action in the same way as they often do at the movies. In reality, though, readers tend to skip over fight scenes – skimming the long, tedious, blow-by-blow descriptions in favour of getting back to the dialogue and character-driven drama that truly engages them in the story.

My novel, Traitor’s Blade, is a swashbuckling fantasy in which fight scenes are a crucial part of the storytelling. This means having to ensure that every piece of action is vital and engaging; it means that every duel must draw the reader in and not let them go until the end. So how do you keep the pacing, flow, and more importantly, the drama moving forward with so many fights?

GIVEAWAY: Sebastien is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Please note that comments may take a little while to appear; this is normal).


Screen shot 2014-07-27 at 11.44.18 PM     Screen shot 2014-07-27 at 11.44.04 PM

Column by Sebastien de Castell, who had just finished a degree in archaeology
when he started work on his first job. Four hours later he realized how much he
hated archaeology and left to pursue a very focused career as a musician,
ombudsman, interaction designer, fight choreographer, teacher, project manager,
actor, and product strategist. His first novel is TRAITOR’S BLADE (Jo Fletcher
Books, July 2014), which can be found on Amazon or IndieBound. The
swashbuckling fantasy was recently praised by NPR. Connect with the
author on Facebook or Twitter.

1. Make every fight advance the plot

No matter what you might think, violence is actually boring. Watching two hulking brutes bash at each other with clubs isn’t interesting. Only when one of the brutes is smaller, weaker, and trying desperately to stay alive long enough to let his people know that the enemy is coming does the action start to matter to the reader. But don’t just think in terms of climactic battles or killing off enemies. Sometimes the fight provides a crucial piece of information about the antagonist such as a particular type of cut they make that could explain the wounds on a victim the protagonist discovered in the previous chapter. The fight might also wound your protagonist, slowing them down in later scenes and giving you a chance to make their lives harder and therefore increase the suspense.

2. Reveal character through action

The way your protagonist fights – and when they choose to fight or walk away – tells the reader a great deal about them. Your hero might be a skilled but retiscient warrior or they could be an amateur but with a bloodthirsty streak that comes out when confronted with violence. But don’t just stop with your protagonist or their opponents. Think about what the action reveals in those watching the fight. Does the seemingly helpful mentor figure suddenly become enraptured watching the blood flow? Do the innocent bystanders just sit there or do they scramble to help? Fight scenes that reveal character are by far the most compelling ones for readers – they get to investigate your characters by seeing how they deal with violent situations, allowing you to follow that classic dictum of modern writing: show, don’t tell.

(Hear agents get specific and explain what kind of stories they’re looking for.)

3. Your fight scenes must fulfill the promise of your book

Traitor’s Blade is a swashbuckling fantasy so every fight has to give the reader some of that sense of wonder they first encountered watching classic adventures like the old Errol Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks films. But perhaps your genre is gritty historical fiction. If so, the last thing you want to do is break suspension of disbelief. You have to carefully ensure that the weapons and fighting styles are true to your era (note: this doesn’t mean you can’t have a longsword in the 18th Century since they were around for long periods of time after their proper era, but you can’t have King Arthur swinging a rapier around in 6th Century Britain!)

4. Make every fight unique

I read a YA fantasy recently in which almost every fight involved the main character jumping up and spinning in the air to kick opponents in the face (usually two or three.) Regardless of how unrealistic this would be (after all, realism only matters if it’s part of the promise of your book), the fact is you probably couldn’t remember one fight from another. By contrast, think of a movie like The Princess Bride, in which every fight is special – every conflict is resolved using different means, whether trickery or skill or simply iron-willed determination.

(The skinny on why to sign with a new/newer literary agent.)

5. Let the reader choreograph the action

If you describe every action of the fight, not only will you bore the reader but your pacing and flow will fall apart. So think of your job not so much as having to meticulously choreograph the fight but rather to give the reader enough insight into the action that they can build the scene in their minds. Show them early on in the fight how each weapon moves through space—make that vivid and visceral. Make the reader feel as if they could actually pick up that weapon and defend themselves even just a little bit. Then you’re free to focus on the character’s actions and reactions—making them distinct, personal, and emotionally motivated just as you do with their words. The reader will then be able to fill in the action while you describe what your characters are saying, what they’re thinking, and what’s showing on their faces. In other words, help the reader to choreograph the fight so that you can spend your time on the drama. This also lets you vary the length of your fight scenes, which helps to keep them from becoming predictable. In Traitor’s Blade there are fights which span an entire chapter and others which are told in four lines.

Think of it this way: violence is dialogue. Make your fights into a conversation spoken with actions in which the real conflict is happening in the hearts of the characters and in which the reader themselves are helping to tell the story.

GIVEAWAY: Sebastien is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Please note that comments may take a little while to appear; this is normal).


Need help crafting an awesome plot for your
story? Check out the new acclaimed resource
by Ronald Tobias, 20 Master Plots.


Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:


Want to build your visibility and sell more books?
Create Your Writer Platform shows you how to
promote yourself and your books through social
media, public speaking, article writing, branding,
and more.
Order the book from WD at a discount.


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9. At the Breast Clinic


                                               At the Breast Clinic

The Breast Clinic is a brick and glass structure designed with women

 in mind, from fancy murals of Italy to free herbal teas in the lobby.

As you pass through the revolving doors there’s no need to wonder

which way to turn or where to ask for directions to your doctor’s suite.

The receptionist’s desk juts out and your questions about doctors,

appointments, procedures and payments can be answered quickly.

“Will my wife, Marilyn, get a clean bill of health?” takes longer.


When we travel together I sometime pretend that I am “Charles,” her chauffer,

since she comes from a long line of glitz, glamour and royalty. I don’t mind

being her driver and court jester, but we will be at the medical institute waiting

up to three hours for x-rays to hear good news. I didn’t sleep well last night

worrying about the Queen of my life for 41 years. There were omens in the air.

She has been called back before after a routine screening, but this is different.


The receptionist insisted on a speedy return and told her that a doctor

would be present in the office. The receptionist didn’t reduce fears saying,

“Oh, we just want to take a few more pictures. We do this all the time.”

With words unspoken Marilyn let me know that these were sinister omens.

She needed me to hold her hand and scare away any menacing thoughts.

That’s why I was with her with a room full of women waiting for exams.


I kept thinking: It has to be very good news. It has to be very good news.

It had to be good news because she had a run of bad luck, a series of medical

problems all piling up—a  fall, broken bones, arm, ribs, a sleep disorder, TMJ,

COPD, heart problems, arthritis, and two knee operations—all in one year.

I knew she couldn’t take much more of  new doctors, medicines, blood tests,

 and appointments. Marilyn was centimeters away from breaking.


I prayed for her and bargained with God to spare her this time from pain,

medical intervention and frequent thoughts about her own mortality. 

She deserves better. That’s what I thought again and again, as I waited

for the verdict via x-rays and a doctor. It didn’t seem fair that she had

to deal with more doctors and examinations. Yes, I know that life isn’t

fair and when things get tough, the tough get going, but there’s a limit.


Ninety minutes later she popped out from behind door number one

with a sparkling smile and waving thumbs up. I hugged and hugged

my queen, while others waited to see how their story would unfold.

I wished them well in my heart of hearts, and escorted my fair lady

out the door as fast as I could beyond false omens. At the Princess Diner

my beloved Queen and I ate a celebratory lunch and thanked the heavens.

~Joe Sottile

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10. Happy Sunday!

I thought this list of words that have a different meaning if you're a writer on BuzzFeed was pretty funny.

Which one is your favorite?

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11. Query Question: Should an introvert try for a writing career?

Greetings oh cartilage-finned QOTKU,

I happen to know a young lady who is immensely talented at writing. However, she is also VERY introverted. And by introverted, I mean that she has a minor disability (which is possibly worse to her mind than it really is, but still) which makes it unusually stressful for her to meet new people, speak in public, and sometimes even travel. I can relate to her on a smaller scale – at least I no longer vomit in anticipation of social gatherings; age and the necessity of holding an actual job go a long way toward lessening that kind of thing. Plus, you just learn to fake it. However, it’s one thing to overcome a bad case of shyness and another thing to have a real problem that is sometimes recognized and understood by the general public, and sometimes not.

This woman asked my advice on whether or not she’s wise under these conditions pursue a career at writing. On the one hand I wanted to say HOLY COW, YES (she’s so talented!). On the other hand I wanted to say, DO YOU LIKE GIN? Seriously though, here’s the thing: I’ve been told that promoting your work – regardless of genre – is of vital import. I know that many (most?) writers are introverts, and I imagine that giving readings/doing book signings/ attending release parties is probably difficult for a lot of us. But for my friend, this is the stuff of nightmares.

I know that if anyone can be trusted to deliver the straight poop on this (or any) subject, it’s you. What is your advice to someone who would have a hard time with the social aspect of the writing biz?

Pursue a career in writing? Please, hold my tiara while I gasp for air. I'd sooner advise her to pursue a career in taxi-dancing.

"A career" implies that this is how she will earn her daily bread. That's not something most writers can do. Most writers need a full time day job and a spouse to make ends meet.


If you were to ask me if this woman, lovely and talented as she is, should write with the goal of being published, I give that my rousing support.

Writing is how many people express themselves creatively, how they learn to think clearly and communicate well.  It's one of the most satisfying things in the world to know you've said something with pith and vinegar.

To connect with readers, to have readers write to say they find value, or solace, or entertainment in your words, well...I've never done heroin but I'm thinking that feeling of euphoria might come close.

Of course she should write.  All that other stuff is just an excuse not to sit down, stare at the wall, and commence with "it was a dark and stormy night."

And if her writing requires her to have a public presence, well, we'll solve that problem when we get there.  You won't achieve anything in this life if the only thing you can see are reasons you shouldn't try something.

0 Comments on Query Question: Should an introvert try for a writing career? as of 7/26/2014 9:16:00 AM
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12. Query: Golden oldies...not so much

In trying to figure out which of my book elements are appropriate for a query, I'm stumbling on how to say "it takes place in the 1970s."  Much easier to say "contemporary" or "historical" romance, but online research is showing different definitions for these (i.e., different time periods as cut-offs). Someone even coined a new word: "retro." Point is, I'm finding few periods for either era that include the 1960s through 1980s. How do you recommend handling this?

oh boy, this is a really tough question.  Since agents come in all ages, you want to be VERY careful about calling something set in the 70's (when they were in high school, or college, or working their first job in publishing!) historical!

I've often heard agents of a certain age grouse that nothing after their birth year better be "historical."

But there's no way to know just exactly how old Barbara Poelle IS (sharks live for years and years) or how young Brooks Sherman isn't.

There was a recent quiz on Buzzfeed to guess one's age, and my result was off by so much it was ludicrous.

So, no "historical."
Retro isn't a word you want to use either since it refers to style, not time frame.

I think you want to be very very plain: my novel is set in the 70's. And you might want to mention why it is as well, given that's always one of the things I wonder about.

0 Comments on Query: Golden oldies...not so much as of 7/25/2014 9:44:00 AM
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13. Call for Submissions: Reject a Hit

RejectAHit_FotorIn each issue of Writer’s Digest magazine, we ask one reader to step into the role of the unconvinced, perhaps even curmudgeonly or fool-hearted editor. What harsh rejection letters might the authors of some of our favorite hit books have had to endure? We need more of those short-sighted rejection letters!

If you’d like to be the one doing the rebuffing, channel the most clueless of editors by humorously rejecting a hit in 300 words or fewer. Then submit your letter via email (no attachments, please!) to wdsubmissions@fwmedia.com with Reject a Hit: [Book Title]” in the subject line.

Reject a Hit is humorous, but not mean-spirited. It is not the place to list all the reasons you hate a particular book. To help you understand the spirit of Reject a Hit, here are some excerpts from spoof rejections we’ve published in the past:

To Margaret Wise Brown regarding Goodnight Moon:

Parents will not like this idea of mush sitting out all night. No wonder a young mouse is running around. By mentioning air you are not lulling children to sleep—just the opposite. Soon they’ll be sitting up in bed and asking, “Is that what’s making the noise? Does it taste like mush? Is that what’s keeping the balloon up?” Parents do not want to answer questions at bedtime.They want their children to quickly fall asleep so they can finally read their own books.

To Washington Irving regarding “Rip Van Winkle”:

We received your short story “Rip Van Winkle.” What a snoozer. A man walks into a forest and falls asleep for 20 YEARS? I’m dozing off just rejecting you.

To George Orwell regarding Animal Farm:

[Y]our work depicts episodes of hen slaughter, horses turned to glue, as well as pigs not only imbibing alcohol, but actually cultivating their own microbrewery? And would you care to explain how a windmill is built by a community composed of claws, wings and hooves? Not one opposable thumb in the bunch. For God’s sake, man!

To Homer regarding The Illiad:

The loose poetic style you have chosen is ancient and outdated. To make a sale, try a rhyming verse. While it’s difficult, some poetry editor out there may be impressed that someone could rhyme Herakles and Agamemnon.

We even convinced Ransom Riggs, author of the bestselling Peculiar Children series, to try his hand at rejecting a hit. He chose the Lord of the Rings trilogy:

It’s so long. It’s in Elvish, whatever that is. Nothing like this has ever been published. And who’s going to be interested in these tiny little hairy, ape-footed beings? This is the time for serious literature, sir, not made-up fairly tales. You take yourself very seriously.

And finally, to further help you decide which hit you’d like to wittily dismantle, here is a mostly-complete list of titles we’ve already sent back to their authors for revision. Please do not send submissions pertaining to any of the following, as they have already been soundly rejected:

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Harry Potter by JK Rowling

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

The Elements of Style by EB White

The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss

Fun With Dick & Jane by Gray and Sharp

Marley & Me by John Grogan

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

Romeo & Juliet by Shakespeare

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Crime & Punishment by Dostoyevsky

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

The Odyssey by Homer

Charlotte’s Web by EB White

Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote

The Godfather by Mario Puzo

War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy

How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss

Charlie & the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

“Rip Van Winkle” by Washington Irving

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

My Life at The New York Times by Jayson Blair

The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty

The Lorax by Dr. Seuss

Animal Farm by George Orwell

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The Old Man & The Sea by Ernest Hemingway

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown

Tulips & Chimneys by e. e. cummings

The Shining by Stephen King

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams


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14. Question: The currency of queries

I was recently lurking around Twitter when I saw your retweet about your home skillet Brooks Sherman here: Pens for Paws

I had every intention of placing a last-minute 9:59pm bid and winning the whole shebang.
At the last second, I couldn’t click “publish,” and here’s the question that stopped me: am I ruining my chances with an agent by paying (even for a good cause) for them to critique my work? What if he’s my “dream agent,” but hates my first chapter + query after I pay to have him critique both?

The bloated final bid belched in at a staggering $324. Would an agent secretly frown upon the person who paid this amount of money for a query + one-chapter critique should the same person query them later? Or am I taking a really positive, fun, amazing auction and being crazy over-thinking it? Thanks for your time.

Of course you're over thinking this. You're a writer. I've seen writers parse out the hidden meaning of replies to a query received after midnight versus before midnight.  

However, since telling you not to worry is pretty much a non-starter, how about I tell you why you don't have to worry.

For starters, if I like your work I don't care how I find it: query letter stolen from slithery Barbara Poelle under the guise of tidying her desk, Chum Bucket, written missive sent to my office (sans glitter and any other cutsie items), a short story published in a magazine, a drunken brawl at ThrillerFest, or a contest.

If I like your work, I want to read it.

If I don't like your work, it doesn't matter how it found its way to me, I still don't like it.

In other words: the medium is not the message here, all due respect to Marshall McLuhan

And if I'm your dream agent (and you know I hate that very idea right??) I won't even know about it till much later if ever.

And if you think $325 is a lot to pay for a critique, boy have I got a rude surprise for you.  I know several agents who commanded four figures on a ms critique, and of course promptly gave four crits instead of one so as to raise more money for the cause.

I'm actually rather fond of the people who fork over money for my amazingly cogent and pithy opinions.  They're supporting a cause I care about and flattering my already quite robust ego. Win/Win.

So, don't work yourself into a frenzy here. Don't spend money you don't have thinking it's a good way to get special attention; it's not. But also don't think you've closed off an avenue by bidding for a crit
instead of just straight querying.

Gnaw yourself into a frenzy about the rhythm of your sentences, and whether writing in the second person is really a good idea.  You know you can.

PS Yea, I had to look up home skillet. I'm not as with it as I like to think I am.

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15. War Never Changes

During your trip to Turkey, you check into an old hotel. After settling yourself you notice a weathered chest in the corner. Upon opening it, war relics from the First World War and the Ottoman Empire lay before you. What stories do you find?

Post your response (500 words or fewer) in the comments below.

Want more creative writing prompts? Pick up a copy of
A Year of Writing Prompts: 365 Story Ideas for Honing
Your Craft and Eliminating Writer’s Block. There’s a prompt for
every day of the year and you can start on any day.


Order now from our shop.

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16. 11 Steps to Finding the Agent Who’ll Love Your Book

I was ready. I had an edited manuscript. I had a tiered list of agents. I had a spreadsheet. I’d read every scrap of information about getting an agent, and I was prepared, at last, to submit my novel. The process could take months, maybe years, I’d heard. I was in for the long haul, baby. The good news is it didn’t take years to get an offer of representation. The even better news: That offer came in the form of four magic words, words I’d been told to wait for by all the experts: I love your book.

Not just a Facebook-worthy thumbs up, not a “I think I can sell this.” Love. The reason you wait for true love in publishing is because publishing requires it, and not just from the author. Remember the feverish crush that helped fuel your first draft? Your agent needs that same big-eyed reverence for your book to take it out to editors, hoping for another love connection.

So how do you snag one of these lovey-doveys for yourself?

GIVEAWAY: Lori is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Please note that comments may take a little while to appear; this is normal).


Screen shot 2014-07-23 at 1.17.09 PM      Screen shot 2014-07-23 at 1.16.58 PM

Column by Lori Rader-Day, author of the mystery THE BLACK HOUR (Seventh
Street Books, 2014), which received starred reviews from Booklist, Library Journal
and Publishers Weekly. Born and raised in central Indiana, she now lives with her
husband and dog in Chicago. Her fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery
Magazine, Time Out Chicago, The Madison Review, and others. Best-selling
author Jodi Picoult chose one of Lori’s short stories for the grand prize in
Good Housekeeping’s first fiction contest. Lori is a member of Mystery
Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers.
Find her on Twitter at @LoriRaderDay.

You’re not ready until you can bounce a quarter off your manuscript. You’ve already revised, I know. Leave it alone for a month, then go back. Make sure your pages say precisely what you meant. Make your sentences sing.

Meanwhile, the best way to see how it’s done is to read. Read widely. When you don’t like something, figure out why. Apply everything you learn to your draft until further ideas ping off it.

Gather your intelligence. Which books are like yours, not just in subject but in tone and style? Who agented them? Read the Writer’s Digest archives. Use online resources to sort through the known universe of agent submissions. Learn as much as you can, and start a list. Rank agents in order of likelihood of love match.

Learn to write a query letter. Write a synopsis. What’s a log line? Get one. If at any one of these steps you find something lacking in your story, don’t ignore the problem. Every step of this process is a chance to get it right before someone else can tell you you’re getting it wrong. Go back over your draft until your product is perfectly packaged for sale. Did your eye just twitch? Get used to thinking of your baby, your life’s creative work, as a prototype that might yet be tinkered with by other people.

Time for some allies. If you have a writers’ group, they should have already had a swipe at your pages, but having a writing network isn’t just about first readers. What you want is a group of people who can tell you how the road ahead looks. Research writers’ associations in your genre and beyond. Ask at your local library, bookstores, or universities for writing groups or workshops.

Read again
The guidelines, in this case. This is your last chance before you click send to take a look at your list of agents and take note of what they want from your initial query. Getting through the front door is often about playing by the rules. Don’t send anything less—or more—than each agent has asked for.

Submit to four to eight agents only. Send each a separate email or mailed package (as they requested) with only the information they asked for. Keep things professional. No gimmicks. Save the rest of your list for now.

Start something new. No, really. Go write another book. You need to think about something else and even if everything goes just as you’d like it to on the first book, you’ll still want a new draft in short order.

Keep track of your submission results—and learn from them. If you aren’t getting any page requests, your query letter needs work. If you’re getting partial requests but then nothing, your first pages aren’t snagging the reader. If you’re getting full requests but no nibbles, it’s time to take a look at the full manuscript again. Make note of each reply, give it time, and then—

Submit again
This is why you saved the rest of your list. Submit, again, to four to eight agents only, using every step, every rejection, every encouragement to better prepare your work for the next round (and the next), as long as it takes to find a match.

Just like in love, things might not always go as planned. Keep writing. Maybe the next book is the one that will put stars in an agent’s eyes. Of course, that’s not really why you write, is it? If you commit to writing for reasons beyond publishing, it won’t take you long to find the love of your life, in the words right there on the page.

GIVEAWAY: Lori is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Please note that comments may take a little while to appear; this is normal).



The biggest literary agent database anywhere
is the Guide to Literary Agents. Pick up the
most recent updated edition online at a discount.

Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:


Want to build your visibility and sell more books?
Create Your Writer Platform shows you how to
promote yourself and your books through social
media, public speaking, article writing, branding,
and more.
Order the book from WD at a discount.

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17. Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 272

I’m a little under the weather today, but that won’t stop me from poeming. In fact, I’ll use it as inspiration for this week’s prompt.

For this week’s prompt, write a tough spot poem. The poem can be about your own situation (past, present, or future), someone else’s, or whatever you can conjure up. Think late bills, shootouts, and tough choices.


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Here’s my attempt at a Tough Spot poem:

“Sick Day”

From my desk,
I can see the cars drive to work,
but I won’t be joining them today.

Even though I don’t drive to work,
my time at the desk is limited
while I battle this fever.

I can see the couch from here
and know that soon
I’ll be on it.

From my desk,
I can see the birds dart and sing,
but I won’t be joining them today.

The couch waits
with its pillows and blanket
to comfort me.

I would struggle for a metaphor,
but I’ll save them for when
I once again feel like the birds.


Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community and the author of Solving the World’s Problems.

His collection was recently named an Editor’s Pick by Crab Creek Review, which says the collection is “charming, whimsical and surprisingly romantic. [Brewer's] poems are full of word-play, wit and leaps in logic.”

Follow him on Twitter @robertleebrewer.


Find more poetic goodies here:

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18. Query: research by living

I am preparing to query my novel and have a quick question for you about author bios.

A few agents go so far as to ask queriers to justify why they are qualified to write their novel. You've already answered this question in another post (in short, I'm qualified to write it because it's my novel!). I was both relieved and amused by your response and your usual down to earth common sense.

But even if agents are simply asking for a basic author bio, I wonder about what is helpful to include. In my case, the MC of my novel is a teenage girl who has been abandoned by her parents to live in a home for at-risk youth.

When I was thirteen I lived in a girls' shelter. While I did not experience the same degree of abuse and peril my MC is faced with, I certainly did glean a pretty personal understanding of what life in an institution is like for a teenager.

Because my book is set in this milieu, is it relevant to mention my own history (briefly and succinctly of course) in my bio? Is this information worth including? Would it mean anything to an agent?

It's certainly not out of place to mention you have some experience in the world your protagonist inhabits.  For some agents that's a valuable thing. Me, I don't care. Make it all up, but just get the details right.

You've hit exactly the right spot knowing you need to be brief and succinct.  What irks me is when someone starts their query with what they think is relevant info and go on and on and on.

You've got 250 words to entice me to read the story.  Get that part done first. If you've got words to spare, mention your experiences that influenced the writing of the book. More than having lived in a girls home, I'm interested in what drew you to tell this story.

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19. Have a nice day!

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20. Query Question: diverging paths

Awhile ago my agent broke the news that she had reached the end of the road with my middle grade manuscript. It has been rejected by all of the big New York houses and their imprints, and when I asked about smaller presses she essentially said that they weren’t worth the effort (in terms of the financial payout and level of promotion), and that I’d be better off to self-publish it. Knowing myself, I’m fairly sure that the legitimacy that even a small press would give my novel would make me much more comfortable with the self-promotion I know is necessary for a book to sell. So I don’t think the self-publishing route is right for me.

I’m considering next steps at the moment. A friend suggested I query new agents. Obviously I’d have to tell them up front that the manuscript has already been rejected by the large publishers, which it seems would make 99.9% of them reject it outright (understandably so) (1). Or, I could simply go it alone and query smaller presses that accept unagented manuscripts?(2)

I've reached this point with a couple of my clients too. It's one of the worst conversations in the world to initiate let me tell you (and it's no picnic on your side of the phone either, I know.)

You're right (1) to assume most agents aren't actively looking for a used, albeit good, manuscript.  We are in business to make money and we prefer to sell to places that will give us lots of it.  Finding a new agent might not be step one here.

However, you might ask  your agent if she'll look at the contract if you sell it yourself to a small publisher.  This is what I do for my guys who've been in this situation.  (In fact, I insist on looking at every publishing contract my clients sign because I want to avoid problems down the road and some of these small publishers have contracts that make strong women weep.)

If she will, then (2) shop this puppy yourself.  You clearly know you're in for a lot of promotion and marketing work, but you are with a big publisher too.

The problem with self-publishing a middle grade book is that the buyers of these books are not the readers. Parents and teachers buy the books and it's hard to get a review in Library Journal if you're not a publisher.  It's REALLY hard to get your books in Barnes & Noble (where parents shop) if you're self-pubbed too.

If your agent won't help you with the contract you might consult this book for short term remedies.

For longer term remedies, this one is the place to start

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21. Query Question: Friends in high places

Some years ago, I wrote a non-fiction book as a work-for-hire for a book packager. It was published by Huge Trade Publisher. I worked quite pleasantly with an editor there, and she respected my work.

I have since finished my first novel. Pleasant Editor is now Executive Director of Humongous Trade Publisher. I am wondering if it would be a clever idea, or a terrible idea, to contact her and ask if she knows an agent who might be interested, or if one of her own editors might take a look. She of course doesn't acquire projects, and the publisher does not consider unagented submissions.

I'm quite sure she would remember me, but I don't know if my little plan would enhance her memory or besmirch it with excess chutzpah.

I'm not familiar with the title Executive Director. Executive editor yes, but exec eds acquire all the time.

But the key piece of info here is that the publishing company doesn't take unagented submissions, and that is essentially what you're trying to bypass. (I know you don't think so, but you are.)

In order to recommend any agent or any of her editors, Pleasant is going to have to read something about your book. And remember, it's a novel this time, not non-fiction work for hire, so you're not even asking her about something you're sure she knows much about. (Many editors at publishing houses specialize in fiction or non-fiction)

The temptation is strong to get a leg up on this querying madness, I know, but this one isn't going to help you even if Pleasant does help you.

I can't tell you the number of queries I get that say "so and so recommended I query you" and it's for a novel I wouldn't rep (or READ) in a quadrillion years. The truth is editors have no idea what agents are looking for. They only see the work we show them. Some of my closest editor friends are shocked when they hear I rep history and biography (or any non-fiction) because all they see from me are high-octane thrillers.

And of course, I get queries with "so and so said to query you" and I have NO idea who so and so is. Even when I google the person, I find I've never met them and have no idea why they would send a writer my way.

Where your connection will be of use to you is when your agent goes on submission with your novel and can call Pleasant and say "you've worked with her before, and now she's got a terrific novel."

In the meantime, start making lists of agents who rep novels and get to querying.

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22. 18 Quotes for Writers from Ernest Hemingway

578_originalToday marks the 115th anniversary of Ernest Hemingway’s birth. In his lifetime, Papa had quite a lot to say about writing. Here are 18 of our favorite quotes, in no particular order.


1. I learned never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.


2. If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water.


3. For a long time now I have tried simply to write the best I can. Sometimes I have good luck and write better than I can.


4.That is what we are supposed to do when we are at our best – make it all up – but make it up so truly that later it will happen that way.

5. Writing and travel broaden your ass if not your mind and I like to write standing up.


6. My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way.


7. When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.


8. Prose is architecture, not interior decoration, and the Baroque is over.


9. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.


10. There is no rule on how to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly; sometimes it’s like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.


11. To F. Scott Fitzgerald: “Write the best story that you can and write it as straight as you can.”


12. Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now.


13. All stories, if continued far enough, end in death, and he is no true-story teller who would keep that from you.


14. A serious writer is not to be confounded with a solemn writer. A serious writer may be a hawk or a buzzard or even a popinjay, but a solemn writer is always a bloody owl.


15. It’s none of their business that you have to learn how to write. Let them think you were born that way.


16. To an aspiring writer: “You shouldn’t write if you can’t write.”


17. After writing a story I was always empty and both sad and happy, as though I had made love, and I was sure this was a very good story although I would not know truly how good until I read it over the next day.


18. My training was never to drink after dinner nor before I wrote nor while I was writing.


What’s your favorite writerly quote from Ernest Hemingway? Share it in the comments!

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23. New Literary Agent Alert: Siobhan McBride of Serendipity Literary Agency

Reminder: New literary agents (with this spotlight featuring Siobhan McBride of Serendipity Literary Agency) are golden opportunities for new writers because each one is a literary agent who is likely building his or her client list.




About Siobhan: Siobhan McBride joined Serendipity Literary Agency in 2014. Raised in New York’s Hudson Valley region she studied painting, drawing, and ceramics before receiving her Bachelor of Arts in English and Creative Writing from SUNY New Paltz. She began her career in Publishing as an intern for the literary agency Objective Entertainment, and from there went on to work as a writer in the Editorial departments of various magazines including MovieMaker and Chronogram. Her passion for music and film led her to becoming the Music Editor of CriticalMob, eventually moving on to do freelance work with their parent company, Company Cue. Recently she has been tutoring young adults as a volunteer with 826NYC. Siobhan looks forward to creating lasting relationships with her clients and wants to work closely with them to give life to the vision of their work. Holding positions on both sides of the editorial field gives her a strong grasp of what an audience is looking for and the knack to balance that with a writers’ artistic drive.

(If an agent rejects you, are they open to reviewing your revised submission?)

She is seeking: Siobhan is actively seeking voice driven narratives whether Fiction, Memoir, or Non-Fiction. She holds a strong interest in Literary and Gothic Fiction, Horror, Paranormal, Adult Dystopian, Mystery/Crime, Thrillers (bonus points if they’re psychological), Historical, daring Young Adult, and narratives with philosophical undertones. For Memoir and Nonfiction titles, she seeks Investigative, True Crime, and dark/bizarre History. Siobhan enjoys the dark, macabre aspects of life where paranormal fiction and horror are viewed an under appreciated art forms deeply rooted in psychology, and looks for authors unafraid to delve into these inner workings of the human psyche.

(Should You Sign With a New Literary Agent? Know the Pros and Cons.)

How to submit: Visit the submissions page on Serendipity’s website: serendipitylit.com. You can direct your submission directly to Siobhan by requesting her in the body of the submission form. The average response time is 4-6 weeks.



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most recent updated edition online at a discount.


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24. question: how important is a querier's social media to an agent?

My question is: I am working on completing my first MS (YA fiction). I currently don't have a presence on social media. Should I start socializing electronically in anticipation of building a platform? How important is a social media presence to an agent when deciding whether to represent a new author?
You don't need platform for a novel.

Sure, it's nice if you have 10,000 friends and people are hanging on your every word, but generally that's going to happen AFTER you write Divergent, not before.

And the idea that you're "busy" on Facebook and Twitter when you're not writing is a terrible trap.  It's a trap beause you need, nay REQUIRE, fallow time. By fallow time I mean time when you're not doing anything.  Not tweeting, not reading, not driving the kids to school. Time when you're staring into space.

Sometimes this manifests as writers block and sometimes it manifests as "oh my god I can't get started" but what ever it is, you need it.  Your brain works in strange ways when it's working on writing a novel.  Not all writing is tapping the keyboard.  A lot of it is thinking. A lot of it is just dreaming.

It's one of the reasons I always advise buying a museum membership when you take up novel writing. Walking through the galleries, just looking, not thinking, not analyzing, just looking and seeing, juices up your creative spark.

So lay off the social media for now. Learn to be the very best writer you can. Once you start querying, it's time enough to make friends.  

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25. 4 Things You Should Know About Writing a Cozy Mystery Novel

When you think of mystery novels today, you might think of stories filled with in-depth police procedure and cringe-inducing violence. But you might be surprised to learn that the bestselling mystery novelist of all time is still Agatha Christie—and her timeless mysteries are quaint stories that leave all those gory details to the imagination.

True, crime fiction as a whole may have grown grittier by the year since Christie’s Miss Marple character gained popularity in the 1940s, but a subset of modern mystery novelists are finding success by bucking that trend and spinning tales that hearken back to the Golden Age of detective fiction.

—by Zac Bissonnette

The cozy mystery (sometimes simply called a cozy) is a subgenre of crime fiction that gives readers a chance to delight in vicariously solving a murder—without graphic violence or sex. Protagonists are typically amateur (and usually female) sleuths solving small-town crimes with old-fashioned detective work rather than forensics. These unlikely heroes are often small-business owners who find themselves drawn into detection by crimes impacting their work; sometimes their investigative efforts are aided by a significant other with police connections.

Natalee Rosenstein, senior executive editor of Penguin’s Berkley Books, traces the renewed interest in the genre to the early 1990s. “With the breakthrough of Lilian Jackson Braun’s Cat Who series, the market for cozies really opened up,” Rosenstein says. “There was a great untapped market for cozier mysteries that was really not being met.”

Cozies offer readers the kind of escapism that harder-boiled detective stories simply can’t. Marilyn Stasio, who has been the Crime columnist for The New York TimesBook Review since the late 1980s, recently wrote: “The abiding appeal of the cozy mystery owes a lot to our collective memory, true or false, of
simpler, sweeter times.”

And the genre’s resurgence has opened up new opportunities for authors for whom success in other genres has been elusive.

Jenn McKinlay was, by her own description, a “washed-up Harlequin romance writer” when she decided to craft cozies. It took two years of writing and rejection before she signed with Berkley Prime Crime to create the Decoupage Mystery series. The first book was published in 2009, but after three books with lackluster sales, the series was cancelled.

By then, though, McKinlay had learned a lot about what makes cozies work—and moved on to a new series with Prime Crime starring the owners of an Arizona cupcake shop: The Cupcake Bakery Mysteries. She followed that with three new series: the Library Lover’s Mysteries, the Good Buy Girls Mysteries and the Hat Shop Mysteries. In all, Prime Crime has published 16 of her cozy novels—seven of which have landed on The New York Times bestseller list.

“My husband sleeps really well knowing I am much better at killing people off than I am at making them fall in love,” McKinlay says.

If you’re considering venturing into cozy-mystery writing, here are four things you should know:


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1. Cozies have evolved.

Sheila Connolly, TheNew York Times bestselling author of three cozy series including The Orchard Mysteries, says that while Christie and Dorothy Sayers inspired her (and most of her colleagues) to write in the genre, the pacing of cozies has changed over the years. While detection is still at the heart of the story, that plot must move along with more driving action than the genre used to demand. Today’s readers aren’t content to simply follow along while a sleuth interviews suspects in hopes of solving a crime; they want to feel compelled to keep turning pages long after bedtime.

The good news is that today’s cozy authors also have a broader range of subject matter to work with to pull that action off. “Cozies can really be about anything, as long as the writer understands and respects the readers’ desire to not have explicit or gory violence,” Rosenstein says.

McKinlay jokes that writing the part well can give readers the wrong impression. “I get these emails [from readers] that say, ‘Your books are so nice and proper,’ and my husband’s like, ‘You’re the most foul-mouthed person I know!’”

[Learn 5 Tools for Building Conflict in Your Novel]

2. Series are the way to go.

Virtually all cozy mysteries published today are part of a series with recurring characters (some publishers even offer deals based on one complete novel and a proposal for a full series). Creating a series that’s anchored around a hobby or craft is a great way to break in: recent popular series include the Book Collector Mysteries by Victoria Abbott, the Vintage Kitchen Mysteries by Victoria Hamilton and the Chili Cook-Off Mysteries by Kylie Logan.

3. Sales are steady, but moderate.

“The market for cozies today is very strong and growing, as evidenced by all the bestseller lists,” Rosenstein says. Still, that doesn’t necessarily mean six-figure sales (or advances). Generally, paperback original cozies sell in the $5,000–10,000 range, and first-time cozy authors typically receive an average advance of $5,000 per book for a three-book series. Of course, breakout titles have seen bigger numbers on both sides of that fence. McKinlay’s first Cupcake Bakery mystery, Sprinkle With Murder, has sold nearly 25,000 paperback copies since its 2010 debut, according to Nielsen BookScan.

[Get Query Help: Click here for The 10 Dos and Don'ts of Writing a Query Letter]

4. Genre-specific support is available.

All authors can benefit from the support of fellow scribes, and a great way to find that help is through a writing group. Sisters in Crime (sistersincrime.org), one of the leading networks for mystery authors, offers a Guppies program that provides resources for new mystery writers—including those
of cozies.

Zac Bissonnette is The New York Times bestselling author of How to Be Richer, Smarter, and Better-Looking Than Your Parents. His latest, Good Advice From Bad People: Selected Wisdom from Murderers, Stock Swindlers, and Lance Armstrong, will be released in April.

Thanks for visiting The Writer’s Dig blog. For more great writing advice, click here.


brian-klems-2013Brian A. Klems is the online editor of Writer’s Digest and author of the popular gift book Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.

Follow Brian on Twitter: @BrianKlems
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