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1. Elizabeth Buzzelli's Cozy Reading Corner

As you can see by the photo, I've got to find a new favorite reading place pretty quick.  Another blizzard coming today so it's a great time to read.  Maybe the cat's chair will do.  

SNOOP TO NUTS, the second in the Nut House Series from Berkley is just out so I'm doing Blog Tours, but looking fondly at the Christmas stack of books.  SNOOP TO NUTS is written under my pen name: Elizabeth Lee.  The next book in the series comes out the end of 2015.  

You can find me on Facebook
My Website

--Elizabeth Buzzelli

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2. Flash Fiction Contest this weekend!


To celebrate the imminent publication of Loretta Ross's debut novel DEATH AND THE REDHEADED WOMAN, it's time for a flash fiction contest!

Winner receives a copy of the book! Trust me, you WANT this book. I loved Loretta's voice the minute I read her query and I could not be happier that you all will now get to enjoy her work too. 

The usual rules apply:

1. Write a story using 100 words or fewer.

2. Use these words in the story:

3. You must use the whole word, but that whole word can be part of a larger word. The entire word must appear intact if it's part of a longer word:
red/redhead is ok. 
red/ready is not

4. Post the entry in the comment column of THIS blog post.

5. One entry per person. If you need a mulligan (a do-over) erase your entry and post again.  It helps to work out your entry first and then post.

6. International entries are allowed, but prizes may vary for international addresses.

7. Titles count as part of the word count (you don't need a title)

8. Contest opens: Saturday 1/31/15 at 10am

9. Contest closes: Sunday 2/1/15 at 10am

Questions? Tweet to me @Janet_Reid

Ready? SET?
NOT YET! Contest opens on 1/31 at 10am.

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3. The Art and Death of the Thank You

This is really more of a personal rant than a business post, but it's my blog so, hey, why not.

What happened to thank you notes? Is it just me or are they getting more and more rare, almost nonexistent?

I tend to really like the written or snail mailed thank you. Sometimes I take the effort to hand write a note, other times I use an app service like Postagram to mail a postcard thank you with a photo and personal message. It's rare that I'll write an email or social media thank you, but that does happen as well. Now I'm not saying I'm perfect. Sure there are times I've forgotten or neglected to send a thank you, but I think I get it done more often than not.

I don't expect anyone to be as nuts about thank you notes as me, but there are certain times I do, in no uncertain terms, expect a thank you. Recently I sent gifts for the following occasions and received no acknowledgment; a wedding, a baby shower, and birthday parties in which the gifts were shuttled to another room and opened after the guests left. In all of those cases I took the time and spent the money to choose a gift I thought the recipient would like. Don't I deserve a thank you?

Anyway, I think it's common courtesy to send a thank you of some sort, even if it's a message in my Facebook inbox, and I'm a little annoyed by those who don't make the effort, mostly in the case of the events I listed above. But maybe I'm just an old fuddy-duddy.


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4. Agent question: Is she just not that in to me?

I’m a historian with several academic books on my CV; I also write for some well-known mainstream magazines and blogs. A couple of years ago, I was contacted by an agent who had seen my journalism and was interested in representing me if I ever wanted to do a more commercial nonfiction book (which I did).

At the time, she was new to agenting but had solid publishing credentials and worked for a reputable agency. We met and chatted, and a few months later I sent her a query and sample pages based on some new research. She liked the project and made useful suggestions, but ultimately felt the subject was too specialized to appeal to a mainstream publisher.

I should point out that it took weeks if not months for her to respond to my emails about the project, which were by no means frequent or pushy. But we kept in touch and a few months ago I sent her a second, much more commercial idea which she seemed really excited about.

Again, we went back and forth (sloooowly) for a couple of months with her giving feedback on sample pages and me fine-tuning, and finally she said she wanted to represent it and I should send her a formal proposal, which I did.

No response. I sent a follow-up email after two weeks, to confirm that she received the proposal and ask if she had any suggestions for improvements, or if perhaps she was having second thoughts about its mainstream appeal.

Again, crickets. Now it’s been a month and I still haven’t heard anything.

Is this normal, or is she just not that into me?

Having spent two years building a friendly relationship with a real live agent, I don’t want to burn that bridge, but I'm passionate about this project and I would like to move on and query other agents if this is going nowhere.

If you had asked me this question even just a year ago, I would have said something like "hang in there, agents are often behind, her lack of reply doesn't mean lack of interest."


In the last three months I've had three specific instances of agents basically dropping the ball and leaving clients (let alone queriers) high and dry.

I posted about one agent who was essentially forced out of a job which is not quite what you're talking about here, and there are two other instances where I'd helped writers connect with agents other than me, and had those agents drop the ball.

Now my advice is this: you're not running your railroad on Agent Time. If she's dawdling, you start querying. She has not offered you a contract, and you have not agreed to work with her. It's not only fair to query other agents, it's smart.

I've gotten off the rails with clients before, and I will again. It's part of the time management problem of balancing the important with the urgent. However, when I'm wooing a client to work with me, I'm generally trying to put my best foot forward and NOT behind too much. And I've learned (which this agent clearly has not) that keeping queriers informed is the ONLY way to assauge their fears while their work is under consideration.  I tell queriers who have full manuscripts with me that they can check in any time they need to.  And I do reply. It's often "haven't gotten to it yet, but I'm not dead, and I am working."

Query widely. Just because you've spent some time talking to this one agent does NOT mean she's the right agent for you.

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5. Making the Most of Publicity

Once an author gets published there is so much she needs to learn and do. Besides trying to understand the publishing process and what can be expected from the publisher, she needs to suddenly become a publicist and marketer, in addition to being an author.

Now, even if you have the resources to hire a full-time publicist to do a lot of this work for you, its imperative that you have a basic understanding of what is needed. The more you know, the more successful you'll be.

So while I'm not going to get into every detail here, I am going to give you a short checklist of things to include whenever you have a publicity opportunity and by opportunity I mean blog tour, article, interview, conference workshop, Facebook post, GoodReads account, etc, etc. Remember, anytime you do anything that others will read, see or look into its a publicity opportunity.

  • Become your pen name. If you write under a pen name make sure that in everything you do that's the name you work under. It's your name tag badge, your introduction, your everything. So choose wisely.
  • Include a bio. Always let readers know who you are. It doesn't have to be long, but a bio gives some insight into you and, you never know, someone might grab your book simply because they too are from Ohio.
  • Make it interesting. Have an Instagram account that you're using for publicity? Make the pictures worthwhile and interesting. Use the filters and make them pretty. In other words, whatever you're doing make it something worth sharing, a picture, a Tweet, a quote that others will helpfully pass along to others.
  • Put in the effort. Take some time to come up with creative answers (not just a cut and paste from your last interview).
  • Plug your books. Big! Don't just include the title after your name, give a one or two sentence description, include the name of the series (if there is one) and send a copy of the cover of your next (or your last) book. Give them a visual to go with your title. Make yourself unforgettable.
  • Show them where to find you. If readers like what you have to say they'll want to learn more. Don't just include your website, but give them everything you've got--Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, GoodReads. Go big or go home they say.
Publicity can be a lot of fun. I know I rarely mind doing an interview and I've done a ton. However, if I'm doing the work, and taking the time out of my other work to do it, I really want to make sure that's it's going to have the potential impact I want it to. Just throwing up my name and book title isn't going to necessarily grab the readers like I hope. Providing them with a real peek at who I am and what my books are about will.


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6. Query Question: freshness dates on pub credits

Can I use that time I was published in the local paper in 3rd grade as a publishing credit now? I entertained the idea, because it put a smile on my face and almost made me laugh aloud. However, the more I explored the "yes" and "no" to this question...the less sure I became. I mean, I was in the third grade 11 years ago. Some authors, I'd imagine, reference their credits that are older than that. Surely that wasn't their best work and they've grown since then. Perhaps not comparatively to the degree of a child, but still.

Pub credits are works that have been published by someone who chose your submission from a competitive field and generally speaking offered you a contract for publication.

Publishing anything by a  third grader in the local newspaper is considered cute, not competitive.

If you put that in a query letter and I discovered it was something you wrote when you ten years old, I'd stop taking you seriously. 

Don't reach for pub credits you don't have. If you don't have them, you don't. I've signed and sold a LOT of writers who had zilch on their resume other than "I want to be a published writer" and were smart enough not to say "I've been writing since I could hold a pen" or "I've wanted to be a writer from when I was in kindegarten."

A query letter is a business communication. Don't do anything that makes you look silly unless you are writing the next Captain Underpants.

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7. Gingerbread Spies and Magic Pencils - Two Book Birthdays!

Mara Rockliff's latest picture book, GINGERBREAD FOR LIBERTY, is the delicious (and true!) story of the baker who helped save the American Revolution.

Christopher Lutwick was a German immigrant and, in the 1770's, a vocal advocate of revolution as well as possibly the most celebrated and popular baker in Philadelphia. When the war broke out, though he was too old for fighting, he was determined to help, and his friend George Washington made him the "baker general" of the army. He also had an even more significant, albeit more secretive role... to talk starving Hessian soldiers working for the British into abandoning the King. And he could do it because he was a former starving Hessian soldier himself.

This remarkable tale shines a light on a little known figure of the Revolution who worked alongside George Washington and the other heroes we all know about. And the scrumptious illustrations by Vincent X Kirsch are the icing on the gingerbread!

"This appealing concoction is a powerful reminder of the good one person can do." -- Kirkus

"A sweet addition to Revolutionary War units." --School Library Journal, starred review

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8. How Jessica A Reads Queries

When it comes to how I approach my queries and submissions, I don’t have any firm rules.  Sometimes I start at the top of my inbox, sometimes I start at the bottom.  Sometimes I pick a submission in a genre that I’m in the mood to read or that I know an editor is looking for.  And sometimes I pick a submission that I think might be a pass so I can deal with it quickly and make my inbox less crowded.  By the way, I love it when I’m wrong about those submissions.  It’s great when I go into something thinking it’ll be a fast pass, and it ends up hooking me instead.  I love being surprised that way. 

I tend to answer queries quickly. When I want to procrastinate on another task, I answer queries.  When I’m watching tv at night and there’s a commercial break, sometimes I open up my queries. If things are slow, sometimes I answer queries as soon as they pop up in my email.  But sometimes things get busy and a week or two goes by without me even looking at my submissions box. 

I generally go with my gut reaction on queries. Is this something I want to read or not?  Is it marketable or not? Are there significant publishing credits in the author’s bio?  Is the writing great, just average, or terrible?  Is the query professional or does it feel amateurish?  Honestly, it probably takes me less than a minute to reach a decision on most queries. Sometimes I’ll put aside certain queries to think about more, but generally I go on my initial reaction.

I’ll admit, I’m slow with requested material.  I like to read requested material when I have a nice big chunk of time to devote to it.  I don’t like to read manuscripts in bits and pieces.  It makes it harder for me to keep my thoughts straight that way.  It’s rare I get to read a manuscript in one sitting, but I aim to at least get through 50-100 pages at a time. 

Also, as much as I try, I can’t get into the knack of reading submissions on my Kindle.  Back in the old days of hard copy submissions, I would cover the margins with Post-It notes of my thoughts.  And now, I can’t live without Track Changes and Comments in Word.  I’d probably be faster if I read on my Kindle but it just doesn’t gel with the way I like to take notes. 

With submissions, there’s still a bit of reacting on gut instinct but I also like to mull things over.  After reading something enjoyable, I like to put it aside for a day or two and think about it.  Do I still remember it clearly in two days?  Am I still as excited about it?  Is it something that I want to talk to my colleagues about and get second reads on?  Do I sit down at the dinner table at night and tell my husband all about the great story I read?  How would I pitch it to editors?  Then again, if I’m mulling over the project for too long and something is holding me back from offering quickly, I want to analyze why I’m hesitating. Sometimes it’s a problem that can be fixed with revisions, or a question of whether I want to take a risk on something that might not be super marketable at the moment, but sometimes it shows me that I’m not as enthusiastic about a project as I should be.  And, really, that’s what every decision comes down to: do I love this book enough to read it over and over again, and read anything and everything else the author writes? 

—Jessica A

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9. Query question: print books only

 I’ve seen a lot of authors talk about how they self-published their novel digitally, then sold their print rights to a publisher while retaining the rights to the digital version. However, virtually all of the query advice I’ve read says don’t bother querying an agent if you’ve already self-published, and I haven’t yet found an agent that will accept a query for the same.

So, I’m curious: What’s the best way to go about selling print-only rights to a self-published novel if most agents auto-reject this kind of query?

Make sure you open emails from editors at publishing companies.

Whereas most agents won't sign something that is a print rights only project, editors at publishing companies might have some sort of special circumstance that would allow them to acquire print only. They'll go looking for it. 

You have your email address on your website, right? It's easy to get in touch, right?

And one thing to REALLY be careful of here: anecdotes and stories from self-pubbed writers that are too old to apply to the current state of the market.

I know of several editors who did interesting kinds of deals with previously self-pubbed writers and are now looking at the resultant sales figures. Most of those are Not Good, which means deals that happened one or two years ago are not being done now.

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10. Are You Getting What You Pay For

At the beginning of every year, and usually another time mid-year, I spend some time going through all of the things I pay for (cable, internet, lawn service, accountant, etc) to make sure that I'm really getting what I pay for. In some cases it's a matter of looking at what I have and changing to less expensive alternatives (dropping some of the cable channels I pay for, but have never heard of), in other cases it's a matter of looking at how I use the item and seeing if I should be doing more with it (asking the accountant to review my books bimonthly instead of quarterly).

The same should go for your relationship with your agent. Now, I'm definitely not advocating for dumping your agent (do you think I'm insane!), but I am suggesting that since you pay your agent you take a look at how much you're actually utilizing her.

I have some clients who are terrific at using me when they need me. We brainstorm ideas for new books, titles, editorial suggestions. We discuss and help resolve emotional breakdowns, deadlines and editorial conflicts. They keep me posted and updated on marketing and career plans in general so that I can help guide, direct, or even keep them in mind when something new pops up.

There are other clients however who seem very fearful of bothering me. Usually it's because things are going along smoothly, they have a great relationship with their editor and they are great at managing it all on their own. And that's great. Until it's not. The client who is used to doing it all herself will often also put out all fires herself but, let's face it, even the best firefighter can't do the job on her own.

An agent gets paid a 15% commission and that job should entail more than just selling the book and negotiating a contract. It should be about building a career and all that goes with it. If, for example, your cover stinks but no one bothers to show your agent until it's final she can't go to the publisher and insist on changes. If the cover stinks and the book doesn't sell. Well, it's hard to build a career if your books don't sell. That's just one example, but I think you can see where I'm going.

Your agent is your business partner and if you're running a business with a partner hopefully you aren't making all of the decisions on your own. Use your business partner as much as possible. They say two heads are better than one.


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11. Query Question: "next work" subject line

I queried a project that resulted in several requests for my full manuscript. Ultimately, the requesting agents passed, but several were generous in the rejection--they detailed their reasons, complimented my writing, and ended with an invitation to submit future projects if I didn't find representation through the current manuscript. I did not. Now, I have a new project and would like to query these same agents.

Barbara Poelle fielded a similar question in her recent Writers Digest column. She outline what the author should include in the body of the query, but didn't address the subject line. Is there etiquette for this? Or does it remain a standard Query: Project Name, Author Name?

One of the agents I want to revisit is currently closed to submissions, so I suspect any query sent to her would merely be deleted unless there is some clue in the subject line that she has asked to see subsequent work.

Or am I merely a poor deluded soul who didn't recognize a polite boilerplate statement to ease a rejection?

no no no, you are not deluded, you will have to try harder to be clueless, sorry.

If an agent asks to see the next work, that's something you want to keep track of.

Your question about the subject line is timely as well, given how many agents now read queries on their phones.

Here's how you do that:

Re: Query for TITLE (the next project from) AUTHOR

The FIRST line of your query is:

On DATE you were kind enough to say you'd like to see future work. This is the query for my next novel.

Then you begin your query as you normally.

Standard querying calls for starting the query with all the housekeeping stuff at the bottom, but this is the exception to that.  Let the agent know right away that she's seen and liked your work.

I can track all my email conversations with queriers going back years so when I get a query like this, I look up the previous project and re-read my notes.  There's a LOT more leeway for someone querying a project if I've already seen and liked previous work.  Leeway means I'm much more likely to read something including all the pages even if I don't think it's a good fit.

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12. The Week In Review


In Monday's post on POV, Kitty mentioned one of my favorite books Bright Lights Big City which is famously written in the second person

"You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning. But here you are, and you cannot say that the terrain is entirely unfamiliar, although the details are fuzzy.  You are at a nightclub talking to a girl with a shaved head."

Kitty asked "I've often wondered if McInerney had to really sell the 2nd person, because some people have a knee-jerk reaction to it, or did his writing sell it for him?" 

I'll opine that the writing is what carries this book. Using 2nd person POV was a device to bring the reader along with the narrator, in the closest narrative proximity possible. There is no "you and I" here, certainly no "they" there is only "us."

I've read other books in the second person POV notably CharlesBenoit's YOU which I might have enthused about here a time or two, but it's a tough POV to carry off well.

Long time blog reader Julie Weathers gave me a new favorite phrase on Monday too: "Holy rolling armadillos." 

That pretty much had us all in stitches here in the office.

And I really liked Colin Smith's list of questions about how to figure out which POV suits the story:

* How emotionally intense is the story? How closely do I want the reader to feel what the MC feels?

* How important is it that the reader is as surprised by plot developments as the MC?

* Do I want the reader to have a broader perspective of the story than the MC? Perhaps there are multiple plot threads with minor characters that your MC isn't aware of, but play into the main plot.

* What's the focus of your story: solving a mystery step-by-step, knowing the solution to the mystery and seeing how your MC solves it (like Columbo), the hunt for a bad guy, or the unraveling of a deadly scheme? I think you can use pretty much any POV for these scenarios, but some favor particular POVs more than others (e.g., Columbo-style is probably best as 3rd Omniscient; the step-by-step would be 1st or 3rd Limited like Harry Potter).

On Wednesday's blog post on characters' names, oh-so-useful Felix Buttonweezer (I think there are at least two spellings on that floating around!) reappeared.  This was immediate license for all the blog commenters to further build his backstory.  We're going to need a Buttonweezer Bible here before too long.

I did Facebook post on what I found to be an insightful comment at LibraryThing about building tension in historical thrillers.

Thursday was a really odd day. I posted the details of why on my Facebook page.

This week I paid my annual AAR dues which may seem like a small thing, but I remember when I wasn't an AAR member and how much I wanted to join as soon as I could.  For those of you who aren't familiar with AAR, it's the literary and dramatic agents professional group.  There's a Canon of Ethics which members agree to abide by, and a minimum standard for associate and full membership.
Some very reputable agents elect not to belong to AAR, but I'm very happy to fork over my dues and count myself among those who do.

I can't believe next week is the last week in January! Time is just flying by...even without those flying cars or personal jetpacks that I'm still hoping for!

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13. Agent question: agents for agents?

Some literary agents are also authors, but they have another literary agent to represent their books. Why they don't represent their own books directly?

Agents understand the value of an agent. You can't agent your own work if you want a good agent, even if you're a good agent for everyone else.

Agenting requires distance and perspective that aren't possible if you're also the writer.

Agents who agent themselves will tell you I'm wrong. Their editors will tell you I'm right.

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14. Kate Douglas's Cozy Reading Corner

Inspired by a Mashable piece about cozy reading spots, BookEnds will feature our own favorite reading corners. Here is author Kate Douglas's:

My favorite spot is the old recliner in my office where I write. Rufus beside me, a soft chair under my butt and books all around. It just doesn’t get any better.

--Kate DouglasDark Refuge—Book 4 Spirit Wild or coming in May, Hot Alphas anthology with Tangled

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15. Query Question: previous use of materials---and the Shark flips out

Years ago I started an online text-based roleplay series; basically a  collaborative story. It wasn't supposed to be a series. I had barely  started roleplaying and it was more like a test to see what running one of  those would feel like. So I didn't think too much on the fact that I was  using a couple of characters from my novel (a mere project at the time) to  build the story. The RP generated interest and spun two sequels, one of  which is still running. The world and story of the RP are unique and  completely unrelated with my novel yet I've been told that, because I used  my novel characters (name and physical description, not their story) in  the game, if I were to pursue traditional publishing I would have to  either change the characters in the book or take down the RP since it's  published online. Is this a fact?

Assuming the RP itself is not an issue. Say I sign with an agent, the  book gets picked up by a publisher and all those wonderful things I tell  myself to think of as 'near impossible best case scenarios' actually come  true. If down the road from that me and my RP buddies would like to take  the story we wrote together and make something with it along the lines of  a comic or web series (we've discussed doing it for funsies, not profits),  would those names and similarities pose an issue even if both works are  basically authored by me?


(can you guess why?)

The authors I've seen write spin-offs or prequel shorts, or whatever else  using their characters online, however successful, were self published.  Fellow writers tell me that with traditional publishing that isn't quite  possible.

Bottom line: once a work is published the traditional way how much  freedom, if any, does an author have to play with his own creations in his  own time without it bitting him/her in the tender meat of their sitting  down area?

You're asking the wrong question.

Here's the question you SHOULD ask: "the story that my RP buddies and I wrote together" --who owns the copyright to that?

Once you have more than one person involved in the creation of a work it's no longer just yours.  It does not matter if you originated the project. It does not matter that you think of it as yours. If someone else contributed in a meaningful way to plot, character development, setting, they have rights in the work.  You can fix this by having everyone sign what's essentially a quit claim to the work, but the smarter thing to do was make sure everyone understood they were NOT co-owners at the start.

Publishers won't care if your RP game is online. In fact, they'll probably love it. More people to buy the book.

But I absolutely guarantee you that if your book is successful in any meaningful way (ie money) you're going to have people coming out of the woodwork claiming a piece of it.

You might think an easy solution is to change the names and character descriptions but if you make enough money, that won't matter. You WILL be targeted by people wanting a piece of the action.

You need an intellectual property lawyer. AND you need to sort this out before you do anything bold like sign a publishing contract. The boilerplate on every publishing contract in this universe and the next one over requires you to warrant that you are the creator of the work, and are not infringing on anyone else's copyright. Their insurance and yours will NOT cover you if you are found to be in violation of the warranty you gave.

Aren't you glad you asked?

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16. How Much of the Book Do You Read?

I absolutely LOVED this article from The Guardian  about how ebooks can tell us how much of the book readers are actually reading.

It's a fascinating look at how some of today's bestsellers are actually not being finished. Frankly, this information doesn't surprise me at all. I haven't read many of the books mentioned in the article, but I am notorious for putting a book down when I just don't love it any longer. Life is short and if I have time to curl up and read a book it better be a good book and not just any book. By the way, good book is entirely subjective.

As an agent I would love information on how books are being read and when they're being put down. It's great sales research. As an author advocate I'm not so sure it's great for an author's sales if this kind of information becomes widely known. After all, would you buy the next big bestseller that everyone is talking about if you found out that everyone only read the first 25%?

Either way, it's definitely cool information.


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17. WAITING FOR UNICORNS has arrived!

WaitingforUnicorns - jacketThe wait is over! We’re thrilled to celebrate the publication of  Beth Hautala‘s debut middle grade novel WAITING FOR UNICORNS (Philomel Books).

Kirkus calls Beth “an author to watch.” School Library Journal calls her writing “poignant.” Publisher’s Weekly calls Beth’s descriptions “spellbinding.”

Talia McQuinn is much too old to believe in magic, yet she keeps a jar of wishes under her bed. When her whale-researcher father drags Tal to the Arctic for the summer following her mother’s death, she brings the jar along. During her stay, Tal learns of the ancient Inuit legend of the narwhal whale—the unicorn of the sea—she forms a plan to make the biggest wish of her life.

I discovered Beth’s work while participating in the annual agent slugfest known as the Baker’s Dozen Auction, a contest in which … [more]

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18. Query Question: beta readers using Kindle

I have a nearly-completed novel that I'd like to distribute to beta readers. They've all asked for a Kindle version, which I can do by generating a .mobi file which they can manually upload onto their Kindles.

I've heard horror stories about publishers declining a work because in their eyes it was published electronically. Can you explain what a publisher's definition of 'electronically published' is?

Though I'd be interested in that fuller explanation, alternatively, I would be happy for you to tell me I'm being way too paranoid and that something innocent like manually distributing Kindle-formatted files isn't going to be treated as a form of publishing.

Either answer would be greatly appreciated.

Generally "published" in book form means it has an ISBN number and was available for sale. Thus, sending a .mobi file to your beta readers is not published.  You'd be smart to mark the file "draft version-not for sale, or distribution" just to be clear to the people getting the file.

My ONLY hesitation here is that Kindle is an Amazon device. You might want to read the terms of service for Kindle to make sure they don't claim you've licensed us of anything  uploaded on the device. I'm not saying they do, I haven't read the TOS with this kind of question in mind, but you'd be smart to do so. My limited experience with contracts offered by companies owned by Amazon is you DO want to read the fine print.

And book publishers don't always see "previously published" as a problem. Lots of books have second, even third, lives in book publishing.  Where you run in to the most problems with "previously published" are contests and submissions to anthologies.

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19. Writing and Selling Middle Grade Fiction — Jan. 22 Webinar (With Critique) by Agent Jennifer Laughran

Middle Grade books are generally defined as being books for children aged 8-12…. and at the moment, these books are hot-hot-hot. From the commercial successes of titles like DIARY OF A WIMPY KID and Rick Riordan’s LIGHTNING THIEF saga, to more “literary” award-winning fare, it seems most publishers are seeking the next great Middle Grade success story. But middle grade is also a tough category to write for. Much of what appears in the slush pile is cheesy or derivative, or just lacks “spark.” So what makes a great Middle Grade novel? What is selling? What are agents and editors looking for? And how can you make your book stand out and shine?

In this live webinar, “Writing and Selling Middle Grade Fiction,” instructor and literary agent Jennifer Laughran (of Andrea Brown Literary) will talk about what’s happening in the exciting Middle Grade market, as well as examine some recently published titles to see what they got right. She’ll also talk revision tips and tricks to help you take your work-in-progress to the next level. It all happens at 1 p.m., EST, Thursday, Jan. 22, 2014, and lasts 90 minutes.

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All registrants are invited to submit EITHER the query letter OR the first 500 words of their complete / work-in-progress middle grade novel for critique. All submissions are guaranteed a written critique by literary agent Jennifer Laughran. Jennifer 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.


— What’s selling in Middle Grade… and what just isn’t.
— The all-important “Hook”, and what “High Concept” looks like
— Finding the elusive Middle Grade Voice
— Common mistakes of Middle Grade submissions
— Overused beginnings and clichés that can drag down a work
— How to polish your work and stand out from the slush pile
— What “core curriculum” guidelines for schools might mean for your book. Sign up for the webinar here.


Jennifer Laughran is a senior agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency, the oldest children’s-only agency in the US. Before she joined the agency in 2008, she spent about a decade as a children’s book buyer and event coordinator for various successful bookstores. Her many years of experience in the children’s book field have made her one of the top kid’s book agents working today. She reps picture books through YA, but has a particular love for Middle Grade novels — the warmer and funnier the better. Clients include Daniel Pinkwater, Kate Messner, Jo Whittemore, Linda Urban, and many debut authors whose names you’ll know soon!

Sign up for the Jan 22 webinar here.

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20. Query: How many rejections (is the wrong question)

I'm querying agents for the first time and it's not going well (form rejections from some, silence from others). I follow each agent's requirements, so I'm confident the problem is in the content of my work/letter. I was wondering if there was a magic number of these to get before I should read it as a sign to put on the brakes and rethink my strategy. The form letters all graciously concede that maybe another agent would like the story, but do you have any estimate for how many flat-out "no"s I should receive before I have to stop and change something dramatically?

On a similar note, how important are previous publications at the query stage? This probably varies, but I was wondering your take on it. As the rejections are coming in, I'm trying to figure out if it's the story that the agents don't like or if it's my lack of publishing experience. If it's the latter, I'd want to stop and focus my time on developing publishable short stories and building up that bio section.

Rejections don't tell you anything other than the agent you queried is not going to read the full manuscript. It's the ONLY thing a rejection tells you.  At this point you do NOT know whether you have a good query for a project no one thinks they can sell right now, a good query for a project that sounds like it's a Lifetime movie, or a terrible query for something that might be ok.

This is where you get your query in front of an agent in real time and get some feedback. This is what writing conferences are good for.

Thus don't ask how many of these rejections you need to acquire before moving on. Ask how long you're going to wait before getting some advice.  That answer should be sooner rather than later.

There are a LOT of writing conferences and writers groups offering workshops both in person and on-line.

I'm giving one myself on Feb 1, 2015 here in Brooklyn.  Details are here on my Facebook page for those who are interested.

I know my slithery competitor Barbara Poelle and her companion in comedy Holly Root do webinars from time to time for Writers' Digest. Barbara and Holly know their stuff, and they're good workshop leaders. You can't go wrong with them.

As for pub credits: no one says yes or no to a query based on pub credits. If you've got 'em great, if you don't, not to worry. Beefing up pub credits in a bad query won't help. Beefing up pub credits for a book I don't want to read won't help either.

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21. How to Write A Plausible Character – 3 Key Tips

There are many elements writers need to pay close attention to when creating a fictional world. There’s setting, plot, pacing, voice, imagery and so on. Everything is important, everything counts. That said, one of my favorite places to focus my writing attention is on my characters.

How do your create a good character? Well, the short answer is that she has to be believable. I tell my students and the people I mentor that this means a fictional character has to closely resemble a living person.

Anne Leigh Parrish, 1

WhatIsFoundWhatIsLost_CoverThis guest post is by Anne Leigh Parrish, author of What is Found, What is Lost. Her debut story collection, All The Roads That Lead From Home (Press 53, 2011) won a silver medal in the 2012 Independent Publisher Book Awards. Her second collection, Our Love Could Light The World, (She Writes Press, 2013) is a Kirkus Reviews recommended Indie title, and a finalist in both the International Book Awards and the Best Book Awards. She is the fiction editor for the online literary magazine Eclectica. She lives in Seattle.

Keep in mind, a character doesn’t have to be nice, or moral, or a pillar of the community. Decent people with no flaws or vices don’t usually make for the most interesting reading. But nor can a character be all bad, with no redeeming traits. In other words, a character has to possess one essential element: complexity.

I don’t mean to suggest that a character should be hard to read (in fact, you don’t want them to be), or super mysterious, or generally murky and unclear. You want the reader to know what makes your person tick, what gets them up in the morning and what wakes them up at night. Your reader needs to know what your character wants, what he’s afraid of losing and willing to fight for.


Once you know what motivates your character, you can flesh her out, so to speak. Keeping with emotional or psychological aspects of personality, think about what makes your person feel guilty, or embarrassed, angry, even terrified. Your plot will bring out these reactions, so it’s important that your character react accordingly. A wooden character who feels nothing isn’t going to cut it, I’m afraid. On the other hand, a character that goes to pieces all the time can be just as dull – unless, for example, he uses his melt-downs as a way to manipulate those around him.

[Here are 10 Questions You Need to Ask Your Characters]


Now let’s move on to the physical person. The obvious question is, what does she look like? Some authors tend to give a lot of details to the reader – height, hair color, eye color, and so on, but that’s never worked for me. When I read a short story or a novel, I like to fill in the missing pieces for myself, because this keeps me engaged and interested. Keeping that in mind, I give only one or two items the reader can hang an image on – a crooked nose, a missing tooth, a small red mark on one cheek, bitten down-finger nails, a limp, a tendency to slump, mumble, laugh at sudden moments – the list is pretty long, if not endless. The important thing is to mention whatever handful of traits you’ve chosen strategically throughout the piece, sort of as reminders about the person. Someone he’s meeting for lunch can think to herself, there’s that gappy smile again, the one that made me fall for him in the first place, or, I wish I didn’t love that gappy smile so much.


Along with psychology and the physical reality of a fictional character are gestures or habits. Maybe these come out under stress. Maybe they’re a sign of happiness, or anticipation. I love those characters of mine who convey what they’re feeling by doing something we’ve seen them do before – like biting a lip, or twirling a strand of hair. The first time this happens, of course, you need to tell the reader what’s up. If a long period of time passes before the next gesture, and the reader hasn’t yet had a chance to see this has a habit, you’ll need to remind them. Sally always pulled her hair when she lied, or When Davie got an idea, he leaned forward and snapped the fingers of his right hand. I think it’s gestures like these, almost more than any other aspect of a fictional character, that really brings someone to life.

In sum, a fictional character must resemble a living person. Figure out what makes her tick, what he wants and is willing to fight for. Give readers a few solid physical details, and let them fill in the blanks for themselves. Lastly, endow your person with some habits and gestures that will appear more than once, and suggest an emotional state or experience.

Happy writing!

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


Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, 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
Sign up for Brian’s free Writer’s Digest eNewsletter: WD Newsletter


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22. Following Your Passion

I recently stumbled upon this Yellow Hammer News article from October 2014 in which Mike Rowe of the TV show "Dirty Jobs" discusses why he actually doesn't believe in advising people to follow their passion. It's something Rowe has apparently said before, but a fan wrote to him questioning his reasoning for telling people not to follow their passion.

Here is Rowe's complete response,

A few years ago, I did a special called “The Dirty Truth.” In it, I challenged the conventional wisdom of popular platitudes by offering “dirtier,” more individualistic alternatives. For my inspiration, I looked to those hackneyed bromides that hang on the walls of corporate America. The ones that extoll passersby to live up to their potential by “dreaming bigger,” “working smarter,” and being a better “team player.” In that context, I first saw “Follow Your Passion” displayed in the conference room of a telemarketing firm that employed me thirty years ago. The words appeared next to an image of a rainbow, arcing gently over a waterfall and disappearing into a field of butterflies. Thinking of it now still makes me throw up in my mouth.

Like all bad advice, “Follow Your Passion” is routinely dispensed as though it’s wisdom were both incontrovertible and equally applicable to all. It’s not. Just because you’re passionate about something doesn’t mean you won’t suck at it. And just because you’re determined to improve doesn’t mean that you will. Does that mean you shouldn’t pursue a thing you’re passionate about?” Of course not. The question is, for how long, and to what end? 

When it comes to earning a living and being a productive member of society – I don’t think people should limit their options to those vocations they feel passionate towards. I met a lot of people on Dirty Jobs who really loved their work. But very few of them dreamed of having the career they ultimately chose. I remember a very successful septic tank cleaner who told me his secret of success. “I looked around to see where everyone else was headed, and then I went the opposite way,” he said. “Then I got good at my work. Then I found a way to love it. Then I got rich.”
Every time I watch The Oscars, I cringe when some famous movie star – trophy in hand – starts to deconstruct the secret to happiness. It’s always the same thing, and I can never hit “mute” fast enough to escape the inevitable cliches. “Don’t give up on your dreams kids, no matter what.” “Don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t have what it takes.” And of course, “Always follow your passion!”
Today, we have millions looking for work, and millions of good jobs unfilled because people are simply not passionate about pursuing those particular opportunities. Do we really need Lady GaGa telling our kids that happiness and success can be theirs if only they follow their passion?

There are many examples – including those you mention – of passionate people with big dreams who stayed the course, worked hard, overcame adversity, and changed the world though sheer pluck and determination. We love stories that begin with a dream, and culminate when that dream comes true. And to your question, we would surely be worse off without the likes of Bill Gates and Thomas Edison and all the other innovators and Captains of Industry. But from my perspective, I don’t see a shortage of people who are willing to dream big. I see people struggling because their reach has exceeded their grasp. 

I’m fascinated by the beginning of American Idol. Every year, thousands of aspiring pop-stars show up with great expectations, only to learn that they don’t have anything close to the skills they thought they did. What’s amazing to me, isn’t their lack of talent – it’s their lack of awareness, and the resulting shock of being rejected. How is it that so many people are so blind to their own limitations? How did these peope get the impression they could sing in the first place? Then again, is their incredulity really so different than the surprise of a college graduate who learns on his first interview that his double major in Medieval Studies and French Literature doesn’t guarantee him the job he expected? In a world where everyone gets a trophy, encouragement trumps honesty, and realistic expectations go out the window. 

When I was 16, I wanted to follow in my grandfathers footsteps. I wanted to be a tradesman. I wanted to build things, and fix things, and make things with my own two hands. This was my passion, and I followed it for years. I took all the shop classes at school, and did all I could to absorb the knowledge and skill that came so easily to my granddad. Unfortunately, the handy gene skipped over me, and I became frustrated. But I remained determined to do whatever it took to become a tradesman.

One day, I brought home a sconce from woodshop that looked like a paramecium, and after a heavy sigh, my grandfather told me the truth. He explained that my life would be a lot more satisfying and productive if I got myself a different kind of toolbox. This was almost certainly the best advice I’ve ever received, but at the time, it was crushing. It felt contradictory to everything I knew about persistence, and the importance of “staying the course.” It felt like quitting. But here’s the “dirty truth,” Stephen. “Staying the course” only makes sense if you’re headed in a sensible direction. Because passion and persistence – while most often associated with success – are also essential ingredients of futility. 

That’s why I would never advise anyone to “follow their passion” until I understand who they are, what they want, and why they want it. Even then, I’d be cautious. Passion is too important to be without, but too fickle to be guided by. Which is why I’m more inclined to say, “Don’t Follow Your Passion, But Always Bring it With You.”

Carry On

It's an incredibly interesting response and one that really got me thinking. We live and work in a business that is a lot about passion. We preach it at conferences and in our blogs and tell people all the time to follow that dream.

Mike Rowe's thoughts on the subject actually parallel something I've thought often, but have never verbalized or put into words myself. There have been so many times when I've read query letters or manuscripts and really thought that maybe the author of the material needed to find something else to become passionate about. While she might have loved writing, it was pretty clear that it wasn't something she was probably ever going to succeed at. And while certainly it's not my job to tell the faceless writer of a query to go and find another passion, it is something I've said to others in this business.

Once, long ago, I had an assistant who was passionate about books and publishing. She loved everything about both and had dreams of working in the business, finding authors and building careers. Unfortunately, while she had passion, she didn't have two things required to be an agent. She didn't have the drive to spend her weekends and nights culling through submission piles, reading loads of material to find those one or two great things that would rock her world. And she didn't have an editorial eye. No matter how much she read, for herself and for us, she just didn't quite understand what made a book good and marketable. What made it a potential sale. It didn't mean she wasn't good at anything, it just meant she wasn't clicking with what she thought was her passion.

In a number of different meetings I encouraged her to consider other aspects of publishing, jobs I felt she would be really good at and that played to her strengths. She ended up leaving the business altogether and, hopefully, finding other things she was passionate about.

Here's the thing about passions. Hopefully we have a lot of them and hopefully we develop more as the years grow. I got into publishing in some ways by chance. I had a passion for writing and initially thought I wanted to be a reporter. I pursued that for a while. Until I discovered that I might not have been as good at it as I thought and maybe I didn't want to do that for the rest of my life. I knew I loved words though. So I tried magazines, copy editing, design and, yes, writing. It wasn't for me. So I figured books must be next. I kept with my overall passion, but moved around until I found the fit that was right for me.

And what if I someday learn that my passion to be a literary agent isn't the right place for me? I bet I can easily find something else I love just as much. I love food and all things related to food. I'd love to cook, or create recipes, or blog, or.... I think you get the picture. I also love photography, fitness, dogs, and vacationing. Hmmm, a career vacationer maybe?

I think Mike Rowe has some really interesting things to say about passion. I liked what he said. It doesn't mean you should give up on what you're doing, it just means you should be willing to explore various aspects of that passion.


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23. How 5 Great Writers Got Started on Their First Books

While working on my book Process: The Writing Lives of Great Authors, I found that even for the best writers in the world, getting started can be the hardest part. Here’s how 5 great authors found what they needed to get started on their very first novels…

(16 things to do prior to sending your work out to agents & editors.)


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Column by Sarah Stodola, author of PROCESS: THE WRITING LIVES OF GREAT AUTHORS. She has contributed to the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Daily Beast, and Awl, as well as Condé Nast Traveler and Slate, among others publications. She founded the literary journal Me Three and served as an adjunct scholar for Lapham’s Quarterly. Sarah is currently the editorial director of Strolby.


1. Toni Morrison

The Spark: A Writing Group

Morrison was a 35-year-old professor at Howard University when she joined a writing group just for fun. It soon became clear that she couldn’t remain in the group unless she actually wrote something, so she began toying with a story based on an African American girl she remembered from elementary school, who had proclaimed her wish to have blue eyes. Not too long after, Morrison divorced and moved to Syracuse, where she had few friends. To pass the time, she brought the story from her writing group back out and began expanding it into a novel. Five years after she started, Morrison had completed The Bluest Eye.

2. David Foster Wallace

The Spark: A Comment by his Girlfriend

A college girlfriend mentioned to Wallace one night that she’d rather be a character in a book than a real person. The comment hit Wallace, and he found himself turning it over and over in his mind, trying to figure out exactly what she’d meant by it. He pondered the difference between a fictional character and a real-life person, and how language could play a part in shaping our understanding of both. The idea became the catalyst for a story that developed over the course of Wallace’s final year at Amherst College into The Broom of the System, a novel about a woman who doesn’t believe in her own reality. Wallace turned the novel in as his senior thesis and a couple years later, it was published.

3. Zadie Smith

The Spark: The Turn of the Millennium

Fully anticipating a career in academia, the 20-year-old Zadie Smith nevertheless set out to write a novel about a man who comes out of the 20th century in a positive way. She worked on what eventually became White Teeth during her last couple of years at Cambridge University (“when everybody else was getting drunk,” she told The Rumpus in an interview), finishing most of it before she graduated. She showed it to a trusted group of five or so friends periodically along the way, readers she says were crucial in the development of the book. Like Wallace, Smith’s first novel came out when she was just 24.

(Excellent Tips on Writing a Query Letter.)

4. Ernest Hemingway

The Spark: A Trip to Spain

After stints as both a newspaper reporter in Kansas City and Red Cross ambulance driver in wartime Italy, Hemingway returned home just long enough to get married and gather his thoughts. Then he moved to Paris, where his fiction ambitions began in earnest. He showed promise, but nothing more, until a fateful trip to Spain with friends to take in the bullfights. The idea for The Sun Also Rises came to him and he got started before the group even began the return leg of the journey; indeed, the characters in the novel were based closely on those friends who had joined Hemingway on that particular trip. The novel spewed forth—Hemingway claimed to have averaged 2,000 words per day while working on the first draft—and he finished it in well under a year.

5. Joan Didion

The Spark: A Newspaper Blurb

A young Didion came across a newspaper article while working at Vogue in New York City and feeling homesick for her native California. It was a mere blurb about a man charged with killing his farm’s foreman in the Carolinas, but the image stuck. She relocated it to California and turned it into the seminal scene for a novel, which she worked on at night in a sublet Upper West Side apartment. With half the book written, she sent it off to publishers, the lucky 13th of which accepted it and paid her a small advance to write the last half. Run, River came out with Didion was 28 years old.


Hook agents, editors and readers immediately.
Check out Les Edgerton’s guide, HOOKED, to
learn about how your fiction can pull readers in.


Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:


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Your new complete and updated instructional guide
to finding an agent is finally here: The 2015 book
GET A LITERARY AGENT shares advice from more
than 110 literary agents who share advice on querying,
craft, the submission process, researching agents, and
much more. Filled with all the advice you’ll ever need to
find an agent, this resource makes a great partner book to
the agent database, Guide to Literary Agents.

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24. Query Question: introducing characters

I've seen a lot of queries where the writer starts off with the main character's full name. "Dr. Felixandro Buttonweezer III was just your average shark researcher until..." Then they're called by nickname for the rest of the query. "Felix must battle through Character Soup and Plot Salad before he's free." I can understand people doing this if the character's title or family name is important, but I see it all the time. Is there some grand unwritten rule about this? Should we just start off with Felix if we're going to call him that anyway? Or is it one of those "whatever works for the rhythm and tone" problems? 

I've seen this a lot too, and it doesn't stand out as something I'd suggest be changed.  Thus it's one of those "whatever works for the rhythm and tone" items.

However, there are a couple things writers do when introducing characters that do drive me batshark crazy:

(1) Dr. Felixandro "Felix" Buttonweezer III

If you're going to call him  Felix, do it. If you're going to use his full name, do that. But do NOT combine them.  That's newspaper style writing, and you're not writing an article for the SharkVille Times. You're writing a letter.

(2) Dr. Felixandro Buttonweezer III, 34, was just your average shark researcher

Again, adding Felix's age after his name is like newspaper writing. If his age is important, tell us when it's important.  Dr. Felix Buttonweezer was only 34 when Mrs. Buttonweezer started planning for his retirement.

In one place it's part of the story, in another it's just an isolated fact with no context.  You do NOT want isolated facts with no context in a query. Every piece of information should be part of the narrative. It should be there for a reason.

(3) Felix and Felicia were twins. The Buttonweezer clan thought twins were bad luck.

In a query, which is very short form, and often skimmed,  you want to make rock solid certain that your reader isn't confused. Here, there is confusion because we don't know if Felix and Felicia are part of the Buttonweezer clan.

This is how you fix that: Felix and Felicia Buttonweezer were twins, something the Buttonweezer clan thought was bad luck.  Even though you use the Buttonweezer name twice in a sentence, it's CLEAR. Clarity is the goal.

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25. Fingers Crossed

This is how I imagine some authors look when their material has been requested by an agent. I know that this is how some agents look when we get a call from an editor.


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