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where book news, agentish advice, party planning, cute animal pictures and general shenanigans collide.
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1. How Did I Find My Clients?

I read a forum post this morning quizzing agented authors on where they found their agents. The authors were very nicely answering, but most of the answers were the same: "I did my research and then sent a query letter."

Why was this the most likely way they answered? Because it's the most likely way to get an agent.  It just IS. I know the myth is that you have to "know somebody" but that really isn't true. Which got me to thinking about how my clients found ME (or, vice-versa). And I decided to bust out the chart-making tools again because I know you like that.

So let's break it down:

56% of my clients came to me because of straight up query letters, from the slush. They didn't know anybody, they didn't drop names, they weren't published before, they didn't go to conferences, they didn't meet me first - some of them I still haven't met in person, because they live thousands of miles away!

24% of my clients were people that I'd met somewhere before they queried me. These are people I met at conferences, in a couple of cases, or published authors that I met in my capacity as a bookseller. (There's also a former co-worker in the mix, an SCBWI RA, and one of my neighbors. What can I say, she's a great writer!). The thing is: All these people STILL HAD TO QUERY. It's not like I said, oh, I know you, so sure... they still had to show me something I thought I could sell.

16% of my clients were referrals. This means that somebody I really trust - like an editor who knows my taste, or an existing client - thought this would be a good fit for me, and e-introduced us. But, you guessed it: These people STILL HAD TO QUERY, and show me something I thought I could sell.

4% of my clients were inherited from other agents at my agency. They actually are the only people who were kinda "grandfathered in," and did not have to show me something new to be taken on. However, I also trusted that they could write, that they had great stories in them, and that we'd gel well - and we spoke before I took them on. Still, this does not always work out, so I feel very lucky that these have!


Moral of this story? 

96% OF AUTHORS NEED TO 
WRITE A GREAT QUERY LETTER.

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2. Happy Book Birthday to STITCHING SNOW!

My author R.C.Lewis first described STITCHING SNOW to me as "Snow White in space... if Snow were a cage-fighting tech-head with daddy issues." How could I not want to read that? And now YOU can, too, as STITCHING SNOW officially hits shelves today!


Seventeen-year-old Essie can take care of herself. She knows how to stitch up robotic drones so the men in the mining settlement remember she's worth keeping around. She knows how to use her fists to make sure they keep their hands off her. But all her self-preservation skills don't tell her how to deal with Dane, a boy who's depending on her to get his crashed shuttle off the icy ground of her desolate planet and flying again.

Dane's polite, chivalrous, even a little charming, and he gives Essie the kind of attention she's never had. She begins to trust him, which is a new (and terrifying!) feeling for her. But then he discovers her secret. She's a Princess who has been missing for years, and there will be a rich reward for returning her to her kingdom. One betrayal later, he's taking her home whether she likes it or not, to exchange for captives held by Essie's father the King. What Dane doesn't know is Essie wasn't kidnapped all those years ago... she ran away. And bringing her back home just might kill her.

STITCHING SNOW is fast-paced, voicey debut YA that will appeal to both SF fans and "people who don't think they like Science Fiction" - and Essie is a brilliant, tough little sweetheart of a character you won't soon forget.

Buy the book at your local independent bookstore via IndieBound, or at Oblong, Powells, Book Depository, B+N or Amazon, or wherever fine books are sold.

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3. How Similar is TOO Similar in the Great Agent Hunt?

Research agents for even a short while and you're almost sure to come up with two competing bits of wisdom: 

LOOK FOR AGENTS WHO REP THE BOOKS MOST LIKE YOUR OWN!

vs

AGENTS WON'T TAKE ON WORK TOO SIMILAR TO WHAT THEY ALREADY REP.

Guess what? BOTH these contradictory statements are true! ....Yayyy??

Of course you want to pick an agent who does the kind of books you do, and hopefully reps some authors you admire. . . but yep, that agent will likely decline if the books are too similar. I wrote a post way back in 2011 about WHY agents can't take on work that competes with what they already rep. It's all still true, so I won't rehash it here.

But if you want to be able to tell if they are two close for comfort - try this: If you break the books down into general CATEGORY, TONE and THEME - TWO of these can match. But if all three overlap, it's probably too close.

In other words: 

I could rep two funny picture books ... but not two funny picture books about Ninjas. I could rep two picture books about Ninjas, if one was funny, while the other was non-fiction/factual. I could rep two funny Ninja books... if one was a picture book and one was a middle grade. (That isn't to say that there isn't room IN THE WORLD for multiple funny picture books about Ninjas, btw... just that I personally would feel uncomfortable repping all of them!)

In the case of something like "heartfelt middle grade fiction about girls growing up" - where there are certainly lots of great books that seem to overlap... the differences might be more subtle. I rep both Linda Urban and Kate Messner, for example - two great authors, both sometimes writing in a similar space - but you wouldn't confuse CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT with BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. You just wouldn't. On the surface there are similarities, but there's a difference at the bone. 

So if you're researching an agent who reps what you write... and you've thought about the chart and you see the surface similarities but you still think YOUR difference is different enough... you might as well try querying the agent... why not, right? Nothing to lose. Nobody is going to be mad at you - the worst that can happen is, you get a rejection, and that isn't anything to lose sleep over.

Does this make sense? Helpful, or have I muddied the waters even further?

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4. New Releases - A Little Something for Everyone

Life got the best of me in September and I realize I have several books to post about now... so I'll do the new releases all in one to save your eyeballs!

For the Picture Book crowd: 
Mara Rockliff's CHIK CHAK SHABBAT is a wonderfully inclusive picture book about the multi-ethnic residents of an apartment building who, when a neighbor is too sick to cook, improvise a meal cobbling together their own unique traditions to celebrate the true spirit of Shabbat. The book is illustrated by the amazing Kyrsten Brooker and really has the feel of a modern classic already - Candlewick did a great job!

And lest you assume that this is a "niche" book, I have to tell you -- there is so much warmth, humor and heart to be found in these pages, it doesn't matter if you don't know Shabbat from Shinola, you'll get it. :-)

Buy the book: IndieBound - Powells 

For Middle Grade readers:

Kate Messner's WAKE UP MISSING, the edge-of-your-seat science thriller, is now available in paperback!

WAKE UP MISSING is about a group of kids from different parts of the country and different walks of life. In fact, they have only one thing in common - they are all hospitalized in an elite institution for brain science after having experienced head trauma. When the kids realize that something VERY sinister is going on at the so-called "research" facility, they must run for their lives -- making their escape through the dangerous Florida Everglades. This is one seriously EXCITING read - and it's especially good for any kid interested in science/medicine.

"Kate Messner combines a fascinating concept with page-turning suspense . . .  Reading this book is like a wild roller-coaster ride through the Florida swamps." —Margaret Peterson Haddix, author of The Missing and the Shadow Children series

Buy the book: IndieBound - Powells  

For the YA fans:
I wrote about Gwenda Bond's GIRL ON A WIRE  last month so I won't belabour the point, but I will say, if you think a mystery-magic-romance mashup sounds great and/or you appreciate the dazzling world of the Circus... you will probably love this book.

"The circus and its theatrical characters provide a fresh, vibrant backdrop as Bond impressively describes a range of circus performances, while threading enticing slivers of magic and romance into her story. It's a fascinating and enjoyable foray into circus life as seen through the eyes of an ambitious and talented performer."  -- PW

"The mystery is tense and nerve-wracking, and the acrobatics are gorgeously hair-raising." -- Kirkus

"With a thrilling mystery, a hint of magic, and a touch of romance, "Girl on a Wire" takes readers into the fascinating world of circus performers." -- SLJ

Buy the book: IndieBound - Powells

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5. GIRL ON A WIRE Early Bird Special

Anyone who tells you magic isn’t real doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Just like anyone who tells you falling is like flying has never done either.

If you've spoken to me anytime in the past, oh, two-years-ish, you might have heard me gush about  GIRL ON A WIRE from the talented Gwenda Bond. And... its October release date is almost here! In fact...   

*drumroll* ... 

YOU CAN READ IT TODAY!

Yes I know it ISN'T October yet! This is a September surprise. GIRL ON A WIRE is a Kindle First pick. Which means, if you're an Amazon Prime member you can read GIRL ON A WIRE for free (FREE) (zero dollars!) right now. If you aren't, you can read it for $1.99 (which, let's face it, is ALMOST FREE). This deal will be going on the whole month of September. Yesssssss.

GIRL ON A WIRE is the story of Jules Maroni, the extreme high-wire walker and teen daughter of circus royalty. When somebody starts planting jinxy magical items on her costumes, it's unclear if the culprit just trying to scare her... or actually kill her. And is it all just old superstition, or could there be real magic at play? Jules teams up with the son of a rival family to solve the mystery, and sparks fly. (So yeah, it's basically Daredevil Juliet and Trapeze Romeo Solve Possibly Magical Crimes. Yessss.)

Get your e-copy today, a month before everyone else! And if you want to win a new Kindle Paperwhite, check out Gwenda's contest!


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6. Middle Grade Webinar 8/14

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

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

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

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

This class is probably most useful for:

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

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

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

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

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


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7. Story Structure from South Park

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

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

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

What do you think?

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8. Infinite Repeat = More Micah!

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

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

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

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

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9. Spamvertisements Are Not Your Friend

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

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10. Let

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11. Should I Stay or Should I Go?

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

Dear Literaticat,

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

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

Signed, Should I Go Solo Again?

Dear SIGSA,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be brave! And good luck.


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12. Pub day for THE DARK METROPOLIS

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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14. New Book Alert: THE TRUTH AGAINST THE WORLD

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

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

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

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15. The Revise and Resubmit Shuffle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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16. YA Highway Web Awards

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

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


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17. The Straight Dope on PM

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

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

However - there are caveats:

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

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

So why DO agents report sales?

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

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

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

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

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

* Habit.

Why might agents NOT report sales?

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

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

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

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

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

* They are busy and forget.

* Habit.

What else should I know about PM?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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18. Happy Book Birthday to THE ART OF LAINEY

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

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

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

Who should read THE ART OF LAINEY by Paula Stokes?

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

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

* People who appreciate well-drawn and realistic CHARACTERS *

* People who are down with strong female FRIENDSHIPS *

* People who like ROMANTIC TENSION *

* People who like to SMILE *

* People who are ALIVE *

* YOU! *


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

And follow author Paula Stokes on the Twitter! @pstokesbooks



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19. MG Webinar!

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

Important to note:

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

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

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

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

xo JL

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20. Happy Book Birthday to THE VIOLET HOUR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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23. Pinkwater Backlist Bonanza!

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

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

Young Adults





 

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24. Welcome to the ART OF SECRETS!

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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25. Pour with Confidence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pour with confidence and get those tips, babies!

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