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where book news, agentish advice, party planning, cute animal pictures and general shenanigans collide.
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26. Hoppy Valentine's Day!

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

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

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27. Three Book Birthdays

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

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

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

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


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

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28. ALA and MARTY McGUIRE x 3!

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

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

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

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

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

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29. My Year of Reading Romances

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What have been some of YOUR favorites?

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30. Query Hiatus FYI

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wishing you all the best, and Happy Holidays,

Jennifer Laughran
Andrea Brown Literary Agency

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31. On Third-Party Queriers or "Agent-agents", and Sapsuckers

From my pocket:  *ring ring* 

Me: Hi, this is Jennifer.

Some Stranger:  Can I speak to Jennifer Lag-lahr-gg-squ-san?

This is Jennifer Laughran.

OH Hi this is [mumble mumble] from [fake sounding company] in Hollywood and I want to talk to you about a hot new property RANDOM TITLE. 

I'm so sorry . . . I don't know that title. I'm afraid that's not one of mine.

No, no, it's not one of yours . . . this is a SUBMISSION to you. 

Um. . . what?

Yes, my client [mumble mumble] wrote this book and you hadn't responded to my letter about it so I thought I'd follow up. You got the letter a week ago?

I have no idea what you are talking about. Sorry, I get a lot of email. Who are you again?

It wasn't email. It was a paper submission.

[while talking, googles name of company, name of person, comes up empty] I'm sorry, I'm just really confused, this was a query??
[interrupting] Nope, not a query, it's a referral, anyway, this is a medical thriller, you'll be kicking yourself if you don't represent this. So what do you say to a sure-fire moneymaker --

[interrupting] -- but I never got a letter, I haven't accepted snail mail queries since 2007, and I only represent children's books. So . . . Who are you?? Are you the author?

[patiently, as if to a child] I'm not the author, I'm working for my client to send out their work . . . 

. . . So you're an . . . agent?

No no, [long-suffering sigh] I'm sending out their work so they can get a literary agent.

So you're an agent-getting agent? An agent-agent? That doesn't seem like a thing.

Look WE DO THIS ALL THE TIME IN HOLLYWOOD. I assure you, sweetheart, this is a thing.
Welp, first of all, that isn't true --- plus, my agency is open to submissions, any author can just query -- tell him to just query. And listen, this is my cell, how did you even get this number?
No YOU listen: It's really unprofessional that you are acting like this about a REFERRAL. I mean this is ridiculous, I'll report this to your boss!

Huh. Well, a "referral" from a stranger is not really a referral at all. I don't represent people who can't follow simple directions or conduct their own correspondence. I don't represent medical thrillers. And my boss doesn't like bullies any more than I do. Don't call me again.    
The preceding was essentially a transcript of an extremely annoying conversation that I have a couple times a year. Oh, the details have been erased and the exact back-and-forth approximated. Much more often -- every couple of weeks at least -- I get the same basic thing but in email form:

Hi Agent, I'm Random McNoname, and I'm writing to reffer [sic] my client Author Sapsucker to you. Sapsucker has a pHd in Neurocathology [sic] and 78 followers on twitter so he's the real deal. The manuscript is attached, I look forward to hearing from you by next week.
 So how did these authors get screwed? Let us count the ways:

Note the misspellings, the "attached manuscript", the fact that they don't say what the book is, that they aren't targeting me specifically or if they are, they are submitting something I don't rep, that they are demanding a response by a certain time, that they haven't followed guidelines in the least. That's leaving aside the fact that they aren't even the author -- so who ARE they?

These are what I call "agent-agents" or third-party queriers. They convince authors that their "services" are necessary to query (aka spam) literary agents*. Authors who are totally new and/or desperate will take the bait and pay, in the hopes that it will give them a leg up on the competition. Probably, because this world is full of unscrupulous a-holes who like to take advantage of authors, they'll pay rather a lot.

Instead of getting a fast-pass to easy street, however, these authors paid good money to assure that their work won't be taken seriously. No legit agent I've ever met responds to strong-arm tactics or so-called "referrals" from strangers. Strangers who clearly don't even know anything about the specific book or author they are allegedly working for, let alone about the book industry in a larger sense.

As for the matter of this being a "referral" -- I call shenanigans. A referral means that somebody I know and trust (like one of my clients, an agent colleague, or an editor I've worked with) is vouching for you. A referral from a stranger is pointless. What do I care if  some schmuck I've never heard of thinks you're terrific?

In any case, you generally don't need a referral to submit to most agents. (Some yes, but those agents are probably accepting few if any new clients anyway). You don't need a special key or a magic word to get read by an agent -- you just need to follow directions and have a great-sounding book.

I'm personally closed to queries until January, but every other month of the year, my submission guidelines are quite simple: The subject line needs to have the word "query" in it. The email itself should have a full query letter and ten pages pasted in. I don't accept snail mail submissions, nor do I open attachments.  That's it. Now this might differ a bit from other agency guidelines - - but they are all pretty much alike in that they are simple enough for a literate child to follow.

We WANT to read your work. We WANT to find new talent. Believe it or not, the submission guidelines are not set up to see how cleverly authors can avoid them. The guidelines are just there to make things simpler and easier for everyone, including authors.

You think querying is hard? You wrote an entire book. THAT'S hard work. If you can do that, I promise, you can write a couple of interesting paragraphs about yourself and your book, and do a bit of internet research. Querying is the EASY part.

Sorry if I sound a bit fired up about this, but it just makes me insanely angry how many authors I see getting parted from their money by companies like this. PLEASE, don't be a Sapsucker.

* ETA: It probably goes without saying that, while I get these every few weeks -- there are no doubt MANY scamster companies that don't even bother sending any material out at all. I mean, how would the author know? So these are just the VISIBLE scamsters...

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32. Good News / Bad News / GREAT News

The good news is, I have signed several new clients in the past few months and am busier than ever. Yay! I love working hard and selling plenty of books!

The bad news is, November and December are already quite busy for most people, and I am no exception. I have simply got to spend some time playing catch-up and clearning my desk for 2014. . . and yes, I plan to carve out a bit of time for family fun and pie-eating, too! ;-) So:

As of Wednesday, November 20, I will be closed to unsolicited queries until Monday, January 13, 2014. This is not affecting any other agent at ABLA -- this is my own personal query hiatus.

That being said, there are exceptions: If you've been referred by an editor or client friend, or I met you at a recent conference (simply put the name of the conference, along with the word "query", in your query subject line) -- or if you've participated in one of my Writers Digest Webinars, including the next one on 11/21 -- I'll still consider your submission. (And of course, anyone who is already in the inbox, or sends before I've closed, will still be considered). Other than that, you'll have to wait. Sorry. Eat some pie, January will come in no time!


Last winter I did a Writer's Digest Webinar called "BEYOND THE QUERY." Lots of people who wanted to didn't get the chance to attend. Great news: Due to demand, I am reprising this webinar on November 21 at 1pm EST - that's THIS THURSDAY, people! So if you missed it the first time, here's your chance to get in on it, get a query critique, AND have an "open ticket" to query during the hiatus.

Lots of advice exists online about how to research agents and write a query letter -- with BEYOND THE QUERY, I hope to go a step further. I am to teach you not just how to stand out in the crowd and get noticed in a good way, but also what happens next.

We'll dissect the publication process and uncover some mysteries in the process. We'll talk about how to spot and avoid scamster agents and bad-news publishers. We'll examine how you can tell an agent relationship might not be working for you, and what to do about it. And how to develop long-term strategies to work with your agent and achieve career success.

This webinar should be useful writers of any genre -- for brand-newbies, writers who are just starting the querying process OR are deep in the query trenches, and even authors who have an agent but are maybe a bit shy about how that relationship is "supposed" to work. This should be a candid and informative good time.

You DO NOT have to attend the webinar in person if you are busy during that timeslot -- materials will be available for a year after the webinar for all participants.  

Most importantly, every participant who signs up in advance will get a free query critique from me. And I will answer all questions submitted by attendees.

To be perfectly clear: The query critique included in the webinar DOES NOT count as an official query to me. It is just freebie advice to hopefully strengthen your query. 

BUT, everyone who writes the genres I represent will have an "open ticket" to query me at any time, including during my query hiatus. 

You can sign up for the webinar by following this link.

Questions? Feel free to ask them in the comments!

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33. HANUKKAH BEAR by Eric A. Kimmel

Where has 2013 gone?! Thanksgivukkuh is almost upon us. And, as usual, the number of new Hanukkah books on bookstore shelves is quite paltry compared with the gleaming, glistening heaps of Christmas fare. This year, my favorite new Hanukkah-themed book also happens to be one I represent!

HANUKKAH BEAR is the tale of Bubba Branya, a little old lady who can barely see but makes the very best latkes in town. Her rabbi comes to visit, and he brings his gigantic appetite. . . and mumbly voice. . . and growly tummy . . . and furry face. . . uh-oh!  Comedy ensues as the dynamic duo of granny and the bear play dreidel, light the menorah, and of course, enjoy plenty of yummy latkes.

Kimmel's classic story* is the perfect match for Mike Wohnoutka's warmly glowing new illustrations; this one is sure to delight not only little ones, but the whole family.

★ "Successful on every level, this holiday favorite is sure to be popular with anyone who appreciates a little humor with their holidays."”School Library Journal Starred Review

 Buy the book from your local independent bookstore, from MY local independent bookstore, Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Powells, or Book Depository.

* This is a refreshed new edition of a book that came out a couple of decades ago, with somewhat longer text and much different illustrations, under the title Chanukah Guest

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34. Nutshell Spoilers and the Rhetorical No-no.

Doing a ton of critiques for Writers Digest has been exhausting but fun, too. I'm in the home stretch -- 180 down, 20 to go -- and should finish in the next couple of days. I'll tell you this: 200 critiques in a row means common opening problems become crystal clear. I'm going to talk about a couple of pervasive ones today.

Please know, I AM NOT PICKING ON ANYONE. Everyone who sent in work to be critiqued is BRAVE and AMAZING, and this is NOT a negative reflection of any one person's work at all.

Out of 200 critiques, I'd say easily 85% of them had at least one, if not both, of these problems. Which means, obviously, they are common and easily fixable issues. . . and if this high a percentage of the WD crits had them, chances are, lots of people who did NOT get a crit may be helped by this info, too.


This is a very common problem in first drafts. It's where the author starts with a paragraph that tells the reader in a nutshell what is about to happen, and/or the lesson that the main character will learn by the end of the scene, chapter or even the end of the book. . . and then the actual scene starts. It's almost like the "thesis statement" we used to have to write in school essays. Like so:

It was a day like any other. Little did Moxie the Dog know, but her world was about to get rocked. Not only would a new person soon be moving in to the house . . . but that person was bringing a CAT. Moxie had never met a cat, and probably would like to eat cat. There was bound to be trouble. But the two will have to learn to get along and even be friends if they are going to get through the next six months.

The doorbell rang again. Moxie was barking ferociously and leaping at the door. "BE NICE, it's just my new roommate!" Jennifer the Human yelled. "You'd better get used to it, Moxie, because she is going to live here now."
Not only is this clunky example torn from the headlines (my sister and her cat are coming to stay at my house soon!), but it illustrates the problem: it tells the reader what is about to happen before it happens, or gives away the end before the story even starts. It's not foreshadowing, it's a tension-killer. Since the author has gone to the trouble of chewing and digesting the information for me, I don't have to read on.

The good news is, it's extremely easy to fix this. Just get out the ol' red pen and start with the actual beginning of the scene.


Often in drafts, the author peppers the main character's thoughts with rhetorical questions.

Here are some NON-rhetorical questions: When your character asks questions inside their own brain, who, exactly, is your character asking? Themselves? The reader? Are they breaking the fourth wall? If it is a thing where you have a very voicey narrator that is addressing the audience throughout the whole book, the occasional question is probably OK. Otherwise, can it.

Rhetorical questions make your character sound wishy-washy and confused. It reads like shorthand or filler; like you've left a note for yourself: "develop this later!" They're ALMOST ALWAYS better expressed as declarative statements. And recasting them as statements often gives you a chance to give us a taste of character or a sense of the stakes in an unobtrusive way.
ORIGINAL: "Can I even get this done in time? What if I blame it on Aliens?"

RECAST:  "There is no way I can get this done before school, and using the old 'Abducted by Aliens' routine isn't gonna fly this time around."

ORIGINAL: "I'd tried everything. Is it even possible to get rid of freckles? Is there such a thing as an anti-freckle potion?"

RECAST: "I'd scrubbed, rubbed, and even tried whipping up Freckle Juice like in that Judy Blume book we read in second grade. These blotches weren't going anywhere."
Like the Thesis Statement Spoilers above, rhetorical questions are another real tension-killer. There's a recent post on Mary Kole's blog that addresses problems with this tactic in much greater detail, but suffice to say: it's another way authors pre-chew the information for readers. It's almost like you are pointing the reader to what you want them to think or the conclusion you want them to draw, without allowing them the opportunity to piece the clues together themselves.

Trust your reader. We WANT to go on a journey with you and your characters! :-)

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35. On Diversity and Character Depth

The majority of submissions I get are about kids and teens who are white, comfortably well off, able-bodied, secular, average-sized, cis-gender and straight. Maybe (in fact, probably) their race or economic status or religion or sexual orientation or whatever is never mentioned... but let's get real, if it isn't mentioned in any way EVER, the reader is going to assume and "default normal."

The question of WHY white-rich-ablebodied-secular-averagesized-cis-straight people are "default" in this country, or how to change that, is not one I'm prepared to tackle -- just let's go with the fact that at this point in time, it is the case that the people in this country who tend to think about race least often are WHITE PEOPLE. The people for whom money is rarely an issue are WEALTHY PEOPLE. Right or wrong, if you never ever mention anything about money or race, your reader will probably assume your characters are relatively well-off and white. And the same goes for all those other categories.

So does that mean you just need to randomly make all your characters Black or Japanese (or whatever) but have all their other dealings be exactly the same as they would otherwise be? Um. . . no. Nor does it mean that you should force a "mixed salad" tokenism where each and every character has one thing different about them. That's silly.

Taking your characters beyond "default" is really just about giving them dimension. If your character is deaf or blind or a wheelchair user or obese or agoraphobic, or doesn't speak the language, or is a child prodigy, or an uncomfortable fashionista wearing absurdly high heels, or an uber-confident princess wearing an ostentatious diamond necklace . . . or heck, even a super-mousy shy kid in a plain school uniform . . . each of these characters will certainly think differently about how to best navigate the crowded and unfamiliar stair-filled subway platform. They each might notice different and unexpected things in the auditorium on the first day of school. So if you don't mention anything about who they are, your reader will fill in with the easiest thing, which is a blank and boring "default." Which, OK. . . but again, characters who make interesting choices and observations have depth and are usually way cooler characters to read about.

"Look, my characters are just going to Mickey-D's, let's not make a big deal out of it."

Not every split second in your book will be able to further the plot. But, pretty much anything your character does, if it is important enough to put in a book, should reveal something about them. Even mudane things. Hell, ESPECIALLY mundane things.

If your character is going to eat at McDonalds, where they come from will inform how they approach that experience. Do they keep kosher? Are they diabetic? Do they have body issues? Must they stick to the value meal and worry about it? Do they recognize the person behind the counter? Is it their sister? Are they skeeved out because it is dirty in there and they saw a PBS show about what goes in the chicken nuggets and now they are wiping everything down with hand sanitizer and ordering vegetarian? Are they waiting for the bathroom because they need to brush their teeth and change clothes? Is it the one place they can meet up with their boyfriend away from the prying eyes of their family? Do they eat fast and thoughtlessly because they are wrapped up in writing a sonata and don't even notice their surroundings? Any of these choices would reveal something about the character. Otherwise, why bother putting it in the book?

"But I've heard you say you want books where people are just [gay, bi, queer, trans, etc], and being [any of these things] is not a PROBLEM." 

Sure. Being gay [or whatever else] isn't a bad thing. It doesn't need to be a problem. Just, most of the books I see in this vein are coming-out narratives that include being disowned and beaten up or worse. While this is no doubt the experience of some people, it's not the only story, and it is a story that has been told a lot. I'd rather hear a different story.

Still, if you are tempted to just not mention gayness, you are making it invisible.

I don't want it to be invisible. It's real, and important.

"But I don't want to write an ISSUE BOOK!"

I'm not saying all books should include grinding poverty or racial unrest or fat activism or queer kissing or ANYTHING. (Well, actually, maybe all books should include queer kissing.) (KIDDING!) (or am I?) . . . Annnnyway, I don't think it has to be an issue book to reflect reality. I think it just has to reflect reality. If you want a book with interesting and vibrant characters, they should be multi-faceted and not cookie-cutter default. . . Reality happens to include all kinds of people.

I'm also not saying "I hate books about [xyz] people" OR "I only want to rep books about [xyz] people."

I think anything you want to write about is FINE. I'm not the topic-police. I'm just saying, straight-cis-white-ablebodied-uppermiddleclass main characters are the vast majority of what fills the ol' inbox (and, for that matter, the bookstore). So non-default stories, whatever they may be, will feel fresh, and are likely stand out in a good way.


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36. League of Extraordinary Readers this Saturday

Some of you know that I still help out at my neighborhood bookstore despite being a full-time agent -- Booksella 4 Life! -- and I'm so excited that we're doing so many kids and teen events that get not only awesome and amazing authors, but also lots of equally awesome and amazing readers! There are TONS of great events coming up, but I want to highlight the one this Saturday because, well, I'm a bit afraid it is going to fly under the radar and I want everyone to know about it.

Our League of Extraordinary Readers is a Middle Grade event series where, once a month, we invite the best authors in the world to meet the best readers in the world. . . and have a party while we talk books. It's for 8-12 year olds, or anybody who loves Middle Grade books. And there are always treats, giveaways, prizes and lots of fun. What could be better than that?

The next League event is Saturday September 28, 4pm, at Oblong Books in Rhinebeck. The theme is THRILLS AND ADVENTURE, and we have four excellent middle grade authors for you to meet!

If you'd like to join us, please RSVP by email or Facebook. If you can't make it to the event, you can pre-order autographed books on our website.

KATE MESSNER's latest, WAKE UP MISSING, is a thriller about four kids, each of whom has been sent to an elite brain research facility after sustaining some sort of traumatic head injury. But they swiftly find that there is something WAY creepier than research happening at this hospital . . .and they'll have to overcome their differences, and their injuries, if they are to escape.

ESCAPE FROM THE PIPE MEN by Mary G Thompson is about kids who are human exhibits in an intergalactic zoo (!!!!!), until their dad is poisoned and they have to scour the universe for an antidote. EXCITING!

In ANTON AND CECIL, CATS AT SEA by Valerie Martin, what begins as a rescue mission turns into a pair of high-seas adventures, with thrills and danger bubbling under every wave. A colorful cast of characters, rich historical detail, and lyrical storytelling that will delight fans of such classic animal adventures as The Wind in the Willows, Stuart Little, and Poppy.

THE TIME FETCH by Amy Herrick is kinda like a combo of WHEN YOU REACH ME and WILDWOOD - a time-traveling adventure that also has characters you just love and feel real.

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37. More from Mrs Noodlekugel

Nick and Maxine and their babysitter Mrs Noodlekugel (along with, of course, her cat butler and four magical mice) are back! The first MRS NOODLEKUGEL adventure is now available in paperback, and as of today, there is a brand-new installment in the series: MRS NOODLEKUGEL AND FOUR BLIND MICE.

Four farsighted mice get glasses — and a talking cat solves a family mystery — as the charmingly eccentric Mrs. Noodlekugel returns... It’s all a day in the life of Daniel Pinkwater’s whimsical characters, in a chapter-book series whose comical tone and cozy illustrations are sure to keep young readers coming back for more.

Praise for Book 1: Stower’s illustrations have an old-fashioned sweetness, while Pinkwater, ever the effortless storyteller, adds just enough bite with his signature deadpan, loopy humor. Pinkwater works narrative magic. . . readers should find Mrs. Noodlekugel’s world delightful and instantly familiar, and look forward to future installments.
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Praise for Book 2: If Pinkwater’s first Mrs. Noodlekugel book didn’t persuade readers, the second one will: it’s Mrs. Noodlekugel’s matter-of-factly loopy world—we just live in it. ... Stower’s sly, sweet illustrations provide piquant punctuation for Pinkwater’s special brand of nonsense.
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

You can buy the books at a fine bookstore near you, or online at Oblong, Powells, IndieBound, Book Depository, Barnes and Noble or Amazon. And hey, buy both, they're small. ;-)

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38. When in doubt: CC YOUR AGENT

When you're new to working with an agent (or heck, even when you aren't!) -- it's hard to know what is an appropriate level of communication. You don't want to seem pushy or demanding - but you also don't want them to forget about you. You get emails from your publisher, and maybe you aren't sure what's important and what isn't -- and you know your agent is busy, so you don't want to seem like you are pestering them -- so you leave them out of the loop.

I can't speak for every agent, obviously, and some might feel differently. But for ME:

I want your relationship with your editor to be about mutual respect and art and writing and craft and love and flowers and rainbows. If there are terrible conversations to be had (and I'm sorry to tell you, but there probably WILL be at some point) . . . I want to be the one to have them. Part of my job is to be a buffer between you and publisher drama* -- so please, let me be there, that's part of why I get a commission.

I don't need to be involved if the conversation you're having is chatty. I don't really need to be involved if the conversation you're having is editorial (though you can certainly loop me in if you want to, and I do find it fun to see the different visions editors have.**)

However, I do need to be involved if the conversation happening is about business. That means: Deadlines, money, subrights, anything about your contract, your unsold projects or option books, your cover, marketing, etc, I need to be IN the loop. It's so easy to just cc me. You aren't bothering me. I'd rather know too much than too little.

If you are in doubt about whether or not this is a time for you to cc your agent, err on the side of cc'ing. Even if there's no problem and I don't chime in, I want to have what is said on record, and I want to be able to jump in if necessary. If the publisher forgets to cc me, you can just add the cc in your response. I can't know what is happening with you unless you tell me. It's best if you don't wait until there's a fire to call me up in a panic --  go ahead and cc me on the spark. 

* To piggyback on the point about Publisher Drama, I beg you, if you are ever tempted to fire off an irate note to your publisher about ANYTHING, please, please, sit on your hands for a few hours, do some deep breathing, and then send your complaints to your agent instead. Here's an excellent post from Rachelle Gardener which talks about how you should "Let your agent be the bad guy.

"One of the primary advantages of having an agent is that you have an advocate who can handle all the negotiations with the publisher and navigate difficult territory, allowing you to maintain a positive working relationship with everyone at your publishing house.

This positive relationship can have huge implications when it comes time for a publisher to decide whether they want to work with you again. It can also affect how you’re treated— whether it’s with respect, with kid gloves, or with dread. Most importantly, it can determine whether your publishing experience is mostly pleasant and rewarding… or not."
 ** ETA: I really want my authors to develop GREAT relationships with their editors, and that means having conversations that are just artist-to-editor at times. BUT. If you are my client, and you are having an editorial disagreement or miscommunication, or you don't understand something, or. . . well, ANYTIME you want an ear about stuff, I am there. I love these books too, so I really do care how the process is going!

I didn't say this above, but I also really want to be cc'ed when you deliver the final ms so I can have a copy of it AND so I can start chasing the check.

And, your agent should be the one to send new work to your editor, even when you have a good relationship with them. I CAN'T STRESS THIS ENOUGH: Please don't send new work to your editor, even if they ask for it, without at least giving your agent a heads-up first. One of the worst feelings I have ever had is when an editor called me to say, "we need to talk about this manuscript, it needs major surgery" . . . and I had no idea what she was talking about, because I'd never seen it. Ack.

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39. On Conference Critiques

This month (and, who are we kidding, probably next month too!) I'm working on critiques from my Writer's Digest Webinar back in July. If you are still waiting for your critique, thank you for your patience.

As I said during the webinar, I'm aiming to get these done within 60 days of receipt. So if you sent yours July 11 (the first possible date) -- you should already have your crit. If you sent it in August 11 (the deadline) -- you should have it back by October 11. If it hasn't been 8 weeks, please don't stress out; If it HAS been more than 8 weeks, perhaps your crit got lost somehow -- by all means follow up.

For the record, I had about 200 critiques, and it takes me about 20 minutes per critique. When I am REALLY CRANKING, I can do maybe 6 an hour (10 minutes each) - but that kind of speed is super rare and unsustainable. Because it takes me a few minutes between each one to get into the "headspace" - forget what I just read and commented on, and start the new one with fresh eyes. And if I don't take breaks to walk around or stretch or snack, I tend to start to get cranky or misunderstand what I am reading. So yeah. 20 minutes is more realistic. (If you just crunched the numbers, that's 66.6 hours. I'm not going to read any significance into that number!)

And obviously, I have a full-time "real job" to do during the work week. So all of this is getting done in the dead of night and on weekends. You'll notice that your responses have time stamps of mostly between 11pm and 2am.

Hey, I don't mind, it's fun to see what people are working on, and it keeps me off the streets. BUT I wanted to take this opportunity to say a few words about conference critiques in general.

Quite often, agents find themselves doing critiques for conferences they attend. These may be short ones, like I am doing now - or they may be the 10 or so pages of the author's work, and/or a synopsis or query letter.

I know that sometimes people are disappointed after crits. They might have built up the potential in their heads. "They are gonna love this so much they'll offer to rep me!" or "They are going to give me THE KEY to the problem with my manuscript that is holding me back!" or similar. I hate to break it to you: That probably won't happen. But because of the excitement and nerves, I do understand it can be a real let-down when the actual critique comes and is just . . . ordinary.

Maybe the author gets their feelings hurt by what they feel is a harsh comment, or else they feel the critiquer is soft-pedaling and ONLY saying nice things and not giving them stuff to work on. Maybe the critiquer obviously just wasn't feelin it, or completely misunderstood the point of the work. It happens!

Keep in mind that, first of all, it is very hard to critique such a brief sample - - there may be "problems" or moments of confusion I see in the first page or two that will be addressed immediately after the sample. I'm just not able to know the whole story from the out-of-context pages I'm looking at. So please take my critique (or ANY critique) with a big grain of salt.

As I say to the people getting these crits:

You are awesome for diving in to the deep and and being serious about writing. You are doing what millions of people only dream about. But even the most dedicated and genius writer may get critiques that sting, or notes where the reader obviously just didn't "get it."

Remember that critiques of pages are not personal attacks or critiques of YOU. And ultimately, it's YOUR BOOK. If you think an editor or agent's notes are way off base, you certainly aren't required to do anything about them.

Nobody knows this story better than you or cares about this story more than you. So take what resonates with you and forget the rest. Critiques are HIGHLY UNLIKELY to be life-changing. But I do hope they can be a bit helpful at least. Good luck!

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40. When it rains, it pours! MORE BOOK BIRTHDAYS.

Wowza this is an eventful Fall already and it has only just begun! Today we welcome two more new books into the world, a Middle Grade thriller and the long-anticipated conclusion to a YA series! 

WAKE UP MISSING by Kate Messner

Meet Quentin, a middle school football star from Chicago… Sarah, an Upstate New York girls’ hockey team stand-out. . . Ben, a horse lover from the Pacific Northwest… And Cat, an artistic bird watcher from California.

The four have nothing in common except for the head injuries that land them in an elite brain-science center in the Florida Everglades. It’s known as the best in the world, but as days pass, the kids begin to suspect that they are subjects in an experiment that goes far beyond treating concussions….and threatens their very identities. They’ll have to overcome their injuries and their differences to escape, or risk losing themselves forever.

Messner delivers an exciting middle-grade thriller inspired by cutting-edge science and historical events, drawing on the Manhattan Project and Tuskegee experiments to weave something new and interesting. - Publishers Weekly

Six middle schoolers + mad scientists + Everglades = adventure. . .With plenty of thrills, friendship, some humor, intrigue and an easy good-guys/bad-guys escape plot, young readers will find lots of fun here.  -- Kirkus

"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

"Wowza! WAKE UP MISSING is a winner. I read it in a single sitting. As the secrets were revealed and the suspense mounted, I found myself turning pages at an ever increasing pace. I had to find out what happened next!" -- Bruce Coville

Buy WAKE UP MISSING: At Oblong Books, IndieBound, Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and wherever fine books are sold.

MONSTERS: Book 3 of the ASHES trilogy by Ilsa J. Bick

The Changed are on the move. The Spared are out of time. The End...is now.

When her parents died, Alex thought things couldn't get much worse--until the doctors found the monster in her head. 

She headed into the wilderness as a good-bye, to leave everything behind. But then the end of the world happened, and Alex took the first step down a treacherous road of betrayal and terror and death. 

Now, with no hope of rescue--on the brink of starvation in a winter that just won't quit--she discovers a new and horrifying truth. 

The Change isn't over.

The Changed are still evolving.

And...they've had help.

With this final volume of The Ashes Trilogy, Ilsa J. Bick delivers a riveting, blockbuster finish, returning readers to a brutal, post-apocalyptic world where no one is safe and hope is in short supply. 

A world where, from these ashes, the monsters may rise. 

Need to refresh your memory about Books 1 and 2?

"So you read ASHES a year ago . . ." (recap of the story after Book 1

"So you read SHADOWS a year ago. . ."  (recap of the story after Book 2)

All of the Ashes Trilogy storylines converge in this action-packed series conclusion. . .The ending wraps up most questions but still leaves enough mystery for readers to dwell on. An opus of blood, gore and pain that will leave fans breathless. -- Kirkus

Want to win a copy of MONSTERS plus a SUPER COOL Ashes Survival Pack? More info, contest open til October 10.

BUY MONSTERS: At Oblong Books, IndieBound, Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and wherever fine books are sold.

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41. THREE more YA Book Birthdays

I'm taking time out from my extremely busy vacation schedule of Napping, Reading Romance Novels and Eating Choco-tacos to tell you about THREE more YA book birthdays:

DEAD ENDS by Erin Jade Lange  (Bloomsbury Children's)

Two teens who should be natural enemies, tough-guy bully Dane and "special" kid Billy D, form an uneasy alliance to solve the a bunch of strange riddles left in an old atlas. The clues they uncover might lead to the whereabouts of Billy's long-vanished father. The two piece the riddles together, leading to unmarked towns and secrets of the past. But they’re all dead ends. Until the final clue . . . and a secret Billy shouldn’t have been keeping. BUTTER author Erin Jade Lange knocks this sophomore novel out of the park.

BUTTER (in paperback!) by Erin Jade Lange  (Bloomsbury Children's)

A lonely obese boy everyone calls "Butter" is about to make history. He is going to eat himself to death, live on the Internet, and everyone is invited to watch. When he first makes the announcement online to his classmates, Butter expects pity, insults, and possibly sheer indifference. What he gets are morbid cheerleaders rallying around his deadly plan. Yet as their dark encouragement grows, it begins to feel a lot like popularity. And that feels good. But what happens when Butter reaches his suicide deadline? Can he live with the fallout if he doesn't go through with his plans?

Buy DEAD ENDS or BUTTER wherever fine books are sold, or online at:  Oblong Books, Barnes and Noble, Book Depository, Powells, IndieBound or Amazon.

THE WOKEN GODS by Gwenda Bond  (Strange Chemistry)

Five years ago, the gods of ancient mythology awoke around the world.

This morning, Kyra Locke is late for school.

Seventeen-year-old Kyra lives in a transformed Washington, D.C., home to the embassies of divine pantheons and the mysterious Society of the Sun. But when rebellious Kyra encounters two trickster gods on her way back from school, one offering a threat and the other a warning, it turns out her life isn’t what it seems. She escapes with the aid of Osborne "Oz" Spencer, an intriguing Society field operative, only to discover that her scholar father has disappeared with a dangerous relic. The Society needs it, and they don’t care that she knows nothing about her father's secrets.

Now Kyra must depend on her wits and the suspect help of scary gods, her estranged oracle mother, and, of course, Oz--whose first allegiance is to the Society. She has no choice if she’s going to recover the missing relic and save her father. And if she doesn't? Well, that may just mean the end of the world as she knows it.

Buy WOKEN GODS wherever fine books are sold, or online at: Indiebound, Powells, Oblong, Barnes and Noble, Amazon, or Book Depository.

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42. Two book birthdays today!

It's new-book Tuesday and I'm delighted to introduce you to TWO brand-new reads for your enjoyment:

THE DARK BETWEEN by Sonia Gensler

A supernatural romance about the powers that lie in the shadows of the mind, perfect for fans of Sarah Rees Brennan, Alyxandra Harvey, and Libba Bray.

At the turn of the twentieth century, Spiritualism and seances are all the rage--even in the scholarly town of Cambridge, England. While mediums dupe the grief-stricken, a group of local fringe scientists seeks to bridge the gap to the spirit world by investigating the dark corners of the human mind.

Each running from a shadowed past, Kate, Asher, and Elsie take refuge within the walls of Summerfield College. But their peace is soon shattered by the discovery of a dead body nearby. Is this the work of a flesh-and-blood villain, or is something otherworldly at play? This unlikely trio must illuminate what the scientists have not, and open a window to secrets taken to the grave--or risk joining the spirit world themselves.

Kirkus says of THE DARK BETWEEN: "Lovers of intrigue should enjoy this lively Victorian mystery whose teen heroes experience danger, romance and ethical dilemmas as they delve into 'the dark between.'"

Want more? Check out the super-creepy book trailer.

Buy THE DARK BETWEEN at your local independent bookstore, at MY local independent bookstore, at Barnes and Noble, Book Depository or Amazon.

More about Sonia Gensler at her Website, Facebook and Twitter!



A magical fairy tale re-imagining that will appeal to fans of Shannon Hale and Gail Carson Levine.

The daughters of Sleeping Beauty, Princesses Aurora and Luna, have grown up in a cliff-top palace by the sea, where they are carefully protected by their parents. No one visits, the girls cannot stray beyond the castle walls, and all sharp objects are forbidden here.

But accidents will happen--particularly when an old curse still has power. Soon, in spite of all precautions, Aurora is struggling not to slip into an enchanted sleep.

Frantic, the princesses accept the help of a young fisherman named Symon and embark on a daring ocean voyage to find their aunt--a fairy who may be able to break the spell. From fearsome beasts to raging storms, many dangers befall them, yet they must not give up . . . for if Aurora sleeps, she will not wake for one hundred years.

Kirkus says of SLEEPING BEAUTY'S DAUGHTERS: "A refreshing fairy tale that breaks the passive-heroine mold."

Buy signed copies of SLEEPING BEAUTY'S DAUGHTERS from Oblong, or get it at your local independent bookstore, at Barnes and Noble, Book Depository or Amazon

And if you're in the Hudson Valley on August 31, you're invited to Diane's launch party at Oblong Books in Rhinebeck. :-)

More about Diane Zahler at her Website, Facebook and Twitter

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43. There is no perfect publisher. (Sorry!)

There was a ton of internet buzz in certain circles over the weekend about Small Presses, scamsters, schmublishers, etc. You can read the piece that touched all this off here on the YAwriters subreddit. There are responses all over twitter and the blogosphere. One response that resonated with me was from Jennifer L. Armentrout, who points out the fact that many small press deals carry a stigma, even when they are super-legit.

As an agent, I've done deals with the biggest publishers, with mid-sized and smallish independent publishers, with small presses, start-ups and e-only publishers. (And everything in between!).

So I must start by saying, I'm in NO WAY accusing anyone (in a veiled way or otherwise) or talking about any particular press -- I'm just about trying to help authors avoid fraud, scams and sadness.

And, I love the publishers I work with. Hey guys, you're awesome, keep up the good work!  *running high-five to my publisher friends* -- now there's no need for you to stick around while the authors and I have a cozy little chat. Scoot along now, you cuties.


OK authors, now that we're alone, here's my perspective:

I've seen publishers do an amazing job - create lovely works of art and sell them exquisitely - take an newbie author from outta nowhere and make them a star (or at least treat them like one!) - lift their authors and illustrators up, make their work shine, give them support and clearly care on a personal level about doing right by them.

I'm not talking about just the big fancy rich publishers... ALL sizes and types of publishers.


I've also seen situations that would make your hair curl (or in my case, straighten!).... atrocious behavior, nonsensical business practices, lack of any communication, contracts with bizarre, byzantine language... stuff that almost seems designed to purposely screw with or possibly torture the author.

I'm not laying this at the foot of small presses... ALL sizes and types of publishers.

Whether big publisher or small press, mega-corporation or independent or start-up, most authors will experience at least a taste of both terrible and wonderful during their journey. I'd say the vast majority of my author's publishing experiences fall somewhere in between these two extremes, though much more toward the good end than the bad. Most publishers are trying to do the right thing by their books (and sometimes, like any humans, they don't do such a great job, and sometimes they do better than you can imagine.)

And again, yes... that's with ALL sizes and types of publishers.

The takeaway from the Reddit post, or from any of these other conversations, should not be "let's dog-pile on small presses and start-ups" or "you should avoid all small presses and start-ups" -- after all, there are many fine, totally legit, mega-awesome small presses doing great things.

The takeaway should be, "no matter WHO is offering you a contract, avoid scamsters and sadness by doing your due diligence as an author."

Now remember: No path to publication is going to be easy-peasy, bon-bons in a bed of roses. As should be clear by now, there are potential benefits and pitfalls to self-publishing, small-press publishing AND to publishing with a big NYC house.

For example, being published by ANY publisher, even the largest, does not guarantee bookstore placement... bookstores stock what they feel like, and plenty of books from major publishers do get skipped by stores.

So that being said, a clue when you are looking at whether a publisher is worth your time: Does the press have distribution? Do they publish books that you've heard of, or at least that you can look at and easily buy (or at least order) in a store or online? Get your hands on an actual copy of one of their books, or download it if e-only. How does the finished product look to you? Is it high quality and professional looking? Is the retail price competitive with other, similar books on the market?


Are they asking YOU for money? Is there even a contract? Is the contract fair? Do they have good designers and editors and marketing/publicity folks on board? What happens when your book goes Out of Print? Are they trying to grab all rights in perpetuity? IF they want to keep rights like foreign, do they have a history of successfully exploiting those rights? If you're not being offered an advance, what are you getting? Are the royalties better than average, do they have marketing, and do they have a history of successful books?

The big question I'd ask myself is the one Saundra Mitchell brought up in the Reddit post. What will they be doing for me? Will I be better off WITH them or WITHOUT them -- are they doing things for me that I could not or would not do for myself? 


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44. Waiting for the other shoe to drop...

I've noticed a common problem in many submissions. I call it, "waiting for the other shoe to drop." It's where the character begins a quick action... then interrupts it for an extended period of time... then maybe a page or two later FINALLY picks it back up again but by the time they do, I've forgotten why it even mattered in the first place or what they are referencing, or I am so irritated I've stopped reading anyway so I never even get there.

Terrible example I've just made up:

Jimmy lined up his feet on the free-throw line and crouched low for a moment, catching his breath. The tricky swoop-basket he'd invented and practiced a thousand times at home alone would win this game... IF he managed to make it in front of an audience. He stood, lifted his arms, and threw with all his might, then watched as the orange ball arced toward the basket.

Everyone always called him a shrimp, but Jimmy was determined to show them all he was the toughest little shrimp around. He could trash-talk better than any kid at his school. His step-dad always said, "what Jimmy lacks in height, he makes up for in mouth!" and that was pretty much the truth. But he had been working on this basket for days and days, even forgoing his favorite pepperoni-and-pineapple pizza at lunch because he heard somewhere that hunger gives athletes an edge.

His stomach rumbled. Man, maybe skipping the pizza was a mistake. If this was an 'edge' he'd rather not have it.

HEY SHRIMP, Kevin yelled from the sidelines. NICE SHORTS!  Jimmy looked down at his shorts in dismay. Aw man, the juice he spilled before the game looks like a pee-stain. Ugh. Can't he go one day without dropping something on himself? He looked back at Kevin. "NICE FACE, DILLWEED!" he shouted.
If you're anything like me, by now you are tearing your hair out going OMG WTF DID HE MAKE THE BASKET????? WHY IS THE BALL TAKING SO LONG??!

Please don't do this to your reader. If you start a short action - by which I mean a literal physical movement or act - follow through. Throwing a ball, skipping a rock, taking a bite, sneezing, giving a hug... let the character do these things THEN move on, don't interrupt him or her right in the middle of it to talk about five other things.

Now, if the character is making dinner, that is a big act comprised of many small actions. So it is fine if the character has thoughts or conversations or reminisces about things or whatever while dinner-making is going on. But if you start an action like "Sarah began salting the roast" and then go off for five paragraphs about something else and then come back and the Sarah is STILL SALTING... I'm going to be worried about her blood pressure, at least. Or assume she is just a terrible, terrible cook. If that's what you're going for, then by all means carry on. Otherwise, let her finish salting quickly THEN go off on a tangent.

Like so:
"Sarah salted the roast, then lifted the heavy steel pan into the wall-mounted oven with a grunt. 'Nothing like a home cooked meal', she muttered to herself. Then she thought about the arsenic she'd added to the cornbread, and laughed out loud."

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45. SPLASH! It's a book birthday for Bossy Fish!

In Kate Messner's latest picture book SEA MONSTER AND THE BOSSY FISH, a new fish swims into Ernest the Sea Monster's life.

He's from a much bigger, much fancier school. He's hipper than everyone else, and knows all the best dance moves and he is... well, pretty much a jerk, actually.

So what do you do when the "coolest" fish around is also a one-upping bully who likes to make your friends feel bad?

Well, if you're anything like Ernest, you fight fire with friendship, and throw the best undersea party ever (and EVERYONE gets an invite.)

SEA MONSTER AND THE BOSSY FISH is delightfully finful and funny, and it's out today! Find it swimming around your local bookstore, or at any of these fine internet purveyors:

Indiebound  *  Oblong Books  *  Powells  *  Barnes and Noble  * Book Depository  * Amazon

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46. Pretty Much Everything I know About Early Readers

I've been asked to talk about Early Reader books.

Before I even get into this, a caveat: I am not a literacy expert or an educator. I am not passing judgement about these books, nor am I making recommendations about how to teach your child to read. And, since (for reasons I'll get into below) I have never actually SOLD an early reader... I might make mistakes in this post, which I am happy to correct should a true expert decide to weigh in! :-)


In between the sunny utopia of Picture Book Country, where grownups and kids read together, and the charming cobbled streets of Chapter Book Town, where kids roam independently, there a small stopping place.

Let's call it Early Readerville, sometimes known as E-Z Readerville. It's small - more of a hamlet, really. These are its denizens:

VERY EARLIEST READERS: Phonics books - kids are learning to identify letter combinations and sound out basic words. There plenty of phonics-type programs that utilize some sort of book, but probably the most popular are BOB books and Hooked on Phonics.  These are book-shaped tools, not "real books" per se - you might get hired to create a book like this, but it is highly unlikely (ok: impossible) that you'll just write one and sell it to a publisher. So they don't even count as true citizens of E-R-ville, I just added them for the sake of thoroughness.

LEVELED READERS: The majority of early readers fall into this category. These books are generally thin, cheap, brightly-colored paperbacks with a big ol' number stamped on them. The numbers go from PRE-LEVEL 1 (very basic, short, repeated sounds - "Go Dog Go" type stuff) -- up through LEVEL 4/5 (depending on the company), which are much more complicated texts, but still short and with tons of pictures. These readers will probably conform to some sort of readability guidelines regarding the number of  words or syllables per page.

Most children's publishers have some sort of early reader line, here are some major examples:

Random House STEP INTO READING  *  Harper I CAN READ  *  Simon and Schuster READY-TO-READ   *  Penguin YOUNG READERS  *  Little Brown PASSPORT TO READING

What you may notice from looking at those links or taking a spin around the spinner rack of your local bookstore: 

There's a short window: Most kids are only in Early Readerville for a short time, compared to the length of time they linger in Picture Book Country or Middle Grade City. Leveled Readers are meant to be a swiftly-passing phase.

They're inexpensive: Most leveled readers sell for about $3.99 -- Publishers must produce these books VERY CHEAPLY and know they can sell A LOT OF COPIES to make it worth publishing a title in these series. Thus, leveled readers are often work-for-hire, or simply written in-house by editors, and/or generally feature characters they know have established brand-recognition.

Originality is not the first consideration.  Kids love familiarity, and as I said, "brand recognition" is important. So on that spinner rack, I'd bet at least 50% of the books are licensed properties, spin-offs from popular movies and TV shows. (Muppets! Avengers! Wreck-it Ralph! Little Mermaid! Transformers! Angry Birds!). Another 25% or so are spin-offs from already-popular picture book characters (Olivia! Pete the Cat! Madeline! Eloise! Pinkalicious!). Let's say 13% are kid-friendly non-fiction topics that pretty much stay in print for ages (Volcanos! Meerkat Families! George Washington! Titanic!), and 10% are  evergreen classics (Frog and Toad! Biscuit! Little Bear! Henry and Mudge!)...

What all this means: If you're crunching the numbers at home, that means only 2% or so of Leveled Readers are actually new, original stories, unaffiliated with any other book, movie, tv show or game. I made those numbers up, but I'd bet if anything I'm being too generous. Out of the many hundreds of writers I know, I believe only two (2) have written and sold an original mass market leveled reader.

Sooo... while you might be asked to write one of these work-for-hire on an established topic, it's relatively unlikely you're going to sell an original leveled reader.

ORIGINAL EARLY READERS: Non-leveled early readers  are, generally speaking, released in hardcover first, or simultaneous hardcover/paperback. They are usually more expensive, both in terms of retail price and production value (the look/feel, the quality of the paper, binding and art). Sometimes, after they've been out for a while, they get re-packaged into leveled reader editions.

There are not a lot of original early readers published in any given year, and very few of the few are one-offs. Most of the ones that are published are installments in original series by already established authors: DODSWORTH by Tim Egan,  MR PUTTER AND TABBY  by Cynthia Rylant, ELEPHANT AND PIGGIE by Mo Willems, for examples. Again, "brand recognition" comes into play, only this time the brand is an author/artist rather than a comic book character.

CAN a newbie break out with an original early reader book? Sure, it just doesn't happen very often.

TRANSITIONAL READERS:  There is also a relatively new micro-trend I noticed at ALA: books geared toward emerging readers who are pretty good, and out of Leveled Reader territory, but still not quuuuuite fluent enough for regular chapter books.  These are more sophisticated and cool-looking than the typical leveled reader, but with more illustrations than the typical chapter book.

These are so new, it's hard to say if this is something that is going to flourish and spread to other publishers or not. Prime example: Scholastic BRANCHES - which seem to be partly work-for-hire and partly original, but certainly always very kid-friendly and commercial. 

Also worth noting: TOON books (young graphic novels that hit that transitional spot between early readers and chapter books)

TO SUM UP: I'm not saying you CAN'T or SHOULDN'T write an original early reader book if that is where your passion lies. I'm just saying... it might be an uphill slog. You up your chances if the book is totally adorable and hooky, or if you're an artist, too. Or, you know... if you're already a popular picture book author/illustrator.

I would strongly suggest, if this is your goal, you go to the library and check out the past winners of the Theodore Seuss Geisel award. It is for early reader books of exceptional merit. Since so very few original books are produced every year for this age range, it will be easy for you to acquaint yourself with all these titles. (Bonus: They are super short!)

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47. Middle Grade Webinar - 7/11

I'm so excited to tell you that I'll be teaching another Writer's Digest Webinar on July 11. This one:


There's so much out there about YA books but it is hard to find concrete info about what's happening in the Middle Grade market. Here's your chance to hear all about it from me. Including what's selling, rookie MG mistakes, how to make your book stand out from the slush, and much more.

For more about the webinar, and to sign up, click here.

Please Note:

* Every participant will receive a written critique of the first 500 words of their Middle Grade project (either work in progress or finished manuscript) from me after the event.

* You do NOT have to attend the webinar live -- if you've signed up but can't make it on the actual day/time of you'll still get the complete 90 minute audio visual presentations, follow-up answers, and be eligible for the critique.

* ALL PUBLISHING QUESTIONS ASKED DURING THE WEBINAR WILL BE ANSWERED. I'll tackle as many as possible during the webinar itself, or if we run out of time I'll do the remainder of the answers in writing. Seriously. All of them. So bring questions! :-)

If you have any questions about the webinar itself, feel free to ask me here. Hope to "see" you on the 11th!

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48. Summer Lineup of REAL LIVE BOOK EVENTS!

It's been a while since I posted with my "author events" hat on but there are exciting things afoot at the bookstore and I figured I'd put them all in one place for future linkish reference. :-)

The Hudson Valley YA Society is a monthly event series for teenagers (and YA book lovers of all ages) that has been running at Oblong Books in Rhinebeck for a couple of years. HVYAS brings great authors to the bookstore every month for an informal and fun book party. We talk books and writing, we eat cookies, we give away prizes -- it's fabulous.

And, it's been SO successful that we've started a similar event series for middle grade books and readers! The League of Extraordinary Readers is for kids 8-12 (and kids-at-heart). There's a great write-up about the program in our local paper this week, too.

Here's our terrific summer line-up and links for more info and to RSVP. All events will be held at Oblong Books in Rhinebeck NY. I hope I will see some of you at the bookstore! :D AND if you can't make it but you'd like a signed book, just follow the link to pre-order - the authors can even personalize for you.

Saturday 6/22 - 4pm 
LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY READERS with Ann M. Martin, Geoff Rodkey and Mark Goldblatt

Sunday 6/23 - 4pm
HUDSON VALLEY YA SOCIETY with Jennifer Castle, Liz Norris and Kim Purcell

Sunday 7/14 - 4pm
LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY READERS with Michael Buckley, Kristen Kittscher and Kirsten Miller

Sunday 7/21 - 4pm 
HUDSON VALLEY YA SOCIETY - Phoebe North Launch Party!

Saturday 8/31 - 6pm

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49. Welcome to the World, WIG IN THE WINDOW!

THE WIG IN THE WINDOW is the story of two tween sleuths who suspect their school counselor is a dangerous criminal... and they just might be right.

Neighbors Sophie Young and Grace Yang are two unlikely best friends whose game of neighborhood spying takes a dark turn late one night when they witness Luna Vista Middle School’s notoriously phony counselor wielding a cleaver in her blood-splattered kitchen. When Dr. Agford explains she was merely preparing her famous pickled beets, the girls find themselves in a world of trouble for lying to police. Yet Agford’s increasingly bizarre behavior and a series of puzzling encounters convince the two friends Dr. Agford might actually be a wanted fugitive. Young and Yang embark on a very real and dangerous spy mission to uncover the truth, never sure if they — or their friendship — will survive it. 

Too long? Here's the nutshell version.  WIG is HILARIOUS. It's MYSTERIOUS. It's HITCHCOCK meets HARRIET THE SPY. It's a delight, through and through. And I think you should buy a copy. 

"Ample red herrings keep young sleuths and engaged readers guessing in this thrilling debut mystery. Reminiscent of the ever-compelling film Rear Window, this appealing and often spine-tingling tale will leave its audience wishing for more." --Kirkus Reviews

"A witty, weird and wonderful book, The Wig in the Window's trouble-making detectives kept me laughing--while the suspense had me inching towards the edge of my seat. It's a perfect middle grade mystery!--Kirsten Miller, author of the Kiki Strike series and the New York Times bestselling Eternal Ones series

And here's the very best review in the history of EVER from the Book Smugglers.

Oh and in case that isn't enough, please view the CUTEST BOOK TRAILER no seriously it is adorable.

CONVINCED? Yay! You can buy the book online at your local independent bookstore, or Barnes and Noble, or Amazon. If you're in the LA area, you can also go to Kristen's book launch party at Vromans on Thursday. (Can't make it? Order a copy from Vromans before thursday and Kristen can personalize it to you during the event!)

Find out more about Kristen and the book on her website: http://kristenkittscher.com/

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50. UNDERNEATH by Sarah Jamila Stevenson is now available!

Imagine if you could listen in on what people are really thinking. Not only the stuff they want you to know about, like "what number am I thinking of?"... or silly things like the identity of their crush... but the not-so-nice stuff. Like what they think about you when they are angry. Or secret feelings that are heart-breakingly dark.

Sunny's life goes from normal to whacked-out when her cousin Shiri commits suicide. Not only is she grieving her loss, but there's something weird going on. Sunny has somehow developed the disturbing ability to hear what people around her are thinking. Things she definitely should NOT be able to know. Friendship-ruining things. Possibly even LIFE-ruining things.

There are a ton of questions, of course. Is this a trick or something real? Is this a curse... or can Sunny learn to control it and use it as a tool? Or... is she actually going crazy... and is this what happened to her cousin, too? If so, is she bound to share the same fate as Shiri?

Here's what's great about UNDERNEATH (aside from generally being a lovely book, with a gorgeous cover):

* Like many of us, Sunny herself is a bit of a cultural mish-mosh, being half-Pakistani and half-Hippie-dippie-Americana. While that isn't what the book is about, her mixed cultural identity does inform who she is. It's refreshing to have a different kind of heroine and family in a tale, and one so true-to-life and well-developed.

* At its heart, this is a contemporary coming-of-age story -- Sunny's learning to navigate her increasingly complicated family life, friendship issues and crushes. While it does have a glimmer of magic, it's actually quite realistic, and as Kirkus reviews noted, "takes the reader on a profound journey."

* So often in books with paranormal elements, the characters end up having to save the world from a supervillain or something. This one focuses much more on Sunny's personal story. She doesn't have to save the world -- just herself.

* While lots of YA books seem to strive to push the upper-age-limits in terms of edgy or dark content, and there's nothing wrong with that -- this is not that kind of book. Sunny's issues, and her family's issues, are realistic but still appropriate for younger teens.

* It's a paperback, which means it is CHEAP! Yayyyy! :D :D :D 

You can find the book at your local bookstore or library, or online at: Indiebound Powells Amazon  -- and you can find out more about the author, Sarah Jamila Stevenson, on her website or twitter.

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