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W.O.W. – Writer Odyssey Wednesday with Ava Jae April 23, 2014




I’m very excited today to share the writing journey of Ava Jae.  A while ago, I was lucky to read the first few chapters of her manuscript, SLAVE & SIRA, and was blown away by her writing.  Now I am thrilled to share her writing odyssey where she shares a few tidbits about her time in the query trenches before signing with her agent, Louise Fury.


Thanks to Ava Jae for sharing her writing odyssey today…



Amy: First, you have an incredible blog, Writability. Do you find that posting regularly helps to hone your writing skills?


Ava Jae: Thank you so much! I definitely find that posting regularly has helped my writing—it really taught me that not only is it possible to write even when I don’t feel like it or don’t have ideas, but it’s possible to do so consistently and come out with halfway decent writing at the end. Or at least, halfway decent to me. :)



Amy: What inspires you to write both Young Adult and New Adult fiction?


Ava Jae: Well, I like to say in my bio that I love writing about self-discovery and the complicated worlds of young people, then I like to take their emotionally-ridden lives and basically destroy them. That’s a huge part of it—mostly, I just love the energy and excitement and the way that young people view the world, whether it’s teenagers going through puberty and dealing with new influences and hormones for the first time, or new adults trying to juggle new responsibilities, independence and what it actually means to be an adult. I also love the honesty in the voices of both YA and NA fiction as well as the quicker pace that tends to be prominent in YA & NA.



Amy: How many completed manuscripts did you query before one garnered interest?


Ava Jae: I queried and trunked four manuscripts before writing SLAVE & SIRA, though one of those manuscripts I queried twice, so I’d been through the query trenches five times before querying the MS that landed me an agent. I also had five other full manuscripts in the drawer that I didn’t try to polish and query.



Amy: Did your query for SLAVE and SIRA come easily or did it go through many drafts?


Ava Jae: Ha ha ha ha ha. Does anyone write an easy query? If so, I could use some of their magic.


I can’t even tell you how many drafts the SLAVE & SIRA query went through, because I lost count. I posted the original version on WriteOnCon’s forums during their WriteOnCon 2013 event and if I remember correctly, I went through at least eight drafts just based off critiques from the forums. There may have been more.


After that I won a couple critiques from editors off Twitter and giveaways, so it went through several more drafts from those critiques. Then I also had CPs and other very nice people such as yourself look over it. Even after I started querying, I kept getting critiques and tweaking it—in fact, the query that eventually ended up in front of Louise was actually tweaked many times over after she had it, though she never saw those edits.


So…yeah. There were a lot of drafts. And ultimately, Louise saw the first 250 words of my manuscript before she saw my query. So.



Amy: Did you have critique partners for SLAVE and SIRA? If so, how critical were they to your writing process?


Ava Jae: Yes! I have several critique partners and many of them looked at SLAVE & SIRA—one of them even went through it twice. They helped me so ridiculously much. They pointed out plot holes, characters in need of development, places where I could boost the world building, and pointed out several things that were confusing, etc. I love my critique partners to death and they all have super valuable insight.



Amy: How many agents did you query for SLAVE and SIRA? Did you receive immediate responses, or did you have to wait a while for replies?


Ava Jae: I queried 25 agents total. I received a few quick responses, but mostly I had to wait. And wait. And try not to go crazy waiting. To give you an example, two of the queries I sent out in my very first batch at the beginning of September I didn’t hear back from until I sent my notice of offer in early December.



Amy: Can you give a short summary of your call with your agent, Louise Fury? How did you know she was a good fit for you?


Ava Jae: Before I had my Call experience, I’d often read online that writers said The Call was a blur afterward—and you know, they’re right. I was so hyped up on anxiety and excitement and more anxiety that only a couple things really stuck out to me (so thank goodness I took notes).


The two things I remember very clearly are as follows: firstly, Louise and Team Fury’s vision for my book was spot-on with what I wanted. All of her edit suggestions were so beyond perfect and she really got my manuscript. And that was pretty incredible.


The second thing was she was totally willing to let me write in multiple categories and genres, which was important to me, as I like to write both YA and NA and Fantasy and well as Sci-Fi, etc. Between those two elements, I knew she was going to be perfect for me.



Amy: You connected with Louise via an online writing contest. How important do you think contests are in getting noticed by an agent?


Ava Jae: Online contests to me are an extra opportunity to get your work in front of agents. They’re not more important than querying or less important than querying—they’re another way to get your foot in the door, and one that I think is definitely worth giving a try.


That being said, I applied to many writing contests and Twitter pitch fests and wasn’t picked once except in the Secret Agent contest that put my work in front of Louise, which has entries chosen randomly. So something important to remember, I think, is just because you don’t make it into a writing contest doesn’t mean your work isn’t any good.


Amy: Was there ever a time you thought about giving up on your writing dream? If so, what motivated you to keep writing?


Ava Jae: Hmm. Not exactly. I never considered giving up on writing altogether, because I love writing, and more than that, I love writing novels. But the thought had occurred to me that I may never get published, and that was something I had to come to terms with. It wasn’t easy, but once I accepted that it was a real possibility and I was actually okay with it, I was so much happier going forward. That’s not to say I wouldn’t have been way disappointed (and hey, there’s still no guarantee I’ll be published so I can still say it’d be disappointing as hell), but in the end what makes me happy is writing, and living through my characters, and creating new worlds. I’m not published now and I’m perfectly happy, and to me, that’s what’s important.



Ava Jae is a writer, artist and movie lover represented by Louise Fury of The Bent Agency. She writes NA and YA novels because she loves writing about self-discovery and the complicated worlds of young people. Then she likes to take their emotionally-ridden lives, rip them apart, and set them on fire. She also has an addiction to movies, but that’s another matter entirely. You can find her weekly musings on her blog Writability, follow her on Twitter and tumblr or like her Facebook page.




Monday Musings: Spring Contest Wrap-Up! April 21, 2014

Filed under: Blog,contest,Literary Agent,Publishing,Query — chasingthecrazies @ 7:59 am
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Red Old Garden Roses




I love everything about spring! The new blooms, amazing weather, and the promise of a soon-to-be summer filled with lazy days by the pool.  One other thing I love about spring is the flurry of writing contests on the horizon! If you’ve got a finished, polished manuscript, it’s time to consider entering your work in some of these stellar opportunities:



1) Got  YA Contemporary?


Here’s a chance to pitch your YA Contemporary story to publisher, Spencer Hill Contemporary, an imprint of Spencer Hill Press.



2) PitchSlap with Mina Vaughn & Brenda Drake


Taking it’s name from a session at the upcoming RT Convention, this contest allows you to pitch your Young Adult, New Adult or Adult Romance (or story with romantic elements) via Twitter. Winners will have their pitch used as an example during the RT session, as well as receive query critiques from literary agents Jessica Sinsheimer and Pete Knapp. Agents and editors will also be trolling the #RTSlap feed during the day and could make requests!



3) The Writer’s Voice


A well-known contest where writers form teams and coach entrants on their queries and first pages. Judges include Brenda Drake, Monica Bustamante Wagner, Kimberly P. Chase and Elizabeth Briggs.



4) Query Kombat


The ultimate query battle! This contest is back for a second year with face-offs scheduled to begin on May 22. Check out Michelle Hauck’s blog over next several weeks for more details!


Did I miss an amazing contest that you know of? If so, please let me know in the comments!


One last word of note: If you plan on entering ANY contest please make sure to read ALL the submission rules and guidelines.




First Five Frenzy with Dr. Uwe Stender of TriadaUS Literary Agency April 18, 2014

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If you’re like me, you toil for hours editing and fine-tuning the first pages of your manuscript. You look at the first lines to make sure they are compelling and tight.  You examine the next few paragraphs, hoping your MC’s voice is already taking hold of the reader.


The First Five Frenzy is all about getting an agent’s perspective on what works, and what fails, in those first pages of a manuscript. By reading each agent’s comments, I hope you’ll learn how to make your manuscript a shining gem that will be requested time and time again.


Today, I am proud to share Literary Agent, Uwe Stender’s perspective on what’s important in those critical first pages.


Amy: Many writers have the impression that a great first line is imperative to drawing in the reader. How important is a first line to you as an agent?


Uwe: Very important, because it has to get my attention.  BUT: it’s only one sentence out of 75,000 words or so.



Amy: Many times a writer is told to stay away from common openings like dreams, eating breakfast, riding in a car, etc. What are some common openings you recommend writers stay away from?


Uwe: My answer is: NONE, because if you are a great writer you should start with whatever you want to start with and then write a great novel!… And now, I want to apologize to all of you readers about the tangent I will embark on.


I often compare novels to music. So, let’s take the first sounds of a song as a comparison.  Listen to the classic opening of “Be My Baby” by The Ronettes from 1963. Then listen to 1964′s “Don’t Worry Baby,” by The Beach Boys, then to 1976′s Billy Joel “Say Goodbye To Hollywood,” then to 1985′s “Just Like Honey” by Jesus and Mary Chain, then to 2001′s “Eighties Fan” by Camera Obscura, then to 2011′s Lykke Liu’s “Sadness Is A Blessing,” then to 2012′s Joey Ramone “Party Line,” then to 2013′s “Never Wanna Know,” you get the idea once you listen to them…Essentially the same opening, but they all develop into totally different songs and each of the songs is equally wonderful to me…so don’t limit yourself, or exclude anything.



Amy: When you’ve responded to a writer to request a partial or full manuscript, what was it about their first pages that piqued your interest?


Uwe: The voice and the plot! Create a desire in me to want to read more.



Amy: What are some common mistakes writers make in their first five pages?


Uwe: Many authors unleash too much backstory on the unsuspecting reader. Let the story, the plot, the characters develop and breathe.



Amy: What resonates with you most in those first pages? Voice? Pacing? Unique concept?


Uwe: All of it, but mostly the voice. You can change and teach plot and pacing. Voice cannot be taught, it’s a gift. You have it or you don’t.




UweDr. Uwe Stender is a Full Member of the AAR (Association of Authors’ Representatives).

His best known clients are actress Melody Thomas Scott, CNN HLN and TruTV’s In Session News Anchor Christi Paul, Eric Deggans,former CNN anchor Daryn Kagan, 4 time Grammy Award winning composer Lalo Schifrin (“Mission Impossible”), Elizabeth LaBan, Stacy Tornio, and legendary NBA referee Bob Delaney.

Uwe was a guest speaker at several major conferences including the SCWC in San Diego, the Crimebake (Mystery Writers of America New England Chapter), the Writers’ League of Texas in Austin, Penn Writers, and he spoke on a panel at the Book Expo America in New York City.


If you’re interested in submitting to Uwe, please make sure to check the TriadaUS Literary Agency website for their guidelines.




Query 101 Series: Research, Research and More Research April 11, 2014

Once your query is a masterpiece, you think you’re done, right? Wish I could say that’s so, but there’s more work ahead. Now it’s time to figure out who you want to receive that shining gem. But before you can do that, you must do your research.


First, I recommend you have a clear understanding of your category (i.e. is your book Middle Grade or Young Adult?)

Here’s a great post from Writer’s Digest on defining categories:


Next, make sure you’ve determined the correct genre for your work. This is critical to the querying process. Why? Because I’ve heard many agents say they’ve rejected a query because it was labeled wrong and they did not rep. said genre.


For help with determining genre, check out this link from literary agent, Jennifer Laughran:


Once you have your category and genre clear, you can move on to agent stalking, umm, I mean agent research. While finding someone who takes your category and genre is imperative, you should also research their sales, publishers they’ve sold to, and how long they’ve worked with their clients. In my opinion, when querying an agent, you need to look for someone who wants to invest in your entire career, because of course, you’re going to write more than one book!


So where do you go to research agents?


Here are two websites that will help your process: AgentQuery and QueryTracker. Both will allow you to research by category. From there, you can drill down to see which take your genre. Once you determine this information, I suggest you go to that agent’s website. Many times they may have changed their query guidelines, be closed to queries, or revamped their wish list. You can also check out writing communities like AbsoluteWrite & AgentQueryConnect for writer feedback on agents. Note: Research should also be done on publishers if you’re going to submit to them as well.


Once you’ve determined the right agents for your manuscript, I recommend one additional research step. Google that agent and see if they have a personal blog and/or if they’ve done any interviews. Often times these bits of information can give you additional insight into what the agent wants. It can also help you personalize your query letter to highlight how you and the agent would be a good match.


I know this may seem like a ton of work – IT IS. But doing the legwork prior to querying may save you a lot of heartbreak. Determining which agent is a good fit for you will help with needless querying & rejection. Hopefully, it will connect you with the right person who believes in your work and wants to partner with you to ensure you have a successful career!


Want additional insight into what agents want and reject in queries? I recommend checking out these hashtags on Twitter:







And you can always ask your general publishing questions during #askagent sessions.


As always, I wish you luck on your querying journey and please feel free to ask questions in the comments!


Up next in Query 101: The Personalization Quandary & Comps





COVER REVEAL: Make It Count by Megan Erickson April 10, 2014

Filed under: Blog,New Adult,Publishing — chasingthecrazies @ 7:17 am
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Woohoo! Crazy excited to share the highly anticipated cover reveal for Megan Erickson’s, MAKE IT COUNT.


Before I reveal the cover, here is a small excerpt from the New Adult novel expected to hit shelves on June 3:


Kat gathered her books and stuffed them into her plaid Burberry messenger bag, then headed toward the front doors, smoothie from the library snack shop in hand. Head bent, fiddling with the clasp of her bag, she stumbled into a wall of human on the pavement outside.


“Oh, I’m sorry—” Her voice dropped out when she realized the solid flesh belonged to Alec, Max’s best friend.


She’d only met him once or twice before he’d moved in with Max this semester and every time, he cocked his eyebrow with a half frown like he knew something she didn’t. Which he actually did, since he had brainy superpowers. Smarter than a speeding Einstein. Able to leap over C-minus students like her in a single bound.


She didn’t trust people that smart. And she didn’t trust a guy who didn’t ogle her ass or leer at her boobs like every other member of the straight male species on the planet.


Right now, that raised-eyebrow frown pinned her where she stood. His pale green eyes behind thick black frames roamed over her shoulder to the library and then back to her. With his pin-stripe button-down, dark jeans with Converse shoes and hair styled in a short, messy pompadour, he looked like a nerdy Elvis.


His frown morphed into a smile when he spotted the smoothie in her hand, and she definitely didn’t notice his full lips. “You know, you don’t have to venture into the forbidden zone just to get a smoothie.”


Oooh. The jerk. She glanced around surreptitiously, then leaned in and spoke in a low voice. “Just play it cool. Don’t let it slip someone like me snuck in the library.” She gripped his forearm and whispered. “Password today is rosebud.”


His face blanked and he looked at her like he’d never seen her before. Kat debated whether or not that was an improvement over his other look.


But then those intelligent eyes narrowed and a smirk curled his lips. “I know. We nerds get an e-mail every morning.”


See? He always needed the last word. She propped a hand on her hip and leaned in. “Well, sounds like you have a mole. Might want to look into that.”


He opened his mouth but she cut him off. “Just looking out for you guys. Anyway, see ya around!”


Before he could shoot back a snarky comeback, Kat skirted around him and bounded down the stairs. She chalked that up as Kat 1, Alec 0.



So are you ready for the adorable cover? Here it is…









About the author:






MEGAN ERICKSON grew up in a family that averages 5’3” on a good day and started writing to create characters who could reach the top kitchen shelf.

She’s got a couple of tattoos, has a thing for gladiators and has been called a crazy cat lady. After working as a journalist for years, she decided she liked creating her own endings better and switched back to fiction.

She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, two kids and two cats. And no, she still can’t reach the stupid top shelf.



For more on Megan, check out these links:


Avon Romance:


Author website:




W.O.W. – Writer Odyssey Wednesday with Kate Brauning April 9, 2014



It’s no secret that I love Twitter.  It’s introduced me to several talented writers, many of which I’ve featured in this series. One person in particular, Kate Brauning, I follow on a regular basis because she is not only a writer, but an editor who always gives great advice with the hashtag, #subtips.  When I heard that Kate was agented, and recently sold her novel, HOW WE FALL, I knew I wanted to feature her writing journey.


Many thanks to Kate for sharing her story today…


Amy: When did you first begin seriously writing with the intent of wanting to be published?


Kate: I wrote all through high school and wanted to publish the manuscript I was writing then, but I knew it wasn’t good enough and really knew nothing about the industry, so when I went to college, I realized it wasn’t going to work out for that book. I stopped reading for fun in college because I was too busy reading for classes, and I stopped having ideas. It was frustrating, because I had this dream of being an author and I felt like I’d never have another book-worthy idea again. After four years of that, though, I graduated and started reading books I chose myself, and the ideas starting coming back. I started writing again in January of 2010, and that was the first MS I queried.


Amy: When did you complete your first young adult manuscript?


Kate: That MS I started in 2010 took me two solid years of writing nearly every day. It had one YA point of view and one adult point of view, which (needless to say) didn’t work out so well. I suppose you could say that one was my first YA, but HOW WE FALL, the MS I signed with my agent for, was my first solidly YA manuscript. I completed it and started querying it in January of 2013.


Amy: You are an editor for Month9Books. What skills have you learned as an editor that helps make you a better writer?


Kate: Working on other writers’ manuscripts and helping to sharpen them has really made me see that a quality manuscript usually isn’t the result of a flash of genius that the writer then types out, tweaks, and then queries. It’s round after round of deep revisions and sharpening and refining. Knowing that, it’s easier for me to not be frustrated when what I’m drafting isn’t great and I know it. I don’t expect it to be great right away anymore. I wish it would be, but that’s just normally not how writing works. It’s so complicated and so layered that we really can’t expect our work to not need serious revisions. I’ve seen so many other great writers take a good manuscript and revise it into something stunning that I know it’s possible, and that’s how the process works. So, it’s helped me adjust my expectations for myself.


Also, it’s driven home for me the basics of solid storytelling—double-checking character motivation, tracking a character arc through the MS to look for change and depth, making sure each scene builds plot and character, looking for page space and plot point significance to measure pacing, comparing the impact of the payoff to the buildup of the tension. The more I edit those things for other people, the more I build them into the process of revising my own work.


Amy: How laborious/frustrating was the query process for you?


Kate: Ha. Well, that depends on which day you ask me. I felt the frustration of waiting and rejection as much as every other writer, but I was kept so busy with editing for others and drafting a new MS I was in love with, and my CPs were so supportive that it wasn’t as bad as I expected. It was exciting and fascinating and the whole opportunity of it was really encouraging. Though at times it did feel like signing with an agent would never happen and my writing wasn’t good enough, that wasn’t a state I stayed in for very long, thankfully.


Amy: How many agents did you query for HOW WE FALL?


Kate: 47, plus 5 who requested from pitch contests.


Amy: Did you receive instantaneous response, or did you have to wait for the requests/rejections?


Kate: Several of them were same-day or next-day responses, and some were weeks or a few months. It was a very mixed bag. Mostly, I tried to not obsessively check my inbox and tried to be productive elsewhere, and it helped to keep me from thinking about it as much as I would have otherwise.


Amy: What was your “call” like with your agent, Carlie Webber?  How did you know she was the right fit for you?


Kate: It was a great call, but I was really nervous about it. I’d researched her quite a bit and knew what I wanted to ask, so I felt pretty confident, but that has never stopped me from also being nervous. I knew she was the right fit when she said started describing the kinds of suspense stories and themes that caught her attention, and it was the perfect brand of edgy, so I thought, “Awesome. That’s what I write.” I also trusted her work experience quite a bit, having known some of the places she’d trained and agented. When she discussed what she liked about my book, I could tell she really understood what I was going for both with my writing and the story itself. After we discussed my career direction, I knew she was the right fit. I could talk with her easily, too, and we’d been emailing back and forth as well, so I knew I could work with her. So, it was a combination of her experience, her vision for my book and career, her personal taste, and my personality being compatible with hers.


Amy: What one piece of writing advice did you got early on that you still use today?


Kate: Trust your ability to rewrite.


Holding too tightly to sentences and paragraphs and ideas in my manuscripts held me back more than almost anything else. Someone once told me that if I can write one good line, I can scrap it and write another, and if I can have one good idea, I can come up with a second. Doing what’s best for the story and the prose and not keeping myself locked in to something just because I’m proud of it is essential to being a good writer. That’s been a huge factor in reducing the stress of revisions. If you’ve done it once, you can do it again.



Amy: What parting advice can you give to aspiring writers who may be on the cusp of giving up on their publishing dream?


Kate: Think of writing and the publishing journey as training and pursuing any other career. You study, you learn from experts, you network, you study more, you try your hand at it, find the space you fit, take constructive feedback, and work, work, work.


For some reason we have this expectation that it should take us maybe a year to write and revise a MS and a year to get the querying process figured out, query, and hear back. Either way, 2-3 years is about the time we expect to have an agent and be on submission if we’re any good.


I don’t think that mindset is accurate or always healthy. Writing is a competitive, demanding, detail-oriented, incredibly complex career. No other career like that gets off the ground in 2-3 years. It takes more than that to become a teacher, lawyer, engineer, graphic designer, or doctor, and even then, most of them start with a job at the bottom and expect to work their way up. You haven’t failed and you aren’t a bad writer just because your journey takes longer than someone else’s. Treat it like a long-haul career both in your expectations and your work habits, because you are the biggest factor in your career. To me, that’s encouraging, because it means my story doesn’t have to happen like everyone else’s or on their timeline, no one can tell me no, and if I keep at it, I’ll get there. And so will you.



KateBrauningKate writes contemporary and speculative suspense, and she is represented by Carlie Webber at CK Webber Associates. Kate is a compulsive traveler, cake-baker, and music lover. She believes wine is best rich and red, chocolate is best smooth and dark, and books are best bittersweet. She loves bright colors, fall leaves, unusual people, and all kinds of music. She has written novels since she was a teen, but it wasn’t until she studied literature in college that she fell in love with young adult books. Kate now works in publishing and pursues her lifelong dream of telling stories she’d want to read. She can be found on Twitter at @KateBrauning or on her website at




Monday Musing: Getting Out Of Your Own Head April 7, 2014

Filed under: Blog,Publishing,writing craft — chasingthecrazies @ 8:21 am
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A writer’s brain is a crazy thing.  It allows you to come up with beautiful words and worlds. Where once there was a blank page, an hour later a concrete story can be forming that will transport a reader to another time and place. It really is amazing what happens once that creativity is unleashed.


While there is a certain sense of joy and satisfaction from creating a new tale, the writer brain can also hold us back. Being creative is one thing, sharing that creativity can be another animal entirely.


See, here’s the thing. The story feels safe as long as it’s sitting on your hard drive, locked away only for you (and perhaps a few trusted readers) to enjoy. But when you’re done with that manuscript, you’re supposed to push it out into the world. Share it with the masses and hope they love your work. That’s why writers write, for the readers. Correct?


While this may be true in theory, actually putting the work out there is a different thing. A little annoying voice can creep up on you and whisper in your ear a mass of dreadful things.


It’s not good enough.


Your book can’t even compare to the work of…(insert favorite author here).


The plot and characters are bland, and so on.


Your brain, while being this amazing and incredible font of creativity, can also become a debilitating force, creating the evil monster called doubt. It can block out the blood, sweat, and tears poured into a manuscript, and turn the work into something you feel is not worthy to share.


As a writer you have two choices when it comes to doubt: succumb to its power or fight back with everything you have. But how do you fight back when the brain’s power to influence, and convince you that your work sucks, is overwhelming? Realize this: your belief in your own creativity can be even more powerful. Recognize that your work is NOT going to please everyone. That it’s okay to have doubt and worry – ALL writers do – from the debut authors to the most seasoned writers. It’s a work hazard you must understand and, sad to say, embrace.


When I feel doubt starting to slither into my mindset, I do everything I can to get out of my own head. I take a walk, listen to music, or grab coffee with a friend. When that doesn’t work, I turn to the writing community. Sharing your doubt and worry is normal, and if anyone can understand that feeling of unease it is your fellow authors.


The key to all of this, is remembering feelings of doubt, worry, even perhaps regret, are normal for a writer. Creativity is always subjective. It’s a part of the job you have to understand and accept.  Getting out of your own head for a while may be difficult, but it allows you to get some perspective on the world. It may even spark a new idea that helps you push past the doubt and create something beautiful and new!


What about you, fellow writers? How do you get out of your own headspace when doubt starts to linger? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!







First Five Frenzy with Sara Megibow of The Nelson Literary Agency April 4, 2014

Filed under: Blog,Literary Agent,Publishing,writing craft — chasingthecrazies @ 7:54 am
Tags: , , ,

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If you’re like me, you toil for hours editing and fine-tuning the first pages of your manuscript. You look at the first lines to make sure they are compelling and tight.  You examine the next few paragraphs, hoping your MC’s voice is already taking hold of the reader.


The First Five Frenzy is all about getting an agent’s perspective on what works, and what fails, in those first pages of a manuscript. By reading each agent’s comments, I hope you’ll learn how to make your manuscript a shining gem that will be requested time and time again.


Today, I am proud to share Literary Agent, Sara Megibow’s perspective on what’s important in those critical first pages.



Amy: Many writers have the impression that a great first line is imperative to drawing in the reader. How important is a first line to you as an agent?


Sara: That’s a great question and thanks for inviting me here today!


I agree – that first line of a manuscript is vitally important in grabbing my attention. I’ll tell you an insider secret…every line thereafter is equally important too.


Competition is fierce out there – an agent wants to grab the attention of an editor, an editor wants to grab the attention of their publisher, the publisher wants to grab the attention of her inside sales reps, those inside sales reps want to grab the attention of retail book buyers and retail book buyers want to grab the attention of shoppers (aka readers…aka the end user). The product must be superior in all ways in order to convince that shopper to buy our book over the thousands of other books for sale. Our agency receives 150-200 queries a day (roughly 40,000 queries last year) and many of them are for good and even very good books. Unfortunately, I can’t sell very good – I need to see absolutely superior work in order to fall in love with a book enough to be its advocate. Read THE PECULIAR by Stefan Bachmann for an example – this was a query slush pile find and is jaw-droppingly exceptional. I’m picky because the end user is picky and I agree with writers here – that first line is imperative in drawing in the reader.

Amy: Many times a writer is told to stay away from common openings like dreams, eating breakfast, riding in a car, etc. What are some common openings you recommend writers stay away from?


Sara: There are openings that can feel generic or derivative but take this piece of advice with a grain of salt. In my experience, there can be exceptions to this rule. For example, BREAKING BEAUTIFUL by Jennifer Shaw Wolf opens with the heroine, Allie, waking up. But, despite this opening, BREAKING BEAUTIFUL is an award-winning novel and on many of the Must Read lists at school libraries. If I were to pull some common examples of generic openings, though, I might include:


Looking out over a vista and thinking about the past (or the future)

Waking up

Reviving from a coma

Reading a letter or diary

Dad telling the kids they are moving

Mom telling her daughter she’s spending the summer with an aunt

Jogging and thinking

Drinking coffee and thinking

Sitting and thinking

Standing outside a locker and talking

Sitting in the high school cafeteria and talking

Reciting a prophecy

Finding out that the hero/heroine has a secret magical power and is destined to save the world


Conversely, here are some outstanding openings from books that I have sold in the past two years:


Jordan playing football with her teammates in CATCHING JORDAN by Miranda Kenneally

Imogen hiding under a table at an armed robbery in BRUISED by Sarah Skilton

Avery hitting on her hot neighbor in ALL OF YOU by Christina Lee



Amy: When you’ve responded to a writer to request a partial or full manuscript, what was it about their first pages that piqued your interest?


Sara: This is a great question and one I get asked frequently. What I wish I could say is, “all we need is a unicorn on page two” or “the inciting incident must be before page five” and that’s the magic key for getting a request for pages. Unfortunately, it’s much more complex than that. What I’m looking for is the same thing I look for in queries and in sample pages and in full manuscripts – superior writing and a unique concept.


The best way for a writer to see an example of this is to read books in their genre. Look for books that have been published in the past five years by major New York publishing houses – buy them (or borrow them from the library) and read them. Other than reading an agent’s slush pile, this is the best way for a writer to learn what kinds of books get published. Do you write contemporary young adult? Read more contemporary young adult. Do you write fantasy middle grade? Read more fantasy middle grade. Look for books in your genre that sell well or that have received great reviews (preferably both). Also – ask for books by debut authors as they have been in the slush pile most recently.


I’m looking for submissions that demonstrate superior writing and a unique concept. All of my clients are debut authors and they all came from slush pile queries. So, to see what piques my interest – read books by authors I represent.

Amy: What are some common mistakes writers make in their first five pages?


Sara: Many of the submissions I see are good. I think it’s a misconception to say that the agent’s slush pile is filled with junk – it’s not. Statistically speaking, though, most queries will receive rejection letters. What mistakes might those writers be making in their first five pages?


As with the above question, take this piece of advice with a grain of salt as there are always exceptions. Here are some common mistakes I see in the first five pages of some submissions:


- too much information introduced in an inorganic way (aka data dump)

- too much dialogue

- or, too much internal monologue

- starting the book in the wrong place (like I mentioned above…announcing that the family is moving isn’t an inciting incident – it’s the announcement of an upcoming inciting incident)

- an ineffective prologue

- trying too hard to introduce the narrative voice to the reader

- opening with bodily function scenes (peeing, pooping, vomiting)

- dream sequence

- recitation of a prophecy

Amy: What resonates with you most in those first pages? Voice? Pacing? Unique concept?


Sara: My answer to #5 here is the same as my answer for #3 – what resonates with me the most in the first pages is superior writing and a unique concept. I’m looking for interesting stories told in a masterful way. One way I think about it is…balance. I want to see dialogue and plot, character motivation and world-building, action and conflict and I want all these elements to be in balance. The story should be compelling and that story should be crafted meticulously.


Keep writing, keep reading and don’t quit. One of my clients told me recently that she writes because she HAS to write – the words claw at her from the inside and the only way to keep going day-to-day is to let those words have their voice. So, keep writing. Keep doing research and asking great questions. If you sit 100 agents in a room, you’d get 100 different answers to many of these questions. And, if you sit 100 authors in a room, you’d get 100 different experiences of publishing. So, keep asking the great questions and keep writing!


For more on Sara, you can check out Publishers Marketplace, The Nelson Literary Agency website, or follow her on Twitter, @SaraMegibow.


If you’re interested in submitting to Sara, please make sure to check The Nelson Literary Agency website for their guidelines.




W.O.W. – Writer Odyssey Wednesday with Tatum Flynn April 2, 2014






A while back I was asked to help judge a contest for a YA website. They sent me 10 pitches + the first 250 words of each entry. The first several entries were good, but nothing really jumped off the page. Then I came across an entry that made me laugh so hard, I think I shot coffee out my nose. The pitch was amazing, but the first lines really grabbed me. I read the entry several times and then posted the highest marks I could.  I wasn’t surprised to find out weeks later that the entry, BRIMSTONE FOR BREAKFAST, had won the competition.


Today, I am thrilled to share the writing journey of the author of BRIMSTONE FOR BREAKFAST, Tatum Flynn…



Amy: How long have you been writing Middle Grade?


Tatum: I started my first novel, a steampunkish MG set in Victorian London, towards the end of 2010. Although I did make a comic about a girl detective when I was seven years old, so I guess you could say I’ve been writing MG way back since, er, Date I Will Not Divulge But Record Players Might Still Have Been A Thing.



Amy: You’ve had so many cool jobs: croupier, travel writer, poker player. How did these varied experiences help your writing?


Tatum: *briefly feels cool* *remembers is currently mostly employed as Cat Furniture* *haz a sad* Honestly, I think all experiences help with your writing, whether you’re shooting rapids in the Grand Canyon or trying to figure out if someone is bluffing across a poker table in Vegas or just chasing the cat round the house trying to stuff her into a travel cage. (The last is easily the most dangerous, as any cat will tell you.) It’s my interpretation of Write What You Know: you don’t need firsthand knowledge of the situations you portray – which is a big relief when you’re writing about being chased through Hell by carnivorous carousel horses – but it helps if you’ve felt similar emotions you can tap into, like being scared and excited at once, or the aha moment of suddenly realising someone is lying.


All those jobs also involved travel, and I think travel is a brilliant thing for writers to do if possible, because when you go to places you’ve never been before, you get that sense of seeing everything with fresh eyes and feeling like everything is new, and I think the best writers have a fresh and different way of looking at the world.



Amy: How long did it take you to write BRIMSTONE FOR BREAKFAST? Did you fast draft or was there a long period of writing, edits and revisions?


Tatum: BRIMSTONE has a fragmented origin story – it was actually the first novel I began, back in 2010. In fact, the very first sentence I ever wrote – ‘Lucifer was sulking’ – is still in the book. But then I got a shiny new idea for an MG historical and went off and wrote that instead. *smacks Past Tatum on the head* Afterwards, I had a few false starts with new stories, but I couldn’t get this funny/scary tale – about Lucifer’s youngest son who’s hopeless at being evil – out of my head. So I came back to BRIMSTONE at the end of 2012, rewrote the rough opening chapters I already had and finished the rest pretty quickly. In total it probably took about three or four months to draft, with another month or two of smallish revisions and polishing.



Amy: Did you have critique partners or beta readers that helped you polish BRIMSTONE FOR BREAKFAST? If so, what did they add to the process?



Tatum: I have two fantastic critique partners, Danica Schloss and NK Traver, who helped me fix several plot holes and inconsistencies, and also bolstered my confidence by telling me all the parts that made them laugh. Since it was the first time I’d written a book which was supposed to be funny and I was terrified no one would get my weird sense of humour, having at least two people in the world saying ‘this bit with the grumpy were-rhino cracked me up’ helped a lot. My parents and best friend also beta read and gave some helpful suggestions.



Amy: Are you one of those people who has an easy time writing a query or does it take several tries before you land on the one you want to send?


Tatum: I actually always write a query before I even start a book. It’s like I’m trying to sell the story to myself, to decide if I should spend several months writing it rather than one of my other ideas. So, yes, queries are one of the things that are easier for me, because I do them automatically.



Amy: How many agents did you query for BRIMSTONE FOR BREAKFAST? Did you receive instantaneous responses or did you have to wait for requests/rejections?



Tatum: I sent – wait for it – 108 queries. Seriously, over a hundred just on this one book. But I knew before I started that a children’s book set in Hell would not be for everyone, lol. It took me five months to land an offer, which sounds quite short when I write it down, but whoa it did not feel short at the time. There was a lot of wine and whining. But I was getting the odd request here and there – one agent was so keen she read the book overnight and then we met in person, although that ended up not working out – plus some complimentary personalised rejections, and all that kept me going, thinking I was close and just had to find the right agent.


Now that I think about it, two agents who ended up offering had my full for three months, so I guess I’m the poster child for very non-instantaneous responses as well as sending out a mountain of queries.



Amy: What can you tell us about “your call” with your agent, Zoe King? How did you know she was the right fit for you?


Tatum: We never actually had “The Call.” I’d already spoken to two other agents on the phone (when I got my first offer I was so stunned I didn’t say a word, I think the agent on the end of the line probably thought I was either very calm or a bit rude, but I was just so happy and relieved I was speechless!), and then Zoe emailed to ask if we could meet. It was an important decision, and I wanted to be as informed as possible, so I decided to go to London and meet all three offering agents in person. They were all incredibly nice, so it was a hard choice, but in the end Zoe impressed me the most with her plans for my book and career. Plus it was very tempting as a kidlit author to be represented by JK Rowling’s agency!


Amy: As most writers know, publishing is a very difficult business. What was the one thing you think you did to garner agent interest?


Tatum: Well, I kind of did things backwards :) I had interest from a publisher before I had interest from any agents. I’d gone on a SCBWI retreat and met an editor from Orchard Books who loved the first chapter of BRIMSTONE. She asked me to send her the full, then a few months later she asked me to go in to meet the editorial team, and they told me that they’d be taking the book to acquisitions. So, yeah, having publisher interest is one way to garner agent interest! Of course the agents had to love my book anyway, but I’m sure it didn’t hurt.


In truth, the best thing you can do to garner agent interest is to write a good query and an even better book, then set up a little shrine to the writing gods (they like bourbon and cupcakes) and pray for luck.



Amy: What one piece of advice can you impart to aspiring writers to encourage them to keep working towards their dream?


Tatum: Just look at my stats! If they don’t encourage other writers I don’t know what will :) I believed in my book, so I tried to leave no stone unturned before moving onto the next one. I was actually on the verge of giving up on it when things started happening for me. So, it’s an old saw, but truly, don’t give up! Even if it hadn’t worked out for me with BRIMSTONE, I would’ve gone onto the next novel. Oh and also, writer friends totally keep you sane. Find some. Bribe them if necessary. They’re beyond worth it.



TatumTatum Flynn is the author of devilish MG fantasy Brimstone for Breakfast, out Summer 2015 from Orchard Books/ Hachette UK, and a sequel which she’s supposed to be writing right this minute. You can find her on Twitter @Tatum_Flynn and on her website at She lives by the sea in England with a cat called Friday and too many hats.



Query 101 Series: Body Copy – Character, Conflict and Cost March 28, 2014

Filed under: Blog,Literary Agent,Publishing,Query — chasingthecrazies @ 7:37 am
Tags: , , ,

One of the most daunting tasks of writing a query is having to compress the plot, characters, and conflict of your manuscript down to 2-3 paragraphs. I’ve interviewed many authors who have honestly revealed that this process was more aggravating at times than writing their entire book.


So how do you accurately depict your story, while adding character, conflict, cost (not to mention voice) so that an agent will want to request more? I could easily break down the construction of the pieces and parts, but I think a more effective way is to show you a successful example that worked.


With her permission, Mary Elizabeth Summer has agreed to let me share her query for, TRUST ME, I’M LYING (Delacorte Press – October, 2014). In my opinion, it is a perfect example of what the body of a query should look like.




Julep Dupree is not a real person. In fact, Julep isn’t even her real name.


Boom! Right away you are intrigued. You know instantly the character is hiding something. Is it sinister? Is it for her own protection? As a reader, you want to know more.




She’s a grifter, a con artist, a master of disguise, and a sophomore at St. Agatha High. The downside of St. Agatha’s is that its private-school price tag is a bit higher than Julep’s father, an old-school grifter with a weakness for the ponies, can afford.


Character is revealed, and we learn who Julep is and what her world looks like.


So Julep makes up the difference by running petty scams for her classmates, while dodging the dean of students and maintaining an A+ (okay, A-) average.


Stakes are revealed. What happens to Julep if her scams are discovered? We are already pulled into the story, and we haven’t even gotten to conflict yet.




But when she comes home one day to a ransacked apartment and a missing dad, Julep’s carefully laid plans for an expenses-paid golden ticket to Yale start to unravel. Even with help from St. Agatha’s resident Prince Charming, Tyler Richland, Julep struggles to trace her dad’s trail of clues through a maze of creepy stalkers, hit attempts, family secrets, and worse, the threat of foster care.


Conflict is revealed. It is clear and concise. We know who and what are at risk. Plus, the writer does a skillful job of weaving in the love interest.






With everything she has left at stake, Julep must tap all her resources and use every grift in the book to find her dad before his mark finds her.


This is a great sinker. It’s clear what Julep’s challenges are, and we, as the reader, understand everything she has to lose. Notice too, that we are left on a cliffhanger. Will Julep succeed in saving her dad? What about her future? All elements that have the reader, and hopefully an agent, asking the most important question: what happens next?



It’s true, writing the body of a query can be a monumental task. But the key in writing an effective one (as shown above) is to grab the reader from the beginning and never let go.


To recap, there are three key elements to remember:


  1. Who is your character? What makes them unique?
  2. What is the conflict? Is it clear? Does it intrigue the reader?
  3. Cost? What does the character stand to lose and how will that play out over the course of the story?



This is just one example of a query that works. The style, or approach, may not fit your manuscript, but it is a good structure to start with. If you’re curious about other queries that have been successful, I suggest you check out the following sites and blogs which provide a great sampling of other categories and genres.



Writer’s Digest: Successful Query Series

Kickass Writers Series on Gina Ciocca‘s Blog

Successful Query Series on EM Castellan‘s Blog








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