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QUERY 101 SERIES : Handling the “Call” – Guest Post from Literary Agent Pooja Menon July 18, 2014

Query 101B


Finally, the queries are sent. You wait and wait for replies, and then one day your email pings with a request. You shoot the full manuscript out to the requesting agent, and then you wait (and sometimes wait and wait again) until you get the dreaded rejection OR the lovely email titled, “Can we talk?”


First, if this happens, it’s okay to freak out a little. Do a “Muppet Flail” and perhaps even a little booty shake. You’ve worked very hard to get to this point and you’ve earned a victory shimmy. But once the adrenaline finishes pumping out of your system, you have to take a deep breath and think, “What do I do next? Should I ask about revisions? Or what about the next book I’m writing?” All good questions, but there are a myriad of other things you need to think about before that important call.


Today, I’ve asked Literary Agent, Pooja Menon of Kimberley Cameron and Associates, to share what she thinks are important things a writer should ponder and ask about during their “call.”




 “The Call”

By Pooja Menon



Writing a book is not an easy business. Anyone who tells you it is or should be doesn’t really have a clue about what goes into writing a full length book. Coming up with an original plot, fleshing out characters that are relatable and unique, minding the pacing, creating plot twists…phew! It’s definitely a labor of love, sweat and tears. And then you have the querying process. Another episode of nail biting stress, tears, and ultimately, when that offer comes into your inbox wrapped in a shiny red bow: extreme happiness! You deserve this moment, so does your baby. All of this leads to the ultimate moment of reckoning: THE CALL. This is the moment when you decide if the offer you’ve received is the best option for you and your baby. This is also that moment where, before you get on the train that never stops–revising, going out on submission, getting a deal, getting published, etc–where sometimes you feel like things are slipping out of your hands, YOU have the power to decide the next step. Sometimes you might have one offer, and sometimes you might have multiple offers and deciding among all the offers you receive can be a tense, brain-cramping experience. But it’s also such an exhilarating one.


So what makes the call so important (and nerve-wracking)? It’s the conversation that determines whether you and the agent ‘click’. The space where you and the agent can really get to know each other. Considering the agent-author relationship is usually a long-term business relationship, it’s so important to be able to connect with each other as people and as business partners with the same vision and outlook, the same work ethic. It’s a relationship in which you might find yourself having to do uncomfortable things (such as revise and get critiqued), where you’re going to have to trust someone else’s opinion on what is best for the work you’ve worked so hard on. None of this is easy. But, if you really invest in the call to get to know your prospective agent, then this process can actually be an enjoyable one. Having that one person fighting in your corner for your project, that one person with whom you can discuss your worries about your work, about the whole publishing process in general, someone to watch your back and make sure you get the best deal possible, who is equally invested in the success of your book: it can be such a positive, strengthening experience in what is mostly a lonely profession that can at times move as fast as lightening or as slow as a tortoise.


SO, how can the whole experience be made easier? Well, here are somethings to think about:


1) Research the agent/agents who’ve offered you representation. Read their website pages, blogs, interviews, find out what they’re looking for, what they’ve sold, who they represent, how comfortable or connected you feel to the way they come off to you from all of the above (trust your intuition!). Do you feel positive?


2) Look to see what questions they’ve already answered from all of the above places before you craft your questions. If an agent has already answered a question dozens of times during an interview or blog post, asking them the same thing is a waste of time, especially when you can use that time to ask other, more pressing questions. Also, we agents really appreciate authors who’ve made the effort to research our interests.


3) This is a call to talk about your work, so take a deep breath, find your enthusiasm, and dive into it. Agents are people just like you. Keep your nervousness aside, they want to talk to you about your book, the book they loved so much they want to work with you on it. This is a good space to find out what they loved about your work, and which areas they thought needed work. It is important not to make this call session sound like an inquisition or a grill session. That is uncomfortable and somewhat unnatural (to me). I want to get to know you as a person and an author. And I’m open to any questions you might have, but try as best as you can not to make an agent feel like she’s taking the stand :).


4) No question is a dumb question, so don’t hold back or be shy about something you want to know. Most of us would rather you laid things out on the table upfront, before we get into a work relationship. It’s much harder and messier to deal with the discovery that the agent and author have different visions and expectations after we’ve signed together. So be upfront with the agent about your vision for the project. Also, find out what genres they do represent and don’t (if you can’t find this from your research). If you like to write across different genres, you want to be sure the agent represents them.


5) As agents, what we are looking for most in a prospective client are the following attributes: a friendly, upbeat attitude, someone who is respectful of our time, flexible, understands that sometimes there aren’t enough work hours in the day, so is patient for a response, someone who constantly challenges themselves with projects, tries to keep abreast of the market and what’s coming out and what has been overdone, has an interest in wanting to promote themselves on social media (if you don’t have social media pages, agents will definitely help you set things up, but it’s up to the author to do the actual legwork, that means authors who are willing to do whatever it takes to get their author profile out, to connect with prospective readers and fellow writers), and most importantly, someone who is willing to dive into revisions with a positive attitude.


On a daily basis, agents read tons of manuscripts as well as books outside of work. Having read so many, and having interacted with editors on a constant basis, we have a good idea of what works and doesn’t work in today’s market. So any advice we give will not only be a fresh, objective perspective, but it’ll also be one that takes all of the above things into consideration (trends, demand, editor wish lists, snappy writing, unique plot, etc). So it’s in the author’s best interest to hear us out and trust our judgement. Definitely, we want our authors to have their own opinions if they feel strongly about something. But be open and willing to talk about it respectfully and honestly, and be willing to listen and accept advice, because, at the end, we both have the same goal. To make the book the strongest it can be. So trust the agent to do her job, just as she trusts you as an author to do yours.


6) Be warm and enthusiastic on the phone. Sound interested. I know this is an odd point, and I haven’t had this experience many times. But a few times, when I’ve picked up the phone to talk to an author, the author’s tone has thrown me off. I understand such a disconnected or uninterested tone can be the outcome of nervousness. But this does more harm that good. Such a conversation space makes it very hard for the agent to be warm and upbeat and excited about the project if the person on the other end doesn’t mirror the same emotions. This is YOUR book, we expect you to be excited, we expect you to talk our ear off about your dreams and visions and projects. If what we get on the other line is the sound of chirping crickets whenever we stop talking, or a nonchalant reply to our questions, then to me that is a red flag. I want to look forward to talking to my clients. My authors and I work very closely, brainstorming ideas and edit notes, discussing the submission process, etc. We’re in touch a lot. If I’m going to feel that dreaded feeling in the pit of my stomach whenever I have to do these things with an author, that relationship is definitely not going to work out. In a lot of cases, YOU can chart the course and tone of how the relationship with your agent goes. So be mindful of that.


7) BE YOURSELF. I know this is simple advice and probably sounds silly. But no need to ‘put your best foot forward’ or ‘your best self forward’. You can’t consistently be your best self 24/7, neither can we.


8) Have realistic expectations about the publishing business. This is a business of passion and dreams. Of stories. At the same time, this is not an industry that moves all that fast, and sometimes that can be disappointing and frustrating, like beating your head against a wall. But have faith and be positive, and be willing to continue to put your 100% in your work and in your agent. Just as you’re working on your book, she’s working to get your book out there. There’s no point in being angry and dissatisfied by the pace of the industry, or the speed with which your agent works. Trust that she/he knows what they’re doing.


I’ve heard stories where authors get annoyed at their agents for not subbing to as many editors as they’d like, or to specific editors that they’d like. It is very claustrophobic for an agent to work in an atmosphere where the author is constantly questioning or second-guessing their choices or their work. Trust that they know who the best people are for your particular manuscript. By all means, if you have a dream editor, let your agent know, but do not email her weekly with editors you think she should query. She probably has a good reason for not subbing to too many agents at one time or subbing to only specific editors from specific houses. That is one aspect of our job, to know whom to submit to and where to submit to, so take a breath and focus on another project, keep your mind busy. Know that an agent can’t control the speed with which things in the industry moves, we can’t control the speed of editors’ responses or manipulate their tastes. It can become very easy to blame someone else for things like that. But be wary of that. The agenting community is a small one, and such an attitude can quickly be more alienating than helpful. Also, consider that an agent is juggling not just one client but many, and trying to find homes for not just one project but many. So be realistic about your expectations, and patient.


9) Lastly, at the end of the call, be pleasant. Thank the agent for calling. Just as you like to keep the phone feeling warm and fuzzy, we do too! :)


Some questions to consider asking during THE CALL:


1) What are the terms of the representation being offered? Is the agent interested in representing one book or is she looking for something long-term?


2) Once you sign together, what happens next? What is her submission process like?


3) Is there an author-agent agreement? Will you be spending money out of your pocket at any time-mailing, copies, faxes, phone calls, any other fees?


4) What happens if you want to terminate your relationship with your agent?


5) Once terminated, will you get back all the unsold rights for your projects?


6) Ask about the agent’s recent sales. If you’re talking to a new agent, find out if the agency she works for has a healthy amount of recent sales, if the agency is a reputable agency, what they represent, etc.


7) Who handles the film rights, foreign rights, and audio rights?


8) How often does the agent touch base with the author?


9) Does the agent prefer phone, email, or either mode is fine?


10) Does the agent let you know where and when she’s going to submit your work?


11) Will they forward rejections letters to you?


12) Does the agent consult the author before making decisions on the offers they receive? Does the agent make decisions on behalf of the client?


13) What is the process of receiving payments or royalties? Does the agent process it first and send it to the author, or does the author get their payment directly from the publisher? If the money is being sent to the agent first, how long will it take for the agent to send the author her checks?


14) How hands-on is the agent?


15) In terms of your own work, what editorial suggestions does the agent have? How close is the book to going out on sub?


16) Will the agent help with career planning? What about helping with publicizing your work (this is something an agent can definitely help you on by guiding you, but the main legwork has to be done by the author)?


17) What editors/publishers does the agent have in mind for the author’s book?


18) If you want to write in a different genre or category someday, what is the agent’s opinion on that?


19) What happens if the agent doesn’t like your next book?


Note: questions like: How long has the agent been an agent, how long have they been in publishing, is the agent listed in Publishers Marketplace, etc are all information you can most often find on their websites or by doing a bit of research. As agents, we all work differently. Best thing to do is to see which method of working is most comfortable to you, suits you most, and go with your intuition.


On an end note, don’t be nervous. Think of us as your best allies in this infuriatingly wonderful world of publishing. And remember, the reason we’re having this conversation in the first place is because we were simply blown away by your masterpiece :), and we want to work with you and represent the amazing author that you are. So, try and get to us know, like we want to get to know you.


PoojaPooja Menon joined Kimberley Cameron & Associates as an intern in the fall of 2011, with the aim of immersing herself in the elusive world of books and publishing. She soon realized that being an agent was what she was most drawn to as the job was varied and challenging. In the fall of 2012, she began taking on her own clients. As a relatively new agent, Pooja is looking to build her client list and is eager for submissions by debut novelists and veteran writers. She represents both Adult and YA fiction/non-fiction and select Middle Grade.



Chanel Cleeton on Creating Compelling NA Voice July 17, 2014

Recently my friend, and amazing author, Chanel Cleeton released LONDON FALLING, the follow-up to her debut, I SEE LONDON. This fun and flirty New Adult Contemporary is full of charm and swoony romance! In celebration of this release, I wanted to share again Chanel’s recent guest post on creating authentic NA voice. I think it touches on some important points, not only about the category, but writing in general.



Getting to a New Adult State of Mind

By Chanel Cleeton




Writing New Adult is all about capturing the spirit of being eighteen to twenty-six years old. This time in your life is a huge transitional period—you’re facing new adventures like finding your way in the world, starting a career, falling in love, and leaving home. New Adult is also about juggling the responsibilities of adulthood without having the experience or complete confidence you may need to face the challenges thrown your way. As a writer you want to convey this spirit to your readers—creating relatable characters and situations. I find that personal experience is one of the best tools you can utilize when writing New Adult.



For me, at twenty-eight, my New Adult years are a very recent memory. I draw a lot on personal experiences and my friends’ experiences. I find that this brings authenticity to my characters. For example, in one of the scenes in I SEE LONDON, my heroine talks about changing the assigned ringtone for a certain guy in her cell phone so she’ll know when he calls. It’s a little thing but something I totally did when I was single. I’ve had readers comment on it because they’ve done the same. Putting realistic details and emotions in your book goes a long way to connecting with your readers and making your characters authentic.



If you’re interested in writing New Adult, real life is a great source of inspiration. Even if your New Adult years were a while ago, still think back and remember how you felt during those years. Think about the challenges you faced, adventures you had, and changes you went through. Think of pieces of your past and experiences that you can put into your characters. If you’re around teens or twentysomethings, they are also a wonderful resource.



Another step to adopting a New Adult mindset is to read widely within the category. Books like Easy by Tammara Webber, Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire, Losing It by Cora Carmack, and Wait for You by Jennifer Armentrout, writing as J. Lynn, are all staples. Reading these books will give you a sense of the category’s origins. That said—New Adult isn’t just about contemporary romance. The category is developing and evolving over time and the New Adult spirit is prevalent whether you’re writing dystopian or contemporary.



Popular culture can also be an excellent inspiration for writing New Adult. Shows like Girls, Felicity, Vanderpump Rules, Ugly Betty, later seasons of Gossip Girl, Veronica Mars, and One Tree Hill, are all representative of the New Adult spirit. Movies like 21, Pitch Perfect, Legally Blonde, and The Social Network also depict the challenges and adventures of life as a twentysomething. Magazines like Cosmopolitan and Glamour are also great resources—especially the sections that include reader input.



Honestly, writing New Adult can be challenging and a little scary. As a writer, it can push you outside of your comfort zone. The current market is pretty sexy. That doesn’t mean you have to write steamy New Adult stories—I firmly believe that there is room for all heat levels. If you want to—great. If you’re uncomfortable—find what works for you. I wrote Young Adult before switching to New Adult and it was a challenge for me to feel comfortable writing sexy scenes that weren’t the fade-to-black that we so often see in younger stories. But in my case, an increased heat level fit my characters, and I went for it because it was the best thing for the story. That said, it’s still not as hot as some New Adult books and that’s okay.




London Falling




Maggie Carpenter walked away from the hottest encounter of her life when she left the seductive glitz of England for summer break in her South Carolina hometown. Now that she’s returned to the International School in London—and sexy, privileged Samir Khouri is once again close enough to touch—she can’t help but remember the attraction, the drama … the heartbreak.


She can’t help but want him even more.


Samir can’t afford to fall for someone so far removed from his world, not when his time in London is running out. It’s his senior year—his last chance at freedom before he returns home to Lebanon. There, he’ll be expected to follow in his father’s footsteps—not follow his heart to Maggie. But when a scorching secret hookup becomes a temptation neither can resist, they’ll both have to fight to survive the consequences … and find a future together.


Available now for purchase via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million and iBooks.



ChanelOriginally a Florida girl, CHANEL CLEETON moved to London where she received a bachelor’s degree from Richmond, The American International University in London and a master’s degree from the London School of Economics and Political Science. Chanel fell in love with London and planned to stay there forever, until fate intervened on a Caribbean cruise, and an American fighter pilot with smooth dance moves swept her off her feet. Now, a happily ever after later, Chanel is living her next adventure in South Korea.

Law school made Chanel realize she’d rather spend her days writing sexy stories than in a courtroom, and she hasn’t looked back since. An avid reader and hopeless romantic, she’s happiest curled up with a book. She has a weakness for handbags, her three pups, and her fighter pilot husband. Chanel writes New Adult contemporary romances and thrillers.


She is the author of I SEE LONDON and LONDON FALLING, published by Harlequin HQN, and FLIRTING WITH SCANDAL, the first book in a new NA series to be released by Berkley in 2015.


First Five Frenzy with Elizabeth Harding of Curtis Brown LTD July 11, 2014

FFF SideWords



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, Elizabeth Harding’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?


Elizabeth: I am a patient reader, so for me the first line doesn’t make or break my decision to continue reading. But a pedestrian opening paragraph certainly can color my mindset as I read through the opening pages.



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?


Elizabeth: The types of common openings that you mention as something to avoid are all symptoms of the main problem – starting the book before the actual story begins. I think it behooves authors to honor the beginning of their story and not try to wrap it up in pretty packaging that might serve more to detract the reader than draw in the reader.



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?


Elizabeth: I’m not sure there is a singular reason, to be honest. Sometimes I ask for a manuscript because the genre is one that helps fill a hole on my list. Or the subject happens to be of personal interest to me. But always I have to feel like this is a writer who can tell a story and develop a character. Over the past 2-3 years, the overall quality of the partial or full manuscripts that I’ve requested based on emailed queries seems higher than in year’s past, so I see a lot of writing that is ‘fine’ or ‘above average.’ And by this I mean writing where I probably will read the entire manuscript if I requested it just because I want to know what happened, but not writing that I necessarily would remember in detail as I moved to the next project. But when I see first pages where it is clear that the writing is elevated or the characters and plot feel fresh and not derivative, I always find it exciting and enticing.



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


Elizabeth: I’ve seen plenty of opening pages which I consider to be overwritten from a descriptive language standpoint. I do think it is important as a writer to let your ability to set the stage – tone, setting, atmosphere, etc. – shine in the opening pages, but unless I have an idea of the voice and a general sense of the direction of the manuscript, I think the opening pages aren’t working the way they should to help frame the reader’s expectation of what is to come.



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


Elizabeth: For me, I think it always comes down to an authentic and accessible voice. Unless I connect with the voice and lose myself in it relatively quickly, I usually feel a disconnect with the writing, regardless of a snappy pace or a unique concept or plot.



Elizabeth Harding represents authors and illustrators of juvenile, middle-grade, young adult and teen fiction at Curtis Brown ( Elizabeth started at the agency as an assistant to the legendary Marilyn E. Marlow, and she has been at Curtis Brown for more than seventeen years. Elizabeth represents New York Times bestsellers, Newberry, National Book Award, Printz and Coretta Scott King honor award winners. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan (Go Blue!) and lives in Manhattan with her husband and three young boys. @ehardingnyc


If you are interested in submitting to Elizabeth, please check the Curtis Brown website for guidelines.






Monday Musings: Explore a City, Discover a Story July 7, 2014

Filed under: Blog,Inspiration,writing craft — chasingthecrazies @ 7:33 am
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NYC - Met (Central Park & NYC skyline taken from the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art)



I’m not one of those people who has a million plot bunnies scurrying around in their brain (I wish). Story ideas usually come to me in one of two ways: through music or exploring new cities. I really don’t know what it is about these two things, but they get my creative juices flowing in a way nothing else can.


The musical inspiration is one thing. I can turn on the radio anywhere, flip the dial, and instantly connect with something. The exploring new cities, well, that’s a whole other thing.


Most of the time people go on vacation to take a break from writing. To let their mind go and relax. But for me, that has never really ever been the case (much to my family’s chagrin). It’s not like I go looking for inspiration – but it always seems to find me.


If you follow this blog regularly then you know my latest manuscript, a YA Historical, was inspired by a trip last year to the Field Museum in Chicago. There I was minding my own business, checking out dinosaur bones and old coal mines, when WHAMMO I came across a word of note about an item being displayed. Suddenly all the cylinders in my brain were clicking, and I was opening the notes app. on my phone to scribble out ideas. Now, I didn’t go looking for inspiration, yet there she was in all her glory, begging me to write this story, and I couldn’t say “no.”


Want to know the item that inspired me? Here it is…(note: this is not the exact plane from the museum – but a similar version)



Jenny photo



I just finished what I hope will be the final revisions on this manuscript. The process has taken well over a year and has been one of the most challenging projects I have ever taken on. It is also the manuscript that has completely swallowed me heart and soul, and given me more joy than anything else I have ever written.


With the final sentence revised on this manuscript, I left for New York City, ready for some much needed rest. But, of course, that rest lasted a whole two days, and I blame that on this lady…






I was scurrying around the base of the Statue of Liberty on a gorgeous June day when something on the audio tour caught my attention. Quickly, I paused the narrative, rewound it, and listened once more to an amazing story about the day she was revealed, and again, WHAMMO – inspiration! I’m not going to get into details about the story, but let’s just say it’s going to feature a cool cast of female heroines!


For me, new cities bring out a curiosity I don’t usually have. When I walk past an old, crumbling home I stop and take pictures, wondering who once lived there and develop a backstory in my head. If we take a wrong turn down a street and pass a historical sign, I pause and read it, questioning whether or not a story could be born from the details shared on the sign. While I should be resting and taking a break, my brain is working overtime to discover every unhidden story within the city I’m visiting.


I’m not saying you have to travel far and wide to be inspired. You can go to a part of your own city, be it ten or fifty minutes away, and find inspiration. Perhaps the next idea can come from a new exhibit appearing at your local museum, or from a speaker appearing at a library on the other side of town. My point is this: sometimes exploring new things, wading into new experiences, can open a part of your brain that seeks new ideas. The only thing that matters is you have to be willing and open to those ideas and ready to receive them – even if you intend for your brain to be on a break!


What about you? Where do you find inspiration? I would love to hear about it in the comments!











Query 101B


The entire query process is about waiting. First you send the query and then you wait. And wait. And wait. If you get a request, you send your material and wait again. It’s all about patience and well, honestly, keeping yourself distracted so you don’t go crazy.


But what if you’ve been waiting longer than usual? Now I’m not talking 3-4 weeks. Most agencies quote on their websites they need at least 6-8 weeks to read queries and/or requested materials. Some require more. Make sure you check the agency’s website before sending that nudge.


Yet if you’ve been waiting beyond the specified time, there are certain procedures you should follow in order to follow-up with the requesting agent. First, above all, act professional. Send them an email (preferably within the email request chain) and confirm they have received your materials. Then politely inquire as to when you can expect a reply.


I’ve been in this situation before and have had success with nudging. In almost every email I sent to an agent, I received a reply within at least a week. So how do you word such an email? I used the following format which came from agent, Bree Ogden in a great post she did for Lit Reactor:



Dear [Agent],

I’m writing to check on the status of my manuscript [title] sent to you on [date]. I understand you are very busy; I just wanted to make sure it arrived safely in your inbox. Thank you again for your interest in my work. I look forward to hearing from you.





Simple and to the point. You don’t need to go into great detail about your manuscript, but you do need to be straightforward about what information you are requesting from the agent.


Let’s be clear here: this is in regards to requested materials. DO NOT nudge on a query. The only reason you should follow-up on a query is if the agency has a reply policy.  If they state they will respond to ALL received queries, and you haven’t heard back, then it is okay to resend the query. BUT that is only in the case where the agency has SPECIFICALLY stated this policy on their submission page.


What if you don’t hear back right away from the nudge? I’d recommend giving the agent at least two weeks to reply. If you don’t hear anything, I’d send one more nudge. After that, unfortunately if it’s radio silence, I would assume the agent is passing.


The key here again is to stay professional. Many agents are not only juggling clients and conference obligations, but submissions to editors, as well as reading NUMEROUS manuscripts (not only from you but other aspiring writers). It’s hard to wait, believe me I understand, but publishing is all about waiting and PATIENCE (tons of patience). Hang in there, work on something new and cross your fingers that your email soon “dings” with great news!



Next up in the QUERY 101 series: A special guest post by agent, Pooja Menon, on handling “The Call.”



First Five Frenzy with Carrie Howland of Donadio & Olson, Inc. June 13, 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, Carrie Howland’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?


Carrie: A first line, like any first impression, is always important. It shows that you, as a writer, are coming out swinging. The problem comes when you focus so much on the first line, that you forget about the rest of the page, chapter, book. I don’t think a writer should ever focus so much on any one thing that he or she forgets about the work as a whole. A great first line draws the reader in, but great second, third, and forth lines are what keep them reading.



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?


Carrie: I don’t like to say that there is any one thing to stay away from, because done right, even something as common or mundane as eating breakfast can be really powerful. I think, instead, it’s important to focus on why you’re including that scene and how you’re writing it. Does eating breakfast best serve your manuscript? Is the scene really working, both style and plot-wise? If yes, then keep going. Make sure you’re writing the most original breakfast-eating scene imaginable. If, instead, you’re using the breakfast scene as a crutch, because you’ve seen it done before, or because it’s easy, then it’s not best serving the manuscript and you, as the writer, need to push yourself beyond your comfort zone, beyond the breakfast table, to write something truly original.



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?


Carrie: A strong voice and great writing. My background is in poetry, so there’s nothing I love more than a beautiful, well-written line. Those are the first things I notice. They show themselves before plot or character development. Before concept, really. Good writing is what takes me to the next page and then the next. It’s what compels me to ask for the full manuscript. That said, I do love a good, high-concept idea. While my taste tends to skew literary, I still love a good story. And if your work is high-concept and well-written, expect a request for more!



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


Carrie: Not staying true to your own voice and work. I often read things that feel derivative. Perhaps someone has read too many books like theirs that have influenced them. Perhaps they’re trying so hard to write in one genre, that they’re not allowing the work to breathe and expand, to be what it could and should be. I think it’s important to let your work evolve as you write, to go with the direction the words take you. If you start out intending to write adult literary fiction, but find you’re writing a beautiful young adult story, go with it. Don’t pigeonhole yourself. I also caution against allowing too many people to read your work, and revising based on all their ideas. It becomes too much. I can always tell early on when a writer has had input from ten other people, because the seams show. The manuscript becomes a Frankenstein’s Monster version of itself. Again, stay true to your work. Taking advice from too many different people will cause your manuscript to become a bit of a mess, and it will be obvious to anyone reading it that it’s been overworked. Not only is this a problem for the manuscript itself, but it makes me question the writer’s faith in his or her own talents. Believe in yourself as a writer, and it will show in your work.



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


Carrie: Voice has always been of the utmost importance to me. It’s the thing I look for in any manuscript, across any genre. If your voice is strong, unique, quirky, I’m interested. That voice will sustain me throughout the manuscript. It’s also something I can’t teach or fix. A manuscript either has it, or it doesn’t. Whereas things like plot issues and pacing problems can be edited, a strong voice needs to come from the writer and needs to be present from the beginning. I’ve taken on several projects with plot issues, because the voice was so strong, I couldn’t turn away from the project. Those voices stay with me long after I put the pages down.



Carrie Howland is a literary agent at Donadio & Olson, Inc., where she represents literary fiction, narrative non-fiction, young adult, and middle grade authors. In addition to her own clients, she handles foreign, first serial, and audio rights for the agency. Carrie is a member of the Association of Authors’ Representatives and writes for its newsletter. She also enjoys speaking at various writing conferences throughout the year. Carrie holds a B.A. in English and Creative Writing from Albion College, where she was the Poetry Editor of The Albion Review. Her poetry has appeared in various literary journals and magazines. In her spare time, Carrie volunteers as a foster for a local dog rescue. She lives in Brooklyn, New York. You can follow her on twitter at @ecarriehowland or learn more about Donadio & Olson at


If you’re interested in submitting to Carrie, please make sure to check the Donadio & Olson website for their guidelines.






Query 101 Series: Handling Requests & Manuscript Formatting June 6, 2014

Query 101B



Being in the query trenches can sometimes be a long and tedious process. You write those letters, press “send” and then wait, jumping every time your email alert goes off. Yes, in this case patience can be a virtue (albeit a painful one). But then that day comes, you see, or hear, you have something in your inbox and there it is: A REQUEST!! Give yourself a minute to revel in it – enjoy it! After that, it’s time to focus on your next steps.


In most cases, the requesting agent will give you specific directions on how to submit. I can’t stress this enough – FOLLOW DIRECTIONS. If they ask you to make your query the first page, DO IT! If they ask for the first 50 pages, be honest and send 50 pages (not 75 or 100). Most agents say it’s okay to go over a little to get to the end of a scene or  chapter, but don’t push the limit.



Sending your request:



- Be sure your manuscript is formatted correctly (see details below)


- Send as soon as possible. If the agent is requesting your manuscript, it’s still fresh in his/her mind. You want to capitalize on this!


- Reply within the email chain. This way the agent has a frame of reference for your work. If it’s a request from a contest or conference, make sure you write in the subject line: REQUESTED MATERIALS (with some reference point i.e. from XX contest or XX conference).




Now with requests several issues may come up:




1) You’re in the middle of more revisions, or you’ve gotten specific feedback from a contest or agent that you’d like to make.


Many agent interviews I’ve read recommend making the changes and then sending. It’s okay to send a short note to the agent acknowledging their request and letting them know you are making changes.



2) You already have an offer.


Let the agent know right away. Give them a chance to either bow out or offer to read within an allotted time (some recommend one to two weeks based on the conversation you’ve already had with offering agent).




If this is the first time you’ve gotten a request, again be sure to follow the directions dictated by the agent. They may have specific ways they want you to format your manuscript. If they don’t, and you have questions about how to indicate scene breaks, or what font to use, I recommend using the outline below from The Editor’s Blog:



  • Twelve point, Times New Roman (or Courier New, if you insist), black font


  • One-inch margins on all four sides


  • Half-inch paragraph indentations (five spaces) (this tab is pre-set in MS Word) for the first line of each paragraph


  • Double space; no extra spaces between paragraphs


  • Align left (not justified). The right edges will not be uniform or even


  • Number pages beginning with the actual story (don’t count or put page numbers on the title page)


  • Indicate scene breaks by inserting a blank line and centering the number sign # in the center of the line


  • Include your last name, your title (or keywords from the title), and the page number in the page header of every page except for the title page. Align the header to the right, so the information doesn’t interfere with the text of the manuscript. (Jones/Taming the Monster/1)


  • Begin chapters on new pages (insert a page break). Center the chapter title, even if it’s only Chapter One (or Chapter 1), about 1/3 of the way down the page. Skip a couple of spaces and begin the text of the chapter.


  • Center a number sign # one double-spaced blank line down at the end of the manuscript. Or simply write The End. You want agents and editors to know they’ve reached the end.


  • Use italics for italicized words. (Former practice was to underline to show italicized words, but that’s no longer necessary unless an agent or publisher requests underlining.)


  • Single space rather than two spaces after periods between sentences. If you forget this one, nobody’s going to turn down your manuscript because of it. It’s just a good habit to get into, especially for those of us who learned on typewriters and always added two spaces between sentences.



Include a title page



  • Aligned left and single spaced, near the top of the page, include contact information: Your real/legal name, address, phone number, e-mail address. Follow with the word count. Alternatively, you can set word count apart by listing it at the top of the right side of the title page.


  • About 1/2 the way down the page, centered, enter the full manuscript title (all caps or mixed caps); on the next double-spaced line, type by or a novel by or a story by; on the next double-spaced line, add your pen name or your real name plus your pen name—Alexis Chesterfield writing as Billie Thomas.


  • Header information is not included on the title page. The title page is not included in page numbering.



Again, it is very important to make sure you follow specific formatting guidelines for two reasons:


First, you want to present yourself as being professional. A manuscript that is not formatted correctly can look sloppy, plus it shows you haven’t done your research.


Second, there are specific reasons the agent may have gone out of their way to give you directions. Perhaps they want to read your manuscript on an e-reader, and only by following their directive can they do this.


Overall, remember to celebrate this victory. You’ve worked tirelessly to write a great manuscript and an equally compelling query. A request is a great accomplishment, and you need to approach it with the same focus you would any other major project in your life.




W.O.W. – Writer Odyssey Wednesday with Becky Wallace June 4, 2014




For some writers I think there’s a belief that when you sign with an agent you’ve finally made it. Sure, there is still work involved, but once you polish your manuscript it’s going to hit editors desks and sell right away. As today’s W.O.W. with Becky Wallace illustrates, that is not always the case. Sometimes it may take several manuscripts before the right one makes a splash with editors, and as a writer you need to be prepared for that reality. I’m grateful to Becky for sharing this part of her writing journey. It serves as another reminder that publishing can be a rough business, but if you believe in your work, and hold tight to your dreams, you can be a success!


Many thanks to Becky for sharing her writing journey today…



Amy: When did you complete your first Young Adult manuscript?


Becky: Oh…I don’t know.  Like a thousand, or maybe three-ish, years ago.  My first ms was a Nanowrimo success story (though I wasn’t a winner, per se).  I started it in August. Finished in December, and edited through February.



Amy: Did you have critique partners or beta readers that helped you polish THE STORYSPINNER?  If so, how critical were they to the process of completing the manuscript?


Becky: I do have a handful of critique partners who looked at THE STORYSPINNER at a variety of stages.  I have one alpha-reader–someone who reads every chapter as I write them–and provides feedback as the story develops. I have one CP who reads my mss when they’ve reached the mid-point.  She helps me make sure the story is on track, that my characters are growing, and that the pace is good.  Then I have two or three other people who read my ms when it’s finished.  They give me overall feedback for the book, point out plot holes, and areas where the writing can be tightened. They are all critical to the development of the story.



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


Becky: I felt very lucky with my querying process.  I queried nearly fifty agents, but had a lot of positive response right away.  I ended up with multiple offers to chose from. My frustration came later (see the next question).



Amy: How many agents did you query for THE STORYSPINNER?


Becky: So…remember that frustration I mentioned in the previous question?  THE STORYSPINNER was my fourth manuscript after I got my agent.  That’s right, ladies and gents, I shelved three manuscripts (one paranormal and two contemporary thrillers) before I started writing fantasy.  If you think querying is hell, can I just say that knowing your book is on an editor’s desk, sitting, gathering dust, waiting to be accepted or rejected, is a gazillion times worse?  It’s worse than hot pokers and brimstone.  Being on sub is like standing in a pool of water with your hair continuously on fire and an unquenchable thirst. And I went through it. Four times.



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


Becky: For my query I did receive an immediate response. Start to finish (from first email to contract), the process was less than a month. Submission, as I said before, was a much more painful process. Sometimes it was six months before I got a response and sometimes no response ever came.



Amy: What was your call like with your agent, Jennifer Laughran?  How did you know she was the right fit for you?


Becky: I was a basket case when Jenn called, pacing around my house and sweating profusely.  I’m so grateful no one could see me because it would be the epitome of all things embarrassing. Yet Jenn was so, so nice.  She has such a dynamic personality.  She’s funny and upbeat and honest.  I love those things about her!



Amy: If you were speaking at a conference and an aspiring writer told you they were thinking about giving up on their publishing dream, what would you say to them?


Becky: I would say, “I’ve been there.” When no one picked up my third manuscript and I knew my fourth would be going out soon, I said to one of my critique partners, “If this one doesn’t sell, then I’m giving up.  It’s not fair to myself and my family to put so much time and effort into writing, if it’s just going to be a time and energy void.”  But I pushed through and edited the heck out of THE STORYSPINNER. If I was going to give up, I needed to know that I gave writing my best effort before I walked away.  And that’s the best advice I can give to anyone, at any stage in publishing cycle. Don’t quit until you know, for sure, that you can walk away without any regrets. 







In a world where dukes plot their way to the throne, a Performer’s life can get tricky.


All Johanna Von Arlo wants to do is become a Storyspinner. But her options are so limited that she is forced to work for the aggravating and handsome Lord Rafael DeSilva. While in his employ, Johanna is exposed to a dangerous game of thrones, a game where she will discover that the magically inclined Keepers from her stories might be real after all.


The Keepers are searching for an heir to a great power and the key to saving their land. They aren’t alone in their hunt. Girls matching the heir’s description are turning up dead all over the kingdom. Girls who look exactly like Johanna.



View More: second grade, Becky Wallace had to sit in the corner because she refused to write anything except princess stories and fairy tales (and because she talked too much). Her time in isolation gave her plenty of opportunities to dream up the fantasy worlds she’s been dabbling with ever since. She was lucky enough to find her own real-life Prince Charming. They have four munchkins and live in happy little town near Houston, Texas. For more on Becky, check out her website or follow her on Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest.



40th First Five Frenzy with Lana Popovic of ZSH Literary!! May 30, 2014

FFF SideWords



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, Lana Popovic’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?


Lana: While it’s not a deal-breaker by any means if the first line is not astonishing, it should at least be solid—and at best, it should be as spectacular as the writer can make it. This is the first real opportunity to showcase voice, and I put a lot of stock in the power of a beautifully crafted first line. It conveys to me that the writer has both the literary goods and the savvy when it comes to knowing how to draw the reader in. That said, I will always read the first five pages, so it’s definitely not a death knell if that first line isn’t blazingly brilliant. (I’m cool with alliteration, too.)




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?


Lana: Those are definitely my top three to avoid! I also don’t love bait-and-switch openings, where the reader is thrown into an action sequence that is presented as something with mortally dangerous consequences—but is in fact the protagonist playing a video game or hide-and-seek or imagining something while in class. Those always make me roll my eyes a bit. It’s like the opposite of the “gasp!” reaction that we want.


Also, it being someone’s birthday. Especially the seventeenth.




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?


Lana: I actually don’t ask for sample pages, so I judge by query alone. I’ll request anything with a fresh, intriguing premise and a voice that shines through even in the query itself. Beautiful or punchy titles always help, too.




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


Lana: Because they know their own protagonist so well, writers often assume that the reader will automatically care about her or him as well, and hurl us into action before we’ve developed any emotional connection, thereby lowering the stakes for us. If I don’t know the first thing about Deliria Twist (please don’t name your character that—another common mistake. Overly whimsical names make us cringe unless they dovetail immaculately with a generally outlandish but well-executed concept), I don’t care that she’s sprinting out of a burning building while demons rain hellfire at her. I know I should care, but I don’t. I’m just cold like that.


On the other side of the spectrum is opening with pages and pages of backstory. This bogs me down because again, I don’t know the character well enough to want to delve into the context of their life. Striking the perfect balance between exposition and action in those first pages is key.




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


Lana: Oh, definitely voice! If I see that glimmer—my fellow agent and wonderful human Taylor Haggerty calls it “sparkle,” which is right on point—of a unique voice, it can cover a multitude of sins. I love unusual, distinctive, and/or edgy voices.




Many thanks to Lana for sharing her thoughts on what is critical in those first five pages. In celebration of this being the 40th post in the First Five Frenzy series, Lana has graciously offered to do a query critique for one lucky writer! If you’re interested in the query critique, please comment below with your contact info!





W.O.W. – Writer Odyssey Wednesday with David Arnold May 28, 2014




What struck me most about today’s W.O.W. with David Arnold was his comments about taking your time. In this fast-paced world we seem to want it all NOW, but in writing nothing ever comes quickly. You must draft, write and then revise (sometimes over and over) in order to get the best possible manuscript. I love that he shared he went through 9 drafts of his novel, MOSQUITOLAND, before finally querying. It proves if you take your time, and really hone your manuscript, you can have eventual success.



Many thanks to David for sharing his journey today…



Amy: When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?


David: I’m not really sure how to answer that question, except to say that I’ve ALWAYS wanted to be a reader. I discovered The Hardy Boys when I was seven and from that point on, I’ve never not been reading something. So it was a logical next step for me, I think – to go from story input to story output.



Amy: What inspires you to write Young Adult Fiction?


David: Why I write about young adults: I think there’s something special about the 15-17 year-old age range. You’re old enough to think you know everything, but too young to know you don’t. This sort of blind naivety lends itself to great characters in unique, and oftentimes broken, situations. Why I write for young adults: I vividly remember my own young adulthood, so for me, it’s the nearest well to draw from. Whatever “voice” is, mine naturally comes from this place.



Amy: I love the premise behind MOSQUITOLAND. Was there anything specific that inspired the story?


David: Thank you! I’m not sure it was any one incident that inspired me to tell this particular story, so much as a million tiny incidents joining forces to push me into it. Many of the settings in the book are places I’ve lived, but very little of what happens to Mim (the main character) ever happened to me. But for me, story begins with character. Keeping with the “well” analogy from earlier, I’ve found that my writing tends to follow these steps: Find the well from which my character drinks. Drink from that well. Let them tell the story.



Amy: How many manuscripts had you completed prior to MOSQUITOLAND?


David: Completed is a funny word. The short answer is… one? For years, I wrote middle grade, but there was no sense of urgency and it showed in the work. Then my wife and I found out we were (surprise!) pregnant, and I was faced with serious decisions. The next day, I shelved all those middle grade projects, and decided to start a book I’d been too scared to try. That book is Mosquitoland, and while I won’t say I wrote it for my son, I will say much of it is written to him. (Sorry. Tangent. Yes, only one finished manuscript prior to ML.)



Amy: If you had preliminary rejections, how did you deal with that process and continue to write?


David: If you think about writing as a sidecar, rather than the actual motorcycle, it becomes a lot easier. Don’t worry about making it the MAIN thing. Just make it a thing. As the pressure diminshes, so too will the weight of rejection.



Amy: How long did it take you to write the query for MOSQUITOLAND? Did it go through many drafts?


David: I probably spent close to two months on the query alone. And that was just on the front end (drafting, critiquing, revising, rinse, repeat). After that, the real work began: researching agents and tailoring your query to each of their specific guidelines and needs. I spent countless hours on twitter, Writers Digest, and Querytracker looking for agents that would be right for me.



Amy: How many agents did you query for MOSQUITOLAND?


David: Six



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


David: It varied. Dan’s assistant (Torie) responded immediately, requesting a full. But Dan was on vacation in Europe, so she said it would probably be a while before he got back with me. And so began the twiddling of thumbs, the maniacal giggling, and the rousing rounds of Kumbayah. :/




Amy: What can you tell us about your “call” with your agent, Dan Lazar?  How did you know he was a good fit for you?


David: When you query an agent, you’re looking for certain qualities: track record, current clientele, what agency they’re with, etc. All of those qualities were important to me, but they were things I could find online. So when I got to speak to an agent on the phone, I set new parameters. The two most important qualities I looked for were enthusiasm and kindness. Dan proved he got my work by asking the right questions and making incredibly insightful comments (one of which, was in reference to a WIP, now my book 2). Before I ever signed with Dan, I knew he had an inherent understanding of my work, and of my career as an author. And of course, he was exceedingly kind.




Amy: As many writers know the publishing world is very hard to break into. What was the one thing you did to help garner agent attention?


David: I took my time. Not just in querying and researching agents, but in writing the manuscript. Above, I mentioned that I spent some time writing middle grade. The thing is, I never queried those manuscripts because I knew they weren’t my best foot forward. Even with Mosquitoland, every time I thought I was done (9 times, to be exact), I took at least 3 weeks away from the pages. And every time I came back, I found ways to make it better. All in all, I spent two years writing/critiquing/revising before sending it out; had I queried it the first time I thought it was done, I would have gotten a stack of rejections (and rightly so). It’s true that writers will be rejected. But I think the amount of rejections can be reduced by simply… taking your time.




Amy: What advice did you get early on in your writing career that you still use today?


David: COMMUNITY! Find one. I dove into the SCBWI MidSouth region and honestly don’t know where I’d be without them. (Lost. Completely lost.) Through SCBWI, I also found my brilliant critique group. Those guys save my life one manuscript at a time.





David ArnoldDavid Arnold is the author of MOSQUITOLAND (Viking/Penguin, 2015). Previous “jobs” include freelance film composer, stay-at-home dad, and preschool teacher. He is a fierce believer in the power of kindness and community. And chips. He believes fiercely in chips. David is represented by Dan Lazar at Writers House. You can find him at and on Twitter (@roofbeam).




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