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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
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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, 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.



W.O.W. – Writer Odyssey Wednesday with EM Castellan March 26, 2014





I love sharing stories where authors have had a writing dream since they were very young. Maybe they started with poetry or a short story. Perhaps they’d written a novel filled with hopes and ideas from their childhood. Whatever the case, as they grew into adults they held onto that dream until it became a reality. Today’s featured author, EM Castellan, is one of these cases. Writing since 13, she recently signed with an agent for her YA Historical Fantasy, LILY IN THE SHADOWS, a dark tale set in London in the late nineteenth century. EM is proof that if you hold tight to your dreams, they CAN come true!



Many thanks to EM for sharing her story…




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


EM: In January 2010. I had been writing for many years (since I was 13) and very few people had read my stories. Then one of my friends asked me why I didn’t try to get published and after a few weeks pondering this, I started writing a YA Sci-Fi novel with the intent to get it published one day. A few months later I had a first draft and I began researching how to get this obvious masterpiece published. That’s when I realized things would likely take some more time!



Amy: You live in an English castle (which is beyond cool!) Are any of your experiences from living in the castle worked into your YA Historical Fantasy, LILY IN THE SHADOWS?


EM: No, actually. I have written stories set in a castle similar to the one I live in, but LILY isn’t one them. Instead LILY is set in Victorian London, which is such a wonderful setting! Having my story set in the capital also gave me a good excuse to go there often, “for research” of course.



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


EM: I did! My CPs Jessy Rubinkowski and Allie Schellong helped a great deal, as well as my 7 other beta readers. It took me nearly a year to write LILY, polish it, then rewrite it following several R&Rs. My CPs’ input was crucial during all this time, especially to make sure I kept true to the book I wanted to write.



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


EM: My query process wasn’t really frustrating. However, it was LONG. I started querying in late June 2013 and I signed with my agent in January 2014. That’s 6 months. I was querying “successfully” (i.e. getting requests, positive feedback and R&Rs), but the whole process took a long time.



Amy: How many agents did you query for LILY IN THE SHADOWS?


EM: LILY was the second manuscript I queried. As a result, I felt I knew what I was doing this time around, and after doing A LOT of research, I only queried agents who were specifically looking for YA Historical Fantasy. I queried 33 agents, I had 19 requests (including 13 full requests), 4 R&Rs and 2 offers of representation.



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


EM: I’ve read MANY posts by writers who signed with their agents only a couple of months after sending out their first query. Here I want to say it’s not necessarily the norm. After a slow start in the summer, I queried 22 agents at the same time in late August. I heard back from the majority of them within a month, which I thought was reasonably fast. What was interesting was that I either received rejections or full requests. I had very few partial requests. I’m mentioning this to show that a good query letter allows you to skip one querying step: agents either know straight away they want to read the whole story or they know it’s not for them. As a result of all those full requests, however, I then had to wait for the agents to read my manuscript. The quickest one took 1 week and the slowest one 4 months. Their average reading time was 10 weeks.



Amy: You entered a few contests with LILY IN THE SHADOWS. What did you learn from those experiences?


EM: I entered two contests in which LILY was a finalist: Christmas In July (organized by Michelle Krys and Ruth Lauren Steven) and Like A Virgin (organized by Kristina Perez and Rhiann Wynn-Nolet). Contests were a great way to polish my query and first page, as well as to “test the waters” with agents. I also took part in two Twitter Pitch Parties during which I got my request from Erin, who would end up offering representation a few months later.



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


EM: Erin emailed to ask if I had time to talk on December 16, but with the holidays we only managed to speak on January 2nd. Which means I had 2 weeks to panic/flail/prepare before the Call actually happened. Erin did most of the talking and answered a lot of my questions before I asked them, which was a good sign. She seemed to have the same vision for my book and career as I had. I also liked the fact that Folio Literary Management has offices in the US and the UK. In short, I had a long list of Things I Expected From My Future Agent and Erin seemed to tick all the boxes.




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


EM: I love this quote by Michelle Hodkin (author of the Mara Dyer trilogy): “The only secret to getting published? Keep at it.” I love it because we’re all plagued by self-doubt, but Michelle tells us we can all get traditionally published, as long as WE DON’T GIVE UP on our dream. I like the idea that hard work gets rewarded in the end. So there you have it. Keep at it.





EMCastellanEM Castellan is a writer of YA Fantasy novels. She lives in an English castle, travels extensively, reads voraciously, listens to music from bands few people have heard of and watches too many movies to count. In case you are wondering, she also has a full-time job, so she mostly writes at odd hours and drinks a lot of tea. She is represented by Erin Niumata of Folio Literary Management. She is a member of the British Fantasy Society as well as SCBWI British Isles. For more on EM, check out her her blog, Facebook,Twitter,Tumblr or Pinterest.



W.O.W. – Writer Odyssey Wednesday with Jen Malone March 18, 2014




In my opinion, reading is an incredibly HUGE part of being a writer. It helps build your skills for dialogue and worldbuilding, as well as getting a feel for voice in a particular category. Today, my featured author, Jen Malone, shares what an important part reading has become for her as a writer. I love the fact that she considers it part of her job. In fact, I completely agree!


Many thanks to Jen for sharing her writing journey today…



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



Jen: I can’t say that I did. In January 2012, my youngest had just started to read and was so crazy excited about her newfound ability that, on a whim, I thought it would be fun to write something just for her. I sat down one afternoon to come up with something short and suddenly it was a month later and I had a middle grade novel I was excited enough about to think, “Hey, could I sell this?” Until then, I’d never even considered writing a book, though I have a background in journalism and PR, so I’ve always been into writing, just in different forms.



Amy: When did you complete your first Middle Grade manuscript?


Jen: February 2012. And it was terrible. Did I know this? Heck no. I could not have been more enthusiastic about it and the bestseller status it was sure to achieve when it was snapped up by a huge publishing house and hit shelves that summer. Um, yeah. I didn’t even know what a literary agent was, much less how to get one. Luckily, I ran into a woman I hadn’t seen in over ten years who I remembered wrote picture books and, in a burst of nerves, I asked if she would look over my novel. And then I formatted it like a real book (with a dedication page and acknowledgments and ever a cover.) Full permission to cringe right now, because I sure am!) Her comments were unbelievably sweet and included such things as, “These four chapters have no dialogue and you might want to think about including some.” More cringing? Yes!! Fortunately, she was also very encouraging about what was underneath that mess and I got the bug hard, so by that point I was gobbling up every blog post, book, etc. on both writing craft and the publishing business and had joined SCBWI.



Amy: I love that you have so many varied life experiences from traveling around the world, to being a past publicist for 20th Century Fox. Do those experiences influence what you write? Have any of those experiences made it into your books?


Jen: Most definitely. In AT YOUR SERVICE, which is about a tween who lives in a hotel and works as a junior concierge assisting all the kids who stay at the hotel, I drew on a few things from my real life. I used to manage a youth hostel, where I lived in an apartment in the basement. It was NOTHING like the fancy schmancy hotel where Chloe lives, but I did sneak in a few details from that time. I drew a TON on my movie publicist experience. When Fox would send a movie star to Boston on a press tour my job was to book all of their TV and radio appearances, plan a screening of the film where they’d do a Q&A, schedule a full day of print interviews, and then escort them to all of those events and make sure everything ran smoothly. Very professional stuff. However, my job was also to pull apart Double Stuff Oreos and create Quadruple Stuff Oreos, if that was something in the star’s contract with the studio (yes, I’ve done this. I can’t tell you who for, but they’re actually pretty delicious.) It was a weird line to walk- dealing with the high-level stuff, but also being the one the star would call at home at two o’clock in the morning when the light bulb in his hotel room burned out. And I couldn’t just say, “Dude! You’re twice my age, have a huge career, and millions of dollars. Pretty sure you can handle dialing zero on the freaking room phone and calling the front desk yourself.” Those experiences really helped me identify with some of the situations Chloe finds herself in and the push/pull of wanting to be seen as a competent professional while being tasked with lots of things that would make most of us roll our eyes. It was kind of fun to torture her.



Amy: How long did it take to write AT YOUR SERVICE? Did you use critique partners to help polish it?


Jen: It took about five weeks. I either write really fast or painfully slow- there’s not much in between. I definitely used critique partners, and could never do any of this without them! It took me another month of revision to polish it before it went to my agent.



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


Jen: Definitely a roller coaster. I was either very Zen about the process or very moody. There wasn’t much in between- hmm, I’m sensing a pattern here… The more I remembered that this was only a part of my life and not ALL of my life, the more I could relax and compartmentalize the experience. Distraction helped a lot!



Amy: How many agents did you query for AT YOUR SERVICE?


Jen: I had my agent already when I wrote AT YOUR SERVICE, but my previous novel was the one I queried Holly with and I queried seventy-four agents with that. Ugh. Lots of refining my query in between rejections!



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


Jen: I started with only a trickle of requests, and it wasn’t until I put my query out there during WriteOnCon and got feedback from a lurking agent, saying I needed to expand upon the conflicts, that I noticed a HUGE jump in requests. I went from a 5% request rate to 40% and I’d only added seven words to the query. But they were all about the stakes, which I hadn’t illustrated clearly before. From that point, things moved very fast. That was in late August and I signed with Holly in early October.



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


Jen: Holly’s nickname is the Ninja agent and she definitely lived up to her reputation in this case. I was very lucky to be weighing four other offers and had given other agents reading a deadline of Friday at three o’clock. I think Holly called at 1:30, literally in the middle of my drafting my acceptance email to another agent. She really sold me with her enthusiasm and her reputation. The deciding factor for me was the list of books she repped- every last one of them was a book I had either read or wanted to and were very much in the vein of what I saw myself writing. I knew she would have the right editor connections for my work. It was also one of those gut feeling things. Talking with one of her clients immediately afterward doubly sealed the deal for me. It was strange though- I had lived with my decision to sign with another agent for a few days by that point and was excited about it, so it was weird to switch at the very last minute! That was a hard email to write. It’s surreal to be on the other side of the table, passing on agents versus the other way around.



Amy: What is one piece of writing advice you got early on in your career that you still use today?


Jen: I still consider this “early in my career,” and I’m a bit wide-eyed about all of this, so there’s that! But I would say the thing that has never ever steered me wrong is this: read. I haven’t written books for long, but I started reading them when I was in nursery school and I haven’t stopped. When I was in 4th grade, I participated in the MS Read-A-Thon and read more in one month than the rest of my class combined and these days I try to read between two and three books a week. I’m fairly calculated when I read- I might focus on a particular imprint to get a sense for what they’re publishing or I might focus on writers who have reputations for being masterful at dialogue or world-building or whatever I’m struggling with at the moment. I approach it as part of my job, but then again, it’s not such a bad day’s work!




At Your Service




Thirteen-year-old Chloe Turner wants nothing more than to follow in Dad’s footsteps as a respected concierge in a posh NYC hotel.  After all, living at a hotel is heaven, and perks like free concert tickets and all-access passes to boutiques, restaurants, and attractions aren’t too shabby either.


When the spoiled brat child of an important guest is only placated by some quick thinking on Chloe’s part, Chloe is awarded the role of Junior Concierge. But she might be in over her head when tasked with tending to the every whim of three royal guests: a twelve-year-old princess who can’t stand Chloe, a cute fourteen year-old prince(!), and their ten-year-old sister, who has a nasty knack for getting herself lost. After the youngest princess slips Chloe’s care, Chloe and the remaining royals must embark on an event-filled hunt for her through NYC’s best tourist spots. (Releases August 26, 2014.)



JenMaloneJen Malone is the author of the middle grade novel AT YOUR SERVICE, which publishes with Simon & Schuster/Aladdin in August 2014. She is a recovering world traveler who now lives in Boston with her husband and three children and (just as soon as she talks her husband into it) a pet hedgehog. For more on Jen, check out her website, follow her on Twitter or Facebook!


Monday Musings: Pushing Past “No” March 17, 2014

Filed under: Blog,Creativity,Inspiration,Publishing — chasingthecrazies @ 7:48 am
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Snape no



I get a lot of questions about how I came up with the idea for both the W.O.W. and First Five Frenzy series. There was not a “lightbulb” moment for either one. Honestly, the ideas came from my own need for information.


With the W.O.W., I wanted to hear what writers had to go through before they got “the call.” Did they query 10 agents or 100? Was there a time they ever wanted to give up? These were the answers I sought from my heroes and wanted to share.


The First Five Frenzy was the same thing. I was struggling with my first chapter, and I needed agent advice on what they wanted to see in those first pages. Simple as that.


These were both series I was very eager to publish on my blog. The only problem? Getting people  to sign on.


What would I say in an email to authors I admired? Please help a lowly blogger and answer a few questions. LOL! Those first interview requests were pretty much EXACTLY that. And want to know a secret? The first couple of authors I asked, said “no.” One even sent their agent after me to tell me I was unprofessional and needed to go through their publicist if I wanted a prewritten reply to interview requests. Uggh! (Mind you this well-known author had not been published yet!) Was I upset? A little. Did I give up? Hell no! I had an idea, and I knew if I could get authors to share their journeys it would inspire so many people to keep writing.


The requests to agents was a whole different ball game. I sent out five emails to agents I admired. Guess what happened?




Undaunted, I sent out another 10 requests. And hurray, one very kind agent said, “yes.” A few days later, a few more agreed. The series was finally coming together.


What these two series taught me is to NEVER give up. I was disappointed at the beginning (as I thought everyone wanted to be interviewed -haha!) But I learned that if I really wanted it-I had to work for it.


The same applies to writing. For a few it may come easy, but for the overwhelming majority of us it is difficult work. Each day is an uphill battle to eke out a word count and put together a series of sentences that don’t suck. And the rejection? It comes in all forms: from beta readers and CPs, to contests, and subbing to small journals or big time agents. It’s a part of the process you must accept as a writer.


What you do not have to accept, is that the response of one person is the final word on your writing. You’ve got to push past that “no” until you hear a “yes.” You have to read in your category & genre and expand your boundaries. Share your work and understand that critiques are a necessary part of the process. And most of all, you have to KEEP WRITING. If you do, your craft will continue to improve.


It’s true, “no” is hard to hear over and over, but if you keep at it, there will be a “yes” in your future. You just need to believe in your writing and continue to work every day.


How do you push past the “no” in your life? Share your thoughts with me in the comments!


First Five Frenzy with Katie Shea Boutillier of The Donald Maass Literary Agency March 14, 2014

Filed under: Blog,Publishing,writing craft,Literary Agent — chasingthecrazies @ 7:36 am
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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, Katie Shea Boutillier’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?


Katie: I must agree, the first line of the novel is important. It immediately sets a tone. You want to make sure that you give you novel a certain feeling when you open with your first line. This first line shows the reader where, who, what and why. Make it as unique as you can and transport your reader into another perspective.



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?


Katie: I often see women’s fiction writers start with a scene when the main character is about to lose it. Her husband just left her. She just found out she has an illness. I also see many realistic YA writers start in a typical school setting. I would like to see less of these examples. Starting your novel on the right foot means the reader is seeing a major change in the main character’s life – and where might this happen? Think of a place that is either particularly intimate for your reader or maybe a place that would excited your character – with lots of things going around, but focusing on what is most important – your MC. Some good examples of this may be in the streets of a major city, in the subway/train, at a concert, at a party, at a graduation. Go beyond the ordinary and set into a particular setting that reflects what is happening to your MC.


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?


Katie: The first pages have spoken to me. I have made a special connection with myself and to the storyline, the setting, and the characters in the novel.



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


Katie: Writers don’t go far enough. They are too afraid to let go. To write what they fear. To use emotions that they might not feel they need (or even want) to. I want to feel like the main character is my best friend. And I will follow her anywhere.


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


Katie: If the writer has taken me out of my current state and immediately has thrown me into the main character’s life, you got me. However, this has to happen fast. Like I’ve said before, I need to connect. If I don’t connect with the main character, then I start skimming. I want to be able to feel the beat of the novel. Action, emotion, voice, and setting. All of those thrown at me, together, at once. And then you got me.



Katie Shea Boutillier joined the Donald Maass Literary Agency in 2011. She is the Rights Associate for the agency’s Subsidiary Rights Department, where she assists in selling the agency’s translation, audio, film, and electronic rights. In addition, Katie focuses on her own client list of women’s fiction/book club; edgy/dark, realistic/contemporary YA; commercial-scale literary fiction; and celebrity memoir. She looks for projects with the perfect balance of plot and emotion. Katie loves novels that seek big truths, touch on important social issues, and explore unique family dynamics and unlikely friendships. She is a cum laude graduate of Marist College. Some of her clients include Carolita Blythe, Kathryn Craft, Judy Huddleston, and Andrea Portes.


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


QUERY 101 Series: The Structure March 7, 2014

Filed under: Blog,Literary Agent,Publishing,Query — chasingthecrazies @ 7:39 am
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In the first post in the Query 101 series, we talked about query basics. Today, we are going to talk specifics of structure: greeting, hook, book & cook.


Let’s start at the beginning:





1) Always begin with addressing the literary agent by name. Do not address your query as “Dear Agent.” Be courteous. Do your research and find out the correct spelling of the agent’s name.


2)  Address one agent at a time in the heading. There may be many people in that particular literary agency who take your category/genre, but each should get their own individual email or letter. The last things agents want to see is they are part of one long email chain.


note: Check submission guidelines. Some agencies ask that you query agents one at a time. Others have a policy that a “no” from one is a “no” from all. Make sure you respect the agency’s individual submission guidelines.





There is plenty of debate on the internet as to whether or not you need to personalize your query. Some say just get to the “meat” of your story. Others say personalization means you have researched the agent and know your manuscript would be a good fit for their list.


I stand firmly in the “personalization” camp. Now, that does not mean your greeting has to be flowery and over-the-top. Simply stating that you are familiar with their client list, mentioning a comment they made in an interview, or explaining that your manuscript would be a fit for their #MSWL (Manuscript Wish List) is enough.


After personalization, some people add title, category/genre and word count of their manuscript. Again, there is debate about where this information should go. Some say at the beginning. Others say leave it at the end. My advice is to put it where it flows best with your query. No matter where you place, it is MANDATORY you include this information as the agent needs to know they rep. your type of manuscript.





This  is the intriguing portion of your story. It’s a one-liner that pulls the agent in and encourages them to read on.


Some great examples of hooks from successful queries:




16-year-old Dusty Everhart might make a regular habit of breaking into houses late at night, but she’s no criminal.


Mindy McGinnis’ NOT A DROP TO DRINK:


Lynn was nine the first time she killed to defend the pond.


Mary Elizabeth Summer’s TRUST ME, I’M LYING:


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





This is 4-6 sentences that summarizes your manuscript. It hints at the main plot, introduces your protagonist and antagonist. Your sinker (final line) leaves the agent wanting for more – but DOES NOT reveal the ending.


A few notes about “The Book”


- Try not to introduce more than 2-3 characters. More than that and the information gets confusing.


- Be specific about the stakes. Remember agent is looking for character, conflict, and cost.


- When possible, try to insert a touch of voice – this helps bring the story to life and gives agent an idea of what to expect in sample pages.


- Information should be written in third person, present tense. I would also highly recommend you stay away from gimmicks like beginning with a question or writing your query in the voice of your main character. I’ve talked to many agents who say this approach immediately turns them off.





This is your bio.  If you have publishing credits include them. If you have education or internships that are pertinent to creative writing or publishing, mention them. Writing contest wins? Include those too. If you don’t have any publishing credits, that is OK. Plenty of agents say they have signed debut authors without any publishing history. A simple line about who you are, and what you do, is fine.





Thank agent for their time. I would also use the space underneath signature to include info about your social media presence: website, Twitter handle, Facebook page etc.


This is merely a structured outline of a query. It is up to you as the writer to fill it in as you see fit. Whether you want to include voice, or a certain type of personalization, that is entirely up to you. The main thing is to keep it professional and one page. Follow submission guidelines, and agents will see you are not only serious about your book but about your writing career.



It Doesn’t Happen Overnight – A Guest Post By Megan Erickson March 3, 2014

Filed under: Blog,Literary Agent,New Adult,writing craft — chasingthecrazies @ 7:38 am
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It seems like every day now I see someone on Twitter announcing great news. They’ve signed with an agent or their book sold at auction. From those on the outside looking in, it may seem like their success came quickly. You saw them pitch on Twitter one day during a #PitMad, and a few weeks later they’re announcing they’ve signed with an agent. Looks can be deceiving though.  Do you know how long that writer has been in the query trenches? Is that the first manuscript they’ve written, or the sixth one they’ve queried?


Today, I’ve asked author, Megan Erickson, to share how her journey may have seemed like an overnight success on social media, but really,  it was years of work before things started to happen for her writing career.



It Doesn’t Happen Overnight

A Guest Post by Megan Erickson



From the outside, my life the last six months might have looked a whirlwind, like all the puzzle pieces hidden under my couch somehow made it out and slotted into place in a beautiful picture.


And that wouldn’t be wrong. The puzzle might be pretty now. But it didn’t always look like that.


Let me start at the beginning: I started out as a journalist. And if paying my dues meant covering fatal shootings and five-alarm structure fires and a gas explosion that leveled a corner store, well, I paid my damn dues.


But I’d had enough. I’m a happy person. I like happy things. I wanted to write stories where people learned something about themselves and two hundred pages later, were better people because of it.


In 2010, my son was born. And this idea for a story I had niggling in the back of my mind raged stronger. After battling some post-partum issues, in 2012 I buckled down and wrote a book I later titled ANCHOR ME. I liked it. I had friends read it. And then I queried it as women’s fiction.


But really, truthfully, it wasn’t ready for querying. Not at all. Did it have good bones? Yes. Did I know what the hell I was doing? No.


Not surprisingly – resounding rejections. Of course I was upset. But looking back now? THANK GOD. That manuscript was so far from being ready, it isn’t even funny. But I still believed I had a good story and I wanted to work with an editor who could tell me what I was doing wrong. And right (because hopefully I was doing something right). So I began to look into self-publishing. On the advice of another author, I hired a freelance editor. Claire Ashgrove was wonderful. And her first email to me, after she read my manuscript, was, “um…you know you wrote a romance, right?”


Me: O_O


Because I did, I realized. I had a familiar trope – little sister and her brother’s best friend. And I had the typical black moment and resolution of a romance.


See? I had no idea what I was doing. I worked with Claire on this book for six months. We got rid of the distracting flashbacks and changed it to dual POV along with many other edits. I was (and still am) so proud of it.


Meanwhile, I participated in NaNoWriMo in 2012. I wrote a New Adult contemporary romance, which I began to query as I edited ANCHOR ME. Again, that querying manuscript just wasn’t ready. I learned so much writing it. But there were a lot of weaknesses. And again, I’m glad no one bit.


In the beginning of 2013, I published ANCHOR ME. At the time, I was six months pregnant with my second child.


And while I basked in the positive feedback, that’s when the idea for a girl named Kat and her nerdy tutor Alec hit me. I scribbled down about 15K words before my second child was born. I took about six weeks off – a “maternity leave” and began writing again. I finished MAKE IT COUNT (this book went through about thirty titles, but none of them “count” anymore, haha) in the summer of 2013.


But this time – I didn’t plunge headfirst into querying. I took my time. I posted my query on writing boards to get feedback. I participated in Write On Con and hooked up with fabulous critique partners. I put my manuscript through a rewrite that made it so much stronger.


And this time – I didn’t query until I was READY. Until I felt like I had a manuscript that fit the genre in which I queried, fit the market and most importantly – fit who I was as a writer.


In August of 2013, I started querying. And in December of 2013 I signed with Marisa Corvisiero of Corvisiero Literary Agency and a week later, received a three-book offer from Amanda Bergeron at William Morrow/Harper Collins.


I’m ecstatic. I still kind of can’t believe this happened. So, yeah, it seems like a whirlwind. And it IS. It totally is. But to me, it’s a whirlwind after a long, bumpy road. And I get motion sick. :)



MeganEricksonMegan Erickson is the author of upcoming MAKE IT COUNT, a new adult contemporary romance, out 6/3/2014 from William Morrow/Harper Collins. ANCHOR ME, an adult contemporary romance, is available now from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Where to find Megan online: Website, Facebook or Twitter.



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