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QUITE THE QUERY with Michelle Smith and PLAY ON August 22, 2014


(Logo illustration courtesy of Vanessa Henderson (@VR_Henderson)



If you ask any writer about the process of connecting with their agent (or publisher), the majority will say the most difficult part was querying. Not only the actual process of sending out the letters/emails, but formulating the query itself. In fact, I’ve heard more than a few writers say that writing their query took them almost as long as drafting their book!


Some people have the talent of being able to summarize their book in a few sentences. But for those who don’t, I wanted to provide a resource so writers could learn what works, and what doesn’t, in a query.


Every other Friday (hopefully) I will share a writer’s successful query along with a little behind the scenes tidbit. I hope you’ll come back for each new post, and help me spread the word about what I think can be an important resource for querying writers.


Thank you!


Here is the series’ first installment courtesy of the lovely and amazing author, Michelle Smith…



Hi there! I’m querying in hopes you may be interested in PLAY ON, which is a YA Contemporary that I would describe as Friday Night Lights with fun and flirty romance.


Seventeen-year-old Austin Braxton is living the dream: he’s got a super-hot girlfriend, a fastball that would make Nolan Ryan drool, and a scholarship to South Carolina’s top university. Okay . . . maybe “dream” is a stretch. The hot girlfriend isn’t much to brag about when she’s hell on the heart, and Allie’s drama is destroying Austin’s pitching mojo, right along with his GPA. Bye-bye, scholarship.


Or maybe not.


Enter Marisa, the new girl working at the Braxton family’s flower shop. The green-eyed chemistry genius knocks the good ol’ boy clean off his feet. Her love for baseball and the Atlanta Braves rivals even Austin’s. He’s convinced he’s found perfection personified . . . until he discovers the scars covering Marisa’s wrists.  When a downward spiral into depression’s darkness lands Marisa in the hospital, Austin’s terrified he may be in over his head.


The baseball god of Lewis Creek is just a small town guy with a major league dream. With Marisa, he might actually be able to have it all, if he can realize how perfectly imperfect love is.


And if his crazy ex-girlfriend would leave him the heck alone, that’d be pretty great, too.


PLAY ON is complete at 50,000 words, and is available upon request.




Tidbit: I sent about 40ish queries for PLAY ON, while also participating in PitchMAS in July 2013. I received a handful of requests, including one from my agent, Lana Popovic. The funny thing is that I’d actually queried Lana the month before, but my query was still sitting in her inbox. I sent her a super awkward tweet that went something like, “Oh hey, I already queried you, so…now what?” She was incredibly sweet and asked me to send her a reminder email, which I did. I signed with her a few short weeks later, on the day before my birthday!



Disclaimer: In the past year, I’ve signed with Spencer Hill Contemporary and PLAY ON has undergone extensive edits, which included the elimination of a fairly major character and her sub-plot, both of which are mentioned in the query. So, our leading man no longer has a crazy ex-girlfriend standing in his way. ;)






Play On





In the small town of Lewis Creek, baseball is everything. Especially for all-star pitcher Austin Braxton, who has a one-way ticket out of town with his scholarship to a top university. All that stands between him and a new start is one final season. But when Austin starts flunking Chemistry, his picture-perfect future is in jeopardy. A failing grade means zero playing time, and zero playing time means no scholarship.


Enter Marisa Marlowe, the new girl in town who gets a job at his momma’s flower shop. Not only is Marisa some home-schooled super-genius; she’s also a baseball fanatic and more than willing to help Austin study. As the two grow closer, there’s something about Marisa that makes Austin want more than just baseball and out of Lewis Creek — he wants a future with her. But Marisa has a past that still haunts her, one that she ran all the way to South Carolina to escape.


As Austin starts to peel back the layers of Marisa’s pain, it forces him to look beyond the façade of himself and everyone he thought he knew in his town. What he sees instead is that in a small town like Lewis Creek, maybe baseball isn’t everything—maybe it is just the thing that ties them all together.




Michelle Smith Author PhotoMichelle Smith writes books for teens (and adults who aren’t ashamed of their love for YA). She’s a lover of all things happy, laughs way too much, and is a complete sap. She advocates for mental health awareness, and is a strong supporter of The Trevor Project and To Write Love on Her Arms. Michelle lives in North Carolina with her family. Her YA Contemporary, PLAY ON, will be released by Spencer Hill Contemporary in April 2015. For more on Michelle, check out her website or follow her on Twitter (@MichelleA_Smith).




Rain words



There’s a lot of talk among writers about what I like to call the trinity of publishing: the query, the agent, the deal. We discuss at great lengths the query I think most of all. Is it written? How many times has it been revised? Did your CPs sign off on it? And on and on.


Once the queries go out, the focus then turns to request and rejections. There is a sort of mythical formula that goes along with this stage. If you get two requests (or three depending on who you’re talking to) for every ten queries sent, then your submission package (query and first pages) are doing their job. If you don’t get any requests in those first ten, then the next step is to go back and look at the query and first pages and tweak again until they are ready.


But what happens if your query does work? You send the full or partial, but unfortunately, those requests come back as rejections. I don’t think a lot of people talk about this stage. Why? Maybe because it’s embarrassing to get that far and not have an agent bite. Or perhaps it feels like a huge let down to get so close and then get a “no”.


Here’s the thing though, this stage of the querying process is not uncommon. It’s the reason why you read so many articles about querying in batches, so you can reassess when things aren’t going right for you and your manuscript.


Recently, a great writing friend of mine, Amy Reichert, announced her publishing deal for her book, THE COINCIDENCE OF COCONUT CAKE  (I love, love, love this title BTW!). In a blog post, she talked about the ups and downs of publishing and the detour she took with her manuscript. This detour included pulling it from the query trenches and doing a massive rewrite based on the feedback from a close writing friend. When Amy shared this with me, I was amazed by her commitment to the manuscript and her willingness to pull it apart and put it back together. Most of us, I think, would have trudged forward in the trenches and prayed someone would take a chance on us. But what Amy did was very brave. She knew that parts of her book weren’t clicking. She made the right decision, albeit a scary one, to step back and rework a story she loved in order to connect with an agent and eventually sell it.


So if you’re in the query trenches, and struggling, let Amy’s story be a beacon of light for you. Don’t be afraid to pull back and reassess. Send your manuscript to new CPs or perhaps work with a trusted editor. Do what you can to make that beloved book better. If you put in the hard work, you may just have a happy ending like Amy’s.


What are your thoughts about stepping back mid-query? Have you done it before? I would love to hear your feedback in the comments!




QUERY 101: DEALING WITH MULTIPLE OFFERS – Guest Post By MarcyKate Connolly August 15, 2014

Query 101B



For the final installment of the QUERY 101 series, I wanted to touch a bit upon a dream every writer has when they are querying: multiple offers. Once you’ve worked through blood, sweat, and tears to get your manuscript written, and then sloshed through the query trenches, receiving multiple offers of representation sounds like nirvana. But there are definite things you should consider if you ever find yourself in this enviable dilemma.


Today, I’ve asked my wonderful writing buddy, MarcyKate Connolly, to share how she tackled this situation. In her own words, she offers amazing advice for wading through a sea of multiple offers and coming through on the other side with an amazing agent!




Decisions, Decisions, Decisions: The Blessing and Curse of Multiple Offers

A Guest Post By MarcyKate Connolly



When you’re wading through the query trenches, getting a single agent to love your manuscript can easily consume your focus. But what happens when more than one agent loves it?


Sounds like the holy grail of querying, right? It’s an incredible thing to have multiple agents love your manuscript, especially if you’re like me and have been querying for years and garnered hundreds of rejections. At least, until you calm down and realize that you are going to have to choose between them.


The question is: How?


First, I’m going to assume you’ve only queried agents you actually want to work with. (If instead you’ve gone with the spaghetti method – meaning, throwing your query at every agent you can find and hoping something sticks – you may be able to whittle down your list more easily. And possibly find you don’t want to work with any of the offering agents, which is one big reason to be sure you always do your research before hitting send!)


Be ready even with only the first call and offer on the table. Have a list of questions prepared in advance and think about what’s important to you in an agent. Do you want an editorial agent or is that a dealbreaker for you? Do you want an agent who reps writers book by book or one who is career-oriented and willing to guide you? What kind of personality are you most comfortable with? Good agents come in all shapes and sizes, so having a sense of what you want in one will help guide you when it comes to making a decision.


And when you get the second or third or fourth offer, DON’T PANIC. Seriously. (Read: this is the part where I started to panic. Easy trap to fall into! Totally not helpful.) I got three offers of representation on Monstrous after nearly 4 years of querying, so to keep myself from freaking out too much, I first typed up all the answers to the questions from our discussions and other notes, then I made a chart listing pros/cons for each agent.  This can help lay things out for you in a way that you can look at them more rationally. It’s easy to be excited and want to flail (and hey, get your flails out at the first offer – you’ve earned them! – then come back down to earth J), but first and foremost this is a business decision and it should be treated like one. Even though Agent X may be at Fancy Schmancy Agency, you still should look at what they have to offer and compare to the others.


Since you have the luxury of choice and that can be very daunting, don’t think of this as a reason to panic, think of it as an opportunity to find the best possible match for you and your book. Basics aside (such as ensuring they are indeed reputable and have a standard commission rate of 15%), here are some things you may want to consider about each agent. Keep in mind there are no right or wrong answers here – it all depends on you and your personal preferences.


  • Are they at a big agency or small agency? Some people are afraid of getting lost at a big agency, and crave the personal attention of a smaller boutique one. Others want the clout that comes with the big name agency editors know well. It’s up to personal taste and goals.


  • Are they offering on one book or do they want to rep you for your career? Some authors prefer book-by-book, while others will want someone to guide them in career-oriented decisions.


  • What revisions do they have in mind for the manuscript they want to take on? Total overhaul or smaller changes? Do their suggestions resonate with you or make you cringe? This is someone you’ll be working with long-term and who will be pitching your work to editors, so it’s important that their vision aligns with your own.


  • What is their experience and track record? You should already have an idea of who their clients are and what houses they sell too, but if you haven’t looked that up, this is the time to do so. Are they selling to houses you can see your book going to or places you’ve never heard of? Also consider what other agencies they trained at, and whether they’re a brand new agent or an established one who has an active stable of authors. Which one is a better fit for your book and you as an author?


  • How do they handle subrights? Do they have a dedicated staff member to actively sell subrights in the agency or do they use a sub-agent for foreign and film?


  • What’s their communication style? How often do you want to hear from your agent and how does that compare to what they say is their normal practice? Do they prefer to communicate with their clients via phone, email, smoke signal? Does this match your personal comfort level? For example, I know a lot of writers (myself included) who dread talking on the phone and prefer email (though I’m totally cool with a surprise call for good news, naturally!).


  • Do you click with their personality? Are they personable or very business-like or somewhere in between? Will you feel comfortable emailing or calling them when you have questions and concerns? Again, you will (hopefully) be working with this agent for some time and while personality probably has little bearing on how well an agent can do their job, personality conflicts can definitely become an issue so if there’s something about an agent rubbing you the wrong way it may be a sign they’re not the right fit.


  • How did they respond to your other project ideas? This is especially important if you’re looking for a career-oriented agent. When you talk to them on the call, they may ask what else you’re working on, so be ready with the projects or base ideas you have coming up next. If they don’t, then bring it up when it’s your turn to talk, especially if you write in a variety of genres and age groups. If they seem iffy about them, that may be an indication that they may only love this one book.


This list is by no means comprehensive, so give some thought as to what’s important to you in an agent before you make your decision. It’s probably going to be tough one. I was fortunate enough to have three amazing agents offer on Monstrous and to be honest the list of Cons was pretty much non-existent. There was much flailing and gnashing of teeth. But in the end what it came down to for me was my gut. I simply couldn’t imagine not signing with my current agent (*waves to Suzie*). She had all the qualities I was hoping for, revision ideas that matched my vision perfectly, and an infectious enthusiasm for my work that bowled me over.


So if you find yourself in the enviable position of choosing between multiple amazing agents, take a deep breath, then take a step back to look at the pros/cons. If they’re all still matching up, consider your gut. Choosing between agents is rarely an easy decision, and sometimes your gut can pick up on things it may be hard to see when you’re stressed and excited.



A bit about MarcyKate’s upcoming book, MONSTROUS (available February 10, 2015):








The city of Bryre suffers under the magic of an evil wizard. Because of his curse, girls sicken and disappear without a trace, and Bryre’s inhabitants live in fear. No one is allowed outside after dark.


Yet night is the only time that Kymera can enter this dangerous city, for she must not be seen by humans. Her father says they would not understand her wings, the bolts in her neck, or her spiky tail—they would kill her. They would not understand that she was created for a purpose: to rescue the girls of Bryre.


Despite her caution, a boy named Ren sees Kym and begins to leave a perfect red rose for her every evening. As they become friends, Kym learns that Ren knows about the missing girls, the wizard, and the evil magic that haunts Bryre.


And what he knows will change Kym’s life.


Reminiscent of Frankenstein and the tales of the Brothers Grimm, this debut novel by MarcyKate Connolly stands out as a compelling, original story that has the feel of a classic.




MarcyKateConnolly_headshotMarcyKate Connolly is an author and arts administrator living in New England with her husband and pugs. She is also a coffee addict and voracious reader. Represented by Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary & Media. Her debut novel MONSTROUS will be out 2/10/2015 from Harper Collins Children’s Books! Check out her website or follow her on Twitter.


W.O.W. – Writer Odyssey Wednesday with Veronica Bartles August 13, 2014




Staying positive. It’s a hard thing to do as a writer. But as today’s interview with author, Veronica Bartles, shows it can be a very helpful thing. While publishing does have it’s ups and downs, putting your best foot forward can resonate in unexpected ways. And in Veronica’s case, it paid off by catching the attention of an amazing agent!


Many thanks to Veronica for sharing her writing odyssey today…



Amy: How long have you been writing Young Adult fiction?


Veronica: I used to write short stories, just for fun, back in high school and college, but I finally got serious about my writing and wrote my first novel-length YA manuscript in 2008.



Amy: Was TWELVE STEPS your first completed manuscript?


Veronica: No. TWELVE STEPS is actually a companion novel to my first completed manuscript (which was the story of Andi’s older sister, Laina). And I wrote two middle grade novels and a picture book in between, so I guess that makes TWELVE STEPS my fifth completed manuscript. I’d still like to come back to that first manuscript one day, because writing Andi’s story made me fall in love with those characters even more. But even if it never happens, I’m glad I wrote the other story first.



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


Veronica: I had several critique partners and beta readers for TWELVE STEPS. Some read the full manuscript, and others read only a chapter or two, but each gave me valuable feedback and insight without which my story wouldn’t have been nearly as strong. My teenage daughter read the full manuscript many times over, looking for any kind of voice issues. (And she had no qualms about telling me when I started to sound like an old lady instead of a teenage girl!) Rachel Solomon read an early draft and pointed out plot holes that had been completely missed by my readers who already knew the back story from reading my first manuscript. Ashley Turcotte pushed me to dig deep beyond the surface to really bring my characters to life. She called me on it every time I tried to skim by with lazy descriptions, and she was great at catching my go-to gestures. Without her, there would have been far too much eye-rolling, shrugging and winking on these pages!



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?


Veronica: Oh, I absolutely abhor writing queries! It feels like I take as much time revising my query as I do for my whole manuscript. I don’t even want to think about the number of drafts my query for TWELVE STEPS went through before I felt like it was ready to send out. Critique partners are absolutely essential for this part of the process. I actually had more CPs for my query letter than I did for my novel. Many of my query critiques came from people who had never read my manuscript, and that feedback was probably the most helpful, because it really made me see where I needed work to catch the attention of agents/editors who also hadn’t seen my manuscript yet. (Of course, it was also essential to have feedback from people who had read the manuscript, so I didn’t end up misrepresenting the story in my attempts to write an eye-catching query.)



Amy: How many agents did you query for TWELVE STEPS? Did you receive instantaneous response or did you have to wait for requests/rejections?


Veronica: Most of my querying for TWELVE STEPS actually came in the form of entries into online pitch contests. I received several requests for full or partial manuscripts from Pitch Madness, The Write Voice, PitchMAS, and Pitch-a-Rama. In addition to the requests from contests, I only sent out 18-20 queries, mostly to agents who had responded with encouraging rejections to my first manuscript. I got immediate responses from a handful of the agents I queried, but I had to wait for most of them. (They’re busy folks!)


And actually, I didn’t end up signing with an agent for TWELVE STEPS. I hadn’t realized that it’s frowned upon to query both agents and editors simultaneously for the same manuscript, so when I got a couple of editor requests alongside the agent requests from the contests I entered, I happily sent off my manuscript to everyone. And both editors who requested ended up offering on my book. When I nudged the agents who were considering my manuscript, most of them bowed out immediately, wishing me luck and congratulating me on my sale. Several of them asked me to keep them in mind when I had something new to query, but they didn’t feel right about offering representation on a manuscript when I already had an offer in hand.


It all worked out, though, because the encouragement I received gave me the push I needed to finish revisions on the most difficult novel I’ve ever written, LETTERS FROM HEAVEN, and that’s the one that caught the attention of my fabulous agent, Jessica Sinsheimer! One week after I sent my query, she requested the full, and less than an hour after I sent the manuscript her way, she was already tweeting about how much she loved it! A few days later, she offered representation, and the rest is history.



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


Veronica: Well, as I mentioned, I knew Jessica was excited about my manuscript, because she had tweeted about it and messaged me privately prior to setting up the call. I was thrilled beyond words, too, because I’d had a major agent crush on her for years. (I had desperately wanted to query her with my first manuscript, but I didn’t because I felt like a rejection from her would have been too crushing to my fragile ego at the time.) Add to this the fact that I have a major phone phobia, and as you can imagine, I was a little bit of a basket case in the hours before our call. But once we started talking, it was like chatting with my best friend, and I totally forgot to be nervous. We talked about all kinds of things, and we had so much in common! It was obvious from the start that we were destined to be friends. But getting along and being friends with someone isn’t really enough to make a great agent/author team.


I suspected that Jessica was the right agent for me, because when we talked about my manuscript, she pinpointed all of the little parts of the story that were still bothering me as “not quite right,” and she suggested revisions that could easily have come from my own brain. And she already had a growing list of editors in mind for subbing the manuscript. From the start, we had the same vision for LETTERS FROM HEAVEN, and I knew I wouldn’t have to fight her on the direction to take.


But I really KNEW she was the right agent for me when we started talking about my other manuscripts. She not only adored the middle grade manuscript that caught her attention, but she enjoyed TWELVE STEPS and happily agreed to help me through the confusing publication process for my debut. (I actually officially accepted Jessica’s offer the day my contract arrived from Swoon Romance for TWELVE STEPS, so she was able to help me through the contract process too. I’m so glad she was there to help me! – If you don’t have an agent to walk you through a publishing contract, I highly recommend hiring a contract lawyer to help you understand it all.) And she was excited about my other manuscripts and works in progress as well. I wanted an agent for my career, not just for one manuscript, and Jessica was (is) that kind of an agent for me. I love that we can chat as friends about fun, non-writing things, but we can also work together in a true business partnership.



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


Veronica: Other than writing a great book, one thing that Jessica mentioned was that she noticed my online presence. Specifically, she mentioned that before I even queried her, she saw this blog post that I wrote for Sub It Club, to encourage my fellow contestants in Brenda Drake’s amazing Pitch Madness contest: – And because this blog post had already planted my name in her mind, she noticed my query right away when it showed up in her slush pile.


I didn’t expect any agents to see my little blog post, and it definitely wasn’t written with the intent of getting myself noticed. I was simply going through a ton of contest anxiety, so I wrote a post for my fellow contestants, who were certainly as anxious as I was. But it just goes to show that agents may be more aware of us than we know. You don’t have to be everywhere or involved with every type of social media, but it really helps to have a positive online presence.



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


Veronica: Never give up! I know it’s totally cliché, and you hear it all the time, but it’s the best advice I’ve ever received. This business can be disheartening and crushing at times, and if you’ve never thought of giving up, you probably haven’t been writing very long. But every single good thing that’s happened in my writing career can be traced directly back to one of those major discouraging moments. In fact, those moments when I wanted to give up and didn’t pushed me to grow in ways I never would have otherwise.


Find a group of great critique partners, who will encourage you to grow beyond your current self, but who won’t let you quit when the going gets tough. These friends are golden!





 Twelve Steps





Sixteen-year-old Andi is tired of being a second-class sibling to perfect sister Laina. The only thing Andi’s sure she has going for her is her awesome hair. And even that is eclipsed by Laina’s perfect everything else.


When Andi’s crush asks her to fix him up with Laina, Andi decides enough is enough, and devises a twelve-step program to wrangle the spotlight away from Laina and get the guy.


Step 1: Admit she’s powerless to change her perfect sister, and accept that her life really, really sucks.


Step 4: Make a list of her good qualities. She MUST have more than just great hair, right?


Step 7: Demand attention for more than just the way she screws things up.


When a stolen kiss from her crush ends in disaster, Andi realizes that her twelve-step program isn’t working. Her prince isn’t as charming as she’d hoped, and the spotlight she’s been trying to steal isn’t the one she wants.


As Laina’s flawless façade begins to crumble, the sisters work together to find a spotlight big enough for both to shine.



Available now for purchase via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo & iBooks.




VbartlesVeronica Bartles grew up in Wyoming and currently lives in New Mexico with her husband and four children. As the second child of eight children and the mother of four, Veronica Bartles is no stranger to the ups and downs of sibling relationships. She uses this insight to write stories about siblings who mostly love each other, even while they’re driving one another crazy. When Veronica’s not writing or lost in the pages of her newest favorite book, she enjoys creating delicious desserts, exploring new places, and knitting with recycled materials.

TWELVE STEPS is Veronica’s first novel.

For more on Veronica, check out her website or blog. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Tumblr.









First Five Frenzy with Maria Vicente of P.S. Literary Agency August 8, 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, Maria Vicente’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?


Maria: A great first line is always an important component to a successful submission. That one line is going to draw in first readers at all stages of publication: the agent, the editor, and then the readers.


I, personally, love poetic prose; a great first line can really draw me in to the story. I expect great opening lines from all submissions, but those boasting literary writing styles have even higher expectations.


I read requested partials in bulk (I set aside some time each week to read as many as possible), so a captivating first line makes the writing stand out right away amongst all the other manuscripts I’m looking at that day.



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?


Maria: I completely agree with the ones you’ve mentioned—dreams, eating breakfast, and riding in a car are all too common. It’s not that they can’t work, but they are over-used.


Similar to dreams, I also don’t (usually) like it when a book opens with a flashback. I want to start reading the current story, not something that happened previously. Introduce me to the characters and the current situation(s) before throwing background information at me too.


I’m not a fan of dialogue at the beginning of a book—I want to be introduced to a character before hearing him/her speak. It’s impossible to imagine the character’s tone or dialect when I know nothing about them.


Finally, too many manuscripts start before a story really begins. The opening should start when the action happens. Don’t rely on your first chapter to plant an elaborate backstory.



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?


Maria: At P.S. Literary, we don’t ask for sample pages with query letter submissions. We separate the pitch and sample pages because we are looking for different things when reading queries vs. reading manuscripts. Hook us with the concept first, and then meet our expectations with your incredible writing.


With partials (generally the first three chapters), I look for an original writing style and a great voice. When I’m reading a partial, I ask myself after each chapter if I’m invested enough to continue reading. If I’m still intrigued after reading Chapter #3, then I request the full. So while writing style and voice is most important to me when evaluating partial manuscripts, great pacing is necessary for me to want to read even more.



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


Maria: I mentioned this earlier, but starting the story too early is the most common mistake that I see in submissions. Don’t waste the first five pages on background information. This is exactly why a lot of agents and editors dislike prologues—they rarely add to the current story.


This is a little off-topic, but I think it’s important to bring up: a super polished first five pages does absolutely nothing if that level of expertise does not continue throughout the rest of the manuscript. The first few pages of a manuscript are often revised so much that they are near perfect—and it’s a huge red flag when the quality of writing drops drastically after those few polished pages.



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


Maria: Once I request a partial, voice and style are the things that resonate the most with me. I’m already interested in the concept—now wow me with the writing. Voice is what makes that specific book stand out, but I’m looking for writers to represent over their entire careers. Because of this, writing style is super important. I can often tell within a few pages if I’m going to fall madly in love with the style (and this is something completely subjective, which I know is frustrating for querying writers). If I love an author’s style, then I’m going to love his/her future books too.


Maria Vicente is an associate agent at P.S. Literary Agency. She is a creative and editorial agent, providing support to her clients through all stages of the writing and publication process. Maria is dedicated to managing authors’ literary brands for the duration of their careers. Her reading preferences vary across categories and genres, which is reflected in her client list. She is actively looking for literary and commercial fiction, young adult, middle grade, illustrated picture books, and nonfiction projects in the pop culture, pop psychology, design, and lifestyle categories. She has affinities for literary writing, strong character development, and original storytelling formats. Maria is currently an editor for Underneath the Juniper Tree, a literary/art horror magazine for children, and the creator of I Believe in Story, a blog featuring book reviews, advice for writers, publishing industry articles, and lifestyle posts inspired by literature.


If you’re interested in submitting to Maria, please check the P.S. Literary Agency website for their guidelines.


W.O.W. – Writer Odyssey Wednesday with Christina Lee July 30, 2014




I was lucky enough to meet today’s featured writer, Christina Lee, at the Romantic Time (RT) Convention in May of this year. What struck me most about Christina was her kindness (especially when I peppered her with all sorts of writing questions) but also her honesty in sharing the ups and downs of publishing. I was already a huge fan of her books when I met her, but I think my adoration for her as grown even more with this interview!


Many thanks to Christina for sharing her writing journey today…



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


Christina: I wrote my first novel in 2008 while I was a local newspaper columnist. It was adult paranormal and pretty horrible, but great practice. Then I tried my hand at YA and began querying after I revised the heck out of my next novel.



Amy: Was ALL of YOU your first New Adult manuscript?


Christina: Yes. I had written three YA novels before that and was on my fourth. I had always been an avid reader of romance and an idea came to me about writing a virgin college guy named Bennett.



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


Christina: Let’s be honest, querying is brutal. But it teaches you so much about rejection, which you experience on every single level in this business and in life. I was on sub to pub houses with two previous agents, one had who left the business. So you can still struggle even after you find an agent. And there’s no perfect rhyme or reason to it.



Amy: Publishing can be a very difficult business. What do you think has inspired you to keep writing through good times and bad?


Christina: Simple answer: My love of writing fiction. And that dream I had of being traditionally published someday. I was willing to tweak that dream quite honestly and would have, had I not found success with ALL OF YOU.



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


Christina: It went really fast with Sara, just days from her reading my manuscript to the call. I knew she was the right fit for me because it immediately felt different–in my gut. It’s true that you do need to listen to your gut. If there are doubts, verbalize them immediately.



Amy: If you were giving a keynote speech at a writers conference, what would be the most important piece of advice you would share?


Christina: Do not compare yourself against other writers—it’s a hard lesson to learn, one I still struggle with. It’s better to compete with yourself—grow stronger and wiser and perfect your craft.



A little info on Christina’s latest, WHISPER TO ME:





Whisper To Me




A hot and consuming New Adult romance about a wayward musician and the one girl who keeps him grounded…


At college, Rachel has a reputation for being a sarcastic flirt with a thing for star athletes. No one at school knows that she’d had her heart ripped to shreds by her high school sweetheart, who’d driven them both off the side of the road on a borrowed motorcycle, and then abandoned her. No one knows the real Rachel Mattson—except one person…


Ever since he helped nurse his sister’s feisty best friend back to health, pierced bass player Kai Nakos has been head over heels in love. But the supposed bad boy can’t risk letting Rachel know the truth—especially now that the two of them are back in their hometown for the summer, together for the first time since the months following that fateful night. Never mind that Rachel’s ex is back, groveling for her forgiveness.


Shaken by her ex’s return, Rachel finds herself turning to the one guy she knows she can trust. Kai is willing to hide his feelings for her, just to have Rachel touch him again. After all, this is only a temporary fling. Until it becomes something more. But maybe it had been more all along.




Christina WOW

Mother, wife, reader, dreamer. Christina lives in the Midwest with her husband and son–her two favorite guys. She’s addicted to lip gloss and salted caramel everything. She believes in true love and kissing, so writing romance novels has become a dream job.  Author of the Between Breaths series from Penguin. ALL OF YOU, BEFORE YOU BREAK and WHISPER TO ME available now, PROMISE ME THIS on October 7th, 2014.


She is represented by Sara Megibow of The Nelson Literary Agency. Also the creator of Tags-n-Stones (dot com) jewelry. For more on Christina, check out her website, or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.




FIRST FIVE FRENZY with Rebecca Strauss of DeFiore and Company July 25, 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, Rebecca Strauss’ 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?


Rebecca: The first lines of a manuscript are quite important.  As an agent, we are often overwhelmed with submissions; so, if our attention is not immediately grabbed, we move on.  That said, to be fair, I definitely give writers more than the first line to hook me.  But having strong opening pages is the key to pulling me into a story.



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?


Rebecca: Weather descriptions are often a turnoff for me.  Unless that weather is an integral part of the story (set in a hurricane/tornado/tsunami– or, the character has weather-related powers ;)), I don’t need to read descriptions of the sunset in the opening.  Also, I typically don’t respond to characters staring in the mirror in opening pages.



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?


Rebecca: If I’ve responded to a submission, I’ve been drawn to the following: a strong voice, a fresh concept, and forward momentum in the story.  I also love a sense of humor– be it light and warm– or dark and edgy.  I want to feel desperate for more pages!



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


Rebecca: A common mistake in opening pages can involve huge information dumps.  It takes skill to work in key information about the characters and setting in an organic way.  Information dumps can pull you out of the story and bore a reader.



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


Rebecca: Can I say all of the above?  ;)  If I were to hone in on one of the indispensable elements, it would be voice.  I can work on the other elements, but voice is key.



Rebecca Strauss joined DeFiore and Co. in early 2013 after seven years at McIntosh & Otis, Inc. where she was an agent and Director of Subsidiary Rights. She represents: non-fiction, literary and commercial fiction, women’s fiction, urban fantasy, romance, mystery, and YA. Before joining M&O, Rebecca was a foreign rights associate at Trident Media Group, a book scout and development assistant at Sony Pictures and an Account Associate at Ketchum PR. She’s originally from Chapel Hill, North Carolina and earned her degree in English Literature from Duke University.


If you’re interested in submitting to Rebecca, please check the DeFiore and Co. website for their guidelines.


Secrets from The Contest Slush (Pile) July 24, 2014

Over the last two years, I’ve been asked to be a reader/judge in four online writing contests. Each time I’m asked to read the slush, I’m overwhelmed by the honor to read writers’ work. Just recently, I was asked to be a “Pyrotechnic” (my reader name due to the contest’s proximity to the Fourth of July holiday) for Michelle Hauck’s New Agent contest.


From the beginning it was amazing to watch the entries appear, and by the end there were 190 entries waiting for all of us to read. My first impression overall? Voice. These entries had it in spades. And the quality of writing was top-notch which made my job very difficult.


Here are some overall observations from the slush:


- Too high or low word counts. If you decide to write in a certain category and genre, be sure you know what is an acceptable word count. I often refer to the two links below to make sure my work is hitting the right numbers. Word count isn’t always hard and fast. There are exceptions, but as a writer you need to be aware of where your numbers fall.


Literary Agent Jennifer Laughran’s Wordcount Dracula:


Writer’s Digest  Definitive Word Count Guide:


- Queries that read like a synopsis. A query should be no more than one page and hit on three topics (which I learned from an agent at a conference):


The hook: one sentence that explains your main character’s conflict


The book: A paragraph stating your character’s wants/needs/struggles and how he/she is going to conquer them


The cook: A short bio including relevant publishing/writing credits


One more note: The query should never include the ending. Your final line (the sinker) should leave your reader on a cliffhanger, enticing them to want to read more.


- Category issue: Fantasy


I saw numerous fantasy entries this time around. Many of them had great concepts, but I got lost in the query due to too much world building. Yes, it’s important to weave in elements of this cool new setting you’ve created, but it should not be the entirety of the query. As a reader what I want to know is character, conflict and cost with setting being a background element.




This time around I saw a lot of:


- Alien invasion


- Living on other planets for centuries and then returning to Earth


- Bullies (in both MG & YA)


- Women’s Fiction (lots of broken down women trying to rebuild their life)



Overall, again I have to say, I was honored to read each and every entry. There is some incredible writing talent out there just waiting for an agent, or publisher, to discover them.


So here’s the moment you’ve been waiting for. My New Agent picks:


Oliver’s Ghost Machine – Upper MG Dark Fantasy

Encircled – YA Fantasy

The Long Walk Home – YA Horror

The Monster’s Den – Adult Literary


My Maybes:


The Great Pretender: MG Contemporary

The Hopping Dead: MG Sci-Fi

Steve & Austin – MG Adventure

The Other Kind of Normal – YA Contemporary


Many thanks again to everyone who entered the New Agent contest. It takes bravery to put your work out there. Like I’ve said before, publishing is very subjective. Because your entry was not selected DOES NOT mean it doesn’t have merit. Keep writing and querying and your time WILL come!


Good luck!





W.O.W. – Writer Odyssey Wednesday with Sarah Guillory July 23, 2014





Passion. As a writer it’s what drives us. Passion for the written word. For building a story that transports readers to another place and time. It’s also passion that allows us to focus on our dream of being published. In today’s W.O.W., featured author, Sarah Guillory, talks about passion and how as a teacher she encourages her students to find their passion, whatever it may be, and turn it into something that drives them. Great advice for any of us navigating the crazy world of publishing.


Many thanks to Sarah for sharing her writing odyssey today…



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

Sarah: I began writing seriously in the fall of 2009, though I’m not so sure I really believed I would be published. “Seriously” to me meant writing every day. I wrote my first novel over three months that fall, and it was the most exciting and exhilarating experience, but, to be honest, I think I always knew that book wasn’t “the one.” It was my practice novel. It wasn’t until I began revising my first draft of RECLAIMED (summer of 2011) that I realized how badly I wanted it to be published.



Amy: You currently teach high school English. Do your students inspire your story ideas?

Sarah: I get asked this question a lot, but they really don’t. My characters and their stories come to me through dreams, songs, newspaper articles, etc, but I’ve never had an idea or character come from a student. I’ve stolen a last name and an allergy from a student, but I’ve never had one be an inspiration for a character or idea.



Amy: One of the things I loved about RECLAIMED was the distinctive voices. Do you find it hard to write male POV?

Sarah: Thank you! The easy answer would be to say yes, but it’s not really the truth. I didn’t really have to work much on Luke’s voice – it came to me fully-formed. I struggled a bit with Ian’s, but honestly, Jenna’s voice was much harder to get right. But my current project also has both male and female POVs, and her voice was easier than his this time around.



Amy: How many manuscripts had you written prior to RECLAIMED? Was the query process long for you or did it go smoothly?

Sarah: I’d only written one other manuscript prior to RECLAIMED, and I only sent a few queries out. As I mentioned before, it never felt like “the one.” With RECLAIMED, I queried on and off for about a year, but sent queries out only one or two at a time. I know most people advise against that, but I researched agents extensively before sending it out, and research takes time. So I would send it out, do more research, and send more out a few months later. My query letters are never good, so I put it up in the forums at WriteonCon, which is where my editor at Spencer Hill found it. I got my agent, Marcy Posner, with my newest project, about three months after I began querying it.



Amy: Do you use beta readers or critique partners? If so, how instrumental are they to your writing process?

Sarah: I have the most amazing critique partners, but I found them late in the revising process for RECLAIMED. I’d already done several rounds of revisions on my own, no beta readers (other than family). They really helped tighten it up. With my newest project, I had two beta readers as well as my two critique partners. I never send them rough drafts, because my rough drafts are exceptionally rough. I do at least one round of revisions before I send it to them. They leave detailed inline notes and don’t let me get away with being sloppy or lazy AT ALL. I love that about them.



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

Sarah: My call with my agent is probably a little different, since I was sitting in the National Gallery of Art. We both had crazy schedules prior to the call, and I was out of town the next time we were both available, so I spent the morning looking at paintings, had a nice lunch (including a glass of wine to calm me down), and went upstairs to chat with her. But the phone call was a formality at that point. I knew Marcy was the right fit for me when she sent me her edit letter. She sent it to me prior to our phone call so we could discuss it when she called. It was an amazing letter – the parts she loved were the parts I loved, and the areas where she suggested work were places I knew needed attention. She spent an entire paragraph talking about punctuation, and she referenced both Faulkner and John Donne. This English teacher swooned.



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

Sarah: There was never a moment when I gave up on my writing dream, although there were a few times when I was frustrated and wondered if pursuing publication was worth the stress. But I knew I would never give up writing, because I couldn’t. I’d tried. I’d told myself for years I wasn’t talented enough to be a writer, and yet, even when I tried to do other things, I found myself stopping and writing from time to time. I couldn’t keep myself from writing. Scenes and sentences would float through my mind and I would hurry to scribble them down. When you’re a writer, you’re a WRITER – it’s what you do even when you know it might break your heart. But I am also very stubborn, so I continued to pursue publication, even on the days when it was hard.



Amy: I’m sure your writing success has inspired your students. What do you tell them about the ups and downs of publishing and pursuing their dreams?

Sarah: The one thing I want for all of my students is for them to be able to pursue their passions – whatever form they take – and I tell them that the only person who can stop you from pursuing those passions is you. I stood in my own way for a long time. But if it’s something you are passionate about, that will sustain you through the inevitable ups and downs. I did well in school, and I run marathons, and now I write books, and sometimes I can tell my students think it is because I am “good” at these things. I let them know up front that my life has less to do with talent and much more to do with hard work. I did well in school because I studied. I finish marathons because I train. And I write books because I sit down and write almost every day. I’m stubborn. I love books and reading and words more than almost anything – I always have. Books are my passion, and I will spend my life pursuing that passion. Stubbornness and love – that’s really what it comes down to.












Jenna Oliver doesn’t have time to get involved with one boy, let alone two.


All Jenna wants is to escape her evaporating small town and her alcoholic mother. She’s determined she’ll go to college and find a life that is wholly hers—one that isn’t tainted by her family’s past. But when the McAlister twins move to town and Jenna gets involved with both of them, she learns the life she planned may not be the one she gets.


Ian McAlister doesn’t want to start over; he wants to remember.


Ian can’t recall a single thing from the last three months—and he seems to be losing more memories every day. His family knows the truth, but no one will tell him what really happened before he lost his memory. When he meets Jenna, Ian believes that he can be normal again because she makes not remembering something he can handle.


The secret Ian can’t remember is the one Luke McAlister can’t forget.


Luke has always lived in the shadow of his twin brother until Jenna stumbles into his life. She sees past who he’s supposed to be, and her kiss brings back the spark that life stole. Even though Luke feels like his brother deserves her more, Luke can’t resist Jenna—which is the trigger that makes Ian’s memory return.


Jenna, Ian, & Luke are about to learn there are only so many secrets you can keep before the truth comes to reclaim you.



Available for purchase via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other book retailers.



SarahGSarah Guillory has always loved words and had a passion for literature.  When she’s not reading or writing, Sarah runs marathons, which she credits with keeping her at least partially sane.  Sarah teaches high school English and lives in Louisiana with her husband and their bloodhound, Gus. Her debut novel, Reclaimed, recently won a Silver Independent Publishers Award and is a finalist for the 2013 Foreword Book of the Year.



Twitter: @sguillory262




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.



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