Chasing my crazy dream in the writing world…

A Halloween W.O.W. with Gretchen McNeil October 31, 2012



I can’t think of a more fitting person to feature in today’s Halloween edition of the W.O.W. then Gretchen McNeil, the author of the recent YA horror/thriller release, TEN.



I recently did a review of this spine-tingling read, and can honestly tell you that TEN is one of the best books I’ve read in 2012.







Here is a quick blurb….


And their doom comes swiftly.


It was supposed to be the weekend of their lives — an exclusive house party on Henry Island. Best friends Meg and Minnie each have their reasons for being there (which involve T.J., the school’s most eligible bachelor) and look forward to three glorious days of boys, booze
and fun-filled luxury.


But what they expect is definitely not what they get, and what starts out as fun turns dark and twisted after the discovery of a DVD with a sinister message: Vengeance is mine.


Suddenly people are dying, and with a storm raging, the teens are cut off from the outside world. No electricity, no phones, no internet, and a ferry that isn’t scheduled to return for two days. As the deaths become more violent and the teens turn on each other, can Meg find the killer before more people die? Or is the killer closer to her than she could ever imagine.


I asked Gretchen about her writing journey and her decision to write in the YA genre.  Here are her extraordinary answers…



Amy: What drew you to write Young Adult novels that have a horror/paranormal theme?


Gretchen: I love scary stories.  I love to read them and I love to write them.  There’s something amazing about crafting suspense, building tension, orchestrating those GOTCHA moments!  I love it.



Amy: Was POSSESS your first completed manuscript?


Gretchen: No, my third.  There were two trunked novels – an adult chick lit and a YA urban fantasy – that came before it.



Amy: How long did it take to complete?


Gretchen: I wrote most of POSSESS during National Novel Writing Month in 2009, then finished it two months later.  So all together, about twelve weeks.



Amy: Did you use critique partners for your upcoming release, TEN? If so, how did that affect your writing process?


Gretchen: I did.  I had to.  TEN was written under a tight deadline and I wasn’t sure it worked, so I had a fleet of readers give me feedback.  I incorporated many of their suggestions into the draft that went to my editor.



Amy: When you first wrote your query for POSSESS, did it come easily, or did it go through many drafts?


Gretchen: I didn’t have to query POSSESS (thankfully) but the novel that landed me my agent – THE WITCH’S EYE – had a pretty decent query.  I think my entertainment industry background helped me with the pitch process.  I’ve always enjoyed writing queries – it really helps me boil the book down into its basic components!



Amy: How many queries did you send out for THE WITCH’S EYE?


Gretchen: About 20.



Amy: Did you receive immediate response, or did you have to twist your hands, and wait a while?


Gretchen: I had all my offers very quickly, within the first two weeks.  The first request for pages came within four hours of sending the query.  But in fairness, I was targeting fast responders with the first five I sent out, to be able to “test the waters” and see how the query did.



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


Gretchen: I think it was a unique premise and a sleek, compact way of pitching it.  I answered all the big questions, and teased the end: Who is the main character? What does she want?  What’s in her way?  What actions does she take to get around her obstacle?  What’s at stake if she fails.  If you can do that in a query, agents will pay attention.



Amy: What was your “call” like with your agent, Ginger Clark?


Gretchen: She called me out of the blue. I had three other offers, and another phone call already scheduled, and she just up and called me.  She was super direct, no chit-chat.  Which I loved.



Amy: As a performer (I know you were a former coloratura soprano), you’ve most likely dealt with the ups and downs of rejection.  Did that experience help you wade through the difficulties of the querying process, and what kept you motivated to keep writing?


Gretchen: Definitely.  The biggest part it helped me with was not taking the rejection personally.  Our novels are personal to us, the writer, but not to an agent. To an agent, this is a business and they view potential manuscripts and clients with a professional, business eye.  So you can’t take it personally.



Gretchen McNeil is an opera singer, writer and clown.  Her YA horror POSSESS debuted with Balzer + Bray for HarperCollins in 2011.  Her follow-up TEN – YA horror/suspense about ten teens trapped on a remote island with a serial killer – will be released September 18, 2012, and her third novel 3:59, sci-fi doppelgänger horror is scheduled for Fall 2013.  Gretchen’s new YA contemporary series Don’t Get Mad (Revenge meets The Breakfast Club) begins Fall 2014 with GET EVEN, followed by the sequel GET DIRTY in 2015, also with Balzer + Bray.



Gretchen is a former coloratura soprano, the voice of Mary on G4’s Code Monkeys and she sings with the LA-based circus troupe Cirque Berzerk.  Gretchen blogs with The Enchanted Inkpot and is a founding member of the vlog group the YARebels where she can be seen as “Monday.”


Mother Nature Has a Wicked Sense of Humor October 29, 2012

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Originally this is how this post began…


Today is a day of celebration!!! It is not only the release of the amazing short story anthology, “The Fall,”  it is also a day to rejoice because I have a story included in the collection.


But now because of “Frankenstorm/Hurricane Sandy” or whatever you choose to call this monster of a storm hitting the eastern seaboard, “The Fall” is currently in the hold position.


Can anyone see the irony in this?  A collection of fourteen short stories about the end of the world being held off by an “apocalyptic-type” storm.  Personally, I just think Mother Nature has a wicked sense of humor (which I think bodes well for the success of this anthology *fingers crossed*).


While we pray our writer friends stay safe and continue to have power as long as possible, I still want to share my interview with Matt Sinclair, founder/publisher/editor of Elephant’s Bookshelf Press (EBP).  He is the genius behind both Spring Fevers, the first anthology from EBP, as well as the forthcoming, “The Fall: Tales from the Apocalypse“.


Matt has done an amazing job of putting this anthology together – reading and editing submissions, as well as selecting the final cover design.  In honor of the second anthology, I wanted to interview Matt and discover the story behind Elephant’s Bookshelf Press and why he chose to take on such a monumental project.



Amy: In your life you wear many hats: professional editor, writer and now publisher. What inspired you to start Elephant’s Bookshelf Press?


Matt: It was something I’d been thinking of for a while, actually. When Cat Woods and I started discussing an anthology, I decided that was the spark I needed to start a company.



Amy: When you began Elephant’s Bookshelf Press, what was the one main goal you wanted to achieve?


Matt: To help writers build an audience.



Amy: Earlier this year the first anthology from Elephant’s Bookshelf Press, SPRING FEVERS, was released. What were some of the highs and lows associated with that project?


Matt: Mostly highs, and what was best was the very positive response. I had friends who told me they never would read something like it and now can’t wait for The Fall. Lows? Well, I’d like to reach wider, but I recognize that short story anthologies don’t sell well at any time.



Amy: What did you learn from that process that you have now incorporated into the second anthology, THE FALL?


Matt: The importance of a good team to help you. Without it, you’re doomed from the start.



Amy: How do you handle the submissions process? Do you read and select pieces on your own, or do you have a committee that also gives you feedback?


Matt: I have a committee of reviewers. We don’t all have to agree, but it’s better if we do.



Amy: Can you tell me a little bit about the process associated with designing the covers for both anthologies? Did the covers go through many revisions, or was it pretty clear early on which designs were going to work?


Matt: The images are the toughest part for me. We went through hundreds of images to find what worked. It’s a very difficult process– more difficult than I expected.



Amy: What are your long-term plans for Elephant’s Bookshelf Press?


Matt: I hope to publish novels and nonfiction, eventually. Perhaps a novel in 2013. I believe novels will eventually be our primary focus.



Amy: Because I have a curious mind, my last question has to be about your chosen name, Elephant’s Bookshelf Press. Does it have a special meaning?


Matt: Well, I’ve always loved elephants, ever since I was a kid. And I had created the Elephant’s Bookshelf as my blog years ago. Adding the word “Press” made sense. And filing for an LLC made sense to me, too.



Matt Sinclair, a New York City-based journalist and fiction writer, is also  president and chief elephant officer of Elephant’s Bookshelf Press, which  earlier this year published a short story anthology called Spring Fevers and will publish The Fall: Tales from the Apocalypse as soon as the apocalyptic storm assaulting the East Coast of the U.S. allows.


First Five Frenzy with Kate McKean – Howard Morhaim Literary Agency October 26, 2012

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


Those first pages are critical and that is the purpose of the First Five Frenzy.  To get an agent’s perspective on what works, and what fails, in those first five pages of a manuscript.  By reading each agent’s comments, I hope you will learn how to make your MS a shining gem that will be requested time and time again.


Today, I am proud to share Literary Agent, Kate McKean’s perspective on what is important in those first five pages…


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



Kate:  I think a first line is very important. It’s your first, first impression. If your novel takes 10, 20, 100 lines to get good, why not just start on that 100th line?



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 beginnings you recommend writers stay away from?

Kate:  I definitely suggest avoiding openings with dreams, breakfast, etc–but also: waking up, getting dressed, looking in windows/mirrors and describing the character’s physical characteristics, commenting on the weather, alarm clocks, ringing phones, answering phones…I could go on. The point is not that these are bad openings, but that readers—and that includes agents, editors, and people with money in bookstores—have seen them a hundred times. Why start with something old when you can start with something new? Write for the reader, not just yourself.



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

Kate:  It’s a feeling, something in my gut or brain that says “hey, this is different.” Sometimes I’ll find that I’ve kept reading without looking up to check my email, or the time, or the coffee level of my cup and then I know that the writing or the story or both has captured my attention. And then I request more.


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

Kate:  Writers don’t tell the reader the who, what, where, when, why, and how fast enough in their first five pages. Frankly, I want at least 80% of that in the first page, if not the first paragraph. Whether it’s literary fiction or YA or mystery or whatever, it’s never too early to give the reader the GERMANE material facts of the plot and characters. (GERMANE doesn’t mean everyone’s hair color, middle name, and shoe size. It means the facts the reader needs to know to become invested in the story and plot.)

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

Kate:  All of the Above. It has to be everything for me. The author has to hit it out of the park on all of those things for me to take them on. Writing is hard. Selling is hard. So I need to love practically everything about a book to be its best advocate in this tough market.



Interested in learning more from Kate on how to craft your first five pages?  Check out her upcoming webinar,  “Awesome First Pages: How to Start Your Story Right.”



Kate earned her Master’s degree in Fiction Writing from the University of Southern Mississippi before starting her career as a literary agent. Her interests lie in literary fiction, contemporary women’s fiction, fantasy, science fiction, paranormal romance, urban fantasy,young adult and middle grade fiction, sports related books, food writing, pop culture, and craft. She does NOT represent works in the following genres: thrillers, mysteries, crime, politics, true crime, mind/body/spirit, or children’s picture books.



If you are interested in submitting to Kate, please make sure to check the Howard Morhaim Literary Agency website for their guidelines.


W.O.W. – Writer Odyssey Wednesday – MarcyKate Connolly October 24, 2012

 © Cheryl Colombo 2012




When I first started the W.O.W. series it was really for selfish reasons.  I needed to hear other writers’ stories of rejection to help convince myself I wasn’t alone out on loser island.



As the months have gone by, and I’ve done numerous interviews, I’ve begun to realize that every author has their own personal story of how they dug out of the slush pile to find an agent. Many of them have followed a similar path, tramping through the query trenches, until ultimately succeeding.  Others, like MarcyKate Connolly, while still successful, have a truly unique and compelling story – a story that I am proud to share today…



Amy: Have you always written YA fiction?



MarcyKate: For the most part, yes. My very first (and incomplete) attempt at a novel was an adult thriller. The sole copy of it lived on a flashdrive that was stolen when my car was broken into one night. (I signed up for DropBox the next day. It has saved my life several times since. No lie.). I also dabbled with a Middle Grade idea, but that needs a lot of work before it’s ready for any eyes but mine. YA, however, is where most of my ideas seem to fit best.



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



MarcyKate: MONSTROUS is my 7th book, but only the 4th I queried. 5 of those 7 are complete, and 2 others are in varying states of disarray and incompletion (which I plan to eventually remedy).



Amy: After reading your blog, I know you’ve had many ups and downs with manuscripts.  How did you deal with the disappointment and continue to write?



MarcyKate: I did my fair share of wallowing, but only offline and in private. Especially when I was in a “Down” period with the manuscript I queried before MONSTROUS – I had a ton of requests, but never could get it to tip the agent-scales from “like” to “love.” I’m very fortunate to have some excellent writer friends who’ll commiserate about the ups and downs when necessary. But that (and more pounds of chocolate than I’d like to count) was not what really kept me going. What did (and still does) was the understanding that even if I never got an agent, I would still keep writing. I love it too much not to do it, and I know without a doubt that if I stopped, I’d regret it.



Amy: Did you have critique partners who helped you polish MONSTROUS? If so, how did that affect your writing process?



MarcyKate: Absolutely. I usually run an early draft of each manuscript through my online crit group over at AgentQuery Connect, then (after revising, of course) I have a few beta readers who help me identify any remaining weak spots. They are a critical part of my process!



With MONSTROUS, it took me longer to send it to readers than usual. I was very nervous to show it to anyone, which was more than a little ridiculous considering the fact that it was my 7th manuscript. Unfortunately, knowing that did nothing to help my nerves! I finished the first draft in October last year, but I didn’t send it to anyone for reading until early February or so. This particular main character is just so weird (in the nicest meaning of the word) that I felt oddly overprotective of her. This was also the most challenging project I’ve undertaken to date and there was a lot more rule-breaking with it than I’d tried before, so part of me kept wondering if I was crazy to try to write this book. Obviously, I’m very glad I did!



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



MarcyKate: Don’t hate me, but I kind of love writing queries! (Synopses on the other hand….) I usually start playing with queries about half-way through the manuscript and this was no different. I had plenty of trouble query-wrangling with the first two books I submitted to agents, but once I hit the 3rd something just clicked for me and I got the basis for it down quickly. MONSTROUS was pretty much the same way. I think I wrote it in maybe a weekend, then tweaked a few words here and there in the ensuing months before I started sending it out (the AQC query forums are excellent for that sort of testing).



Amy: How many agents did you query for MONSTROUS?



MarcyKate: I queried about 20 agents. I had 18 requests, but several of those came through contests. My query request rate ended up being about 70% which was a lovely surprise!



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



MarcyKate: It varied pretty widely. I actively queried for about 6 weeks on this project and the response times were all across the board. Some rejected quickly, some requested quickly. Others took a few weeks to respond one way or the other, but those requests were just as enthusiastic as the fast responders.



Amy: Can you tell us what your “call” was like with your agent, Suzie Townsend?



MarcyKate: In a word, AWESOME. But I suppose you’d like more than that? 😛



When I got my first offer, I had several queries still pending, one of which was to Suzie. I nudged her to let her know and she got back to me very quickly with a request. After Suzie read MONSTROUS (in about 24 hours – she is a FAST responder which I love!), she emailed me to set up a time to chat. We settled on the following Monday at noon.



One small point of stress was that my office is about the size of two parking spaces put together and I share it with three other people—two of whom are prone to breaking out into song and dance, usually tap-dancing, at any given moment. (I’m 100% serious – this is one of the hazards of working in theatre! There’s a reason a sign like this one hangs in our office!) Obviously this is not an environment conducive to having phone calls where I actually want to be taken seriously. I work at a college in Boston and since it’s summer, I thought for sure that the food court nearby would be a ghost town since there were no students around and that had been the case for most of the past few weeks.



That was my first mistake (my second was not having a backup plan!).



I got to the food court about 5 minutes before Suzie was supposed to call and was stunned to see almost every table filled. The place was abuzz with noise, but still better than having The Call two feet from my singing and dancing co-workers. The only empty table I could find was near the escalators. Suzie has always been high on my list of Agents-I’d-Give-My-Right-Arm-to-Work-With, so I was very nervous and used the rest of the time left to review my questions and focus on actually breathing.



About 30 seconds after Suzie called, the construction on the escalator began and I realized why that table was empty. We’re talking people jack-hammering 15 feet away—max. She didn’t say anything about the excessive noise, so hopefully she didn’t notice, but it was a wee bit distracting for me!



First she talked about what she loved about MONSTROUS—which, after 3 years of No, was surreal (this was true of all 3 calls I had. It does not get old!). She brought up a few suggestions for things she thought could be strengthened with some revision that really resonated with me. Then she talked more about New Leaf and how they work, and asked about my other projects. I must confess that despite taking lots of notes, most of The Call is a blur. What struck me the most was her incredible enthusiasm for the work she does and for her clients’ books—and her enthusiasm for MY book. Every agent I talked to on the phone was excited about  MONSTROUS, but Suzie was just a little bit more. She also happens to be very easy to talk to which is important to me since I tend to be rather shy. We’d already developed a decent rapport emailing back and forth about requested materials, so it was great to find out she was as approachable on the phone, too.



At that point, I still had a few agents reading and a call slated for later that week with another wonderful agent, so I didn’t say yes right away. By that Friday, I had a total of three offers and was beside myself because they were all top-notch agents and all of them would have been fantastic advocates for MONSTROUS. (Needless to say, there was much gnashing of teeth and flailing of arms!) But after talking to Suzie on the phone and our email correspondence over the course of the week, I just didn’t see how I could not sign with her. She’s an awesome agent with an excellent track record, her clients adore her, and she thoroughly convinced me that she believes in my book. Now that we’ve been working together for a few weeks, I have no doubt it was the right decision. 🙂



Amy: As a moderator on AgentQuery Connect, you’ve seen many posts about the ups and downs of the publishing business.  If someone posted that they were going to give up on their writing dream, what would you write back to encourage them to keep at it?



MarcyKate: I actually blogged about this a couple times over the past year (here and here). It’s a harsh truth that not every writer is going to get an agent or a book deal or make the NYT bestseller list. It’s not the cheeriest thought, but it is true. Publishing is not an easy business to break into. You’re going to face rejection at every single stage of the game—querying, on submission, and then even from readers. You have to be able to face that hard truth down and walk away from it wanting to try anyway. In my opinion, the question you need to ask yourself is: “In 20 years from now, will I regret giving up?” Each of us can only answer that for ourselves. Agents, editors, crit partners, reviewers, etc don’t really affect that. It’s strictly what matters to YOU on a personal level. Because that’s what’s important. Some people will answer “No” to that question – and that’s totally fine! It’s not for everyone. But I suspect most of us will say “Yes.”



And if the answer is “Yes,” then keep writing. As often as possible. Try new things. Never be afraid to experiment—even if it doesn’t turn out like you hoped, you’ll probably learn something along the way. And who knows, maybe that crazy new idea will be The One (it was for me!).



MarcyKate Connolly is a writer and arts administrator who lives in New England with her husband and pugs. She’s also a coffee addict, voracious reader, and recurring commuter. She blogs at her website and the From the Write Angle group blog, and volunteers as a moderator at Her work is represented by Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary & Media. Early this year, her short story “Connected” was published in the Spring Fevers anthology by Elephants Bookshelf Press.


Monday Mutterings October 22, 2012

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This post  is usually Monday Musings  – but today I’m in a “muttering” sort of mood…


1) Sadly, I have become a Twitter addict.  In the last few weeks, I’ve enjoyed reading agent posts and query tips etc…That was all good and well until I read the following tweet which gave me serious pause….  Anyone else want to go back to the boards now and erase every single mention you’ve ever made of your WIP?


2) Ever had a gut check kind of writing day where everything you’ve written sounds like cr*p and then your CP confirms it for you?


3) I’m a serious comma offender – I either use too many or not enough.  Could we just outlaw comma usage all together?  It would make my life so much easier – (Yeah, but I know, reading much harder) *sigh*


And on a MUCH lighter note – I want to make all writers aware of an amazing opportunity to get critical feedback on their query.


Mindy McGinnis, who has been featured on this blog several times here and here…has a great feature on her own blog called, “The Saturday Slash.” In “The Slash,” she offers up critical feedback on what is working and what needs further attention in your query.  I’ve actually been a willing victim of Mindy’s “slash,” and came out of the process virtually unscathed with many new ideas on how to improve my work.


If you’re looking for feedback on your query, I highly recommend you get in the queue for Mindy’s “Saturday Slash.”


One last thing – check back this Friday for an enlightening installment of the F3 (First Five Frenzy ) –  as a “super agent” shares her insights on what she wants to see in a writer’s first submitted pages!


Destined for the Drawer? October 19, 2012




In all my author interviews there seems to be a common denominator that links each and every writer – they made their debut with a manuscript that was their second, third or fourth try.


It is rare that an author can pen a novel for the first time and have it be pristine enough to make it past both an agent and a publisher.  Many writers refer to their first novel as their “starter manuscript,” or their own personal education on how to “not” write a story. But many times that first novel owns a piece of our soul.  It is an accomplishment that many people in this world cannot crow about , and with that distinction, many writers, including myself, find it very hard to put that precious baby away without ever introducing it to the public.


So the question then becomes how do you know if the blood, sweat and tears you’ve just poured into that beloved concept, should never see the light of day?  A couple of things come to mind….


1) After letting the story marinate for weeks/months/years – you go back to it and realize the writing is at a novice level


2) You present it several times over to your CP, who keeps trying to warn you the plotting and structure are shaky


3) You query the heck out of it – and you get nothing but form rejections


Now with all that being said, that doesn’t mean the concept has to be buried somewhere deep in a drawer or in the bowels of a trunk.  I’ve heard many stories of successful authors, who have gone back to their original work, and applied all their experience and knowledge to that first try. The result is something not only highly marketable, but a manuscript an author is proud to finally reveal to the world.


So if you’re like me, put that precious manuscript away.  Hone your craft, learn from your peers, listen to the advice of agents and editors and work on something new.  When you’ve reached your goals, and sharpened your pen, go back to that original idea with fresh eyes.  The result may be something that you never imagined and a thousand times better than your original concept.  It’s still your baby, it’s just dressed up pretty and finally ready to show off to the world.


What about you?  Do you have a precious jewel of a manuscript locked away somewhere?  What made you decide to put it away?  Do you think you’ll ever go back and repolish it?  Drop me a line, I’d love to hear about it!


W.O.W. – Writer Odyssey Wednesday – Cat Woods October 17, 2012



Writing is a very solitary endeavor.  Most of us crawl into our hole, whether that be a small office in our home, or a quiet corner of a sleepy cafe, and simply disappear with our characters.  But once our MS is complete and we seek the light of day again, we need help getting that baby out into the world.


Some of us have critique partners, and many, like me, find guidance through a great online writing community called, AgentQuery Connect (AQC).


When I first stumbled onto the site, Cat Woods was one of the first people kind enough to answer my naive questions about how the forums and threads worked.  Later on, when I decided to write a short story for an upcoming anthology, called “The Fall,” Cat agreed to look at  my work and help me hone it before I sent it for submission.


Now to be honest, Cat only knows me via AQC.  She lives in the midwest, I live in the southwest.  But even still, she was willing to take the time out of her busy schedule as a mother, wife and writer to help me out.  So it was only natural for me to want her featured in the W.O.W.  She is not only an amazing person, but a fiercely talented writer, whose writing journey begs to be shared…


Amy: At what age did you truly know you wanted to be a writer?


Cat:  I wasn’t the typical as-soon-as-I-could-hold-a-crayon writer. While I wrote well and easily in school, this ability only served to hone my procrastination skills and still put “A”s on my papers. As my children grew, I started writing/telling them stories, but even then, I focused on writing and publishing for adults and small businesses. It wasn’t until about eight years ago that I discovered my passion for juvenile literature–and with that, a burning desire to have my words on night stands across the globe.



Amy: What compels you to write juvenile fiction?


Cat: I love kids. Plain and simple. There is nothing in this world as amazing or as fascinating as children. As adults, we give them so little credit for who they are, what they do and how they feel. We believe we are superior because of our experiences. What we don’t realize is they have the upper hand because they are still unafraid of self-discovery. They still feel passionately. They take risks, and yet they grow despite the outcomes. In my mind, it’s an honor to write for them.



Amy: When did you complete your first manuscript?


Cat: Oh, Lord. I’m not even sure I can answer this properly, as I’ve been writing for small businesses and newsletters since the early nineties. However, my first published fiction (a short story for adults) appeared in a nationally known magazine in 1998. My first “real” story for kids was a chapter book I wrote for my nephew in 2003. This was nothing more than a gift and I didn’t really consider it “writing” in the classic sense. So, my first fiction manuscript in the true sense of the word appeared during the summer of 2004. My daughter asked me to tell her a pirate story. I obliged–verbally, as was our style–and she kept bugging me. “And then what happened?” To which I would add another incident. Within three days, I had a completed 12,000 word chapter book. The following summer I wrote two middle grade novels and have continued from there.



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


Cat:  Again, being the non-traditional writer in every way, I started querying editors, not agents. I would often garner hand-written rejections. Twice I was this close. Remember that little pirate story? It came back to me with little sticky note illustrations throughout the manuscript and a beautiful rejection letter that I cherish to this day.  It wasn’t until after I joined AgentQuery Connect that I even considered sending my work to agents. In the spring of 2010, I sent out a very tiny round of queries for a picture book I loved–Still love!–and got some great feedback. A month later, I sent out nine queries for my pirates and landed an agent. That said, my writing closet is full of completed manuscripts, rough drafts and stories between edits. In other words, I’ve penned many, many words to get where I am today.



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?


Cat: As I’m sure you’ve gathered from my answers above, I’m not normal. I love writing queries. Love it! It uses a completely different part of my brain that writing the actual manuscript does not. I think my experience writing non-fiction makes this task far less daunting than it could be. But again, while writing comes easily to me, I’m a tweaker. I tweak for a long time.



Amy: What has the submission process been like for you?


Cat: It doesn’t faze me at all. I’ve already submitted to editors directly and know what it’s like to have my work scrutinized at that level. Truly, querying agents was a much more terrifying experience for me.



Amy: If one manuscript didn’t get sold, how did you know it was time to move on to the next project?


Cat: Well, we’re not quite there yet. When I asked my agent that question, he said, “There’s always a place to submit. We just might need to wait for the right time.” Such words of wisdom. I write, edit and send to my agent. He figures out the timing.



Amy: Can you give us a short summary of your call with your agent?


Cat:  No call. We had “conversed” heavily via emails prior to his offer–and I’d done a fair amount of agent stalking, as well, so knew what was important to me. I did, however, get to meet him in person at a conference. He was amazing. Having a professional in your corner who sees something in your writing is very liberating.



Amy: As a moderator on AgentQuery Connect you’ve seen many posts about the ups and downs of the publishing business. What is one piece of advice you would give to a fellow AQCer who wanted to give up on their writing dream?


Cat: For starters, I’m not going to tell everyone they should keep trying to publish a specific story, because not everything should be published. However, I will always encourage writers to keep writing. If writing is a passion that speaks to you and makes you happy, write as often as you can.


The main idea I try to pass along is that we need to educate ourselves on the business end of writing as much as the craft of it. By not understanding both, we lose so much of the experience along the way–and sometimes even lose the way altogether. We also tend to lose focus about why we write, what we want and how we can get there. Each writer has a different goal and must understand himself to be successful. We must also understand that our experiences and outcomes will be as unique as the stories we try to sell. We have to stop comparing ourselves to others because that gives jealousy a foothold, turning our passion into something ugly and impure.


Thank you so much for inviting me to share my journey with your readers!



A self-proclaimed Scrabble addict, Cat Woods pens quirky juvenile fiction for the younger set and dark YA for those ready to explore the intricacies of the psyche. When she’s not raising her family of four kids, two dogs and one devoted husband, she can be found acting as a housewife, speech coach, child advocate for at-risk kids and a freelance writer. You’re welcome to join her at Words from the Woods, From the Write Angle or AgentQuery Connect.


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