Chasing my crazy dream in the writing world…

W.O.W. – Writer Odyssey Wednesday – Jessika Fleck February 27, 2013




I’m always curious to see what a writer‘s responses are going to be when I send them interview questions.  Most of the time, I learn each and every author has a VERY different experience when it comes to getting an agent and being published.  Some toiled in the query trenches for years before hitting agent gold.  Others got lucky and reached an agent at just the right time, as today’s featured writer, Jessika Fleck did.


No matter the journey, one element remains the same among all writers –  their belief in their work and constant commitment to following their dream. Each week I’m inspired by their journeys enough to slog deep down into query hell again because I KNOW if I keep trying, maybe, just maybe, it will happen for me one day too!


Many thanks to Jessika for sharing her personal journey today…



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


For me it was an exact moment. Sounds cliche’, but really it was. I’ve always been artistic, but after we had our two daughters less than two years apart, the art supplies were tucked away in a closet for safe keeping and I slowly lost my creative person. A couple years passed and that artist inside of me started clawing to escape. I found myself desperate for something more…so full of passion and desire to create yet without an outlet to dump it all into. That’s when a story hit me. I was brushing my teeth (romantic, I know) and —BAM— a memory along with an entire storyline came bounding at me. I began writing, not knowing anything about what I was doing. Writing always seemed an academic practice to me, less creative, less inspiring than, say, slapping paint on a canvas. But I was doing it. I couldn’t NOT do it, the story and characters wouldn’t leave me be. Later I realized I’d been telling stories all along, only my medium had changed.



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


Jessika: One. My first manuscript (the BAM! moment story) was a complete and necessary learning experience for me. It was during that year (yes, an entire year) I evolved into a writer.



Amy: If one manuscript was continuing to get rejected, how did you know it was time to move on to a new project?


Jessika:Well, it took me several rejections (more than it should have) to realize that 180K words (part of why it took me a year to write) is way too long to garner any interest, not the positive kind anyway. Once I researched proper word count, I began cutting it down, but was then hit with the idea for FAMILIARITY WITH THE DEVIL. With that, I knew I had to shelve my first manuscript and commit to the next.



Amy: Did your query for FAMILIARITY WITH THE DEVIL come easily or did it go through many drafts?


Jessika: Query and easily aren’t two words I will ever put in the same sentence! It is one of the most daunting things to attempt smashing the compelling points of a manuscript into three short paragraphs, while maintaining an authentic voice and making good selling points. In many ways I find writing a query letter more difficult than writing a full manuscript.


My conservative guess is that the query for FAMILIARITY went through roughly thirty drafts (towards the end many of the file names including impressive use of expletives). 🙂



Amy: Did you have critique partners for FAMILIARITY WITH THE DEVIL? If so, how critical were they to your writing process?


Jessika: I was still new to the writing world when drafting FAMILIARITY. I had friends beta read for me before I queried. However, once I realized I was getting more rejections that anything I hired an independent editor to look it over. After doing an intense round of edits, I started entering contests, connecting with other writers and eventually found a couple of wonderful critique partners. So, while I didn’t utilize their insight and support as I wish I could have with FAMILIARITY, I now know how invaluable CP’s are to the process and wouldn’t consider a project complete without running it by them first.



Amy: How many agents did you query for FAMILIARITY WITH THE DEVIL? Did you receive immediate responses or did you have to wait a while for replies?


Jessika: The real number? Really, really? I’ve never said (but no one’s ever asked) and truly I haven’t gone back and counted – until now – and I do believe it deserves a drum roll! I received 49 rejections and 26 non-replies that were to be considered rejections, so 75. Out of those I got five full requests and 10-12 partial requests.


Response times varied between agents and agencies. Some would get back to me in minutes, others six weeks. The BEST was when I actually got feedback. Whether it was negative or positive it was always constructive and so very helpful. I really appreciated those responses.



Amy: Can you give a short summary of your call with your agent, Jamie Bodnar Drowley?


Jessika: Ah…the call. Jamie had the full of FAMILIARITY WITH THE DEVIL out and read it at superhero pace (a day and a half at most). She emailed me after completing it and asked if I could chat over the phone about a question she had regarding the word count. Of course I said yes and, trying to keep a steady head about me, assumed she liked it, but was going to ask me to cut it down and resubmit.


When I got the call the next day, it wasn’t just Jamie on the phone, but also Marisa Corvisiero – a simple question about word count had somehow landed me on the receiving end of a conference call! At that point I knew there was more than “word count” to discuss. Marisa and Jamie explained how much they loved my project and they wanted to offer me representation…me representation! I believe I mumbled something completely incoherent like, “Um…wow, oh my gosh…thanks!” After we talked some specifics and hung up I literally walked circles around my living room staring at my phone in my hand, trying to remember how to use it so I could call someone, anyone, and share my news. It’s a moment I’ll never forget.



Amy: Publishing is a very difficult business. What was the one thing you think you did to attract agent interest?


Jessika: Honestly, I’d say it was part pure luck, part hard work, and part catching the right agent at the right time. There are so many factors that go into why agents reject projects. I like to think for me it was querying the right agency/agent for my genre/style, that my writing was compelling, and draft #30 of my query somehow caught her attention. Jamie’s enthusiasm for FAMILIARITY WITH THE DEVIL rivals my own passion for it and THAT is what you want in an agent – someone who believes in you as a writer, in the work you produce, who wants more than anything for you to reach your goals, and who will push you to do your best so you’ll get there.


I’ve come to realize that finding an agent is like finding a life-partner, but for your manuscript. There’s a perfect match out there…somewhere. Odds are if you don’t give up, eventually your paths will cross. I couldn’t be happier about crossing paths with Jamie!



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


Jessika: No. I mean, there were times I had fleeting thoughts wondering if all of the hours upon hours of writing was a waste of time, but they were few and far between. Not to say I didn’t experience moments of frustration and dismay. Getting rejected isn’t easy and often times it feels very personal. Even with the sting of rejection and if nothing ever panned out as far as finding an agent and getting published, writing is my passion. It’s enlivening and lovely and all of the things that take my breath away. So, agent or not, book deal or not, I am living my writing dream simply by writing.



Always a lover of art and books, it wasn’t until she put the two together that Jessika discovered the magic of storytelling. Growing up with an overactive imagination lent to many a day exploring new worlds and characters. She still has the overactive imagination, but now puts her stories to paper. Jessika lives in Colorado with her sweet family, growing collection of vintage typewriters, and bevy of characters who often keep her up at night. She is represented by Jamie Bodnar Drowley with Inklings Literary Agency and both her NA Paranormal, FAMILIARITY WITH THE DEVIL, and YA Dystopian/Dark Fantasy, THE OFFERING, are currently on submission. To learn more about Jessika, check out her blog,  Facebook page, or follow her on Twitter @jessikafleck.


CHASING A GOOD READ – UNRAVEL ME By Tahereh Mafi February 25, 2013

Unravel Me



I have to admit  I was caught off guard when I started reading Tahereh Mafi’s initial installment of this series, SHATTER ME.  While I was intrigued by the plotline and the characters, I was a little thrown by the writing style.  I couldn’t help but wonder how Mafi could convince an agent to take her on when every other word in her manuscript looked like this. But then I got past the first chapter, and got used to the odd style, and by the third chapter I’m not even sure I noticed the strikethroughs anymore – the plot was THAT compelling.


With UNRAVEL ME, the story begins right where SHATTER ME ended with everyone at Omega Point readying for battle.  We know from the beginning there will be tension between Juliette and Adam, but we don’t know he is hiding a serious secret which later reveals the key to his own power.  It’s a successful way to add tension to the characters and it worked.


Of course, we can’t get through this story without Warner.  He becomes the catalyst for Juliette’s inner conflict, and adds an amazing amount of HEAT to the story (umm Hello, Page 290 – digital version).


I liked how this story built to a climax, and of course, I loved the character of Kenji, who added much needed comic relief to a constantly taut story.


The only problem I had with UNRAVEL ME was the inertia of Juliette’s character.  She seemed constantly rooted in one place and it took until the last chapter for her to really break free from her own chains.


A third book is on the horizon and I hope it will bring Juliette’s character full circle. My wish is that Mafi will allow Juliette to move beyond the “I don’t understand my feelings”-type of woman she’s become and let her blossom into the powerful character she was meant to be.





First Five Frenzy with Laurie McLean of Larsen Pomada Literary Agents February 22, 2013

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, Laurie McLean’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?


Laurie: A great first line is huge. It sets the agent’s expectations from the very start that this author takes time and care to begin their tale. I advise YA writers to read the first lines of their absolute favorite books and see how in one sentence these authors have impressed the reader. Then make it a goal to make sure every first line in anything you write is the most incredible sentence you can write. Not overwritten, just perfect for each book.


Here’s a link to a wonderful blog post by my colleague Michael Larsen that not only talks about great first lines, he gives lots of examples. It’s very inspirational:



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?


Laurie: Oh, yes. No dreams or mundane every day activities, please. Commonplace school action is also a big no-no, as in sitting in class and having something embarrassing happen. Or in the school cafeteria. Or on the bus. Try to find something different, something that encapsulates the purpose or theme of the book, and use that as your opening scene. Make it as unique as your story.


My advice with both first lines and with opening scenes, is that these are things that can be fixed and crafted during the editing phase of the writing process. Just get the words on the page initially. Write the book. But when you write ‘The End’, it is really only the beginning. Then you must edit like a house-a-fire. Then you must spend a lot more time crafting the words, pruning your prose, to turn your writing from good to publishable. A great book is not written, it’s rewritten!



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?


Laurie: Most often I respond to the voice of the writer in those first 10 pages, which is what I request. It is difficult to tell much about the story in the first 10 pages, but I can certainly tell if the writer has his or her writing “chops” down. I can tell a lot about pacing, word choice, voice, characterization, grammar fu, and other things in those first few sentences. But voice is the big one. How do you make your story stand out from the other thousand submissions I receive each month.



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


Laurie: Mistakes could include delving into backstory (don’t do this AT ALL in the opening scenes), telling the reader too much up front, slowing the pace to a crawl with exposition, grammar mistakes (especially words that sound right but are wrong), misspellings, set up (telling the reader you’re going to tell them a story), overwriting (using too many words to say something), overuse of adverbs and adjectives, or jumping into the action in media res to the point where the reader is confused and does not read past the opening scene.


Again, all these things could have been fixed during the editing process. Writing is a journey, a process, and you learn more about your craft and improve it with every book you write. Most submissions I read are just not ready yet and the writer is impatient to be published so they throw it out there and hope and pray. At least put it in a virtual drawer for a few weeks, or even better months, after you finish writing the first draft. Your brain will think about it at odd times of the day when you’re doing something else and certainly when you sleep. Then start editing and keep editing until you absolutely cannot make it any better. THEN, and only then, start your querying process with agents and editors.



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


Laurie: A unique concept will get me interested in reading something. But if the voice isn’t unique and strong and compelling, I won’t read very far into the manuscript before I reject it. It may seem unfair, and I often hear, “But if you’ll only read the fourth chapter. It really picks up and gets going there!” If that’s the case, start your book with chapter four and keep going!



Thanks for letting me answer some of these important questions, Amy.


-Laurie McLean, Senior Agent, Larsen Pomada Literary Agents




For more information on Laurie and what she represents, please visit her agent page on the agency website,, and her blog Also follow her on twitter @agentsavant.


W.O.W. – Writer Odyssey Wednesday- Leigh Ann Kopans February 20, 2013





Every once in a while you encounter a person who inspires you.  Someone who is honest about who they are and makes no excuses for how they feel about the world around them.  I find people like this incredibly refreshing – possibly because there are too few of them in the world! Leigh Ann Kopans is one of these people – incredibly kind and honest, not only about writing and publishing, but about the world in general.


When Leigh Ann agreed to share her writing journey with me I knew it would be filled with candid moments about the process and how much work it takes to succeed.  Her story is one that completely inspires me and I hope it will fill you with a sense of hope about your writing future.



Amy: What drew you to write YA fiction?


Leigh Ann: I started writing when I was trying out being a stay-at-home mom for a year. As you might guess, it didn’t work out so well. I desperately needed to do something creative and non-child or housework-related with my free time, and I thought I’d try writing – every day, for a whole year, and see what came out. Seven months of trial-and-error later, what came out was my first novel. Ever since then, I’ve been hooked.


Writing YA came naturally to me because it’s still my favorite type of book to read. I’ve always gotten along with high schoolers and college students best, so I guess that makes sense.



Amy: I love that you are a campus rabbi. Do you ever float ideas by the students for feedback?


Leigh Ann: I love that too! It really is one of the best jobs in the world.


Yes, I float ideas by my students CONSTANTLY. It’s lovely to work with a group of people who naturally take Young Adult seriously, having grown up in a time when YA was starting to be taken very seriously. My current students grew up with Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games. That’s a real gift.


In addition, a good handful of my students and their younger siblings read my manuscripts, It’s a wonderful job for finding target-audience-or-slightly-older readers. I take their feedback very seriously, obviously.



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


Leigh Ann: The manuscript that got me signed with an agent was the second manuscript I ever wrote and the second manuscript I queried.



Amy: If a manuscript was continuing to get rejected, how did you know it was time to move on to a new project?


Leigh Ann: Oh, gosh. I was not very good at that, I must admit. I put my first manuscript in a drawer after I’d sent 100 queries and my handful of requests didn’t pan out. For my second manuscript, though, it was a little tougher. My request rate was abysmal – just under 5% – but I ran my query, concept, and writing by literally dozens and it got the enthusiastic thumbs up nearly every time. In total, I sent 137 queries and entered three contests before I got an offer.



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


Leigh Ann: The query for ONE came really easily – I’d actually written a query BEFORE I started the draft, as querying guru Elana Johnson advises. That became the basis for my first query. (I wrote a post all about it here:


When my first batch of queries didn’t bring many requests, my CPs helped me tweak it to be more voicey, more narrative, punchier, longer, you name it – but that first query remained my most successful.



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


Leigh Ann: Yes. I could not survive this without my CPs. They were absolutely indispensable for making sure I was on the right track with plot, character development, and pacing, especially, and advised two revisions on the manuscript before I ever sent out a query.


All told, I had over twenty readers for ONE, but my core CPs numbered about nine, in three waves.



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


Leigh Ann: I queried 137 agents and entered three contests. For some, I received immediate responses, and others sent me form rejections up to two months after I’d signed with an agent. (That sucked.)



Amy: Can you give a short summary of your call with your agent, Tricia Lawrence?


Leigh Ann: Oh, wow, I still grin remembering it. Tricia started off the call by telling me all the things she loved about my manuscript, most especially the main characters. I’m serious, she gushed for like ten minutes about it, which my poor almost-given-up heart could hardly handle. She THANKED me for writing a main character like mine. It was incredible.


The utility of this gushing was that I got an idea of just how well Tricia understood my book. I knew that if we did revisions together, we would share the vision of the manuscripts arcs and themes, and therefore stay true to my story. That was really important to me.


Then we talked about a few things: whether she wanted me to do any revisions before we went out on submission (only one small tweak) how many editors would be in the first round of submissions (about ten) and why I should choose EMLA (because it’s awesome.)


That was about it. After I accepted her offer, she told me we were officially official and I could shout it from the rooftops. Or, um, blog-tops. Which I promptly did.



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


Leigh Ann: Oh, goodness, I have no clue. If I knew, I’d try the same trick to garner editor interest. *winky wink*


Seriously, though, I didn’t really garner any agent interest. I’m very, very lucky that Tricia picked me out of a huge, huge crowd.



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


Leigh Ann: YES. I think about this often, actually – when things get really overwhelming and it feels like the writing is going nowhere. But usually I sulk for a day or so, start thinking about my manuscripts again, and realize how stupid I was to ever think I could quit. I’m addicted, and that’s all there is to it.


I had one really terrible, horrible, I’m-quitting-writing-for-real-this-time breakdown, and my trusty number one CP Jamie Grey dragged me out of that. I’m still apologizing to her. And grateful to her, obviously.



More about ONE


When having two powers makes you a Super and having none makes you a Normal, having only one makes you a sad half-superpowered freak.


It makes you a One.


Sixteen-year-old Merrin Grey would love to be able to fly, or even slowly drift through the air – too bad all she can do is hover.


If she could just land an internship at the Biotech Hub, she might finally figure out how to fix herself. She busts her butt in AP Chem and salivates over the Hub’s research on the manifestation of superpowers, all in hopes of boosting her chances.


Then she meets Elias VanDyne, another One, and all her carefully crafted plans fly out the window. Literally. When the two of them touch, their Ones combine to make them fly, and when they’re not soaring over the Nebraska cornfields, they’re busy falling for each other. It also doesn’t hurt that Elias is as good at kissing as he is at helping her fly.


Best yet, her mad chemistry skills land her a spot on the Hub’s internship short list.


But when the Hub kidnaps Elias, Merrin must decide if standing up to them is worth losing her chance to become more than a One. Because The Hub’s sick experiments don’t heal Ones as she thought – they kill them. And if she breaks into the Hub to rescue Elias, she’ll also destroy her chances that the Hub will ever find a way for her to fly solo – her only chance of being more than a One.



Raised on comic books and classic novels, Leigh Ann developed an early love of science fiction and literature. After earning degrees in Sociology and Hebrew, she went on to become a rabbi at The Ohio State University. Surrounded by college students, she found her niche writing young adult science fiction and romance.


Leigh Ann, her husband, and four children live in Columbus, Ohio, which sadly lacks superheroes but does have the best football and fabulous ice cream.


Leigh Ann is represented by Tricia Lawrence of Erin Murphy Literary Agency. For more information check out her website or follow her on Twitter @LeighAnnKopans


Highlights from San Francisco Writers Conference February 18, 2013

I am still recovering from a whirlwind four days at the San Francisco Writers Conference, but I wanted to drop a quick post to share a few things I learned.  In the future, I’m going to post more details about my experience, especially what I learned from agents and editors, but today just a few highlights.


1) Your First Chapter is Everything


Lara Perkins, an agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency, gave a great talk about the importance of not only your first chapter – but your first paragraph.  She read from THE SCORPIO RACES, HUNGER GAMES, & FAULT IN OUR STARS – to show what a powerful beginning looks like.  If you’re struggling with your start, go and read these paragraphs. It will teach you how good writers can set scene, mood and characterization in only a few sentences.



2) The Query


Quoting directly from agent, Katharine Sands from Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency, “Your query only needs to have three things: Person, Place and Pivot, without those things the agent has no idea what your story is about. And don’t use broad-based words like redemption, or justice, give concrete facts about what your stakes are and how your character is going to stumble or succeed.”



3) Your Voice Must Be Authentic


If you are writing Middle Grade or Young Adult, you need to share your work with someone who also writes MG or YA, OR you need to have a teenager read your work.  Most agents said the manuscripts they see in these categories are almost always turned down because the voice is NOT authentic. And one last thing on this subject, if you write in these categories, you MUST read in these categories.  Only then will you understand how important a strong voice is in creating a believable character and story.



More to come soon on self-publishing, writing techniques, and crafting a great pitch.   For today, I just wanted to quickly share the highlights from this great conference.


On Rejection February 15, 2013


Honest confession:  I just got a rejection on a full and it has me in a funk. But instead of wallowing in self-pity, I thought I’d use the situation to pose this question today: How do you as a writer handle rejection?


Do you curl up into the fetal position and insist you’ll never write again? Do you push your manuscript aside, and start on a new project, trying to avoid the pain altogether? Or do you pull up your big boy or big girl pants and settle in for another round of edits and revisions, knowing the pain only makes you stronger.


Honestly, I fall into all three categories. At first, rejection to me is like a punch in the stomach.  I instantly think of myself as a hack and want to throw in the towel.  Than an hour or two passes and I’m back at my laptop, trying to work on something new. But a day later, the story I love is sucking me back into its deep realm, promising with just a few edits that this one will be THE ONE an agent will want.


I console myself during these periods with several things:


1) I know and have interviewed many published authors who have had their share of rejection.  I find solace in the fact that some had to write 3, 4, even 5 manuscripts before they got an agent.  Their stories always buoy my confidence and give me a sense of hope.


2) Agent validation helps.  Even though the rejection comes with a “this is not for me” response, many have commented on the strength of my story and writing.  In my darker periods, I go back to these emails and reread those responses, trying to convince myself I’m on the right path.


3) Surround myself with people who are going through the same thing.  When writer friends, who I know are talented, are getting those rejections too, it makes me feel less alone in the giant world of publishing.


So writers, I’d like to know how you handle rejection?  Do you feel like giving up on the dream sometimes? Do you ever wonder why you’re putting yourself through this self-inflicted torture?  What are your coping mechanisms to help push you through the hard times?  Please share with me in the comments.  I know we could all learn from each other.



W.O.W. – Writer Odyssey Wednesday – Steven dos Santos February 13, 2013

dos Santos, Steven Head Shot 50 percent



Backstory.  It’s something we writers are told to be very careful with in our manuscripts.  Trickle in the details where necessary – but don’t info dump (we all know the drill!).  But backstory is the key to any good story, and today’s featured author, Steven dos Santos, has a backstory you must hear!


Like many of the authors featured here, Steven has had his writing struggles, but what is so amazing about his story is the number of times his work was knocked down, yet he still soldiered on, knowing in his heart one day his work would be published. His dedication to his craft, and the belief in his characters, is something we can all learn from.


Here is Steven’s writing odyssey…


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


Steven: My first serious attempt at getting published was back in 2001. I was stuck at a dead end job and one of my co-workers, Denise, mentioned that she attended writing groups at a bookstore, which really piqued my interest. That Christmas, Denise gave me the book The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books by Harold D. Underdown and Lynne Rominger. That was the turning point. I proceeded to write a minimum of two pages a day (uh, not at the office every morning when I got there—I would never do that 😉 And so began my first novel, a Middle Grade tale entitled Darius Devine & The Necromancer’s Curse, the story of a young boy determined to bring his beloved, dead mother back to life.



Amy: When did you complete your first manuscript?


Steven: Unfortunately, my first novel proved to be prophetic in a way. As I continued writing in 2002, I was dealt a major blow when my own mother, whom I was very close to, passed away. Soon after, I lost my job. But I continued writing almost as a form of therapy, and vowed I would finish the book for my mom, who was always my number one cheerleader in realizing my dreams. By early 2003, and weighing in at 452 pages, my first novel was born.


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


Steven: It wasn’t until several years later, after countless failed queries, that I joined the SCBWI Aventura Critique Group where I worked on honing my craft with a terrific bunch of the most supportive people I’ve ever met! I also started attending the Florida SCBWI conferences in Miami and Orlando.  By then it was 2007, and I decided a foray into the world of Young Adult novels was in order. I wrote a second book, a Paranormal/Espionage thriller called Dagger. This was the novel that caught the interest of my agent, Ginger Knowlton, when she critiqued the first chapter at the 2009 SCBWI Miami Conference.


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


Steven: How much time do you have? LOL. I can laugh now, but the querying process was one of the most frustrating things I’ve ever been through. Talk about an emotional rollercoaster! The highs of sending out queries to agents I was sure would love my book—only to deal with the cycle of depression from rejections and non-responses. Little did I know at the time that there were even more frustrating stages to come on the winding road to publication…sigh…


Amy: If one manuscript was continuing to get rejected, how did you know it was time to move on to a new project?


Steven: Putting aside my first baby, Darius Devine was very difficult. My critique group was really behind that book and it’ll always have a special place in my heart. If you would have told me at the time that it wasn’t going to get published, I would have been utterly devastated. The same thing with Dagger. Here I landed an agent with that manuscript! How could an editor not want to publish it? I was certain a sale would come within a few months after landing an agent. Boy, was I wrong about that! In both cases, I knew it was time to move on when I felt that I had done all that was within my control with those two novels. There comes a point where you say, this story is the best that I can make it. It can be hard to let go, but then that new story starts to percolate, and the new characters start talking to you (at least that’s what I hope those voices I hear in my head are 😉 and then you know it’s time to create something fresh and utilize those new skills you’ve picked up on.


Amy: If you had bites on previous manuscripts, and then were ultimately turned down by agents, what kept you pressing forward?


Steven: Dagger was my first novel that went out as an agented submission to editors. I’ll never forget that my first rejection coincided with the tragic and unexpected death of my brother, which numbed me to pretty much everything else at the time. During those first few months of agented submissions, the rejections began to trickle in—mostly positive, “Oh, this was so much fun, but…,” “I really loved it, BUT…,”—as the months went by, I started to get that sickening feel that, while editors seemed to enjoy Dagger, they weren’t going to bite. I can officially say this was the WORST phase of the journey for me. Having an agent and being so close—but unable to seal the deal. It’s the ultimate in frustration because there’s not much you can do. And in my particular case, I had an added challenge. Dagger featured a gay male protagonist, and some of the rejections hinted that this was an impediment. On a side note, before signing with the wonderful Ginger Knowlton, I had an agent actually put it in writing in her rejection that she LOVED the book, but Young Adult books catered to heterosexual females, and no one would buy a Young Adult book with a gay male character. I can’t tell you how crushing it was to hear that, and it really made me paranoid when I sensed the some of the agented submissions were getting rejected because of the same reasons.


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


Steven: Fortunately, I decided to write THE CULLING about halfway through the Dagger submission process, when I sensed that no one was going to buy it. Rather than curl up in a fetal position and throw a pity party (okay, I confess I did a little of that, too), I got angry and determined that I would write another book that would be so good they’d have no choice but to publish it, Gay Main Character and all! It wasn’t just about me getting published anymore. It was about proving the close-minded naysayers wrong and demonstrating that as long as a story is compelling, anyone, regardless of whether or not their sexual orientation and/or gender matches that of the main character can enjoy it. A year and a half later, THE CULLING was born.


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


Steven: THE CULLING went out on submission in early 2011. I was filled with very high hopes. I felt that this would be it. The book that would finally make it. Well…the rejections started trickling in and I got this awful sense of déjà vu. Oh no! Not this again! But it turns out that editor Brian Farrey at Flux Books, who had also been very interested in Dagger and came so, so close to buying it before regretfully having to pass, finally broke the cycle.


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


Steven: My first call from Ginger came four days after I met her at the SCBWI Miami Conference. I had emailed her the entire manuscript on the Monday, and that very Thursday, while I was on a snack break at work, my cell phone rang and when I saw the 212 area code I got goose bumps! The call basically went something like “Hi, Steven. It’s Ginger Knowlton.” Then me stammering a greeting. Then her saying, “I read your manuscript and I really loved it!” Then me growing weak in the knees and my heart pumping at 200 beats a minute saying something lame like “Oh, that’s nice!” And then Ginger coming back with something like “I’d like to represent you, if you’re interested,” To which I answered in tongue-tied elation “I think I’d like that!”


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


Steven: NEVER GIVE UP! The VERY day I got the news on June 10, 2011 that I’d been offered a two-book deal for THE CULLING by Brian Farrey of Flux Books, I was talking to a writer friend about what I was going to do now that it looked like this Young Adult writing thing was never going to happen! Cut to two hours later when I’m hopping up and down, wiping drool from my mouth and babbling incoherently, “I sold my book! I sold my book!” Perseverance pays off. Just keep honing your craft and keep writing different books. The people that get published are the ones that never quit.







Recruitment Day is here…if you fail, a loved one will die…

For Lucian “Lucky” Spark, Recruitment Day means the Establishment, a totalitarian government, will force him to become one of five Recruits competing to join the ruthless Imposer task force. Each Recruit participates in increasingly difficult and violent military training for a chance to advance to the next level. Those who fail must choose an “Incentive”—a family member—to be brutally killed. If Lucky fails, he’ll have to choose death for his only living relative: Cole, his four-year-old brother.

Lucky will do everything he can to keep his brother alive, even if it means sacrificing the lives of other Recruits’ loved ones. What Lucky isn’t prepared for is his undeniable attraction to the handsome, rebellious Digory Tycho. While Lucky and Digory train together, their relationship grows. But daring to care for another Recruit in a world where love is used as the ultimate weapon is extremely dangerous. As Lucky soon learns, the consequences can be deadly.  Release Date: March 8, 2013.




Born in New York City, Steven moved to Florida at the tender age of five. (His parents’ decision— not like he took off on my own and said “See ya!”) He wrote his first book, The Enchanted Prince, when he was a second grader. It was a critical success—  at least his teacher, the ‘rents, and fellow classmates thought so.

He has a B.S. in Communications, but spent most of his career in law, even going to law school before realizing if he’s going to tell “creative truths,” he’d prefer writing fiction! For more information on Steven and his writing journey, check out his website or follow him on Twitter @StevendosSantos.


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