Chasing my crazy dream in the writing world…

W.O.W. – Writer Odyssey Wednesday with Kelly Loy Gilbert October 30, 2013





Today’s featured author, Kelly Loy Gilbert, caught the writing bug early (in kindergarten!!!). And as she shares in her interview, she continued to write through high school and college. This made me start to question whether or not writing is really in our blood – something we are born with. Perhaps the passion comes early for some of us, as in Kelly’s case, and for others when we are older. One thing is for sure, the drive and ambition is the same for all of us: reach as my readers as possible and have them respond to our work.


Many thanks to Kelly for sharing her writing journey today…



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


In kindergarten.  We had these pasteboard-type covers and a comb binding machine, and we were encouraged to draw or write stories and “publish” them into a physical “book” we could share with others.  I was hooked then, and kept notebooks full of fiction ever since.



Was CITY ON A HILL your first completed manuscript?


Definitely not!  My first “finished” “manuscript,” in that it had a beginning, middle and end and was made of words, was in third grade.  It was called “Raven of the River” and was written in my favorite thin-tipped Crayola marker.  In high school I wrote seven or eight completed novel manuscripts–a few I tried submitting to publishers, which thankfully for the world never went anywhere–and then wrote one manuscript in college that was closer to being ready (I shopped it around to agents but it never went anywhere) and then one during my MFA that’s still in the works.  The last one was the one that got me signed with my agent.



How long did it take to complete?


A little under a year.  That was too fast–I’d never try to pull that off again.



Did you use critique partners for CITY ON A HILL? If so, how did they affect your writing process?


This was actually the first thing I ever wrote where the only person who really saw it was my agent; other than that, it was entirely in my own mind.  There was no real reason for that other than that I didn’t happen to have anything set up with a writing group or anything at the time, but it was an odd, immersive process to be living for so long in a world that no one else saw.  I love exchanging work with other writers if the goal is to push one another deeper into her own work.



When you first wrote your query for CITY ON A HILL did it come easily or did it go through many drafts?


I was lucky; because I was already with an agent, I didn’t have to write a query for it!  The last time I wrote a query, though, it took days and days and I enjoyed none of it.  (I still freeze up a little when people say, “What’s your book about?”)  I like long, patient conversations with moments of discovery–elevator pitches have really never been my thing.



What was your call like with your agent, Adriann Ranta?  How did you know she was a good fit for you?


It was incredibly nerve-wracking!  But I’d spoken to her already once before and knew she was smart and thoughtful, and I trusted her vision for the project.  She answered all my questions and seemed truly passionate about her job and her thoughts on fiction, and she was incredibly insightful.



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


I was querying a project that I think was kind of a tough sell–quiet, character-driven literary fiction–and I felt lucky to get as much interest in it as I did.  I went over the query countless times to make sure every word was in place, and I think having an MFA/publication credits helped.  I also had much better luck with submissions where I included sample pages or chapters; having the beginning of a manuscript really polished seems key.



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


Constantly.  I’m married to someone who’s finishing up a PhD in a STEM field, and I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, where every time I’d go sit in a coffee shop to write about the lives of pretend people I’d wind up next to two twenty-something guys discussing how their IPOs for the companies they founded were about to net them multiple millions of dollars.  Writing doesn’t normally pay well (which is why most writers I know have day jobs), and when you’re facing rejection over and over and comparing yourself to people who, by some metrics, are infinitely more successful than you’ll ever be, it gets incredibly difficult to justify to yourself.


But, really, I had to let go of the idea that everyone was judging me.  Most people love to see other people achieve their dreams and so I don’t know where I even got that feeling from anyway, but even if it really existed (which I don’t think it ever did), who cares?  My best friend posted a quote on Facebook once that was something about how when you reach rock bottom, that’s when you really should keep going because the world needs to hear the story of your crawling out of it.  We write because the craft and the stories matter to us, and that’s the best reason in the world to always keep going and to continually seek an audience for those stories.




kelly gilbert


Kelly Loy Gilbert is a writer who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, new daughter, and massive collection of books.  Her debut novel CITY ON A HILL will be released by Disney-Hyperion in Spring/Summer 2015, and she’s represented by Adriann Ranta.  She’s a member of the NaNoWriMo Associate Board, the YA Buccaneers and the Freshman Fifteen and has written for the The Kenyon Review, The Toast, and Brain, Child. For more on Kelly check out her blog or follow her on Twitter.






ONE LAST NOTE:  A special shout-out to the amazingly talented Roselle Kaes who created the new logo for Writer Odyssey Wednesday. I am so thrilled to be able to share her beautiful art. For more on Roselle go to her website:


Choosing An Editor: A Guest Post By Dahlia Adler October 28, 2013


I think one of the most difficult things about navigating the world of publishing is trying to decide whether or not you need to hire an editor. More and more these days agents are looking for a highly polished manuscript, and there is nothing worse that getting a full request and wondering if your manuscript is ready to go.


The issue of hiring an editor is complicated. Do you hire someone to look at your query so you can gain agent interest? Should you pay for a submission package so you can get critical feedback on your query and first pages? Is it worth it to pay for a comprehensive overview of your entire manuscript?


My own personal experiences with editors have varied. Some have been very professional and spot on with their advice. Others have come highly recommended and then seriously disappointed me.


It’s impossible to tell you the right thing to do. Each writer has their own instincts about where they need help. What is possible is to give you some key points to consider before you hand over your money to an editor.


I honestly could not think of anyone else better to handle this topic than Dahlia Adler. A copy editor herself, Dahlia has great insight into this subject and helps provide solid information on what a writer should consider before hiring an editor.









I’ve been working in publishing in one capacity or another since 2002, and obviously, a lot about the industry has changed since then. The rise of digital publishing – and self-publishing – has changed massive amounts about the landscape of publishing, and both authors and professionals have been forced to change with it. As a result, small independent presses have been popping up all over the place, and it seems everyone and her mother is now a freelance editor as well.


So how do you know who’s legitimately a good freelance editor and who’s just taking your money? Here are some ways to help you figure it out:


Experience: Everyone needs to start somewhere, but as with an agent, you have no responsibility to be anyone’s guinea pig. You have a right to know that someone has a proven track record before you hire him or her; otherwise, why assume (s)he knows what he or she is doing for you? Additionally, if an editor has no prior clients, that means (s)he likely has no references, which brings us to…



References: It’s a fact – there are some things you can’t know about how someone operates until you deal with him or her yourself… or talk to someone who has. Someone may have excellent credentials and experience, but that doesn’t necessarily tell you anything about things like turnaround time, responsiveness to emails, or the depth with which he or she edits. These are the kinds of things other clients can tell you better than anyone else.


And, of course, if you’re considering hiring an editor, read a book or two the editor has worked on. Do so with a grain of salt – remember that authors don’t always follow suggestions, or have a second round of editing (or proofreading) done after they’ve made numerous changes – but the overall impression of a book should definitely help you figure out what you need to know. (A good sign one of these exceptions is the case – a generally clean book with brief sections that are outstandingly typo-riddled.)



Success: Success isn’t always an easy thing to measure; if an author doesn’t self-promote well, or isn’t a skilled writer to begin with, there’s only so much editing can do. Additionally, success as an author doesn’t necessarily mean that said author is skilled as an editor. That said, there are a lot of people advertising services with which they themselves have not found success – authors who have not successfully landed agents but charge for query critiques, for example. Now, this doesn’t mean these people are automatically bad at critiquing queries – of course not. But given the choice between someone who’s proven this skill and someone who hasn’t, why go with the person who hasn’t when you’re trying to navigate through this minefield?



Test: This is the number one most important thing to do when hiring an editor, and I think a lot of people don’t realize that not only is it something you can ask for, but it’s something you should. Any editor who refuses to take a test before being hired is not an editor you should hire. I’ve had three longterm copyediting contracts as well as a Production internship at a Big Five, and you know what all of them had in common? Making me take a test first.


So what’s an appropriate test, and what are you looking for? Ideally, a sample chapter should do it, and what you’re keeping an eye out for is a combination of skill and style – Do the editor’s ideas for revisions mesh with yours, and fix the sorts of things you’re looking for? Do they maintain your voice? (This one is huge, and a big thing to keep an eye out for when selecting a Copy Editorno one should be rewriting your voice, and anything that skirts the line should be done as a suggestion, not an edit.)



(For a Copy Editor) Style Guide: All Copy Editors should be able to tell you which style guide they use (Chicago Manual of Style is standard for traditionally published books in the US) and, of course, they should have access. A CMoS subscription is relatively inexpensive, but it’s not free. No one who is not in possession of access to your preferred style guide should be your Copy Editor, period. Similarly, a CE should be willing to make adjustments according to your stated preferences.



And, of course, The basics: Is the price right? (These are the rates established by the Editorial Freelancers Association. There are certainly cheaper editors, but no one who’s not an extremely established professional should be pricier.) Is the offered turnaround time what you’re looking for? Are e-mails responded to promptly? Are you comfortable with the payment plan? How will the edits be done – are both you and the editor comfortable with the method (hard copy, tracked changes in Word, etc.)?



One more huge caveat I would give – do not take an editor’s connections to an agent or publisher as any guarantee of an offer to said agent or publisher. This would be a huge conflict of interest, and is not an implicit part of any freelance editor’s contract. If you’re considering hiring an editor because of his or her connections, just…don’t.



So where do you find a good editor? Well, you can’t go wrong by simply checking acknowledgments of books you think were well done and starting from there. In talking to the author, you may find out the editor has little to do with why the book was so solid, but in my experience, it’s a far safer starting point than simply putting a call out for recommendations.


Good luck to all authors going through the process, and happy hunting!






Dahlia Adler is an  Assistant Editor of Mathematics by day, a Copy Editor at Ellora’s Cave and Spencer Hill Press by night, and a writer of YA and  blogger at The Daily Dahlia and YA Misfits at every spare moment in between. Her debut novel, BEHIND THE SCENES, releases from Spencer Hill Contemporary on June 24, 2014. You can find her on Twitter at @MissDahlELama.


W.O.W. – Writer Odyssey Wednesday with Julie Murphy October 23, 2013





Sometimes you read a book blurb and your reaction is “meh.” Then there are other moments when you ready a summary and think, “I need this book in my hands right now!” That is how I feel about today’s featured author, Julie Murphy’s, debut novel, SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY.  I love the concept of righting wrongs at a cost and having to deal with the eventual fall out of those actions. For me March 18, 2014 cannot get here soon enough!


Many thanks to Julie for sharing her writing odyssey today…



Amy: What inspired you to write a Young Adult manuscript?


Julie: My reading tastes have always been pretty evenly split between adult and YA. So when I decided to write, I never really made a conscious decision to write YA, but the story that came out of me was undeniably young adult. It had those key components like voice and immediacy.



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


Julie: I (unwisely) queried one manuscript before Side Effects May Vary.



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


Julie: My first manuscript was broken and I didn’t know how to fix it. The query stats didn’t lie; this book was not ready. I didn’t even know how to properly punctuate dialogue. When I started Side Effects May Vary, I decided to do it right. I was going to seek out critique partners and do my research. (I would also like to point out that Molly rejected my first manuscript–and rightfully so!)



Amy: Did your query for SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY come easily or did it go through many drafts?


Julie: My query went through several drafts, but improved with each round thanks to some pretty wonderful critique partners.



Amy: Did you have critique partners for SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY? If you did, how critical were they to your writing process?


Julie: I most definitely did. They were absolutely indispensable. I think that a good group of critique partners can take your writing from slush pile to request or even offer. That being said, having a good critique partner is just as important as being one. There are lessons to be learned from both ends of the spectrum. Critiquing is an art that only improves with practice. If you’re interested in honing your critiquing skills, I wholly recommend Natalie C Parker’s Critique Camp.



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


Julie: Oh, goodness. This is a rough number, but I queried about nine or ten and snagged ten to twelve requests during the many contests that were going on while I was querying. Molly (who I queried) offered representation within a week of reading, so there really wasn’t much of a wait on my end.



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


Julie: I can tell you that I was so nervous and kept thinking, “What if I have to pee?” (Have I mentioned that I’m eleven years old?) No, but seriously, I had lengthy list of questions, many of which Molly had answered without me ever having to ask. What can I say? My girl is on the ball. Because my brain was so frazzled during that phone call, Molly was kind enough to go over some of the finer points with me again later that week while I was making my final decision. (Bless her!)



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


Julie: There was and there are. Maybe I’m alone in this, but despite having a book on its way to the shelves, I still have these crippling moments of self-doubt. Though, before signing with Molly, those moments felt much worse. Lots of stumbling in the dark. What’s motivated me–with or without the book deal–has always been my love for writing. It’s the only place I truly feel at home. I am also fortunate enough to have an incredible support system of people who won’t allow me to quit.



Amy: If you met an aspiring writer at a book signing and they told you they were about to give up on their publishing dream what would you say to them?


Julie: I would tell them that the fastest way to ensure you will never be published is to stop trying. The pain is heavy and the wait can be long, but for as long as you love writing, you owe it to yourself to keep on trucking.





(Release Date: March 18, 2014)




What if you’d been living your life as if you were dying—only to find out that you had your whole future ahead of you?


When sixteen-year-old Alice is diagnosed with leukemia, her prognosis is grim. To maximize the time she does have, she vows to spend her final months righting wrongs—however she sees fit. She convinces her friend Harvey, whom she knows has always had feelings for her, to help her with a crazy bucket list that’s as much about revenge (humiliating her ex-boyfriend and getting back at her arch nemesis) as it is about hope (doing something unexpectedly kind for a stranger and reliving some childhood memories). But just when Alice’s scores are settled, she goes into remission.


Now Alice is forced to face the consequences of all that she’s said and done, as well as her true feelings for Harvey. But has she done irreparable damage to the people around her, and to the one person who matters most?


Julie Murphy’s SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY is a fearless and moving tour de force about love, life, and facing your own mortality.



Julie lives in North Texas with her husband who loves her, her dog who adores her, and her cat who tolerates her. When she’s not writing or trying to catch stray cats, she works at an academic library. Side Effects May Vary is Julie’s debut novel. Check out her website or follow her on Twitter @andimJulie


Reading: My Important Writing Tool October 21, 2013

My life




Lately I’ve heard a few murmurs from people who say they don’t read in the category or genre they write in. While I’m surprised by this, I can’t help but think this is their own choice. Perhaps they are inspired to write from something in their past or a real life situation. Or maybe, they just have a more vivid imagination than I do and a better way to capture voice.


From my own experience I can only say that I could NEVER be a Young Adult writer without reading everything I can get my hands on in this category. For me, reading helps brings to light plotting, pacing, and characterization. In some books, I do nothing but scan the pages and analyze the way a writer weaves in backstory and uses dialogue to emphasize key points.


Reading helped me when I was writing (and rewriting) my YA mystery. Certain books in the genre showed me where my story needed tightening and where I could add more detail to pump up the suspense. I learned more about the craft by dissecting certain books than I probably could have from any other writing resource.


Currently I am editing my YA Historical Romance. Those who have read my tweets,or some of my other writing posts, know this is ambitious for me because I’m not good at writing the smexy/kissy scenes. I’ve talked to friends about writing romance, but the best learning tool for me has been reading some of the best authors in the business.


When I stumble on how to create heat, I go back through the pages of Simone Elkeles, PERFECT CHEMISTRY or Katie McGarry’s PUSHING THE LIMITS. When I need to add a bit of sweetness to the story, I reread passages in Huntley Fitzpatrick’s MY LIFE NEXT DOOR or Miranda Kenneally’s THINGS I CAN’T FORGET.  I’m not influenced by these stories as much as inspired to create my own tale for my characters.




Things I cant




Reading helps fuel my craft. In YA it’s especially important to read in order to understand voice as well as the need for pacing. The target audience is so much different that any other category, and you have to grab the reader by the throat at the beginning and keep the story moving until its all-important conclusion.


As a writer reading has changed for me. Where it once used to be for pure enjoyment, now it is about immersing myself in the story, not only as an escape, but to learn. I can honestly say my craft has improved because certain writers have taught me how to build a story. While this may not work for every writer, I am incredibly grateful to those authors who share their stories and teach me to create a better tale every day.


What about you? Do you use reading to help improve your writing craft? I would love to hear in the comments!


First Five Frenzy with Roseanne Wells of The Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency October 18, 2013

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, Roseanne Wells’ 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?


Roseanne: A great first line pulls in readers, but what keeps them there is the story itself. I love a good snappy opening line, and I think a good opening paragraph and first page are critical for getting the reader into the story. But I think some new writers edit the first 5, 10, 25, pages so strongly to make them interesting and flashy that they don’t focus on consistency and narrative control, and the book unravels.



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?


Roseanne: Any type of dream (being in a dream, waking up from a dream, remembering a dream) can be poison for a story. I would also say looking into the mirror or out the window contemplatively (especially for YA), getting ready for school/work, or anything that is trying to say “look at how normal this person is before their conflict starts”–it can be very generic. However, there are exceptions: the opening to DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth starts with her looking in the mirror, but it’s an unusual opening, and it has more meaning than just dreamily staring into her own face.


I personally don’t usually like pages that start in dialogue or in the middle of an action sequence, since it can be hard to convey character in a conversation, or during a fight scene. I want to see the novel start a beat before that, so I can see the status quo, then their reaction to the opening conflict. Charlaine Harris starts DEAD UNTIL DARK with a vampire walking into the bar, not when Bill and Sookie start talking.



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?


Roseanne: I have already pictured myself reading it: I want to sit down with a cup of coffee and read the manuscript in my (imaginary) window seat. I can see myself getting into trouble with the main character, I can travel through this world, I can’t wait to find out what happens. When I can see the elements of a good story coming together, I get excited and want to read more.



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


Roseanne: It breaks my heart when authors start with an unnecessary prologue or backstory. They waste valuable pages setting up part of the story that will be revealed anyway, or is revealed too soon, and it undermines their work. It also means they might not know where the story begins. Ultimately, it tells me they don’t trust themselves, their story, or their reader.



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


Roseanne: Voice stands out for me in the first pages, as it can link so many elements together: use of language, tone, character, conflict, motivation, even plot and world building. In the query, I’ve seen a unique concept or a twist on something familiar, interesting characters, high stakes, a hint of voice, or something a little bit intangible–a sensibility that I’m going to be transported into this story. And then the pages are where the author proves it. If it sounds like every other story about a girl in a prom dress, or sad middle-aged man in the throes of a mid-life crisis, or a lonely housewife, then the story is falling short.



Roseanne Wells joined JDLA as an associate agent in 2012. Previously with the Marianne Strong Literary Agency, she has also worked as a proofreader and a special sales and editorial assistant. She graduated from Sarah Lawrence College with degrees in Literature and Dance. An avid reader, Roseanne discovered her passion for book publishing during her internship at W. W. Norton, and she approaches agenting as a writer’s advocate, editor, and partner. She is also an arts reviewer for and a volunteer for Housing Works Bookstore Cafe in Soho, NYC


If you’re interested in submitting to Roseanne, please make sure to check The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency website for their guidelines.








I can’t believe it, but this is the Lucky 26th post in the First Five Frenzy! To celebrate, Roseanne has been kind enough to offer a query critique as well as provide feedback on, of course, those pesky first five pages!


To qualify for the giveaway, you need to comment below with your contact info and follow me on Twitter or subscribe to this blog!



W.O.W. – Writer Odyssey Wednesday with Jessica Lawson October 16, 2013





Every once in a while after I read someone’s responses to my W.O.W. questions, I want to reach through the internet and hug them. Why? Because there is something about their journey that I identify with and can appreciate.  With today’s featured author, Jessica Lawson, I wanted to do just this – reach out, give her a squeeze, and tell her “thank you for sharing.”  Jessica spent a lot of time in the query trenches and had her ups and downs.  She had a ton of great ideas (and many manuscripts) but rejection was a regular thing until she finally wrote the right story and connected with her perfect agent.  What Jessica’s odyssey taught me was that belief in your writing, and wanting to improve your craft, are the true keys to success.


Today I hope you all will be inspired by Jessica’s journey…



Amy: I always love it when an author takes a chance and puts a new spin on a beloved book. Were you at all nervous about taking on a classic like THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER and making it into your own unique story?


Jessica: I love Mark Twain’s work so much! His level of writing is so far beyond mine that I actually wasn’t nervous (at first) about playing around with his characters because it felt more like I was writing fan fiction for fun, and I didn’t necessarily expect to land an agent. I had written so many manuscripts before this one, and I think I was just in the zone of trying to write a solid story and have fun doing it… after I got a book deal, then was I nervous? You bet! And I still am. I know there are hard-core Twain lovers who may not appreciate me fiddling with the storyline of such a beloved tale. I just hope everyone knows that it comes from a place of extreme admiration for the original.



Amy: How many completed manuscripts did you query before THE ACTUAL AND TRUTHFUL ADVENTURES OF BECKY THATCHER?


Jessica: Um…that would eight. Eight completed manuscripts: 1 women’s fiction, 2 YA, and 5 MG novels. That’s within a three-year period (Fall 2009 to Summer 2012), so you can probably tell that revision wasn’t my strong suit. Even though each of those manuscripts got partial and/or full requests, there were no agent bites and I was always too excited by a new story idea to stick with querying long, or to revise and keep pitching the same story. So, up until the last few manuscripts when I got critique partners and started going about things in a more serious way, my approach was to take the mistakes I’d made on my previous projects and apply the lessons learned to my next story (instead of trying to rework a manuscript’s flaws). My lack of attachment to manuscripts worked for me in terms of getting lots of writing experience with different types of stories, but my approach has definitely changed. I hope my stories are improving as a result of taking more time and care with characters, plot, and themes.



Amy: Did you have critique partners or beta readers that helped you polish it? If so, how did that influence your writing process?


Jessica: Yes! I have four wonderful critique partners that gave valuable input. They saw early drafts, helped me identify plot holes, and were so supportive of my protagonist’s voice from the get-go, which was important for this particular story (my version of Becky is very different from Twain’s version, so getting that thumbs-up on a different voice was imperative for me). These are the women who keep me motivated to get the heart of the story right and not settle for “good enough.”



Amy: Did your query for THE ACTUAL AND TRUTHFUL ADVENTURES OF BECKY THATCHER come easily or did it go through many drafts?


Jessica: It came fairly easily. I always write out query-style summaries at the beginning of my writing process for new manuscripts, so I have something to guide me if I get a bit lost in the story—I can refer back and say, “Why was I so excited about this idea? Where was I going with all of this?” That said, I tended to tweak my query as I sent out batches, so there were slight differences based on whether or not I’d gotten requests using certain phrasing, etc.



Amy: How many agents did you query for THE ACTUAL AND TRUTHFUL ADVENTURES OF BECKY THATCHER? Did you receive immediate responses or did you have to wait a while for replies?


Jessica: I queried 29 agents and got some responses within days, some within weeks. I had to wait awhile on most of the requests. In fact, when I got my first offer, the agent that I ended up signing with hadn’t responded yet, and she was one of the first that I queried. I also entered several contests (Miss Snark’s First Victim, Operation Awesome, WriteOnCon, etc.) and got requests that way. I had been on the query train for 10 weeks before getting an offer. My first offer came as a result of WriteOnCon (yay for ninja agents!) and then I contacted other agents who had the full manuscript.



Amy: Can you give a short summary of your call with your agent, Tina Wexler? How did you know she was the right agent for you?


Jessica: I was so nervous! She was professional, but so friendly, and I knew I had met my match when the discussion drifted to 1980s television sitcoms like Growing Pains. Honestly, Tina’s sales record spoke for itself, and I was so pleased to find such a warm, caring, editorial book lover behind those numbers.



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


Jessica: I think it was a combination of finding the right voice, having an easily pitched hook (origin story/retelling of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer), and luck. I got very lucky, something that wouldn’t have happened if I had given up after manuscript number two or three (or six or seven J). Part of this business is having your query land in the right agent’s inbox at the right time and not giving up because of rejections.



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


Jessica: I never thought of giving up because I always set my expectations low. My hopes were sky-high, but my expectations? I kept them in check and considered writing to be a personal skill that I wanted to improve upon. I think that approach made it much easier to handle rejections. In a way, I was expecting them, so anything deviating from a form rejection was a pleasant surprise. And, as tends to be the case, when my hopes/goals shifted from getting published to writing the very best book I could at the time, that’s when I started to get personalized rejections  (gold for the querying writer!) and revise/resubmit emails from agents. And my kids (I have two young ones and two teenage stepchildren), of course, are motivation. In a cheesy way, I wanted so badly to show them first hand that hard work and perseverance can bring amazing things and “if you can dream it, you can be it.”








In 1860, eleven-year-old Becky Thatcher is the new girl in town, determined to have adventures like she promised her brother Jon before he died. With her Mama frozen in grief and her Daddy busy as town judge, Becky spends much of her time on her own, getting into mischief. Before long, she joins the boys at school in a bet to steal from the Widow Douglas, and Becky convinces her new best friend, Amy Lawrence, to join her.


Becky decides that she and Amy need a bag of dirt from a bad man’s grave as protection for entering the Widow’s house, so they sneak out to the cemetery at midnight, where they witness the thieving Pritchard brothers digging up a coffin. Determined to keep her family safe (and to avoid getting in trouble), Becky makes Amy promise not to tell anyone what they saw.


When their silence inadvertently results in the Widow Douglas being accused of the graverobbery, Becky concocts a plan to clear the Widow’s name. If she pulls it off, she might just get her Mama to notice her again and fulfill her promise to Jon in a most unexpected way . . . if that tattle-tale Tom Sawyer will quit following her around.



Jessica Lawson is a member of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of SCBWI and her work has appeared in Stories For Children, The Motherhood MuseThe Denver Post, and Parenting Journals. She enjoys living/playing in the mountains of Colorado with her husband and children, and has to seasonally inform the landlord about bear damage to the trash bin at the end of her driveway. She writes middle grade, lots of to-do lists, and songs about diapers.


She blogs at Falling Leaflets, and you can follow her on Twitter at @JS_Lawson.


Fall Contest Round-up: Is Your Manuscript Ready? October 14, 2013





Summer is over.  Kids are back in school, the weather is getting cooler, and NaNoWriMo will soon be upon us! I love this time of year.


One of the other great things about fall? Contests sprouting up everywhere for writers in every category and genre!


But before you get ready to format that entry, it helps to remember a few things:



1) Make sure your manuscript is as tight as it can be. If your pitch or first page gets noticed, your book needs to be in tip-top shape to send along to a requesting agent or publisher.


2) Have you vetted that pitch? Did you run it by your betas or CPs to make sure it’s sharp and sure to stand out? If not, this is the time to do it!


3) Cheer others on! Many of your fellow writers will be participating in these contests and often times there are opportunities to offer feedback.  Be sure to do your part and offer helpful comments when you can.








This twitter pitch party is for New Adult and Adult manuscripts only.


On October 16 from 8am – 8pm (EST) you may pitch your completed and edited manuscript using the hashtag #AdPit.


For more details, go to host Heidi Norrod’s blog post here:





A new Halloween-themed contest brought to you by the hosts of Query Kombat.


Along with your query and first 250 words, you must write a SHORT paragraph (no more than 100 words) about your main character. This is the question you must answer: What is your main character most afraid of?


Submission window will open on October 19 at 12 noon (EST) and will remain open until 100 entries have been received.


For more details go to host Michelle Hauck’s blog post here:





Another great Halloween-themed contest hosted by Brenda Drake, Dannie Morin and Kimberly P. Chase. This is a chance to pitch your finished manuscript (MG,YA, NA, and Adult -No Erotica or Memoirs) to costumed agents.


Those who want to participate need to follow submission guidelines which include: a 3 sentence pitch, answering two questions, and providing your first 250 words.


Submission window opens on October 22 at 9am (EST) and remains open until 9 pm (EST). All entries will be accepted during this time period provided you follow the submission guidelines.


For more details go here:





This contest is Miss Snark’s First Victim’s biggest event of the year.  60 250-word entries will be hand-picked by Jodi Meadows and Authoress, and then placed on the auction block for agents to bid on.


Those wishing to participate need to submit a logline and the first 250 words of their completed and polished manuscript.


Submission window opens for Adult fiction (all genres except erotica and erotic romance) on October 29 and 31. Young Adult and Middle Grade (all genres) submissions will be taken on November 5 and 7.


For more details go here:





Coming in December, this is another fantastic contest (again hosted by the amazing Brenda Drake and an army of mentors).


In Pitch Wars, 46 published/agented authors, editors, or interns choose one writer each, read their manuscript, and offer suggestions to shine it up for agents.


Submission window will open on December 2. More information will be forthcoming in the next several weeks in regards to formatting etc.


For more information go here:


If I’ve missed any upcoming contests, please let me know in the comments. I will be happy to add it to the list!





Obligatory Supernatural gif! Closest to fall I could get!


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