Chasing my crazy dream in the writing world…

Sun Versus Snow: The Mentors December 28, 2013

Filed under: Blog,contest,Literary Agent,Query — chasingthecrazies @ 3:11 pm
Tags: , , , ,




Michelle and I are very excited that so many mentors have agreed to help us out with Sun versus Snow! These twenty-three talented authors will be split between the two teams. Once Michelle and I have selected our fifteen picks, the mentors will be looking at the queries and first 250 words and providing feedback. Our hope is that the mentor’s comments will allow our contest participants to polish up their submissions before we share them with the 15 participating agents (that announcement will post JANUARY 1 on Michelle’s blog!)


To refresh your memory about contest details you can go here:


And don’t forget to read all the way to the bottom for my FREE PASS announcement!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


So without further ado, here are our amazing mentors…

Ami A-V bio picAmi Allen-Vath


Ami Allen-Vath is a YA Contemporary Author represented by Victoria Lowes of The Bent Agency. She currently resides in New Jersey, but would be happy living somewhere where it’s Spring all year long. Aside from reading and writing, Ami likes acting, painting, vacations, and ice cream.






You can find her online via blog: Ami with an “I”: or on Twitter:



rachelbatemanRachel Bateman

Rachel Bateman is an author and editor who spends way too much time thinking she can out-bake the Cake Boss. (Spoiler: she can’t.) She is from Great Falls, Montana, but dreams of living on the Carolina Coast. When she isn’t writing, reading, or editing books, she can be found playing with her crazy toddler, geeky husband, and small zoo of pets. 99 Days of Laney MacGuire, her first novel, is available now, and Incubus, a YA paranormal serial, is releasing throughout 2014.






website –


twitter –


facebook –




NatalieBlittNatalie Blitt

Natalie is the author of one young adult book — The Truth About Leaving — and other works in progress. She lives in the Chicago area with her husband Josh and their three boys. Three boys who have no interest in books that feature lots of kissing. She is represented by Carly Watters at P.S. Literary.






You can find her on twitter at: @Natalie_Blitt


Or very rarely on the web at:



JennieBJennie Bozic

Jennie Bates Bozic creates visual effects for film and television by day, and by night she dons her author cape and pens stories for the YA crowd. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two cats. She is represented by Steven Axelrod and her debut novel DAMSELFLY is available through all major online retailers.








KateB headshotKate Brauning

Kate is a YA suspense writer represented by Carlie Webber at CK Webber Associates. Kate is a developmental editor with Month9Books, and a compulsive traveler, cake-baker, and music lover. She loves high stakes, character-driven books regardless of genre, and thinks there’s just about nothing better than helping a writer get his or her story on the page.






Kate’s website:


Kate’s Twitter:


MarcyKateConnolly_headshotMarcy Kate Connolly

MarcyKate Connolly is an author and arts administrator who lives in New England with her husband and pugs and writes weird little books. She’s also a coffee addict, voracious reader, and recurring commuter. She blogs about all those things and more at, and can often be found on Twitter (@marcykate). Her work is represented by Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary & Media, and her debut upper middle grade fantasy novel, MONSTROUS, will be published by HarperCollins Children’s Books in Winter 2015.





Website –


Twitter –


Tumblr –


Facebook –


Goodreads –



KatEllisKate Ellis

Kat Ellis is a young adult writer from North Wales. Her debut novel, BLACKFIN SKY, will be unleashed May 2014 in the UK/Fall 2014 in the US. When she’s not writing, you’ll usually find Kat up to no good on Twitter or taking photos in cemeteries and other creepy places.

















MeganEMegan Erickson

Megan Erickson covered real-life dramas as a journalist until she decided she liked writing her own endings better and switched to fiction. She writes adult/new adult romance novels with humor and heart and is represented by Marisa Corvisiero. Her favorite books teach her something, make her swoon, and give her a happily ever after.








Twitter: @MeganErickson_


Liz is an author living in the American Southwest by way of Chicago. Her YA debut HOOKED released in January 2013 from HarlequinTEEN. Its companion, PLAYED, releases in May, 2014.









Twitter @LizFichera.



JfleckJessica Fleck

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 the foothills of 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 Drowely of Inkings Literary Agency.










Katie2Katie French

Katie French is a former English teacher and current High School Counselor. Her young adult dystopian series, The Breeders, is available now on Amazon. She is represented by Amanda Luedeke of MacGregor Literary.





Learn more about Katie at


Twitter: @katielfrench



Melissa-GreyMelissa Grey

Melissa Grey penned her first short story at the age of twelve and hasn’t stopped writing since. She is represented by Catherine Drayton of InkWell Manangement, and her debut novel, THE GIRL AT MIDNIGHT, will be published by Delacorte Press/Random House in spring 2015.




Official site:



OliviaHOlivia Hinebaugh

Olivia is a mother to a 3 year old and 6 month old, which means she does a lot of writing to the soundtrack of baby snores. She writes parenting articles for, though writing YA books is by far her favorite hobby. She likes stories that are quirky, funny, and romantic. Add in a dash of the absurd and some dark humor, and she’s in heaven.











website coming soon:



SJohnstonSharon Johnston

Sharon is a public relations senior specialist and author from sunny Queensland, Australia. Her debut novel SLEEPER is out now with Entranced Publishing. When she is not spending time with her family or cramming in some writing, she’s being stalked by women for her impeccable taste in shoes.






SLEEPER (Amazon):


SLEEPER (Goodreads):









LanetteKLanette Kauten

Lanette is an upmarket/women’s fiction writer. Her debut novel, HOUSE OF THISTLES, was published by WeBook in November. When she’s not writing, she’s either home schooling her two kids or at the archery range with her bff.









Twitter: @LanetteKauten



Sarah Glenn Marsh Bio PicSG Marsh

Sarah Glenn Marsh writes young adult novels and picture books, usually with a fantastical element. Her work is represented by Christa Heschke of McIntosh & Otis Literary. She lives in sunny Virginia with her husband and rescue dogs.










Twitter: @SG_Marsh



Amy PineA.J. Pine

Amy (AJ) Pine writes stories to break readers’ hearts, but don’t worry—she’ll mend those hearts with a happily ever after…maybe. The first book she wrote was YA, but now she’s two-timing her first love with NA. Her debut new adult contemporary romance, IF ONLY, releases with Entangled Embrace in 2014. She’s repped by Courtney Miller-Callihan with SJGA.







Twitter: @AJ_Pine







RachelPRachel Pudelek

Rachel is a dog-hugger and tree-lover. She writes children’s literature about powerful girls, from picture books to young adult novels. She is represented by Christa Heschke of McIntosh and Otis Literary Agency.












AmyRAmy Reichert

Amy Reichert is a life-long Wisconsin resident, mother of two (three if you count the dog – and you should), beloved wife, writer, spectacular procrastinator, die-hard Harry Potter fan, and amateur baker. She writes charming and fun contemporary romance and women’s fiction. When she’s not writing, she’s driving the kidlings somewhere, stacking clean laundry into impossibly high towers, or obsessing over the many shows on the DVR. She loves to read, collect more cookbooks than she could possibly use, and waste time on the Internet. Amy is represented by Rachel Ekstrom at the Irene Goodman Literary Agency.







Twitter: @aereichert



MattSMatt Sinclair

Matt Sinclair is the President and Chief Elephant Officer of Elephant’s Bookshelf Press, LLC. Established in 2011, EBP is about to publish the final anthology in its Seasons Series (which will include a story by Michelle Hauck), and published its first novel, Whispering Minds by YA author A.T. O’Connor in November – with three additional novels scheduled for 2014. EBP  has announced its next short story collection at, which calls for Middle Grade stories in an anti-bullying anthology. A writer of both short- and long-form fiction, Matt supports his writing addiction as a journalist covering the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors.









Twitter: @elephantguy68 @EBPressLLC



LisaSillsLisa Sills

Lisa wrote her first novel when she was eleven, and sent her first query letter not long after that. In the years since, she’s sent many queries and somehow managed to snag an agent. When she’s not writing, Lisa is a trainee film-maker, copy-writer, and occasional editor.





LINKS:  Blog and Twitter.





Leslie Stella

Leslie Stella is the author of the contemporary YA novel, Permanent Record (Skyscape, 2013) as well as three novels of contemporary adult fiction, Unimaginable Zero Summer (Crown, 2005); The Easy Hour (Crrown, 2003); and Fat Bald Jeff (Grove/Atlantic, 2001). She was a founding editor of the Chicago-based politics and satire magazine Lumpen, and her work has been published in The Mississippi Review, The Adirondack Review, Bust, and anthologized in The Book of Zines: Readings from the Fringe (Henry Holt, 1997; compiled by Playboy editor Chip Rowe). Leslie was nominated for a 2004 Pushcart Prize in short fiction.





You can find Leslie at:




Twitter: @leslie_stella




Tom Torre

Tom is an IT whiz by day (just think of one of those guys from Office Space), and a comic book artist, video game buff, and middle-grade writer by night. After a few stints as colorist in the comic book industry, he completed his first major middle grade novel, COPERNICUS NERDICUS, which combines his love for video games and robotic warfare.

When he isn’t locked away in his man-cave watching The GOONIES for the 347th time, or catching up on some geek-news on Kotaku, he’s probably busy cooking up some chaotic food dishes for his wife and his 100 lb doberman named Braveheart’s Dantes Inferno. Yes…that’s his dog’s real name. Tom is represented by Dawn Frederick of RED SOFA LITERARY.




Tom’s blog


Twitter: @CopernicusNerd




Vickie Weavil

Vicki Lemp Weavil is an author of YA and adult Fantasy and Science Fiction. She is represented by Jennifer Mishler of The Literary Counsel. Her debut novel, CROWN OF ICE — a YA Fantasy retelling of H.C. Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” — will be published by Month9Books in Fall 2014.


















Now that you’ve seen our fabulous list of authors, I’m sure you want to enter 🙂 Well, how about a chance at a FREE PASS to become a member of #TEAMSUN?





Starting today and running through January 5, Tweet, blog and or post on Tumblr something about the contest. It can be about your submission, or just the link to the contest post on my blog ( To get credit for your promotion, you either need to use the hashtag #sunvssnow or send me a link to the post at Every mention will be included in a drawing for the pass. Good luck!


A Cherished Holiday Book Memory December 23, 2013

Filed under: Blog,Inspiration — chasingthecrazies @ 4:16 pm
Tags: , ,




If you’re a frequent reader of this blog, then you know there are some books that have a very special place in my heart. Of course there’s PING, which I mention in my “THIS IS ME” tab and TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, which was the first book that stayed with me for days, even weeks, after I read it.


When I was young there was one book that took center stage during the holidays. It was so cherished that it was packed away carefully with the tree skirt, nestled among the tinsel and antique ornaments that had been in my family for generations. This book was the classic tale by Clement Clarke Moore, THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS.


As a tradition it was always read by the eldest child in the family.  I vividly remember being five years old and my brother reading it while the rest of us were wrapped up in our matching Christmas pajamas (much to my older siblings irritation).


Today this tradition is still a part of my holiday celebration.  As all the children in my family grow older, I worry they may be beyond wanting to listen to this story, especially when video games, laptops and Instagram rules the day. But I am always pleasantly surprised when all the kids ask if the oldest cousin can sit and read it. Once the first line is read, everything in the house quiets (which is extraordinary considering my family is pretty loud).


With wonder each of the children listens quietly, and I have to admit I get goose bumps when I hear the first few lines. In that moment, everyone has a single focus: listening to those rhythmic sentences which perfectly describe what every child is thinking and feeling on that night of wonder. For me it’s not so much about the story, but the thoughts and dreams it conjures in each of the kid’s heads as each line is spoken.  In that instant, Christmas isn’t about eating, drinking or exchanging gifts, but about being together. In the coming years Christmas may become quieter, but I hope that no matter their age, the kids will want to continue this tradition. It reminds us all about the joy of the season and what it means to be a family.


And just in case you want more fun holiday books to share, here are others my family enjoys:



Santa Mouse, Where Are You?


The Sweet Smell of Christmas


Auntie Claus


Olivia Helps with Christmas



My blog is going dark until after the New Year with one exception. I will be posting the mentor info for the 2014 Sun versus Snow contest on December 28. And… at that time I will announce my opportunity to get a FREE PASS into the competition.


For now, my holiday wish for each of you is that you have a special moment with your family. One that is not about gifts, but about the joy of being together!  And if it’s a book that creates that memory, then so much the better!


And in the words of the brilliant Mr. Moore, “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night.”


First Five Frenzy with Pooja Menon of Kimberley Cameron and Associates December 20, 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, Pooja Menon’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?


Pooja: The first line is very important. It’s what hooks the reader in, introduces the kind of voice we’re going to be following, and makes us want to read more. I kind of envision it like the first bite of a completely new dish you’ve never tried before, but you’re excited to try it out because you’ve heard such good things about it. If the first bite sucks, then the next couple of bites will be forced, and you may just abandon the meal midway. That being said, I think the first line is not the only thing that’s important. The beginning should be strong for us to get to the middle, the middle should be strong (and this is what usually lags in most submissions) to make us want to get to the end. If there is a scene/section in the book you don’t think is detrimental to keep us moving, then that needn’t be there at all.



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?


Pooja: Dreams, eating breakfast, riding in a car 🙂 Sorry, had to repeat those. I don’t mind if the ride in the car is because the protagonist is shit scared and is escaping from something. Then this is a beginning that will keep me reading more. But, typically, scenes of waking up, staring at the room and describing the ceiling or the cracks in the wall, or staring at the mirror while describing oneself self-deprecatingly, or beginning from the protagonist’s place of work (if that work does nothing to progress the story), or anything mundane is best to be avoided. Unless that aspect of the book is detrimental in furthering the plot. Even then, start from an interesting beginning. From a beginning that isn’t too explosive so that we aren’t lost when this explosive event occurs, and a beginning that is too mundane. Find that beginning that is in the middle of both these extremes. If you want to have a dream in your book, then don’t start the book with it, slide it in after that amazing beginning you’ve concocted.



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?


Pooja: Usually it’s a combination of the following: the first line, the setting (if it’s a unique setting that I haven’t read before), the voice (this is very important), the scene we begin from, the stakes in the story (needs to keep getting higher), the plot (needs to be something that is larger than life, touches on a number of themes, and has a vivid setting as a background for great prose), and the pace. If the pace is fast or feels like the right pace for the story, this will definitely make me want to keep turning the pages.



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


Pooja: Starting with a mundane scene of the protagonist going through the motions. I’d rather be introduced to their lives at a point of conflict, big or small, within their mundane lives-this forces them to act unlike themselves. This is what is interesting to me.


– Starting with an explosive scene that has a lot of action, I usually get completely lost in such scenes because I have no clue what’s happening, who these characters are, what are the stakes, and why I should care if something good or bad happened to them.


– Lots of backstory at the beginning of the story, it would be a better idea to start in the present with an important scene and then do page breaks or chapter breaks or simple lines in the present that give us smidgets of important backstory. This will keep the pace moving.


– Prologue. I don’t particularly have issues with the prologue, but my problem with prologues is that most of the time they’re used as vehicles to build an immense amount of suspense at the beginning, either by giving us a taste of the past (this kind of prologue I don’t have too many issues with), or a taste of the present/future (this I have issues with because I’d rather see this in the manuscript as opposed to being put up in the front and being repeated in the middle/end of the ms). What often happens is that the scene following this prologue section, in the first chapter, is something that is completely ordinary or boring. This is a huge let down for me. This is also why most of the time I pass on books, because after such an adrenaline pumping prologue, I spend chapters and chapters reading about the most banal situations ever in order to get to a place where the excitement builds again.



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


Pooja: A combination of all. Voice, first. Unique concept, second. And pacing, third. If the first two are solid, then with a little work, the third aspect can be tweaked and revised. The first two have problems, a fast-pace will not save the story.



Pooja Menon joined Kimberley Cameron & Associates as an intern in the fall of 2011, with the aim of immersing herself in the elusive world of books and publishing. She soon realized that being an agent was what she was most drawn to as the job was varied and challenging. In the fall of 2012, she began taking on her own clients. As a relatively new agent, Pooja is looking to build her client list and is eager for submissions by debut novelists and veteran writers. She represents both Adult and YA fiction/non-fiction and select Middle Grade.


Adult fiction: She is looking for upmarket women’s fiction, literary/commercial fiction, historical fiction, thrillers, mysteries/suspense, horror, dark fiction with a psychological twists, and multi-cultural fiction.


YA fiction: She is looking for strong voice-driven contemporary fiction (light/romantic reads as well as fiction that deals with darker subject matters), thrillers, mysteries, suspense, horror, fantasy, and historical fiction. She’s looking for stories that are unique and freshly spun, with voices that are strong and multi-layered. She’s also looking for multi-cultural fiction that is either set abroad or is set in the US with characters from a different culture or background.


MG fiction: She is looking for voice-driven contemporary fiction, fantasy, adventure/action, historicals, mysteries/thrillers, and horror/gothic.


If you’re interested in submitting to Pooja, please make sure to check the Kimberley Cameron & Associates website for their guidelines.


W.O.W. – Writer Odyssey Wednesday with Rachel Harris December 18, 2013





Ever since reading MY SUPER SWEET SIXTEENTH CENTURY, I have been a big fan of Rachel Harris. I love her writing, and was absolutely thrilled when she agreed to answer my questions. In sharing this interview, I do have to confess one BIG thing: I am not a fan of Adult Romance books. But Rachel has completely changed my mind with her recent releases, TASTE THE HEAT and SEVEN DAY FIANCE. Both stories are filled with tons of heart and humor and have encouraged me to read in a category and genre I thought I would never be interested in. This to me is the mark of an amazing writer – taking the reader on a journey and involving them in a world they thought they would never enjoy.


Many thanks to Rachel for taking the time to share her odyssey today…



Amy: You alternate between writing YA Fiction and Adult Romance. Is there one you are drawn to more?


Rachel: I also write new adult as well, and I think I’m drawn the most to whichever project is up next and gets me excited. They each have their own unique quirks, challenges, and fun twists. YA is often about the excitement of firsts and testing personal and society’s boundaries. NA is about the journey of discovery and finding out who you are. And with Adult, for me at least, it’s more about healing from past hurts and finding true and lasting love. All of those speak to me, both as a reader and as an author.



Amy: I love how in your Love and Games series you use your home state of Louisiana as a setting. Did you know right away that you wanted to use it for TASTE THE HEAT?


Rachel: Definitely! The idea originated with the food angle, which was inspired by watching Chopped on the Food Network. I’ve also always wanted to set a story in New Orleans and when presented with a story idea focused on food, it seemed like a no brainer!



Amy: MY SUPER SWEET SIXTEENTH CENTURY was your debut novel. Was that the first manuscript you had ever written? If not, how many novels did you work on prior?


Rachel: I wrote one other novel prior to My Super Sweet Sixteenth Century, and that book is actually going to be published fall of 2014—The Fine Art of Pretending. I wrote that book in the fall of 2010 and while querying agents, I quickly began writing MSSSC. I ended up finishing and querying that book only a few months later. The agent I initially signed with decided to submit my second book first. But I’m very blessed in that every book I’ve written has found a home so far (*knocks on wood*)



Amy: Did you have beta readers or critique partners for that first manuscript? How did that affect your writing process? Do you still use beta readers today?


Rachel: I had critique partners from the very beginning, though they have changed a bit since then. My current CP’s actually helped me edit that first manuscript just before my agent took it out to shop, and it was amazing to see how much I had grown already in a year. Finding the right fit is crucial I think in the process—having other writers and readers whom you trust, who enjoy your writing style, who have strengths where you may be weak, and who also can benefit from your help as well. Critique relationships should be a give and a take.


Now I have a core group of critique partners and a fabulous set of beta readers, and I rely on them so much. Hearing what they loved and what they just didn’t get are so helpful. I don’t feel good about a chapter until I’ve heard back from my girls 😉



Amy: When you first started writing did you struggle with rejection? If so, how did you keep on writing?


Rachel: When I first started, no not really. I was writing for myself and my two partners, and my husband who thought I was amazing. The struggling part came a little during the querying process, but even that went fast and the agents who passed were all very complimentary. The hard part for me came once the book went out to readers. And it remains a challenge with each new release. Wanting to please readers who have invested themselves in my characters and writing, hoping new readers will fall in love with the stories, crossing my fingers that people will get my humor (tee hee). I follow all the reviews during the tour, read the ones people send me, but the way I keep writing is by stepping back again after the tour is over and focusing on the next project. Giving the readers who do love my books something to look forward to.



Amy: What was your first query like? Did you struggle with it or did it come easily?


Rachel: I love writing blurbs and synopsis. I’m a weirdo. So for me, the query stage was fun. I will say that I’ve found it’s MUCH easier to write the full synopsis before you draft the whole book…that would’ve made it even easier, as I didn’t know that trick back in the day, but even without that, I liked querying. * ducks tomatoes*



Amy: What was your “call” like with your agent, Pam van Hylckama Vlieg? How did you know she was the right fit for you?


Rachel: Pam was actually my second agent. My first agent call was a process of me speaking with a few agents, deciding which one I felt I clicked with, and going forward not really knowing what to expect. Although that first agent and I remain friends, we did separate ways over a year ago and I planned to go without an agent for a while. But Pam and I spoke through Twitter a few times and out of the blue—right after I had chosen to separate from my agent—she DM’ed me, asking me if I had representation. We spoke about the projects I had lined up, what I was looking for in an agent, and I sent her a partial of my adult romance debut, Taste the Heat. We signed the next day I think.



Amy: You just released your fourth book, SEVEN DAY FIANCE, which is an amazing accomplishment. If you could go back in time and tell yourself one important thing about the publishing business, what would it be?


Rachel: Enjoy it…and slow down!


I’m a homeschool mom, so I’m not one of those authors who can put out four or five books a year—or at least, I shouldn’t be. But over the last year, I’ve had amazing opportunities fall into my lap and I leapt at them. Honestly, I don’t think I would change a thing, as having had so many releases so close together has introduced me to readers and authors I may not have met otherwise. And I’ve grown a lot in my process and craft. But publishing three books this year and likely four next year has been a bit exhausting to say the least LOL. I think if I could go back in time, I’d tell myself to slow down, talk things through with my husband a bit more, and really look at my time commitments. Decide what is possible for me. Publishing isn’t a race. Readers will love a good story whenever you can get it to them.




Rachel Harris grew up in New Orleans, watching soap operas with her grandmother, and staying up  late sneak-reading her mama’s romance novels. Today, she still stays up late reading romances, only now she does so openly.


A Cajun cowgirl now living in Houston, she firmly believes life’s problems can be solved with a hot, sugar-coated beignet or a thick slice of king cake, and that screaming at strangers for cheap, plastic beads is acceptable behavior in certain situations.


She homeschools her two beautiful girls and watches countless hours of Food Network and reality television with her amazing husband. She writes young adult, new adult, and adult Fun, Flirty Escapes, and LOVES talking with readers!


For more on Rachel, check out her website, find her on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter.


Monday Musings: Developing Dragon-Thick Skin December 16, 2013

Filed under: Blog,Publishing,writing craft — chasingthecrazies @ 4:34 pm
Tags: , , ,





No one ever said writing a book was easy. If it was, the market would be a million times more competitive with people trying to get an agent or self-publishing.


To really become an author, in my opinion, you’ve got to have three things:


1) A good story idea


2) The tenacity to sit down and actually develop (and finish) said idea


3) Dragon-thick skin



Why dragon-thick skin? Well because writing a book is not entirely a solitary process. In order to develop something that can truly go to market, you should have beta readers and critique partners help you polish your story.


Now let me be clear, I’ve interviewed many people who have submitted to (and signed with) an agent, and have never shared a line of their work with anyone else. I admire these people for being able to put their work out there without having another soul look at it. Personally, I could never do it.  The reason why is simple: sometimes no matter how many edits I do, I can’t see the glaring errors. Issues with continuity or characterization can be staring me right in the face, but I don’t see it. I chalk it up to being too close to my work. This is the reason why I need others to read for me. They catch where I need to tighten my prose or where my plot may be lacking.


In all honesty, I understand people’s hesitation with using beta readers or critique partners. Putting your work out there makes you vulnerable. By allowing someone to read your words, you’re opening yourself up for both feedback, and sometimes in not so great circumstances, criticism. This is where the dragon-thick skin comes in. Some feedback will be waaaay off base, while other critiques will hit at the heart of what is NOT working in your story. You have to be open to accept both when you share your work. And developing this shell of armor doesn’t end when you get an agent or even become published. There will still be critics who take issue with your work. The thing to remember is this: it’s your story to tell. Everyone has their own vision for how your work should read, but only you have the words within you to create a masterpiece.


So if you really want to share your work, which I highly recommend, be prepared to put on your big boy/girl pants and take both the positive and negative feedback. It’s part of the job, but it can also make your manuscript shine!



First Five Frenzy Redux: Stephen Fraser of The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency December 13, 2013

FFF SideWords



NOTE: I don’t often do reposts, but this is a First Five Frenzy I thought was worth sharing again. This interview was first posted on March 8, and not only does it have great information, but terrific examples of  voice and an unforgettable opening. Enjoy!


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, Stephen Fraser’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 that to you as an agent?


Stephen: Honestly, a great first line can catch my attention as an agent, but also a great title or a great overall concept.


While a great first line is important, I would go as far as to say that a good first page is more important. I have participated in many ‘first page’ events, and you can see very clearly when a first page is read aloud that a good first page, with both a good first line and the early presentation of character through dialogue plus description can either make a reader want to continue or not. You get a sense of the tone of the manuscript as well as its pacing. The danger from too much workshopping is honing the first page to death and then leaving the rest of the manuscript undeveloped.



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?


Stephen: I think I can safely say, don’t begin with, “It was a dark and stormy night”!  However, I have read some very funny parodies which did begin with that line.


Of course, there are no rules. Sometimes throwing a reader into the middle of a story is a good way to begin. A more traditional way is to slowly unfold the story in a Henry James kind of way, where you get a sense of place, the weather, the time, etc.


I get tired of books with prologues, when there really doesn’t need to be a prologue and in fact is simply a way for a writer to add a very short chapter and stick it in front of the main part of the novel, because the writer doesn’t know where else to put it.


A great young adult writer, Brent Hartinger, began his landmark debut novel Geography Club with the description of a war zone and then you realize he is describing a high school. Brilliant!



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?


Stephen: It can be any number of different story elements: a title that promises a good read to follow, an intriguing ‘voice,’ a good first line. For me, it is most often the use of language. Beautiful writing trumps a good title or clever concept for me every time.



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


Stephen: I learned this early on as an editor: many writers don’t know how to begin their story.  Often you can cut the first five pages (or perhaps two pages) and then the story really begins.


A common mistake is to assume your reader knows the universe you have created in your head and leave out details that are essential. For instance, in a historical novel, you need to give some clues about the date or location. Sometimes just to say, “Chicago. 1887” or “ancient Babylon” is all you need.


Another common mistake is to assume that the reader already cares about your protagonist. You have to make your reader care! What details can you share with your reader or, better still, what scenes can you create which show your protagonist in a sympathetic light?



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


Stephen: A unique concept can capture your attention in a query letter.


But in the actual writing, it can be several things. Voice is hard to capture, particularly in young adult novels, so when a reader creates a good voice you notice. Who can forget Joey Pigza by Jack Gantos or Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block? There needs to be an authenticity.


Pacing is important because it moves you from the first page through the next four and hopefully through the entire manuscript.


Once again, for me, it is always the writing.  Does this feel fresh and startling or do I feel that I have read it before? The response I most often share about manuscripts that I reject is that the writing didn’t really feel fresh enough to grab my attention. Even a great, high concept book needs to be well-written.



Stephen Fraser is a literary agent with the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City, a full-service agency which handles both juvenile and adult books. One of his clients, Margi Preus, won the Newbery Honor Medal for her novel, Heart of a Samurai (Abrams/Amulet); another client, Carol Lynch Williams, won the prestigious PEN International Award for  her young adult novel Glimpse (Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster); and another client, Matthew J. Kirby, won both the Edgar award for best juvenile mystery and the PEN USA award for his middle grade novel, Icefall (Scholastic). Stephen has been voted top agent for both picture books and middle grade fiction. He has more than twenty-five years’ editorial experience, including both HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, and Scholastic. He edited such creative talents as Mary Engelbreit, Gail Gibbons, Michael Hague, Ann Rinaldi, Kathryn Lasky, Brent Hartinger, Stephen Mitchell, Dan Gutman, Gregory Maguire, and Daniel Pinkwater. A graduate of Middlebury College in Vermont, he has a Master’s Degree in Children’s Literature from Simmons College in Boston. Stephen is a popular speaker at writer’s conferences throughout the country.


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


W.O.W. – Writer Odyssey Wednesday with Heidi Schulz December 11, 2013




One of the typical questions I ask in this interview is about “the call.” Frequently, writers gush about the agent, and how they were immediately offered representation. But when I asked today’s featured author, Heidi Schulz, about her “call,” her response was unexpected. As she explains below, her first conversation with her agent, Brooks Sherman, was not an offer, rather a discussion about how she could make her book stronger. I love that Heidi shared this. Often times we as writers don’t get it quite right out of the gate. But if we are fortunate enough to hit the right agent, at the right time, they can offer advice that makes all the difference. Heidi listened to these changes and eventually signed with Brooks. A perfect example that hard work and perseverance can help you reach your dream!


Many thanks to Heidi for sharing her journey today…



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


Heidi: I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a writer. I have always had ideas floating around in my head, little bits of stories and odd character sketches, but it wasn’t until a couple years ago that I decided to stop simply dreaming of being a writer and actually finish something.


Even so, it took me quite a while to stop thinking about myself as “someone who would like to be a writer” and start thinking of myself as an actual writer.


I wish I could go back and tell myself that there is no entrance exam, no minimum requirements. If you write, you are a writer.



Amy: What inspires you to write Middle Grade fiction?


Heidi: I love both middle grade books and middle grade-aged kids. That age is such a time of discovery. When you are a middle-grader, you are taking those first tentative steps into the adult world and experiencing so many changes. Everything is in flux: Friendships, family relationships, and most especially yourself. At the same time there is just so much possibility.


You still might find Narnia in your wardrobe, discover a whole subterranean world under your laundry room, or receive your letter to Hogwarts.


It’s a fun time to write about.



Amy: I love the premise behind HOOK’S REVENGE. Have you always been a fan of the Peter Pan story?


Heidi: I loved the Disney movie as a child, and I’m certain I read the original somewhere along my way to growing up, but the story didn’t become particularly meaningful to me until I was a young mother. The original J. M. Barrie classic was the first longer-than-a-sitting book I read to my daughter. She was two and I read it to her every night as she played quietly in her bed.


It took several days for me to be sure she was even listening, but once she caught the story, she caught it completely. Peter Pan became both her imaginary friend and her alter ego for the next several years. We spend hours pretending, reenacting the story and making up our own new adventures.


It has a very special place in my heart.



Amy: Did you have critique partners or beta readers that helped you polish HOOK’S REVENGE?  If so, how critical were they to the process of completing the manuscript?


Heidi: I shared early chapters with a few friends. Their encouragement helped me to keep writing on those days where I questioned whether I was creating anything more than a mess. However, I’ve come to learn that for me, I need to have a complete draft before I share in much detail and/or elicit a critical response. I recently left a fabulous, supportive critique group because I find I need a certain amount of creative isolation while drafting.


Once the initial draft and perhaps a second pass are finished, that is the time I need feedback. Beta readers are invaluable in helping me decide what form my revisions should take.



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


Heidi: I didn’t query for long, but even so, the process caused far more anxiety than I ever expected. I once read a tweet or a blog post (I wish I could remember where) that compared querying with standing naked on a stage and asking for critical analysis.


That image rang true to me. Seeking professional confirmation that my work had promise made me feel incredibly vulnerable. Rejection, or worse, no response at all, can be so demoralizing—but it is a necessary part of the process.


That vulnerability doesn’t end once you have signed with an agent. There will still be terrifying moments of sharing, of waiting, of rejection or lackluster responses. It may not be the most fun part, but it is part of the job.


On the other hand, it’s a pretty great job to have. The only way to get what you want is to be brave and put yourself out there.



Amy: How many agents did you query for HOOK’S REVENGE?


Heidi: I queried 15 agents and received an additional five requests from contests.



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


Heidi: My shortest wait was 15 minutes but there were a good amount that never responded at all. Of those that did respond, I’d say my wait averaged out to be about 2 – 3 weeks.



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?


Heidi: I researched on QueryShark and various blog posts on the best form for a query letter, I tried to clearly follow each agent’s submission guidelines, and I paid attention to agents’ blogs and watched for opportunities for query feedback. That’s pretty much it. And I’m not certain there is a lot more to be done.


I’ve heard writers discuss ways to make a query stand out from the rest of the slush, but some of those ways seem circumspect to me. My best advice for others querying is to use the abundant resources available to learn to write a great query letter, follow directions, be professional, and be patient.


Also: stock up on chocolate. And maybe Xanax.



Amy: What was your call like with your agent, Brooks Sherman? How did you know he was the right fit for you?


Heidi: My first call with Brooks was not an offer. He liked what he had read but he (rightly) felt it wasn’t ready yet. We spent some time talking through revision ideas. I appreciated what he had to say and felt inspired by his suggestions.


The next time we spoke, he offered representation. The following day another great agent offered. It was initially a hard choice, but in the end, I went with my gut. Brooks had the most passion and enthusiasm for my manuscript. I knew that he really understood it and would be able to help me further refine my vision in preparation for going on submission. I also knew he would be a lot of fun to work with.


I was right.



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


Heidi: “Sit down and write your book.” So true. You can’t sell what you don’t finish.




Heidi Schulz is a writer, reader, and giraffe suspicioner. Her debut novel for middle grade readers, HOOK’S REVENGE, will be published by Disney•Hyperion on September 16, 2014, followed by her picture book debut, GIRAFFES RUIN EVERYTHING, by Bloomsbury Kids in Fall 2015. She lives in Salem, Oregon with her husband, their teen daughter, a terrible little dog, and five irascible chickens. Connect with Heidi at

%d bloggers like this: