Chasing my crazy dream in the writing world…

FIRST FIVE FRENZY with Sarah Negovetich of Corvisiero Literary Agency August 29, 2014

FFF SideWords




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


The First Five Frenzy is all about getting an agent’s perspective on what works, and what fails, in those first pages of a manuscript. By reading each agent’s comments, I hope you’ll learn how to make your manuscript a shining gem that will be requested time and time again.


Today, I am proud to share Literary Agent, Sarah Negovetich’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?


Sarah: I think the first line is important, but it’s usually not a deal breaker if it isn’t the most awesome sentence I’ve read all week. What I don’t want to see is any grammar issues, passive voice, telling or info dumps. Writers will point to the greats of literature sometimes as their “get out of jail free card” for writing overly descriptive and oxygen-deprivation inducing first sentences. They forget to factor in that reader perceptions and expectations have changed from 100 years ago. Faulkner got away with it. You will not.




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?


Sarah: Yes, all of these. I also advise against extreme world-building. This is where the author tells us every little detail about a character and their location before getting to the present action of the story. The reason we advise against all of these is because they are boring. I’ve seen myself eat breakfast. It’s a real snooze fest. That doesn’t mean these openings are automatic passes. Consider the main character sitting down to breakfast where he has to arm wrestle his 11 siblings for the only two slices of bread in the house. This is the opposite of a boring breakfast.


The opening is all about convincing the reader they want to turn the page. You can open with almost anything so long as it captures the reader’s attention and not in a gimmicky way.




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?


Sarah: For me, the plot comes first. If I’m requesting pages, I’ve seen enough from the query to convince me that the plot is both unique and interesting. After that, I’m looking for clean pages that deliver on the promise of the query. Not to place any more pressure on the query, but it’s really a promise of what you will deliver to readers in the novel. If your query is funny, I want funny opening pages. If your query has a snarky voice, I want to see that in the opening pages.




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


Sarah: The most common mistake I see is a distant POV. A lot of readers assume that first person is automatically engaging because we are in the characters head, but that’s not true. Consider these two lines:


ex. 1:  I felt a cold breeze across my bare arms and it caused me to shiver.


ex 2:  A cold breeze brushed my bare arms sending spidery tingles along my skin.


This is hardly poetic genius, but it should be clear which is a better sentence. The first distances us from the character by telling us how she felt. The second lets us experience the sensation along with her.




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


Sarah: I think it’s impossible to isolate a single aspect though plot is a biggie for me. Great first pages use each of these to their advantage. I know I’ve read something good when I get to the end of the sample and am surprised I already read five pages. It’s a no if I stop at page two and scroll down to see how much more there is.




Sarah Negovetich headshotSarah Negovetich knows you don’t know how to pronounce her name and she’s okay with that. Her first love is YA, because at seventeen the world is your oyster. Only oysters are slimy and more than a little salty; it’s accurate if not exactly motivational. We should come up with a better cliché. Sarah divides her time between her own writing and working with amazing authors as a Jr. Agent and PR Team Leader at Corvisiero Literary Agency. Her background is in marketing, which is not as glamorous as it sounds. FYI, your high school algebra teacher was right when they told you every job uses math. Sarah uses her experience to help authors craft amazing stories, build platforms, and promote their work.


If you’re interested in submitting to Sarah, please check the Corvisiero Literary Agency website for their guidelines.



Filed under: Blog,Publishing,Query,writing craft — chasingthecrazies @ 8:13 am
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I’m  a lucky girl. Not only do I have writing friends online who have become my trusted CPs, but I also have an AMAZING group of local women I meet with every month to swap pages. Yay! KICK-AZ writers 🙂


At our recent meeting, we started talking about WriteOnCon. If you don’t know about WriteOnCon, it is an amazing online writing conference for those who write Pictures Books up to New Adult. Check it our here.


Two in our group were planning to submit materials to the forums, while two others had not heard about the event. As I was explaining the details of how you can upload your query, one of the writers asked if anyone could critique your work. We discussed that any writer could look at your thread and comment. That began a whole different conversation about getting feedback. Oh, feedback!


As of the moment I’m writing this, there are over 220 queries posted to the WriteOnCon threads. Now, not all those people are going to comment on what you load to the forums, but most likely you are going to get a number of people (hopefully!) who want to give you feedback. Here’s the thing, not every piece of praise, or criticism, is going to resonate with you. Over the last two years of participating in the conference, I’ve personally seen some brilliant feedback and some, well, not so much. And that is okay. We are ALL learning every day.


When I first started sharing my work, I thought I had to implement every piece of advice I was given. Guess what happened to my first manuscript? It turned into a bloody mess. After incorporating every single critique I got, my beloved main character had totally lost her voice. And the story? It was almost unsalvageable.



The key to feedback is deciding whether or not the changes make sense in terms of your manuscript. Some things to ponder:



Plot: Will making a sweeping change have a domino effect within your manuscript and compromise the direction of the story?


Pacing: If you add or delete a scene, will it slow down, or speed up, your narration to an uncomfortable point?


Voice: If you implement feedback for dialogue and/or internal thought, will it change the voice of your main character?



Here is the lesson I learned: everyone has an opinion. The thing to remember is that not all feedback is appropriate for your manuscript. Read through it all of course, but only incorporate what is appropriate for the tone and voice of your story. People can give you tons of advice, but only you and your instincts know what will make your book stronger.


So be grateful for the amount of time people have spent giving you their thoughts. Be gracious. Say, “thank you,” but don’t rush to make immediate changes. Let the critiques sit for a while, and then, when you’re ready, only implement what feels right. I promise that you, and your manuscript, will be better for it!


Fellow writers, how do you handle feedback? Would love to hear in the comments!




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


(Logo illustration courtesy of Vanessa Henderson (@VR_Henderson)



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


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


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


Thank you!


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



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


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


Or maybe not.


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


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


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


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




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



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






Play On





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


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


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




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



W.O.W. – Writer Odyssey Wednesday with Lauren Spieller August 20, 2014




I’ve heard it several times, and in several interviews, but you can never underestimate the power of the slush pile. As today’s W.O.W. with Lauren Spieller shows, if you have a solid submission package, the slush can help you attract the attention of a great agent.  It may take time (and perhaps entering a few contests) but having an impressive query and first pages can help you make a career-changing connection!


Many thanks to Lauren for sharing her writing journey today!



Amy: What inspires you to write both Young Adult and Middle Grade fiction?


Lauren: I’ve written two YAs and one MG, and MAN are they different experiences! Right now I’m connecting with YA more (I’m really interested in the changes–both internal and external– that happen during the teen years), but I plan on working on another MG in the future. I might even go back to my second manuscript, which was a really fun, magical MG.



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


Lauren: I didn’t query my first YA widely, because by the time I finished it, I realized I had out-grown the project, both in skill and interest. My second manuscript–the magical MG–brought in quite a few requests, three of which eventually turned into R&Rs. However, I started CAPTIVE during the MG querying process, and by time I received the last R&R, I was EXTREMELY excited about querying my new project. Turns out it was “the one!”



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


Lauren: BOTH! It came pretty easily, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t nitpick it! I run a freelance editing business, and query critiques are my specialty, so I felt very prepared to write my CAPTIVE query. That being said, my critique partners still helped me fine tune the wording, and were extremely supportive when I asked them to read draft after draft even though I’d only changed a word here or there!



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


Lauren: Absolutely! I worked with early draft critique partners, multiple rounds of beta readers, and 2 Pitch Wars mentors. All told, more than 10 people gave me feedback on CAPTIVE (be it the first page, the first 50 pages, the synopsis, or the entire manuscript). I am extremely grateful for their feedback, especially since my manuscript hinged on eliciting the right emotion at the right time. I couldn’t have nailed down the pacing without my talented CPs!



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


Lauren: I queried about 38 agents total, quite a few of which went out *after* I had already received full requests. Some agents responded within days, others took weeks, and some never responded at all! I also received a few requests via Pitch Wars, the amazing contest run by Brenda Drake. Though I ultimately signed with an agent I queried on my own (Go Team Slush!), the mentoring aspect of Pitch Wars helped me polish my first page, which definitely contributed to my querying success.



Amy: Can you give a short summary of your call with your agent, Jim McCarthy? How did you know he was a good fit for you?


Lauren: Jim was my #1 choice, so when he emailed me about scheduling “The Call,” I went into a state of shock. Luckily I managed to email him despite my catatonic state, and we ended up talking immediately. Most of the call was a blur, but I do distinctly remember warning him that I was probably going to cry.


I knew Jim was the right agent for me for four reasons: 1) He told me right off the bat that he had read my book twice and couldn’t stop thinking about the main character’s twisted journey. It was important to me that an agent be enthusiastic! 2) He told me about the strengths AND weaknesses of the manuscript. I wanted an agent who would be honest with me, and Jim was. 3) We saw eye to eye about revisions (in fact, he called me out on the very thing I knew I needed to improve!) 4) We got along right away!  It also didn’t hurt that he made me laugh within the first two minutes of the call.



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


Lauren: I’ve never been tempted to give up writing in general, but I HAVE been tempted to give up on individual manuscripts before I should. In those cases, I relied heavily on my friends and family, in particular my amazing boyfriend Patrick and my friend and CP Juliana Brandt. Without them, I’d probably have gone crazy by now. If there was an acknowledgments section of my life, I’d dedicate my years as a querying writer to them.


…And to cocktails and pizza. They supported me when I needed them most. Love you, guys.



LaurenSLauren Spieller is a California girl living in Brooklyn. When she isn’t longingly gazing at interior design blogs, searching for Brooklyn’s best latte, unintentionally collecting owls, or complaining about the weather, she spends her time writing young adult and middle grade novels, as well as short stories for adults. She also works as a freelance editor, specializing in query and manuscript critiques. Lauren welcomes you to contact her about any and all of these things!

Lauren is represented by Jim McCarthy of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management.

Follow her on twitter @laurenspieller







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


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


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


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


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


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


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




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

Query 101B



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


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




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

A Guest Post By MarcyKate Connolly



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


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


The question is: How?


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



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








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


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


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


And what he knows will change Kym’s life.


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




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


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




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


Many thanks to Veronica for sharing her writing odyssey today…



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


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



Amy: Was TWELVE STEPS your first completed manuscript?


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



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


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



Amy: Are you one of those people who has an easy time writing a query or does it take several tries before you land on the one you want to send?


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



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


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


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


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



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


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


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


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



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


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


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



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


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


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





 Twelve Steps





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


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


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


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


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


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


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



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




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

TWELVE STEPS is Veronica’s first novel.

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









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