Chasing my crazy dream in the writing world…

QUITE THE QUERY with Melissa Albert and JUST BREATHE March 27, 2015





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 authors say 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.


With that in mind, I’m pleased to share today’s successful query from Melissa Albert. This great query connected her with her agent, Uwe Stender.




On October 24th, seventeen-year-old Kate Mitchells left her job at 11:00 pm. At 11:01, she was held down and raped in the parking lot by her ex-boyfriend, her close friend, and a third guy who she couldn’t see. She hadn’t wanted to involve the police, but a boy from her school, Hunter Shaw, witnessed the ending moments of the attack and reported it. Twenty-one days “Post Incident,” Kate still refuses to talk about what happened.



Suffering from PTSD, Kate avoids all human touch. She tries to live in the present, but that’s difficult when simple life events lead to flashbacks of “The Incident.” The community has labeled her one of two things: “the girl who was raped” or “the girl who is lying.” Her father stays at the office and her mother prays for her daughter’s lost purity. The only person who treats her like an actual human being is Hunter. But that doesn’t stop Kate from hating him for making her go through with the trial. If it were up to her, she would go back to being normal.



As it turns out, the cards are not in Kate’s favor. Her assailants claim to have an airtight alibi while the alleged third attacker is nowhere to be found. The whole town would rather believe that the act was consensual than accept the hard truth about the son of a prominent business leader, and Kate can’t find the strength to tell her side of the story. As the trial draws nearer, she must wrestle each day with the fact that the events of that night were not her fault. Because if she can’t convince herself that she isn’t to blame, then she has no shot at convincing a jury.



JUST BREATHE, a YA contemporary novel, is complete at 60,000 words. It finds its roots in psychological theory as well as actual court cases. It would appeal to readers of DREAMLAND by Sarah Dessen and SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson, although it focuses on an older narrator and the implications of her choosing to speak out. Thank you for your time and consideration.




Query Tidbit:


A funny thing about my querying process: I personalized all of my query letters except for one. The one that I didn’t was the one that ended up landing me my first offer of representation. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to personalize that one, I just couldn’t find anything to say. I guess the moral of the story here is that personalization is great to have, but don’t freak out if you can’t find anything. In the end, it’s your story that’s going to hook the agent, not the (somewhat creepy) fact that you know they eat blueberry pancakes for lunch every Sunday…





Melissa AlbertMelissa Albert is a YA writer who is repped by Uwe Stender of TriadaUS. She majors in Industrial and Organizational Psychology at The College of New Jersey where she is going into her sophomore year. Lover of all YA fiction, she has three completed manuscripts and four WIPs. When she’s not writing, she’s singing, acting, dancing, and day dreaming about her days of playing travel soccer and doing competitive gymnastics. You can bribe her with anything chocolate or cat related, and she orders all her food on separate plates because she hates when it touches. For more on Melissa, check out her blog, The Truth About Teens or follow her on Twitter.


W.O.W. – Writer Odyssey Wednesday with Sarah Henning March 17, 2015




“No query or pitch is ever perfect on the first draft.” I love this line from today’s W.O.W. with Sarah Henning. Sometimes we think we can get it all done in one attempt, but as Sarah points out “there’s always tweaking to be done.” The key thing to remember is revision is important. It can take quite a bit of massaging before your manuscript is ready to be sent out into the world, but once it’s done you’ll be grateful for the experience.



Many thanks to Sarah for sharing her writing journey today…




Amy: You’ve had a prolific journalistic career writing and editing for The Palm Beach Post and The Lawrence Journal-World. What made you decide to make the jump to writing fiction?



Sarah: I’d actually always wanted to write fiction—I’d written several “books” as a child and teen— but I’m very practical and attracted to stability and, so, I’d talked myself into journalism as a much smarter career choice. But the thing is, you can’t escape your passion. It’s not as simple as trying to reassign it. I couldn’t escape the fact that I wanted to write fiction. And so, the second I graduated from college and got my first full-time journalism job, I started in on a book, wishing I hadn’t waited so long.





Amy: Was DEAD MEAT your first completed manuscript?



Sarah: Nope, not at all. It was the third one I’d completed as a post-college adult. I wrote two and then took a few years off to have my oldest child. When he was about one, I started revising the second of those manuscripts and querying it and then started in on DEAD MEAT.





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



Sarah: Oh, man, I have so many people to thank for looking at that manuscript. But the big kahuna is Rebecca Coffindaffer. She was my mentor in the very first Pitch Wars contest put on by Brenda Drake. Becca helped me refine DEAD MEAT just enough that I was able to get four offers and then sign with Rachel Ekstrom of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency.





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?



Sarah: I actually have a really easy time with queries. I’ve been a professional copy editor since 2003, and, when I worked in newspapers, a big part of that job was to write headlines, subheads and cutlines. To write those, a copy editor has to be able to summarize the story in just a few words, phrases or sentences. In reality, that is what a query letter is, only in long form. So, I think my career in newspapers made it very easy for me to write both queries and pitches. And I often help friends with their queries and pitches, because there are some very good writers who have a hard time distilling their work into such a short summation. That said, no query or pitch is ever perfect on the first draft. There’s always tweaking to be done.




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



Sarah: I queried 38 agents, including the people who requested DEAD MEAT through Pitch Wars. I had requests for 16 fulls and 7 partials and then I ended up with four offers. The thing about DEAD MEAT is that it has a very distinctive opening line (Funny fact: Human flesh sears just as easily as lamb. Crisp skin on the outside, tender and juicy on the inside.). Most agents knew right away if it was for them or not!





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




Sarah: Rachel is an amazingly enthusiastic person and not in a fake way. She is bubbly and smart and soooooo knowledgeable about the industry. I’d talked to three other agents before I talked to Rachel and then I talked with three more after Rachel, and while they were all amazing and I would’ve been lucky to sign with any of them, Rachel’s spunk, humor, intelligence and mystery smarts bowled me over.


My “call” with her was actually in the afternoon and that morning I’d gotten my first offer from another agent. In between, I sent out my “I have an offer” emails to every agent who needed to know other than Rachel. I didn’t know if she was going to offer to me, but it didn’t feel right to email her two hours before we were scheduled to talk and tell her I had an offer.


Anyway, I went into the phone call not really knowing if it was “the call” or if it was one where we just talked about my work (which had happened to me two times previously). From the very first moment I heard her voice, I knew Rachel loved my book. Not only did she read it ASAP (I sent her the full on a Thursday night, she emailed about a phone call on a Sunday and we talked on a Monday afternoon), but she loved it, already had a list of editors she wanted to send it to and couldn’t wait to talk to me about what else I was working on and my literary vision. She offered to me and I felt like a jerk telling her that I’d already had an offer that morning, but I knew right away that she was probably going to be it for me. And she was. I love her and I’d recommend anyone who writes in her wheel house.




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



Sarah: Honestly, my first offer didn’t come off of Pitch Wars, it came from an agent who I’d happened to send DEAD MEAT to outside of the contest. And who happened to offer the Monday after the contest ended. That said, I think being part of that contest was a game-changer for me. It introduced me to someone who helped me perfect the book (Becca) and it gave me a chance to stand out away from the query inbox to Rachel and other agents. Plus, because of the way the format works, agents can see if other agents are interested because all the comments/requests are public, so it adds a layer of urgency.


That said, I think it’s important to understand that contests aren’t your only way to go and that some manuscripts may not work in a contest format. Mine did specifically because of the way the opening page read and that was integral to the way the contest was laid out. My pitch was also really succinct and easy to understand. Again, some books are difficult to pitch in a way that does them justice in just 50 words.




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



Sarah: Keep going. Keep working. And remember why you write. It’s easy to get caught up in thinking, “Is there a market for this?” “Is this too much like X?” “Is this something that will be ‘over’ by the time I finish it?” etc. Yes, those things do matter in a business sense. But if you focus on them too much you’re just going to make yourself crazy trying to figure out a secret formula to getting an agent/deal/bigger sales. Don’t do it. Just write to write and everything else will fall into place.





SarahHenningSarah Henning is a crime writer, recovering newshound, and word nerd of the highest order (aka a freelance copy editor). She has degrees in journalism and Spanish from the University of Kansas, and has worked for several news organizations, including The Associated Press, The Kansas City Star, The Charlotte Observer, and The Palm Beach Post. When she’s not hunched over her computer or curled up with a good book, Sarah is probably running ultramarathons, playing with her cherub-cheeked kids, or nagging her husband to eat more kale. She is repped by Rachel Ekstrom of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency. For more on Sarah, check out her website or follow her on Twitter.



Monday Musings: The Waiting Game March 16, 2015

Filed under: Literary Agent,Publishing,Query,Writer,writing craft — chasingthecrazies @ 8:13 am
Tags: , , , ,


I have a confession to make: I suck at waiting.  No matter how hard I try to have patience, I’ve realized over the years I wasn’t built for it.  When I was young, I hated waiting for the swings on the playground. My little feet trudged back and forth in and out of the sand, eyeing each playful student until someone finally got tired of my laser-like stares and gave me their swing.



In high school when I tried out for teams, I wore  a hole in the dirty blue carpet, pacing in front of the coaches office waiting for them to post the junior varsity or varsity list.



There’s an irony in all of this –  that I chose writing as a career – the most notorious of job paths for waiting. And waiting. And waiting.



I wish I could say I’ve gotten better over the years. Matured enough to let the impatience go, but “refreshing my inbox” has become second nature to me. What I have learned is there are things I can do to get my mind off what feels like an incessant path of silence.



1) Focus on other things in life: family, hobbies, travel, health. These are things that often get put to the side as you’re writing, revising or editing a project. Take a break. Take a breath. Letting go of the worry might allow your brain to rejuvenate and come up with some brilliant new plot ideas.



2) Reach out and help others: Be a slush reader in a contest, offer to beta read someone’s work, help tweak a friend’s query. By lending a hand, you may learn something new about your own craft.



3) Think about other things beyond writing. Interested in publishing? Check out how you can be an intern for a publishing house. Want to learn about being an agent? Look into ways to get onto the ground floor with an agency. Help with public relations or social media.



4) Check  out local and national writing conferences or even an online webinar. Constantly improving your craft is a great way to get your mind off the waiting game.



5) Last, but not least – WRITE SOMETHING NEW. I hate to say it, but what you have in the pipeline may not catch fire. It’s a reality we all must face – but don’t let that get you down! Tackle a new project. Write something fresh. It will direct your focus away from your worries (and waiting) and inspire you to keep going.



What about you? How do you handle what can seem like a long path of silence? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.




First Five Frenzy with Kirsten Carleton of Waxman Leavell Literary March 13, 2015

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, Kirsten Carleton’s perspective on what’s important in those critical first pages.




Amy: There is a belief among many writers that having a great first line is imperative to drawing in the reader. How important is a first line to you as an agent?



Kirsten: I don’t know that I pay any more special attention to the first line than I do to the first paragraph as a whole, or even the first few paragraphs. What’s important to me is getting a strong sense of character right off the bat, and that I’m interested enough in finding out what he or she will do next to keep reading. It’s also about showcasing the author’s writing style. A clever sentence or skilled piece of dialogue or description can draw me in, as long as it doesn’t outsmart itself by distracting me from the story.





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?



Kirsten: I think that a lot of times, writers try to start off by showing what normal life is like for the character before everything is changed by the inciting incident, but that can make for a dull opening. It can be justified in some cases, such as when there’s a lot of worldbuilding to introduce, but generally I recommend starting the novel at the same time as the plot, or even after. Everything else is backstory that can be filled in along the 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?



Kirsten: This varies from novel to novel – as it should! For me, the baseline is that the writing is good. I also need to feel connected to the character’s voice, and have a sense of something being at stake for him or her. It’s also great if the writer manages to surprise me in those early pages.





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



Kirsten: Getting bogged down in scene-setting detail is one – waxing poetic about the color of the sky without showing introducing me to the character, for example. On the other side of the spectrum, getting caught up in the character’s head and philosophical musings without giving me any kind of concrete description or action to hold on to can be just as alienating. I also think that there’s a delicate balance in teasing a mystery or plot development in a way that’s neither maddening oblique or overly spelled out.




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



Kirsten: It’s hard to see whether the pacing and concept will be able to sustain themselves throughout the novel but voice needs to be there from the very beginning. I often see great concepts that don’t have the execution to back them up. On the other hand, I also see great writing with no movement to the plot, in which the novel ends up feeling like more of a character study. In the end, all three have to work together to make the novel itself work.





Kirsten CarletonBefore joining Waxman Leavell in 2014, Kirsten Carleton worked at Sobel Weber Associates. She holds a B.A. in English with a Creative Writing concentration from Amherst College, and a Graduate Certificate in Publishing from the Columbia Publishing Course. Kirsten is currently seeking upmarket young adult, speculative, and literary fiction with strong characters and storytelling. She’s drawn to books that capture her attention early on with a dynamic plot, and innovative storytelling that blends or crosses genres. For more on Kirsten, follow her on Twitter @kirstencarleton.


If you’re interested in submitting to Kirsten, please check the Waxman Leavell website for their guidelines.


W.O.W. – Writer Odyssey Wednesday with Sabaa Tahir March 11, 2015




There are many ways to stir the creative spirit. In today’s W.O.W., Sabaa Tahir shares how music inspired her manuscript, An Ember in the Ashes. In detail, she explains how her playlist helped her get in the right mind set to write certain characters and scenes. Her writing journey proves inspiration comes in many forms, and if you follow that inspiration, you can create an amazing manuscript.



Many thanks to Sabaa for sharing her writing odyssey today…




Amy: You worked for five years at The Washington Post. What made you decide to make the jump to writing fiction?



Sabaa: I’d had the idea for EMBER for a couple of years, but never had enough time to work on it. My departure from the Post coincided with the arrival of my first child. Since I wanted to stay home and spend time with him anyway, I figured it was a good time to take the leap and commit to my writing, too.  Full credit to my husband, though–he’s the one who kept telling me to write the book!




Amy: Was AN EMBER IN THE ASHES your first completed manuscript?



Sabaa: Unless you count my 4th grade masterpiece “The Birthday Party”, yes, EMBER was my first completed manuscript!




Amy: I love how much you are inspired by music. How much does that factor into your writing?



Sabaa: There’s this great line in THE NAMING, by Alison Croggon, where a character who is quite a wanderer says “Music is my home.” That’s basically my life mantra. Music plays a huge role in my writing. My first book has a massive playlist with a couple hundred songs on it—and that’s after I culled it.


I associate certain songs with certain characters or scenes. While writing a scene, I’ll often listen to a song on repeat b/c the song helps me get in the right headspace. I really believe that without the music I listen to, the book wouldn’t be what it is.




Amy: Are you one of those people who had an easy time writing a query or did it take several tries before you landed on the one you wanted to send?



Sabaa: I did months of research before querying. I read through the entire archive of Query Shark. I read the “Successful Query” series on Writer’s Digest. I made sure I was really prepared before I ever wrote the first word of the query. Then it took a few weeks of tweaking and editing to get it right.




Amy: How many agents did you query for AN EMBER IN THE ASHES? Did you receive instantaneous response or did you have to wait for requests/rejections?



Sabaa: I queried 11 agents and was pretty lucky in that I heard back from them quickly.




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



Sabaa: Alexandra had this energy that really appealed to me. I found her excitement for the book—and for my career as a whole—very inspiring. She answered all my questions with patience and intelligence. When I wanted to meet her in person, she was totally up for it. Within a few minutes of sitting down with her, I was pretty certain she was “the one.”




Amy: Publishing can be a very difficult business. What has inspired you to keep writing through good times and bad?



Sabaa: Probably sheer stubbornness. I had a lot of lows in writing EMBER. And I kept thinking “I left my job for this. I’m spending time away from my kid for this. I’ve told my family I’m doing this—my husband, my parents, my brothers. I can’t let them down. I can’t fail. It’s not allowed.”




Amy: If you were giving a keynote speech at a writers conference, what would be the most important piece of advice you would share?



Sabaa: Maybe for some people, making a career in writing is easy. But for most, it’s a tough road. I believe that if you want to do this, you’ll have to make sacrifices. Writing has to be more important than your friends, your hobbies, your social life, even, sometimes, your family and health. And of course, it has to be more important than your own pride and ego—otherwise you’ll never improve.





Ember in Ashes

 Available April 28, 2015





LAIA is a Scholar living under the iron-fisted rule of the Martial Empire. When her brother is arrested for treason, Laia goes undercover as a slave at the empire’s greatest military academy in exchange for assistance from rebel Scholars who claim that they will help to save her brother from execution.


ELIAS is the academy’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias is considering deserting the military, but before he can, he’s ordered to participate in a ruthless contest to choose the next Martial emperor.


When Laia and Elias’s paths cross at the academy, they find that their destinies are more intertwined than either could have imagined and that their choices will change the future of the empire itself.






SSabaaABAA TAHIR was born in London but grew up in California’s Mojave Desert at her family’s eighteen-room motel. After graduating from UCLA, Sabaa became an editor on the foreign desk at the Washington Post. Three summers later, she came up with the concept for her debut novel, An Ember in the Ashes. You can find her at, or follow her on Twitter: @SabaaTahir


Monday Musings: Pitch To Win March 9, 2015


Another #PitMad will soon be filling the Twitter feed with amazing pitches covering everything from contemporary to sci-fi to horror. While this is a unique opportunity to get your book in front of a slew of agents and publishers, it’s also a chance to hone your story. Sometimes forcing yourself to summarize your book in 140 characters pushes you to determine the real hook.



For those who don’t know what #PitMad is, here’s a quick summary. The lovely, Brenda Drake put together this opportunity for writers to “pitch” their books on Twitter. Several times a year, she alerts agents and encourages them to follow the hashtag, #PitMad to see if any of the pitches intrigue them. If the agent sees something they’d like to request, they “favorite” it and provide directions in the feed on how to send materials.



The next #PitMad is scheduled for this Wednesday, March 11. Beginning at 8am EST, you may begin posting a 140 character pitch about your Picture Book (PB), Middle Grade (MG), Young Adult (YA), New Adult (NA), Adult (A) or Non-Fiction (NF) book on Twitter. Literary agents and publishers troll the feed throughout the day and “favorite” pitches that interest them. It’s one day to get an “all access pass” to share your story with agents and publishers.



The key to this whole event is in the clarity of your pitch. A quick way to keep yourself from NOT getting any “yellow stars” (aka favorites) is to pitch something that’s vague. The stakes of your story need to be clear from the first character until the last. What do I mean by vague? Let me share an example (this is NOT a real pitch-but something I created).



‘Alex thought his life was normal until the sudden death of his Mom turns his world upside down. YA C #PitMad”



Okay, so what’s wrong with this pitch? A couple of things:



1) We know nothing about Alex. Who is he and how old is he? A simple nod to his age, and a small tidbit about his personality, will help the agent connect. And discard the word “normal” from your pitches. It tells NOTHING about the main character and takes up valuable pitch space.


2) The phrase “turns his world upside down” is vague. It doesn’t tell the agent anything about the story. Vague phrases and stakes are the kiss of death in a pitch (in my opinion).


3) Where’s the conflict? Sure there is the death, but how does that change Alex? If you’re pitching, you need to think in specifics. Does the death make him turn to drugs/alcohol? How does the death impact his life?


To make your pitch strong it needs three things: character, conflict, and cost. Without these critical elements, agents and publishers have no idea whether or not your story will be viable in the marketplace.



So how do you create a pitch with the 3 C’s?  Let’s makeover the original pitch:



“After his Mom dies, 17 yo artist, Alex must face his family’s history of mental illness before it destroys his talent & future. YA C 



Let’s break this down again:


1) Pitch has inciting incident (Mom’s death).


2) Who is Alex?: We learn his age (17) and his interests (he’s an artist).


3) Conflict: The family’s history of mental illness


4) Stakes: If Alex doesn’t recognize the pattern, he could lose his talent & future



The 3 Cs:



Character: 17 yo (short for: year-old) artist Alex


Conflict: Mom’s death & family history of mental illness


Cost: His future and talent if he doesn’t seek help



After having participated in PitMad three times, I understand how difficult it can be to narrow down a 70k story into a 140 character pitch. It may seem daunting, but if you focus on the heart of story, and the 3 Cs, you can craft a pitch that will bring a frenzy of requests.



One last thing..


A few reminders about #PitMad:


1) Only pitch if you have a completed and polished manuscript.


2) Do not start pitching in the feed until 8am EST.


3) Only pitch two times per hour.


4) Have several variations on your pitch to Tweet during the day.


5) In your 140 characters, be sure to make room for category & genre as well as #PitMad. If you leave out #PitMad, agents/publishers will not see your pitch in the feed.


6) If you want to support your fellow writers, Retweet (RT) their pitches. DO NOT “favorite” them. Favorites should only be used by agents/publishers if they want to request. There’s nothing worse than seeing your tweet with a favorite only to find out it’s NOT from an agent.


7) If you’re looking for beta readers or CPs this is a great time to find those who write in similar category and genre.


8) Have fun. Connect with other writers. If you like their pitch let them know!



Good luck to everyone pitching! I hope the “favorites” are plentiful!!









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