Chasing my crazy dream in the writing world…

QUITE THE QUERY – JoAnna Illingworth and THE BLACK UMBRELLA May 24, 2017








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 where 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 JoAnna Illingworth. This great query connected her with Uwe Stender of Triada US Literary Agency.




Seventeen-year-old Brolly J. Parker’s favorite shirt is missing. It’s the first day of senior year, it’s pouring rain and she’s running late. Rummaging through her mom’s closet looking for her shirt, Brolly uncovers a strange looking umbrella hidden in an old box. She grabs the umbrella and runs to check her car for the missing shirt. When she opens the umbrella, she’s abruptly torn away from her home and tossed through time, landing on an unfamiliar, rocky shore, the umbrella gone. A stranger approaches, asking if she needs help. Brolly learns the stranger is eighteen-year-old Lord Thomas Westbourne and she’s somehow arrived at his lake castle in the year 1826.


Brolly is desperate to go home, but without the missing umbrella she has no idea how to do it. She spends her days pacing the lakeshore and avoiding awkward encounters with Lord Westbourne. Even though they’re close in age, she can’t imagine how they would have anything in common. Thomas remains curious about Brolly, constantly asking her questions about how she got there and where she’s from.


Through time and conversation, Brolly beings to develop feelings for the enigmatic Lord. When he finally admits his feelings for her, even after Brolly explains she doesn’t belong in his world, it’s the push she needs to accept how deep her feelings run. And it’s then, after Thomas and Brolly decide to be together, the black umbrella is finally found. In a struggle to make sure Thomas doesn’t open it, the umbrella opens in her hands and she’s instantly transported back home. It’s as if her time at the castle never happened at all.


Against the disbelief of her mom, Brolly believes Thomas was real. She also suspects her mom is hiding a secret about the umbrella that will help her find him. Brolly won’t give up until she discovers the truth.




JoAnna Illingworth is from Nashville and is a music marketer by day and a writer by night. For more on JoAnna, follow her on Twitter, Instagram, or Tumblr.



MONDAY MUSINGS: Celebrating the Big Picture May 8, 2017









For the last five years I’ve been working on this little YA book called NOTHING BUT SKY. A year of research. A year of writing. A year of revising and then another two years on submission. To say this manuscript was a labor of love for me is putting it mildly. And while it was a joy to work on the book, it also came with its share of heartache. But today, I don’t want to talk about the negative. I only want to share the positive which is that my book SOLD to the amazing people at Flux!












WOOHOO! Yes, this does call for a little Supernatural boys dance.






But seriously, even though this has been a crazy process, and I’m over the moon thrilled about the deal, I want this post to focus on something else today: The Big Picture.



What do I mean? Well, it’s taken a long time, and a bit of perspective, but I learned that I am NOT this one story. For too long I felt like if NOTHING BUT SKY didn’t sell it was the death knell for my writing career. Why was I so doom and gloom about it? Because I’d put my heart and soul into this manuscript. Over a long period time it went through a dozen readers, pages and pages of notes, and more than a few rewrites. I spent hours at my desk poring over every single line in each chapter wondering what I could do to make my voice cleaner. My lines tighter. It was enough to drive myself a bit over the edge.



But then an incredible thing happened-a new story idea popped into my head. It wasn’t that I was ready to let NOTHING BUT SKY go, but some part of me knew I had more books to write. Characters to create. Stories to weave. I suddenly felt free. Like my friends and family wouldn’t judge me if that one little book of my heart never made it onto the shelves of a major bookstore.



In that moment I learned I was more than that one idea. Deep down, I understood I was a storyteller. If Grace and Henry’s journey never got into readers hands, that was okay because their story taught me I could make it through the hardest moments of rejection and come out stronger on the other side.



The moral of the story, I guess, is that I pushed through. That along the way of creating other books, there was something about NOTHING BUT SKY that stayed with me. It allowed me to do one more revision. To try once more. And this time it landed in the hands of the right editor and the right publisher. I worked hard, but I also got lucky. Really lucky.



So readers, today I want to celebrate, but I also want to remind you that there is a bigger picture. That there IS more than just that one book in you. At your core you are a writer. Your ideas and words mean something. It’s true, there will be heartache and very low moments along the way, but if you’re meant to be a writer you will always come back to the page. No string of rejections can take that away from you. DO NOT GIVE UP. If you are meant to write, then you will WRITE!



One last note…


I’ve been posting to this blog for over five years and there’s never been a moment where I have not felt anything but unconditional love from you guys, my readers. I’ve shared a lot of tough, personal moments and you’ve ALWAYS been around to lift me up. Encourage me to move forward. No words on this earth can express how much that means to my heart. Thank you so much for being here and believing in me.








Okay, I can’t resist – a few more celebratory GIFs!!








FIRST FIVE FRENZY with Hillary Jacobson of ICM Partners May 5, 2017






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. It’s tricky to get the right balance, but I hope by reading each agent’s comments you’ll learn how to make your manuscript a shining gem that’s requested over and over.


Today, I’m proud to share Hillary Jacobson’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?



Hillary: A first line is important because I assume the author has paid the most attention to that line and been very purposeful with it. So when I see a first line that’s grammatically incorrect or not very strong, I’m initially a bit suspicious. However, a first line is never a deal breaker. If the writing gets stronger after that, I’ll still want to request the full.




Amy: A lot of books open with common things like dreams, eating breakfast, riding in a car, starting at a new school, etc. What are some openings you recommend writers stay away from?



Hillary: I think anything cliché can be made interesting in the right hands. However, if the first word is a character uttering or thinking a curse word…that feels very overdone and like a lazy way to get the reader into a situation.




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?



Hillary: First pages that can immerse me in a whole new world without confusing me always pique my interest. I struggle a lot, especially with fantasy queries, that want to plop you right into a super complicated new world without giving you the tools to make sense of it. The best openings make you comfortable with what you know and what you don’t know.




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



Hillary: Telling instead of showing, especially with something more high-concept. I’ve noticed that some writers want to explain everything right away when there isn’t a need to. Like in my last answer, I want to be able to understand what’s going on, but I don’t want the information thrown at me in a clunky way.


Also, this may seem unimportant, but so many writers neglect to perfect their formatting!! If the font and font size are all over the place and your query looks unprofessional, I’m already skeptical.




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



Hillary: Absolutely the voice and strength of the writing. I really try to keep an open mind in regards to concept, so I rely on the voice to clue me in if I should keep reading more. Ultimately, if I feel disappointed when the pages end, I know that I have to request the full!






Hillary Jacobson of ICM Partners is actively building a list consisting of commercial and literary fiction, YA, as well as narrative non-fiction and memoir. She is especially seeking high-concept YA, upmarket fiction, psychological thrillers and memoirs that read like fiction. A lifelong obsessive reader, she got into the literary game as soon as she could. Prior to working at ICM, she interned at Random House, Janklow & Nesbit and Alloy Entertainment. She is a graduate of Brown University.


Interested in subbing to Hillary? Send directly to with the query and first ten pages in the body of the email.




QUITE THE QUERY – Cass Morris and AVEN May 3, 2017






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 where 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 Cass Morris. This great query connected her with Connor Goldsmith of Fuse Literary.




An assassination attempt forces Latona, an elemental mage, to unleash her latent powers, demonstrating potential that far outstrips her training. When the dictator who threatened her family dies, she determines to take this opportunity to change the course of her life, but she quickly discovers that ambition has a high price.


The city-state of Aven is a place where elemental magic shapes the rule of the land as strongly as law and war. In the power vacuum left by the dictator’s death, the conservative old guard clashes with the populist liberal faction over the best way to shape the nation’s future.


Latona and her sister Aula, a widow whose frivolous nature conceals a scheming mind, use charisma and cunning to manipulate advances for the populists. Their paths intersect with that of Sempronius Tarren, a rising politician who dreams of a vast empire growing from his beloved city. He believes that the gods have equipped him with the necessary skills and thrown down this challenge – but in order to achieve his goals, he will have to break some of his civilization’s most sacred laws. Custom dictates that no mage may attain the highest political offices, but Sempronius, who has kept his abilities a life-long secret, intends to do just that. Aula sees in Sempronius a man with an extraordinary vision for their nation and the greatness to make it a reality, and she pushes her sister to cultivate an alliance with him.


As their friendship blossoms, Sempronius encourages Latona to learn to wield the extraordinary magical power that is her birthright – but Latona’s husband objects to the idea and the alliance, and Sempronius’s secret could ruin them both and destroy their faction’s chance to reform the city.


Aven is a completed 106,000 word historical fantasy with series potential, inspired by late Republic Rome.



Fun Tidbit:


I lost track of how many times I re-wrote or tweaked the query letter, but it was at least five times over six months. I found success with the 31st agent I queried. What’s funny to me now is that while the book, after three years of edits, barely resembles the draft that I originally sent to Connor, the query letter remains a fairly apt description of it!





Cass Morris is a Virginia writer who works in the Education Department at the American Shakespeare Center. Cass completed her Master of Letters at Mary Baldwin College and earned her undergraduate degree, a BA in English with a minor in history, from the College of William and Mary in 2007, where she was accepted into the Alpha Delta Gamma honor society for Medieval and Renaissance Studies. Cass served on the boards of student theatrical production companies at both Mary Baldwin and William and Mary. She currently lives in the Shenandoah Valley with two royal felines, Princess and Ptolemy, where she reads voraciously, wears corsets voluntarily, and will beat you at MarioKart. Represented by Connor Goldsmith of Fuse Literary. Debut novel FROM UNSEEN FIRE forthcoming January 2018 from DAW Books. For more on Cass, find her on these social media sites:



Twitter: @CassRMorris







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