Chasing my crazy dream in the writing world…

QUITE THE QUERY – Julie Artz and THE ELEPHANT TREE April 26, 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 Julie Artz. This great query connected her with Jennie Dunham of Dunham Literary.






THE ELEPHANT TREE is a contemporary middle grade novel with a sprinkle of Haitian Vodou. It is complete at 50,000 words and will appeal to fans of A Snicker of Magic and Flora & Ulysses.



Tilly Tucker checks every tulip for sleeping fairies. She believes the spirits of her ancestors watch over her, even though she lives so far from her native Haiti. And she thinks if she casts a spell just right, it will protect her and her adopted family. But all that ends on her eleventh birthday when she casts a spell to stop her parents from divorcing…and it doesn’t work.



Tilly and Mama leave Missoula behind and move in with Tilly’s estranged Grandma in Seattle. When a visit to Gran’s attic uncovers a journal and an old yellowed picture of a young Haitian girl, Tilly believes it’s a sign from her ancestors. Armed with a book of Vodou spells, a home-made shrine, and the necklace that was left with her at the orphanage in Haiti, Tilly must contact the spirit of her biological great-grandmother and cast a spell so powerful it will bring her broken family back together. If she can’t, she’ll lose both her families forever.





Fun Tidbit:


The Elephant Tree was the fourth manuscript I queried (the third middle-grade manuscript). Although I got requests on all four, I could tell this one was different because from the first round of queries sent July 2016, my response rate jumped from a respectable 15-20% to almost twice that, ending up at 42% over the two rounds I sent before I received an offer of representation.




JULIE ARTZ spent her childhood sneaking into wardrobes hoping to find Narnia. Now that she’s older, people think that’s creepy, so she writes middle grade instead. Her stories for children feature the natural world, folklore, mythology, history, and all that is magical about those things. In addition to helping run From The Mixed Up Files of Middle Grade Authors (, she works as a developmental editor for Author Accelerator, contributes regularly to The Winged Pen (, and is the incoming co-RA of SCBWI Western Washington. She is represented by Jennie Dunham of Dunham Lit. Connect with her on Twitter (@JulieArtz), Facebook ( or Instagram (




FIRST FIVE FRENZY with Amy Elizabeth Bishop of Dystel, Goderich, & Bourret April 21, 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 Amy Elizabeth Bishop’s perspective on what’s important in those critical first pages.





Amy T.: 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?




Amy B.: The first line isn’t that important to me. I’m looking for the first few pages to really suck me in. Do I feel grounded as a reader in what’s going on? Do I have a good feel for the characters? Am I already engrossed in the plot or am I lost in a lot of backstory? Of course, a great first line is always going to draw me in and make me curious about what happens next, but I think how you open with your first chapter can often be even more important.





Amy T.: 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?




Amy B.: This is a tough one, because a really good writer will take something I usually dislike and turn it on its head. Perhaps one thing I’d say to be careful of is to avoid opening with a huge chunk of reflection or commentary from the protagonist before getting into the action. We need some grounding in the beginning, but I want to see what’s going on, not be told.





Amy T.: 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?




Amy B.: They’ve set up the tension or the conflict of the novel well from the beginning pages and I feel comfortable as a reader. I feel like I know their character(s) pretty well, are invested in their futures, and I want to see what happens next.





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



Amy B.: Some common mistakes I see are overuse of exposition or dialogue (that balance can be tricky), waiting too long to get started with the conflict (i.e.: what’s driving the story), or too much explanation via backstory.





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



Amy B.: All of the above! I love a good voice-driven narrative. If it’s an unusual concept with good pacing, I’m sold. For me though, I’m always interested in the characters—if they have a voice that just leaps off the page, I’ll probably want to keep reading.




Amy Elizabeth Bishop joined Dystel, Goderich & Bourret after interning at DG&B in 2014. Before diving into the world of publishing, she graduated from SUNY Geneseo with a degree in Creative Writing. She grew up in upstate New York and has now made the traitorous switch to downstate living. Reading-wise, she is interested in both commercial and upmarket women’s fiction, fiction from diverse authors, historical fiction (focusing on untold stories or well-known stories from a different perspective; think, minority voices), and contemporary YA. In terms of nonfiction, she’s on the hunt for a killer feminist voice and loves historical narrative non-fiction, as well as memoirs. Amy is also a poet (in her spare time) and is a reader for The Rumpus.



If you’re interested in submitting to Amy, please check the Dystel, Goderich & Bourret website for their submission guidelines.



Monday Musings: Plan A, B, C, D, etc… April 17, 2017







When you write your first book your dream is that it will sell. For many writers that dream does not come true. Most move on to writing another book, and then perhaps another, and one more until they finally achieve their dream.



This path is most common for writers. It’s rare to query and sell a first book. Let me repeat that – IT IS RARE TO QUERY AND SELL A FIRST BOOK. I share this because after one book many writers give up. The reasons for this are too many to list, but I think many give up because they believe one book is all they have in them. And let’s admit it, querying can take a lot out of you. The ups and down of requests and rejections can be a lot to bear at times.



I’ve been there plenty and I find solace in two things: my friends in the community who remind me day in and day out that I am NOT alone, and the chance to create something fresh. To breathe life into new settings and characters.



Write something new? You may say that sounds strange. Doesn’t writing a new book mean even more chance for rejection? Of course it does, but it’s also another chance to open new doors. Another shot at connecting with that agent or elusive editor you’ve been dying to work with.  It’s a Plan B, C, or even D when Plan A isn’t panning out the way you hoped it would.



You commonly hear the advice in many writing and publishing circles that  you should be writing something new while you’re querying or are on sub. This is true for several reasons. First, if you do connect with an agent, they’re going to ask if you’ve written other books. That editor who’s got your sub, might ask what else you have as a possible option book. Second, distracting yourself with a new manuscript helps take your mind off the stress of querying and/or being on submission, plus it forces you to stop refreshing your inbox every ten seconds! And let’s be honest, we are all VERY guilty of this. For me, it might be every five seconds (LOL!)



After doing this for five years, I’ve come to realize I’m strong enough to endure this business. It’s tough, and the waiting and rejection is incredibly difficult at times, but I do find comfort in having a backup plan. It allows me to focus on the next step, not the roadblocks and dead ends I feel like I’m facing.



So my advice for writers at any and all stages of the process is think about your next book, and perhaps the book after that. It’s only by moving forward that you can avoid getting stuck in the rut of loathing and self-doubt. And if you’re currently in that rut, it’s okay. Know that while you may not believe it now, you DO have that next book in you. It may not be ready to be written now, but it’s there, bubbling underneath the surface. Give it time to grow and blossom and then get to writing. There are people out their waiting to read your words and you CAN deliver!



Have a great week and I hope the words come quickly for all of you!




QUITE THE QUERY: Adele Buck and ACTING UP March 29, 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 Adele Buck. This great query connected her with her agent, Amy Elizabeth Bishop at Dystel, Goderich, and Bourret.





Stage manager CATH DE COURCY has had plenty of time to rehearse hiding her attraction to her best friend, director PAUL MAINWARING, while she oversees all the details of his productions. But when he casts Cath’s college nemesis as the leading lady in their latest play, it might cue a curtain call for both their friendship and their collaboration.


In rehearsals, Cath struggles to keep everything (including Paul) on course as the leading lady’s behavior threatens to throw the entire production off kilter. Meanwhile, the diva’s pursuit of Paul and the leading man’s developing friendship with Cath sparks jealousy and ignites an unexpected, passionate kiss between the old friends. But Cath, worried that a more intimate relationship would destroy both their friendship and their professional collaboration, holds Paul off. When two members of the production’s staff get engaged, their positive example helps Paul convince Cath to give a closer relationship a try.


Days before the play goes into previews, Cath panics when heated arguments between the engaged couple threaten her belief that people can combine work and romance. The success of Cath and Paul’s love and the production are both riding on Paul’s ability to flip the script and take care of Cath.


ACTING UP is an adult contemporary category romance complete at 58,000 words. I used my past real-world experience as an actress and stage manager to bring verisimilitude to the story. Due to its theatrical setting and humor, I believe ACTING UP will appeal to readers who enjoyed books like Lucy Parker’s ACT LIKE IT. A related manuscript (METHOD ACTING [ed note: at the time of querying this book had a different title]) is complete and another (ACTING LESSONS) is in progress.





Fun Tidbit:


My hosting service had their spam filters jacked up to eleven so Amy’s response was quarantined and I didn’t know it! Luckily, the spam filter did notify her and she called me to ask for the manuscript. I’m not sure every agent would be so persistent though…





When not writing, Adele is a librarian at a prestigious law school. Prior to that, she had a short stint as an index editor and over a dozen years in corporate communications and executive relationship management. Even prior to that, she was an actress and stage manager. Returning to writing was like a return to acting for Adele, especially when writing comedic dialogue, which reminds her of successful improv exercises.


She holds a theatre degree from Syracuse University and graduate degrees from the University of Maine School of Law and the University of Maryland’s iSchool. A New Hampshire native, Adele Buck has lived in the Washington, D.C. area for almost 20 years with her fantastic husband and the requisite number of neurotic cats. ACTING UP is her first novel. For more on Adele, check out her website or follow her on Twitter or Instagram.












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 Laura Rueckert. This great query connected her with her agent, Zoe Sandler at ICM Partners.





I hope you’ll be interested in my YA Fantasy with Vietnamese and Maori-inspired elements.



When an assassin kills Princess Anh’s older sister Mai, her ghost is doomed to walk the earth. Blinding rage leads her to punish loved ones until the killer is brought to justice. Before anyone can track down the murderer, King Matewa, from a country far away, requests that seventeen-year-old Anh take her sister’s place as his betrothed.



Anh couldn’t be more torn. She’s never forgotten that breathtaking moment—back before her sister’s engagement—when the tattooed king’s laughing eyes had locked with hers. But due to dyslexia and years of scholarly struggles, her chances of learning a new language are slim. She’s terrified of life in a foreign land, where she’d be unable to communicate.



Then Anh discovers evidence that Mai’s assassin came from Matewa’s country. Marrying the king would allow Anh to seek the murderer and release herself and her family from Mai’s spirit, whose thirst for blood mounts every day.



With a translator by her side, magical bracelets on her forearms, and a dagger strapped to her calf, she makes her way to the country of her sister’s assassin. But Anh hasn’t even reached her new home when the first attempt is made on her life. To save her family, Anh must find Mai’s killer…before he murders her too.



A DRAGONBIRD IN THE FERN is complete at 76K words and would appeal to fans of Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore and The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson.





Fun Tidbit:

I only sent a handful of this version of my query. Then I rewrote it. Just goes to show a query doesn’t have to be perfect—only good enough to make the agent interested in reading more. I also actually sent the query to a different agent which proves many of them really do share queries if they think someone else is a better fit!





Laura grew up in Michigan but dove into a whirlwind romance just after college, which meant moving to southern Germany without a job, but with a lot of love. She and her husband married a blink of an eye later, and they’ve now lived there happily for more years than seem possible. By day, Laura manages process and system projects, and she’s a mother of two. Nights and stolen daytime hours are devoted to living in her head: writing YA science fiction and fantasy novels. Laura is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, and her work is represented by Zoe Sandler of ICM Partners. You can find her on Twitter (@LauraRueckert) or on her blog.






QUITE THE QUERY: Katie Bucklein and THE ELEGANCE OF TYRANNY March 15, 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 Katie Bucklein. This great query connected her with her agent, Josh Adams of Adams Literary.




Nineteen-year-old Idrys Kendrik is a survivor of Idelle Realm, the kingdom where the Young God—a man of immortality and powerful magic—rose from the hells, bringing with him a reign of tyranny and monsters. He destroyed Idelle, forcing Idrys and six others to scatter into the night. Since that night sixteen years ago, he has swept across the world to conquer realms and turn them into his Fallen Thrones. A scarce few remain free.



When Idrys became a bootlegger, she was determined to forget the other survivors. Yet, after finding herself in the same city as Tristas—the renowned Northern Warden she hates for his cold and calculating heart—for a royal wedding, she realizes that dream cannot be a reality. And when the city is besieged by the heir to the Fallen Throne of Rethia, only Tristas and Idrys manage to escape.



Now, Idrys and Tristas must return to the Rethian city that haunts them, in hopes they can turn it from fallen to free. Instead, they walk into a trap: the walls of the city have succumbed to a curse, and no one can leave. If Tristas and Idrys hope to escape from this city of monsters and dark magic, they must work together to break the curse…if they don’t kill each other first.



Inspired by the board game Risk, THE ELEGANCE OF TYRANNY is a multi-POV Young Adult fantasy complete at 119,000 words with series potential. Set in a re-imagined Earth, the story follows a cunning bootlegger with a death wish, a Northern Warden famous in a hundred cities for his lies, and a princess struggling to lead in the midst of a siege. I believe it will appeal to readers of A CRIMINAL MAGIC by Lee Kelly, SHADOW & BONE by Leigh Bardugo, and MISTBORN by Brandon Sanderson.




Fun tidbit:


Josh Adams is my second agent, whom I received a referral (due to his agency being closed to queries at the time) from one of his clients I met through mentoring Pitch Wars in the same year. I first got an exclusive R&R (revise and resubmit) from him, and after turning in the R&R (which allowed me to cut 15,000 words from the whopping 119,000 the manuscript sat at) he offered rep a couple days later. It’s often not recommended to take exclusive R&Rs, but I’m so, so glad I did–Josh has been a wonder to work with!





Katie Bucklein started writing at the age of twelve, when a girl challenged her to a dare: who could finish writing a novel first? Spoiler: Katie won, and has since written Young Adult contemporary, historical fiction, and dystopian, but found fantasy to be her true love. The middle child of five—two older brothers and two younger sisters—she grew up in Southern California, went to high school in Arizona, and now studies history at Idaho State University. When she’s not devouring a book, she spends her days researching stories of past civilizations and people, with an intention to one day become a real life Abigail Chase, and her nights holed up in her writing cave, fueled by music and insomnia. Katie is represented by Josh Adams of Adams Literary. For more info on Katie, check out her blog, or follow her on Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.



Monday Musings: A Writer’s Bill of Rights February 27, 2017



Monday Musings Image




It’s hard to believe, but in January of this year I celebrated my five year blogging anniversary! When I started posting, I wanted to share my ups and downs in publishing. What I learned as I went through the process. In those five years, I’ve used this blog to share agent insight into first pages, success stories from hardworking writers, and queries that pulled people out of the trenches. I’ve done all this in an effort to help educate writers about the ins and outs of publishing.


As of late, I’ve been receiving a lot of questions about working with agents. What questions to ask during the call, expectations during submission, and handful of other important topics. Then I saw this post recently from literary agent, Janet Reid (aka Query Shark) and was convinced it was time for this post.


Below, I’ve drafted what I want to call a Writer’s Bill of Rights. This is a list of things that should be kept in mind when you move out of the query trenches and into a working relationship with an agent.


There’s a long period of time in writing when you simply focus on your story. You spend hours making sure your plot doesn’t have any holes, your characterization is thorough, and the pacing is spot on. It may take rounds upon rounds of drafts, revisions, and CP feedback before you get the story right.


Once it’s right, it’s time for the query trenches. This is only the first part of the publishing process and it rests firmly in your own hands. I’ve written many posts about how to approach querying. How the responsibility falls on your shoulders to do your research. To take the time to make it a thoughtful process, choosing only those agents who would be a good fit for your work.


At this point, you stay in the trenches until hopefully you connect with an agent. If, and when, that does happen, the responsibility again falls on you to ask the right questions to make sure you and the agent are on the same page in regards to your entire writing career. “The call” is a critical conversation because now the tables are turned. The agent is interested in you and your story. It’s on you to ask questions about the agent’s process in regards to edits, communication, and the submission period.


If you’ve done your due diligence, and you and the agent have the same philosophy on the future of your book, it’s time to sign. There are a ton of great agents out there, many of whom give up their nights and weekends to help their clients. But what happens if things don’t go as planned? If what you originally discussed with the agent never comes to fruition?


This leads me to the point of today’s post: A Writer’s Bill of Rights…


  1. You have the right to an open and honest communication with an agent. If you’ve done your job, then you and your agent should be on the same page as far as to how often you speak. Once a week. Once a month. Things will vary based on whether you’re submitting or working on a new project. Let’s be clear though, if you send an email you have a right to hear back within a reasonable period.


  1. You have the right to know how long edits will take. In your very first discussion, you should ask how long the agent expects you to work on revisions prior to submission. You can even ask if they have a submission period in mind so you know what type of deadline you’re working toward. This is incredibly important. I’ve heard many stories where someone signs and a year later they’re still working on edits. Be sure you know what kind of process the agent has in mind. Also, be aware that these timelines may shift – also a discussion you and your agent must have. It’s important to remember that when you send a manuscript out for submission you’ve only got one shot with that editor. The agent wants to make sure it is your best work.


  1. You have the right to fully be in the loop during the entire submission process. This means you and your agent discuss who is going to see your manuscript in the first, and subsequent, rounds. This conversation may also include how many houses you submit to first, as well as what the agent has in mind as far as reading deadlines. Some agents will tell editors they want to hear back by a certain date. Others will do a regular check-in with the editors. As the writer, you and your agent must be on the same page as to how this process works.


  1. You have the right to see your submission list. When your book first goes out, you should have a good idea of where it’s going. Many agents put this info into a spreadsheet with notes on when it was submitted, when first contact is made with an editor, and any follow-up calls.


  1. You have the right to regular check-ins. It’s not fair to expect that an agent is going to call you every day, or even every week, if there’s no movement on your submission. But, there should be some type of agreement as to when you will get a status update on where your manuscript stands with editors.


  1. You have the right to know about rejections. Most agents will ask if you want to see the editors feedback after a rejection. You should have a choice as to whether or not you see this information.


  1. You have the right to an open communication on new projects. In the “call” period, you should have already discussed with the potential agent what new ideas you are working on. This would also be the time to discuss writing in new categories or genres. The expectations should be clear on what you work on next. You also have the right to know about reading periods. In most cases, you are NOT the agent’s only client. You need to respect they are only one person with a limited period of reading time. Make sure you agree up front how you will communicate about new projects, and how long it will take them to read and get you feedback.


There is a certain give and take to the agent/writer relationship. Things will not always fall into place. Emergencies come up. Life gets in the way. Misunderstandings happen. As a writer, it is on you to be professional and respectful of the relationship. The longer you work with an agent, the more you begin to understand how they work, but this does not take away from what you are entitled to as part of the process. If you are ever concerned about how things are going with your agent, it falls on you to communicate with them. To discuss your expectations. It’s only through these honest conversations can you have a real partnership.







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