Chasing my crazy dream in the writing world…

MONDAY MUSINGS: Revisiting QUERY 101 June 13, 2016



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Starting this Wednesday, I will be jumping in to help judge the next round of Query Kombat. If you’re not familiar with this writing contest, it’s a great event hosted by Michelle Hauck, Laura Heffernan, and Michael Anthony. In the contest, two queries are put together and they “battle” via judges’ comments. The more successful, compelling query moves on to the next round for the chance to eventually be the overall winner.



This will be my third year of judging and I’m always struck by how clever and interesting writers can make their queries. This had me thinking about the total structure of a query and how daunting at times it can be to put one together. Summarize your entire story in three paragraphs? Add voice, characterization, and an amazing hook? The idea alone can be downright frightening at times.



So today, I want to go back and share a post from my QUERY 101 series about structure. In this post I share the overall basics of putting a query together, as well as discuss the definition of a hook, and share examples from some of my favorite stories.



In reposting, I hope to make the difficult process of putting together a query a bit easier. If you have any questions or comments, I’m always happy to help!



Here is the original post…



In the first post in the Query 101 series, we talked about query basics. Today, we are going to talk specifics of structure: greeting, hook, book & cook.


Let’s start at the beginning:





1) Always begin with addressing the literary agent by name. Do not address your query as “Dear Agent.” Be courteous. Do your research and find out the correct spelling of the agent’s name.



2)  Address one agent at a time in the heading. There may be many people in that particular literary agency who take your category/genre, but each should get their own individual email or letter. The last things agents want to see is they are part of one long email chain.



note: Check submission guidelines. Some agencies ask that you query agents one at a time. Others have a policy that a “no” from one is a “no” from all. Make sure you respect the agency’s individual submission guidelines.






There is plenty of debate on the internet as to whether or not you need to personalize your query. Some say just get to the “meat” of your story. Others say personalization means you have researched the agent and know your manuscript would be a good fit for their list.



I stand firmly in the “personalization” camp. Now, that does not mean your greeting has to be flowery and over-the-top. Simply stating that you are familiar with their client list, mentioning a comment they made in an interview, or explaining that your manuscript would be a fit for their #MSWL (Manuscript Wish List) is enough.



After personalization, some people add title, category/genre and word count of their manuscript. Again, there is debate about where this information should go. Some say at the beginning. Others say leave it at the end. My advice is to put it where it flows best with your query. No matter where you place, it is MANDATORY you include this information as the agent needs to know they rep. your type of manuscript.






This  is the intriguing portion of your story. It’s a one-liner that pulls the agent in and encourages them to read on.



Some great examples of hooks from successful queries:





16-year-old Dusty Everhart might make a regular habit of breaking into houses late at night, but she’s no criminal.



Mindy McGinnis’ NOT A DROP TO DRINK:


Lynn was nine the first time she killed to defend the pond.



Mary Elizabeth Summer’s TRUST ME, I’M LYING:


Julep Dupree is not a real person. In fact, Julep isn’t even her real name.







This is 4-6 sentences that summarizes your manuscript. It hints at the main plot, introduces your protagonist and antagonist. Your sinker (final line) leaves the agent wanting for more – but DOES NOT reveal the ending.



A few notes about “The Book”


– Try not to introduce more than 2-3 characters. More than that and the information gets confusing.


– Be specific about the stakes. Remember agent is looking for character, conflict, and cost.


– When possible, try to insert a touch of voice – this helps bring the story to life and gives agent an idea of what to expect in sample pages.


– Query should be written in third person, present tense. I would also highly recommend you stay away from gimmicks like beginning with a question or writing your query in the voice of your main character. I’ve talked to many agents who say this approach immediately turns them off.







This is your bio. If you have publishing credits include them. If you have education or internships that are pertinent to creative writing or publishing, mention them. Writing contest wins? Include those too. If you don’t have any publishing credits, that is OK. Plenty of agents say they have signed debut authors without any publishing history. A simple line about who you are, and what you do, is fine.






Thank agent for their time. I would also use the space underneath signature to include info about your social media presence: website, Twitter handle, Facebook page, etc.



This is merely a structured outline of a query. It is up to you as the writer to fill it in as you see fit. Whether you want to include voice, or a certain type of personalization, that is entirely up to you. The main thing is to keep it professional and one page. Follow submission guidelines and agents will see you are not only serious about your book, but about your writing career too.






BEHIND THE CURTAIN: A Working Relationship With A Cover Designer June 10, 2016



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One of the things I’m most intrigued about when I talk to writers about self-publishing is the unique relationship they have with their cover designer. Almost always there seems to be this cool give and take of ideas and creativity between author and artist. A synergy that builds as the two develop and create the right tone and mood for a writer’s work.



Today I’ve asked Cover Designer, Ashley Ruggirello to share a “Behind The Curtain” look at what happens when an author and artist collaborate on a book cover. For any of you considering jumping into the world of self-publishing, I think her honest and open comments will help give you an idea of what it takes to have a successful experience with a designer.




Amy: How does a writer usually approach you to work on a cover?


Ashley: It varies per project. I work with a handful of publishers, so many times it’s the project manager that approaches me, though the questions tend to be the same whether it’s a publisher or direct author. Many are curious of three things: cost, timeline, and portfolio. Since many get ahold of me through my website, the portfolio is often taken care of through that. Cost tends to be more important to an author/publisher than timeline, which is why I do my best to work within someone’s specific budget, or offer payment plans to make the cost more manageable. That’s not to say timeline isn’t important, either. I’ve been able to complete a full cover within on days time, but others have taken much longer, dependent on inspiration, stock photography, etc…

It’s important, with any cover artist, to make sure expectations are laid out and we’re both on the same page. It’s a working relationship, after all.




Amy: Are there certain categories/genres you prefer to work on?


Ashley: I tend to be approached by authors who write within the genres I write, myself—paranormal, fantasy, sci-fi, etc… And so I have the most experience with designing for those genres. Recently I’ve been branching into more of the contemporary genre, which is a fun contrast to all the sparkles and magic I’m used to.




Amy: How does the collaboration process work? Do you read an excerpt of the book or a synopsis to get a feel for the story?


Ashley: I always start with one, seemingly simple question: If you could have your ideal cover, no limitations, what would it be? And, like I said, it seems like it might be simple, but it’s a great way to open up the dialogue about what an author is looking for, what styles they’re attracted to, etc… That’s why I always follow-up requesting published examples of covers they love, love, love or they hate with a passion burning hotter than one thousand suns. These two requests, coupled together, give me more of a well-rounded picture of what they’re looking for.

Many times I don’t have an opportunity to read a full synopsis or even excerpt of the book, so the design relies on the author being able to convey enough for me to properly capture their story. A short summary or blurb sometimes works.





Amy: How much back and forth happens between you and the author before the original design?


Ashley: This honestly varies so much. Like I said, I’ve nailed a cover on the first go around, with just small color or font tweaks to reach a final cover concept. Other times, I’ve sent five+ unique concepts, with none quite hitting the nail on the head, and so we work through it together, picking elements that work and those that don’t.





Amy: How many cover examples do you usually create for a client to select from?


Ashley: Right off the bat, I tend to send one or two. You don’t want to overwhelm the author with too many options, because realistically you can’t put everything into one cover, and I’ve had instances where an author wants to incorporate multiple elements from all the cover options. I stand by my motto that simplicity is key, otherwise known as less is more. Sending one or two cover concepts, or a few variations of one concept, is usually my preferred route to start. If I need to make multiple unique concept from there, it’s just part of the process, and we’ll keep playing around with designs until we land on something with potential.





Amy: What happens if an author does not like any of the presented designs? 


Ashley: This is an unfortunate scenario, but since art is so subjective, it’s bound to happen once in a while. I never like feeling as if I’ve failed the author or the project, but in the end I understand the importance of a compelling cover to sell your book, so I will always advocate in favor of the book. If I end up not being the right designer, we come to a mutual agreement to terminate the contract, and I’ll suggest some other designers who might be a better fit.

If the designer prefers to stick with me, I tend to ask for a little more author participation, by either pulling a previous concept into Microsoft Paint and physically moving elements around.




Amy: On average, how much time would you say it takes from origin of project to final design?


Ashley: Average tends to be within about a week or two of project start. Of course I always have to factor in other projects in my queue. But, just to be on the safe side, an author should approach their designer while they’re still in the process of editing their manuscript. Flukes can happen, and you want to be on the safe side. Also, authors tend to be anxious to publish their stories once edits are completed, and I’d have to be the factor holding that up if a cover art project doesn’t go as smoothly as intended.




Amy: What are some important things authors need to keep in mind when working with a cover designer?


Ashley: One thing I stress to any author/publisher who’s seeking a cover artist, is to make sure the designer’s aesthetic matches yours. A designer might technically be very talented, and capable of making a fantastic cover, but if the style doesn’t match what you’re looking for, the designer isn’t likely to make you as happy as you could be.


All artist are different, and have their own set of strengths and weaknesses, so research, research, research is important.


Beyond that, I actually have a blog post of the 5 Essentials to Prepare for your Book Cover Artist.




12985474_10153494971371752_4630433540483565755_nAshley “A.M.” Ruggirello is an author, designer and doting wife living in beer and cheese land, WI. When not lost in the fictional world of Skyrim, she can be found exploring typography, manipulating responsive DIVS, or with pen & paper in hand (figuratively though, as she uses Google Docs much more often), writing her novels. She considers herself a designer by nature and writing at heart, though she always wanted to make video game walk-throughs as a child. Ashley’s favorite color is chartreuse, and she has an undeniable attraction to moss (not of the Kate variety).

For more on Ashley, check out her website (Cardboard Monet) or follow her on Twitter (@amRuggs).


Monday Musings: Are You Asking The Right Questions? January 18, 2016


In light of the fact that Sun versus Snow will soon be upon us (February 1), I wanted to talk a little bit about the topic of literary agents. This year we have 17 amazing agents who will be stopping by to check out the selected entries. And while it’s awesome to be picked for a contest, and even cooler to get a request, there is one thing every writer needs to think about: is the requesting agent a good match for them and their work?



Now I know this is VERY HARD to contemplate considering the thrill you feel when you get a request, but I caution you to think about who would be a great partner, advisor, and champion as you try to navigate the publishing world. Having been in the query trenches for a loooooong time before connecting with my own agent, I understand the despair you feel when you get rejection after rejection. When someone does show an interest in your work, it feels like the heavens open and the angels sing (I get that too). But in these situations, cooler heads need to prevail.



So how do you go about making the most informed choice? Well I’ll be honest, there are no guarantees in this business. Agents will go to other agencies and perhaps not take you along. Others may leave agenting altogether. But I think if you ask the right questions (no matter how uncomfortable), you can get close to aligning yourself with an agent who will be with you for the long haul. And let me tell you after interviewing 60+ agents, there are some incredible people out there to work with!



I recently went through my own list of questions for “The Call” and thought it’d be helpful to share them today. Again, asking these things may not guarantee that you connect with the right person, but it will help to cut through some of the worries that come along with the process.



1. What made you connect with my story? What types of changes need to be made prior to submission? You can even go further here and ask for a timeline of how this process will work.



2. Who do you have in mind to submit to? How will you share that list with me? How frequently will I get updates? Can I make my own suggestions for editors I’d like to include? Will you provide copies of rejection emails for me to review?



3. What is your working style? Do you prefer email or phone calls? What is your communication turnaround time (24 hours? 48 hours?). You need to be clear about your expectations.



4. Talk about what you’re also working on. Does it fit within the parameters of what they rep? This is critical because if you write YA, but you’ve got a Picture Book you want to submit, and the agent doesn’t rep. PBs, then you’re going to have to find a second agent.



5. If your next manuscript fits within what they rep., but agent doesn’t like it, what happens next?



6. Talk about your long term career aspirations. Does the agent only want to work with you on this one book, or do they want be a partner for your entire career?



7. Ask about their sales. Are they predominantly in your category/genre or others? This goes to the agent’s connections in the industry and how well they know editors who are looking for your type of book.



8. Does the agent only help with the submission/offer process or do they also provide marketing guidance?



9. Can you talk to current clients?



10. What happens if you decide to part ways? Do you get a copy of your submission list? As a writer protecting your work, you must consider all scenarios.



The actual process of “The Call” can be nerve-racking, but you need to approach it like any other business transaction. Think about your work as a valuable commodity and treat it, and all who you allow to touch it, as such.


Do you have your own list of questions for “The Call”? Anything you think needs to be added here? Please feel free to share in the comments.






W.O.W. – Writer Odyssey Wednesday with Brittany Cavallaro August 19, 2015




Passion. It’s what drives us as writers. It can come in many forms: music, food, art, and of course, books.


What I love about today’s W.O.W. with Brittany Cavallaro is she used her passion for Sherlock Holmes to write a Young Adult manuscript where the main character is the great-great-granddaughter of the famous sleuth himself. The idea of taking one of mystery’s greatest detectives and transforming his adventures into a modern day tale where his relative is now the lead is fascinating. It’s this passion that made her book, A STUDY IN CHARLOTTE, a standout, eventually attracting the attention of an agent and editor.


Many thanks to Brittany for sharing her writing journey today…



At what age did you truly know you wanted to be a writer?



I knew pretty young. I was always scratching away in notebooks, writing poems about ridiculous things (I have an actual notebook filled with poetic dialogue between Mulder and Scully; I have no shame), writing stories. I was really lucky that my parents paid attention to what I loved to do and supported me. Because of them, I took creative writing classes in the summer and eventually applied for and won a scholarship to go to an arts boarding school. In a way, I almost regret my single-mindedness, since it would have been really fun to chase down some other dreams at some point along the way (painting! marine biology!), though I’m sure I would have come back to writing eventually.



When did you complete your first manuscript?


Not until my MFA in poetry, actually. I’d written quite a bit before that, but I’d never compiled my poems into a manuscript. As for writing novels, other than a misfire when I was in high school, I didn’t attempt one until my twenty-fifth birthday. I remember lying on the couch, thinking about the summer stretching ahead of me—I was, and still am, in grad school—and kicking around an idea for a scene set against Lake Michigan, at my favorite waterfront dive up in Wisconsin’s Door County, and I began to imagine the disaffected, badass girl that tended bar there. That became my first manuscript, and the one I queried agents with.



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



I was lucky. The first manuscript I queried agents with landed me mine (the incredible Lana Popovic at Chalberg and Sussman). She had such smart, incisive ideas for revision; I felt like we were speaking the same language. I also showed her the first forty pages of A STUDY IN CHARLOTTE, which she was excited about too, and I loved that she was interested in my other projects. This was back in fall 2013. We’d been planning on going out with that first full manuscript but decided in the end that I should finish writing CHARLOTTE, which I did in six crazy, obsessive, caffeinated weeks. That other manuscript is in a drawer; I’m not really sure if I’ll pull it out again. Though I loved it, it was definitely a starter novel.




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?



My first stab at a query made me sound pretty stupid, I think, but I was lucky to have some agented and published friends who were willing to help me whip it into fighting trim. I listed comps to things I adored (Laini Taylor, Buffy) but that, until I actually wrote a query, I hadn’t realized had influenced my manuscript as much as they did. Thinking about those influences was a really useful exercise when I sat down to revise.




I love how you talk about Sherlock Holmes in the bio on your website. Did you always know somewhere deep down you’d write something involving him one day?


Oh God, yes. I’m a passionate Sherlockian and have been since I was a kid, though the most recent iteration of that obsession took root about five years ago, when I rediscovered the stories, the wonderful BBC radio adaptation, and the Jeremy Brett Granda series all in the same summer. I sort of walked around in a Victorian fugue state for months. That period spurred my writing a Sherlock Holmes murder mystery in poems, because I loved the language of the stories so much and wanted to steal some of it for my own work. And then, as the television adaptations began to come out, Sherlock and Elementary, etc., I began to think more about the process of adaptation. I love both those shows, but I got increasingly frustrated that none of them were willing to cast the genius role, the Sherlock, as a girl. I started writing A STUDY IN CHARLOTTE as both a love letter to the original stories and as a fix-it to address that frustrations.




Can you give us a short summary of your call with your agent, Lana Popovic? How did you know she was the right fit for you?


I knew absolutely when I got her long editorial letter before I’d even signed with her. It was like she was inside my own head, but smarter. She was able to pinpoint what I did well and what parts of the manuscript were broken and needed fixing. I revised and resubmitted, and though I had interest from other agents, I sort of said ‘yes!’ the moment she called to offer me representation. It just felt like an incredible fit from the get-go, and she’s been my best reader, and my stalwart champion, since.




The writing process is grueling and querying even more difficult. What one piece of advice can you impart to aspiring writers to encourage them to keep working towards their dream?


Don’t be afraid to take a step back, if you need to, and recharge. After I finished the first draft of CHARLOTTE and a quick, intensive revision, I was sort of artistically useless for months. The best thing I did during that time was read for pleasure. I read everything, from the fantasy novels I loved as a kid to really fabulous new literary fiction, and I wouldn’t let myself analyze it critically or compare my own work to it. I just let myself enjoy it, and when I felt full and happy again, buoyed by all that reading, I was ready to go back to work.






Study in Charlotte



The last thing sixteen-year-old Jamie Watson–writer and great-great-grandson of the John Watson–wants is a rugby scholarship to Sherringford, a Connecticut prep school just an hour away from his estranged father. But that’s not the only complication: Sherringford is also home to Charlotte Holmes, the famous detective’s enigmatic, fiercely independent great-great-granddaughter, who’s inherited not just his genius but also his vices, volatile temperament, and expertly hidden vulnerability. Charlotte has been the object of his fascination for as long as he can remember–but from the moment they meet, there’s a tense energy between them, and they seem more destined to be rivals than anything else.

Then a Sherringford student dies under suspicious circumstances ripped straight from the most terrifying of the Holmes stories, and Jamie and Charlotte become the prime suspects. Convinced they’re being framed, they must race against the police to conduct their own investigation. As danger mounts, it becomes clear that nowhere is safe and the only people they can trust are each other.




Brittany CBrittany Cavallaro is the author of A Study in Charlotte, forthcoming from Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins in March 2016. She is the author of the poetry collection Girl-King (University of Akron) and is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. She earned her BA in literature from Middlebury College and her MFA in poetry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Currently, she’s a PhD candidate in English literature at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She lives in Wisconsin with her fiance, cat, and collection of deerstalker caps. Find her at her website,, or on Twitter @skippingstones.







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 Tom Torre. This great Middle Grade query connected him with his agent, Dawn Frederick at Red Sofa Literary.



I am writing you today seeking representation of my 54,000 word middle-grade adventure novel, COPERNICUS NERDICUS. It targets readers who are gamers at heart by bringing to life video game elements while combining the hilarious adventures of Michael Buckley’s NERDS series, with the robotic action packed pages of J.V. Kade’s BOT WARS.


Thirteen-year-old gamer, Copernicus ‘Nic’ Wilhelm, has one chance to win fifty thousand dollars and prevent his dad from losing his laboratory to the devious inventor, Geoffrey Zorn–The Digital Zone video game tournament. But when Geoffrey Zorn unveils a new virtual gaming console called EVO to be used in the finals, Nic only has a week to master a futuristic robotic fighting game.


Easy enough for Nic, that is, until the game fights back.


When EVO transforms into a short-circuiting attack robot, the term video game realism takes on a completely new meaning. With the help of his friends, Nic re-programs the rampaging robot, but that wasn’t the only problem. EVO was also installed with a brainwashing microchip by the vile criminal organization, C.O.R.E (Coalition of Rogue Engineers) in order to kidnap tournament contestants, including Nic’s best friend, and transform them into pilots for an army of kid-controlled robots straight out of the game.


With the police now controlled by C.O.R.E too, Nic and his friends must pummel their way through C.O.R.E troops using everything from stink bombs to slime cannons in order to rescue the contestants and discover proof of Zorn’s involvement in the mind control plot. Meanwhile, a fleet of robotic drones is preparing to invade Nic’s hometown of Twin Valley, and ultimately the world. Nic is in a race against time to put a stop to C.O.R.E and ensure the tournament goes on, before his gamer guile and new robot’s battery, runs out.



Fun Tidbit:


I revised my query a total of 8 times before I settled on this final version. I’m still not completely happy with it LOL. Don’t think I ever will be!


Final querying stats : Queries Sent : 62

Full Requests : 12

Offers of Rep : 3





TomTTom is an IT whiz by day (just think of one of those guys from Office Space), and a comic book artist, video game buff, and middle-grade writer by night. After a few stints as colorist in the comic book industry, he completed his first major middle grade novel, COPERNICUS NERDICUS, which combines his love for video games and robotic warfare. Under the wings of expert literary agent, DAWN FREDERICK of RED SOFA LITERARY, he is now in the “submission trenches” – submitting both COPERNICUS NERDICUS and his latest middle-grade conquest, LUCAS PEREGRINUS and the ESCAPE FROM MANUKI ISLAND.


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


Follow Tom on Twitter @CopernicusNerd and his blog




BEHIND THE CURTAIN: What Happens When You Co-Write A Book? May 6, 2015

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I’ve always been curious about writers who co-author a book. A hundred questions race through my head when I think about the process. How do they select a concept? Who writes the main character? What’s the process when it comes time to sell?


Today, with the help of the fabulous Jen Malone, I’m pulling back the curtain on the co-writing process. In her own words, Jen shares how she and writer, Gail Nall, tackled the concept and writing duties for their upcoming Middle Grade novel, You’re Invited. While Jen addresses some of the larger issues, she continues her explanation of the process in a second post over on I highly suggest you head over that way tomorrow and check out the rest of this topic. It is fascinating! Oh, and p.s. make sure you scroll all the way to end of this post for a special giveaway offer!




On Co-Writing

By Jen Malone




I share most authors’ fascination with co-writing, even now that I’ve co-written a series alongside the talented Gail Nall. After all, writing a novel is such a deeply personal thing and we all have our own quirky writing styles and habits. How do you bring someone else into all that mess? With Gail and my middle grade series, You’re Invited, about to launch, I’m weighing in on just how this co-writing gig worked for us. Of course, I sat down to write one post and it grew and grew and grew, so this is going to jump over to for Part Two (see below for link). Part One below discusses the early process of brainstorming and selling our joint venture.


Obviously, everyone’s experience is different, but here’s how Gail and I pulled ours off:






Gail and I had been critique partners for about a year and a half before I approached her about co-writing this crazy “tween party planners” idea I had. I’d sold my debut, At Your Service, a few months prior and wanted to write more middle grade, but I also had a young adult novel (Wanderlost, HarperTeen, 2016) out on sub and thought co-writing could be a way to keep some skin in the game on the MG bookshelves, while devoting more of my time to building a YA list (somehow I thought co-writing would take half the time, but—duh, Jen!—that wasn’t necessarily the case).


Gail and I were both drawn to fun (and funny) contemporary stories about tween girls, so I hoped she would be excited about running with my idea. Luckily, she was! We’d also often joked that our writing sensibilities and sense of humor were so similar we could each finish each others’ books if need be. Our point was proven when we submitted sample chapters to our agents and even they guessed wrong when asked which of us had written each chapter. It also helps a lot that we love and respect each other’s writing and are friendly offline, despite living about ten states apart and having only met in person once for an hour. (At that point. We’ve since spent THREE whole days together at BEA).


Even though the initial concept for the series was my idea, I didn’t have much fleshed out when I approached Gail, and that was deliberate on my part. I wanted us both to have equal ownership over the books and our first plotting call was both of us tripping over each other with our “and what if…” ideas. We spent about an hour and a half on the phone coming up with some broad character sketches and a rough outline, then went off on our own to develop the two characters we’d each write (the book is told in alternating chapters from four friends’ first person POVs.) We sent each other character worksheets that described our two girls’ backgrounds and interests down to tiny details. Having those sheets as reference really helped us write the other’s characters into our own chapters and, after knowing these girls through two books, I now feel like I could probably write her characters’ chapters and I’d bet Gail would say the same.







A crazy thing happened between the time Gail and I first discussed this book and the time we wrote the proposal for it—Gail sold her debut middle grade novel, Breaking the Ice… to the same editor I was already working with at Aladdin. Talk about a happy accident! Having one editor who was already familiar with both of our writing made it much easier to sell our idea, but also helped us going forward because we both had relationships with Amy (Cloud, our fabulous editor) outside of our joint one. There was no feeling of “does my editor actually like my writing or am I just here because my cowriter dragged me in?” (note: Writer = Neurotic Maniac.)


More nitty gritty: our agents had a brief conversation ahead of time to decide who would handle submitting the proposal and who would handle negotiations and split those duties. When it was time to sign, Simon &Schuster basically divided our contract in half, so instead of signing one joint contract and having our agents separate the accounting, we each signed a contract that offered half the advance money and half the royalty rates. This way all monies were being evenly divided by S&S before being sent to our agents. This made it no-fuss for our agents through the life of the book. I’ve heard of other situations (anthologies, for example) where one author’s agent takes on the beast of a job of dividing all incoming monies among the contributing authors.


That’s all we have space for here, but later this week I’ll be posting on about the drafting, revision, and promoting process.


But we can’t leave you without a fun giveaway, so here’s your chance to win a digital ARC of You’re Invited that’s been lovingly annotated by both Gail and myself with fun behind-the-scenes info and tidbits AND a copy of the song our main character Becca writes, which the talented Grace Mann has composed and recorded. (We’re more than a little in love.) To enter the giveaway, please leave a comment below with your contact information (email or Twitter handle). Entry window is open now and will close Monday, May 11 at 5 p.m. EST!




You're Invited cover high res




Four best friends start a party-planning business in this fresh, funny tween novel from the authors of At Your Service and Breaking the Ice.


Twelve-year-old Sadie loves helping her mom with her wedding planning business, and with Sadie’s mad organizational skills, she’s a natural! That’s why it’s so devastating when her mother “fires” her after a Little Mermaid–themed wedding goes awry.


Enter Sadie’s best friends: sporty Vi, ace student Lauren, and boy-crazy Becca. The girls decide that in order to get Sadie’s mom to reconsider, they have to make her see how amazing Sadie is at party planning. Except no one’s gonna hire a twelve-year-old to plan a wedding. A birthday party, though? Definite possibility.


Before long, RSVP—your one-stop shop for the most creative parties in town—is born. Of course, Sadie can’t wait to prove herself to her mom, but the other girls also have their reasons for enlisting: Vi has her eye on the perfect gift for her hardworking dad, and Becca’s all aflush at the thought of connecting with Ryan, the new Irish cutie in town. And though Lauren thinks she’s too busy with summer studies to “officially” join, she’s willing to help out in any way she can.


But in this particular party-planning business, nothing goes according to plan! Sadie’s mom is a perpetual no-show, Vi’s archrival is dead set on ruining her summer, Becca can’t seem to get Ryan to glance in her direction, and Lauren keeps choosing studying over her friends. Is the girls’ friendship strong enough to survive a business? Or does RSVP spell the end of these BFFs?



JenMaloneJen Malone writes books for tweens and teens. Her debut, At Your Service published with Simon & Schuster/Aladdin MIX in 2014 and her new series, You’re Invited (Simon & Schuster), co written with Gail Nall, launches with Book #1 in 2015. She has three young adult titles forthcoming with HarperCollins, beginning with Map to the Stars in Summer 2015. Jen lives outside Boston with her husband and three children, teaches at Boston University, loves school visits, and has a “thing” for cute hedgehog pictures. You can learn more about her and her books at






QUITE THE QUERY with Annie Cardi and THE CHANCE YOU WON’T RETURN April 10, 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 Annie Cardi. This great query connected her with her agent, Taylor Martindale.



Sixteen-year-old Alex Winchester’s mother starts calling herself Amelia Earhart—decades after the famous female pilot disappeared. This isn’t the first time Alex’s mother has struggled with mental health issues, so Alex and her father hope the delusion will work itself out. But a confrontation with one of Alex’s teachers makes Alex realize that this is going to be a long struggle for the whole family. Now Alex faces the responsibility of helping care for her young siblings and a mother who doesn’t recognize her.


Alex doesn’t feel like she can share her family situation with anyone, not even her friends. They assume Alex is ditching them to be with Jim Wiley, a cute junior famous for crashing a car into his house and who has suddenly taken an interest in Alex. Balancing her social life and the secret at home becomes harder than Alex ever imagined—and to top it all off, she’s the only person at her school failing drivers ed. Suddenly, the one person Alex can talk to is her mother, who spends her time mapping out historical flights. But when Alex realizes that Amelia Earhart’s final flight is approaching, she wonders if she can stop her mother from disappearing forever.


An accident involving Alex, her mom, and a late night car ride puts Alex’s mom in a residential care facility for extensive therapy. There, Alex tells her mother that she doesn’t want her to disappear like Amelia Earhart. She has to come home. Not long after being at the hospital, Alex begins to receive letters from her mother–not signed as Amelia Earhart. Although Alex knows that her mother working through deep emotional issues will be a long process, she’s hopeful that her mom will one day return.



Query Tidbit:


I submitted to about 15-20 agents before signing with Taylor over the course of about six months. I had a big spreadsheet of agents I’d sent to, what their submissions policies were, the date I sent something out, and any info I heard back from them. I really appreciated when agents (particular those who requested fulls) would offer their feedback. I know agents are so busy working with their current clients and reading new submissions that even sending a few sentences of thoughtful comments can be a big boost in continuing to send work out.


When Taylor read my full manuscript, she said there was a lot about it that she did like but had some suggestions for revision and wanted to know if I would work with her on an exclusive revision. (The original ending was SO different, and Taylor is a big part of how that changed.) Getting to see Taylor’s suggestions and working with her a little before signing with her actually worked out really well for me. I got a sense of how she worked and what things she picked up in a manuscript, and showed me that we’d be a really good match.


I’ve loved working with Taylor, and I know at some points in the querying process I doubted myself and my story. But querying isn’t about finding someone who likes your manuscript–it’s about finding someone who really loved it and gets it and gets you as a writer. That can take a while, but don’t give up!





chance you wont return
(Now available via Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBooks and other retail outlets)






Annie MAnnie Cardi holds an MFA in creative writing from Emerson College and a BA from the University of Virginia. Her short stories have appeared in The Georgetown Review, Vestal Review, Juked, and other publications. In 2011, PEN New England selected her as a winner of the Susan P. Bloom Children’s Book Discovery Award for the manuscript that would become her debut young adult novel, The Chance You Won’t Return. Annie lives near Boston with her husband and a portrait of a sea captain. You can find her sharing funny gifs and pictures of corgis at: Blog Facebook Twitter Tumblr.

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