Chasing my crazy dream in the writing world…

W.O.W. – Writer Odyssey Wednesday with Katy Upperman February 10, 2016





I love all the authors who have participated in my W.O.W. series. Each and every one of them has had their own unique and interesting path to success and I never get tired of hearing their stories.


Today’s journey with Katy Upperman is one I’m sure will stick with you. Katy has had her ups and downs with publishing, but she continued to fight and believe in her work. That perseverance led to her debut, KISSING MAX HOLDEN being picked up by Swoon Reads.


Congrats to Katy and many thanks to her for allowing me to share her journey today.



Amy: What inspires you to write Young Adult fiction?



Katy: Originally… I’m not sure? When I started my first manuscript in 2008, I was a stay-at-home mom with a deployed husband, and I needed a creative outlet. I sat down, opened a Word document, and started writing. The words that filled my earliest pages were those of a teenage protagonist. Not long after, I found Sarah Dessen and Suzanne Collins and Jenny Han, and realized YA was an actual thing. Since then, I’ve read young adult novels almost exclusively and I’ve never even tried to write anything else. I’m drawn to YA fiction because it explores a time of intense change and growth — you’re not an adult, but your definitely not a kid anymore, either. Our teen years are also often when we fall in love for the first time and, being a romance writer, I enjoy exploring those feelings and challenges.




Amy: Was KISSING MAX HOLDEN your first completed manuscript?



Katy: It wasn’t! I wrote a very long, very convoluted, very melodramatic contemporary YA first. It went nowhere even though I queried the heck out of it. KISSING MAX HOLDEN came next, though the story it is today is VERY different from the original draft. It’s much, much better now!




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



Katy: I have the most amazing CPs and beta readers. They are thoughtful and honest and super savvy, and their critiques come from a place of love and support, which makes them much easier to absorb and implement. They’re all incredibly talented writers, and I’ve learned so much from trading manuscripts with them. Additionally, they are the people I turn to when I’m stuck on a plot point, struggling with character motivations, or just generally having rough writing day. I feel so lucky to have them in my corner.




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?



Katy: I am terribly wordy. In the past, my query summaries have been three or four times too long because my inclination is to include as many details as possible. I always need my CPs to help me narrow my summary’s focus so I can get to the heart of the story and pique the reader’s interest without saying too much. So, yeah, I’m definitely a “several tries” kind of girl.




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



Katy: Victoria is fantastic! When she offered representation, I’d recently left my first agent, so I knew exactly what I didn’t want in a new agent. During our first call, Victoria was wonderfully enthusiastic and very easy to communicate with. She had awesome ideas for revising and strengthening my manuscript, and her submission plan was solid. I was lucky enough to receive offers from a few other agents, but I felt like I clicked best with Victoria. It’s been a couple of years since I signed with her, and I’m still so happy with my decision.




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



Katy: Uh, yes. Up until KISSING MAX HOLDEN sold to Swoon Reads/Macmillan, I thought about giving up writing literally every day. While finding my agent was a relatively painless process, submissions have not been easy. I had several close-calls with different manuscripts before MAX was picked up and while editors said lovely things about my writing, I was discouraged. It’s tough to work toward a goal while people are telling you no left and right — especially when it seems like everyone else is finding success.



I kept writing because, simply, it’s what I love to do. Even when I felt like an utter failure, the act of writing — focusing on the craft and the creativity — brought me joy. Plus, there was no way I was going to let my daughter see me give up on my dream of being a published author. In hindsight, I’m really glad I didn’t quit. :-)





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



Katy: There are three bits of advice that have had the greatest impact on me and my writing, and there’s no way I can pick just one, so I’m breaking the rules and sharing all three…



1. Read, read, read. Mostly in your category/genre of interest, but I think it’s important to stretch, too. I’ve learned so much from the middle grade and adult novels I’ve read over the past several years.


2. Become a part of the writing community. Surround yourself with people who are supportive and sincere, people who want you to succeed. They’ll get you through the tough spots.


3. Have your next project in mind, and work on it while you’re waiting for query/submission news. Trust me — you’ll be so thankful you did!





Katy UKaty Upperman is a graduate of Washington State University, a former elementary school teacher, and an insatiable reader. When not writing for young adults, Katy can be found whipping up batches of chocolate chip cookies or exploring the country with her husband and daughter. Kissing Max Holden is her debut novel. For more on Katy, check out her website, or follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Goodreads.



Monday Musings: Taking A Chance February 8, 2016


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Note: This is a repeat of a post I shared after last year’s contest but all the sentiments still apply. Most importantly, NEVER GIVE UP!



As many of you know, for the last couple of weeks Michelle Hauck and I have been running a little contest called, Sun versus Snow.  This is the third year Michelle and I have hosted this event, and just like the years before it was a blast.


One of the things that caught me off guard was how quickly our 200 spots filled up…in THREE minutes. Neither Michelle nor I expected it. In fact, we were pretty sad to have to turn people away.


While I was shocked at how quickly the spaces filled up, it also made my heart very full. Why? Because it meant there were writers out there willing to take a chance. Take a chance to put themselves out there. Take a chance to share their work (which can be terrifying). And lastly, take a chance they may be rejected (the hardest thing of all in my opinion).


Sharing your work is daunting. There’s always that seed of doubt in the back of your mind that whispers what you’ve created isn’t good enough. That your writing, or story, isn’t strong enough. But those who entered were brave enough to push past doubt and try. And to me, that is incredibly admirable.


So the next time you think about entering that beloved manuscript in a contest, be like those that took the leap and entered. Yes, you may not get picked but the experience and friendship you may find will be well worth it. I promise!



QUITE THE QUERY with Kelly Siskind & CHASING CRAZY January 22, 2016







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 Kelly Siskind. This great query connected her with her agent, Stacey Donaghy.




Pininfarina Gabri’s rise to shame began the moment her father branded her with those five syllables. Fast forward to the Public Speaking Incident that defined her high school career, and she’s ready for a change. On a plane to New Zealand, she reinvents herself as Nina, non-disaster magnet. That lasts maybe five hours, until she trips over a large boot in the aisle—the one belonging to the hot guy she can’t stop picturing in a one-man Magic Mike show. But to flirt with him would mean conquering her androphobia—fear of men—acquired on the night she may or may not have lost her virginity. The jury’s still out after that disaster.



If one more person looks at Sam with those damn sympathy eyes, he’s gonna go postal. Hoping to rediscover the carefree guy he was before the crash that burned his legs and killed his mother, Sam escapes to New Zealand. A change of scenery and random hookups are the plan. But there’s this clumsy girl who looks at him with hungry eyes, making him feel like a legend. Not like a disfigured guy whose girlfriend dumped him.



When Nina and Sam find themselves traveling together, Sam makes it his mission to conquer her fears. All but her androphobia. With the way his father sank into depression following his mom’s death, no way is he getting in deep with a girl. Crazy chemistry or not. Plus, if she sees his scarred legs and rejects him, it could make the downward spiral he hit after the accident look like a kiddie ride.



Complete at 80,000 words, CHASING CRAZY is a dual POV contemporary NA romance that combines the heart of Stephanie Perkins’ Anna and the French Kiss with the sexy angst of Ruthie Knox’s Ride with Me, all mixed together with a dash of quirk.






When writing this novel, I created a cringe-worthy heroine that, I hope, goes beyond the usual clumsy trope. Her name is such a defining aspect of who she is, and I wanted to capture that in the query. Even from birth, she was destined to attract disaster, hence my opening line, “To be happy, Pininfarina needs to own her crazy, not run from it.”




Chasing Crazy



Chasing Crazy is now available for purchase via these retail outlets:



Barnes & Noble






KellySA small-town girl at heart, Kelly moved from the city to open a cheese shop with her husband in Northern Ontario. When she’s not neck deep in cheese or out hiking, you can find her, notepad in hand, scribbling down one of the many plot bunnies bouncing around in her head. She laughs at her own jokes and has been known to eat her feelings—gummy bears heal all. She’s also an incurable romantic, devouring romance novels into the wee hours of the morning. For more on Kelly, check out her website or follow her on Twitter or Facebook.




2016 Sun vs. Snow Contest-Introducing the Agents January 15, 2016

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Agents lead very busy lives, so when Michelle and I reach out to see if they’ll participate in Sun versus Snow, we are never sure how many we will get to participate. But every year, without fail, agents step up to the plate and agree to join us for this very fun contest.


HUGE thanks to the 17 agents who found time in their busy schedules to make this contest happen. You are all AWESOME! On this blog I have 7 out of the 17. To discover who else will be perusing the entries this year, head over to Michelle’s blog.


Please tweet your thanks to this great group by using the hashtag #sunvssnow and let them know how much you appreciate them!






Noah Ballard



Noah Ballard is an agent at Curtis Brown, Ltd. He received his BA in English from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, and began his career in publishing at Emma Sweeney Agency where he sold foreign rights for the agency in addition to building his own client list. Noah specializes in literary debuts, upmarket thrillers and narrative nonfiction, and he is always on the look-out for honest and provocative new writers. Noah has appeared across the country at graduate programs and writing conferences speaking about query letters, building nonfiction platforms and submission etiquette. He lives in Brooklyn.






Kirsten Carleton

Kirsten Carleton


Before joining Prospect Agency in 2015, Kirsten learned the agenting ropes at Sobel Weber Associates and the Waxman Leavell Agency. She fell in love with working on writers while getting her B.A. in English with a Creative Writing concentration from Amherst College, and cemented her fascination with publishing with a Graduate Certificate in Publishing from the Columbia Publishing Course and internships at Charlesbridge and Liza Dawson Associates. As an agent, she gets to be a champion for the author throughout the challenging publishing process. She loves sharing an author’s vision for the book, working to help him or her uncover it, and finding a home for it with editors and readers who also feel that connection. Beyond the individual book, she wants to develop satisfying and successful careers that celebrate great talent.


Kirsten is currently seeking upmarket YA and adult fiction with strong characters and storytelling, across speculative, thriller, and literary genres. She’s drawn to books that capture her attention early on with a dynamic plot, and innovative storytelling that blends or crosses genres. In particular, she’s interested in novels that bend and blur genres; literary takes on high concept worldbuilding; diverse characters in stories that are not just about diversity; antiheroes she find herself rooting for; characters with drive and passion; girls and women in STEM fields; settings outside the US/Europe; well-researched historical settings; YA noir/thriller/mystery; stories that introduces her to a new subculture and makes her feel like a native. Follow her on Twitter: @kirstencarleton






Caitlin McDonald



Caitlin McDonald joined the Donald Maass Literary Agency in 2015, and was previously at Sterling Lord Literistic. She represents adult and young adult speculative fiction, primarily science-fiction, fantasy, horror, and related subgenres, as well as contemporary fiction about geeky characters. She is always looking for fun, clever projects featuring badass women, diverse worldbuilding, tropes and genre-bending, heists, and LGBTQ protagonists. She also handles a small amount of nonfiction in geeky areas, with a focus on feminist theory/women’s issues and pop culture. Caitlin grew up overseas and has a BA in Creative Writing from Columbia University. You can read more about her on her blog or follow her on Twitter @literallycait.








Jaida Temperly



Jaida is actively building both her Children’s and Adult list!


She has a particular love for all things Middle Grade, especially those that are a bit quirky, strange, and fantastical (a la THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY, ESCAPE FROM MR. LEMONCELLO’S LIBRARY, SNICKER OF MAGIC, CAVENDISH HOME FOR BOYS AND GIRLS, etc.) She’s also open to YA submissions (all genres), and picture books by author-illustrators with completed dummies.


For all other fiction (both Adult and Children’s) she has an affinity for magical realism, historical fiction, and literary fiction, as well as stories with a strong mystery and/or religious undertones (THE WESTING GAME, A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES, THE DAVINCI CODE, JONATHAN STRANGE & MR. NORRELL, OUTLANDER, THE RULE OF FOUR, etc.)


On the non-fiction side, she’s actively seeking topics that are offbeat and a bit strange (STIFF: THE CURIOUS LIVES OF HUMAN CADAVERS, SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES, etc.), as well as photography projects that offer unique insight into the human experience (HUMANS OF NEW YORK, THE SCAR PROJECT, ETC.)


Prior to joining New Leaf Literary, Jaida grew up on a Wisconsin dairy farm, studied classical ballet, and briefly attended medical school. She loves art history, traveling, logic puzzles, horticulture, and numerous other topics that come in handy for Trivia Night and crossword puzzles.








Carlie Webber



Carlie Webber is looking for a wide variety of fiction genres in adult, YA, and middle grade, including contemporary, lighter fantasy and science fiction, adventure, horror, women’s fiction, romance, mystery, suspense, thriller, and westerns. She especially loves fiction that pushes the envelope and encourages conversation (or controversy), but she’s also open to light reads and humor. In all genres and age ranges, she wants to see interesting plots, strong voices, and memorable characters. (She’d love to find the Cookie Lyon of women’s fiction!) Her current wishlist includes high-concept YA and stories with creepy gothic settings. For more info, check out the CK Webber website.







Julia Weber



Julia is specializing in representing international authors of unique and captivating commercial children’s and adult fiction, namely Middle Grade, Young Adult, New Adult, Women’s Fiction, thrillers, and romance. Julia’s not too keen on sci-fi and futuristic stories, and Fantasy should be set in the real world. Other than that, she’s open to all sub-genres. A hooking plot, engaging characters, and a fresh voice are a must.

Twitter: @jawlitagent; Agency website:


Julia also offers freelance editing over at






Roseanne Wells

Roseanne Wells



Roseanne Wells joined The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency as an associate agent in 2012. Previously with the Marianne Strong Literary Agency, she has also worked as a proofreader and a special sales and editorial assistant. She graduated from Sarah Lawrence College with degrees in Literature and Dance. An avid reader, Roseanne discovered her passion for book publishing during her internship at W. W. Norton, and she approaches agenting as a writer’s advocate, editor, and partner. She is a member of SCBWI and a volunteer for Housing Works Bookstore Cafe in Soho, NYC. You can find her on Twitter @RivetingRosie.


Currently Roseanne is looking for: strong literary fiction that emphasizes craft and style equally, and doesn’t sacrifice plot and character for beautiful sentences; young adult of all genres; very selective middle grade of any genre that connects me to a strong main character; science-fiction and fantasy; con/heist stories, especially featuring art, jewelry, and tech; and smart detective novels (more Sherlock Holmes than cozy mysteries).


I’d also love projects that blend genres that I’m interested in; have unique narrative structures that add meaning and enhance the storytelling; unreliable narrators that are unreliable for a reason; and books that include the LGBTQ experience without the central conflict focused solely on being queer.



If you want to participate in the contest, the submission window opens February 1 at 4pm EST. Find out more here:

2016 Sun vs. Snow Details!!!


And don’t forget to head to Michelle’s blog for the rest of the amazing list!!


Welcome 2016 TEAM SUN Mentors!! January 11, 2016

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I’m so excited to share this team of SEVEN amazing mentors who are going to make TEAM SUN rock this year! This group consists of some of the most talented, kind, and well, pretty much made-of-awesome writers on the planet (Okay, so I’m a little biased :-P)


The assembled team is going to read the selected entries (both the queries and first 250) and then provide feedback. I know with their help, the entries for TEAM SUN will absolutely shine for our 16 agents!


Here are the brilliant writers on Team Sun who have shared not only their bio, but some fun pieces of info that gives  insight into their personality. Please give them a shout-out on Twitter (using #sunvssnow) and thank them for donating their time! And when you’re done here, head over to Michelle’s blog to see the incredible team she has assembled.


Oh, and one last thing….On January 29 at 3 pm and 9 pm EST, we will be hosting two Twitter chat sessions so you can get to know these amazing mentors better. Please stop in and join the fun.








EM Castellan is a writer of YA Historical Fantasy novels. She has moved seven times in the past ten years, and has lived in a 1930’s house in France, a one-room flat in New York City and an English castle, before recently settling in London. She travels extensively, reads voraciously, and writes at odd hours thanks to a hectic full-time job. She is represented by Erin Niumata of Folio Literary Management and is a member of SCBWI British Isles.


What is your favorite go-to writing snack?


Chocolates. Always.


What is your most favorite warm weather memory?


The hottest summers I’ve experienced were when I went on vacation in Provence, South of France, as a teenager. The heat was a bit too much for me, but I do remember fondly the beautiful countryside, the medieval city of Avignon and the lavender fields.








Kelly deVos is a Young Adult writer living in Gilbert, Arizona, represented by Kathleen Rushall of the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. Kelly currently serves as an intern to Entangled Senior Editor, Kate Brauning, and is an arts administration intern for the Marooned Journal at Arizona State University. She is also a contributor to The Writer’s Diaries and YAgabonds.


What is your favorite go-to writing snack?


Definitely, black and white cookies. I’m pretty sure this is an instant cure for writer’s block.


What is your most favorite warm weather memory?


This is a tough one. Being from Phoenix, around 99.9% of my memories have occurred in warm weather. But I guess my all time fave was when I went to Hawaii and went parasailing with my daughter. She was only five and yelled out, “I’m floating like a bubble,” as we glided over the ocean. It was a special moment.





Jody H



Jody Holford lives in British Columbia with her husband and two daughters. She’s a huge fan  of Rainbow Rowell, Nora Roberts, Jill Shalvis, and Emily Giffen. She’s unintentionally funny and rarely on time for anything. She loves books, Converse shoes, and diet Pepsi,  in no particular order. When she has to go out into the real world, she’s a teacher.  She writes multiple genres but her favourite is romance because she’s a big fan of love  and finding happily ever after. Probably because she’s lucky enough to have both. She is the author of Dangerous Love (2015), Jaded Love (2016), Falling For Home (2016), and Damaged (2016). She is repped by Fran Black from Literary Counsel.



My favorite go-to writing snack is chocolate and diet Pepsi. But to be honest, this is my favorite any time snack too.


My favorite warm weather memory is Disneyland this summer. It was so hot we were going through water bottles like crazy but it was so much fun to be there, going on all of the rides, and enjoying the day that it was perfect. Plus, the line ups weren’t long.





Jamie Howard - Author Photo



Jamie Howard is a writer, legal and compliance specialist for a worldwide brokerage firm, and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Art. When she’s not tapping away at the keyboard or capturing the world through her trusty Canon, you can find her binge-watching TV shows, devouring books, and perfecting her gaming skills. She lives with her husband, son, and three dogs in New Jersey, and is almost always awake early enough to see the sun rise, even on the weekends.

Jamie is the author of Until We Break and Until It’s Right, and is represented by Jessica Watterson of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.


What is your favorite go-to writing snack?


I always get a lot of side-eye about this, but I never snack when I’m writing. Ever. If I’m lucky sometimes I’ll remember to grab myself a glass of water, but other than that, it’s just me, the keyboard, and my manuscript.


What is your most favorite warm weather memory?


After my husband and I got married, we honeymooned in Antigua. It was brutally hot and I, of course, got sunburn. But the place was absolutely gorgeous and picture perfect. Every night we’d watch the sunset from the edge of the infinity pool that overlooked the ocean and it was one of the most beautiful and relaxing things I have ever experienced. Definitely one of my favorite warm weather memories.









Roselle Kaes is passionate about food and her Chinese-Filipino heritage. Inspired by her late great grandfather, she wrote HUNGER as a tribute to him. She is a graduate of Humanities and History at York University. When she is not writing, she is embroidering, illustrating, and chasing after her husband, daughter, and fluff beast of a cat on the north shore of Lake Erie.


What is your favourite go-to writing snack?


My go-to writing snack is Cheese Pringles or Cheetos or anything crunchy and cheesy. Because of this, I always have to make sure my fingers aren’t orange when typing afterwards.


What is your most favourite warm weather memory?


My most favourite warm weather memory is being at the beach at Boracay. The sand was sugar between my toes and waters clearer than any pane of glass.






summerspence headshot



Summer is a YA author living in scenic Utah (and always pining for California, her true home), with degrees in English Literature and Theatre. She’s not nearly as stuffy as that sentence makes her sound. Things that make her happy are chocolate, warm pages fresh from the printer, star-gazing far from city lights, summer thunderstorms, and the Oxford comma. Things that make her sad are when books end, hot chocolate gone cold, and socks that have no partner. She’s currently working on a YA fantasy brimming with dark magic, castles, and ancient mysteries begging to be solved.  Summer is represented by Heather Flaherty at The Bent Agency.


What is your favorite go-to writing snack?


I am a fool for Ghirardelli Sea Salt Soiree Dark Chocolate. It’s so good I can’t even handle it. Not the best snack for hanging out with Team Sun… melted chocolate = heartbreak!


What is your most favorite warm weather memory?


I grew up at the beach in San Diego. There’s nothing better than hot sand underfoot and street tacos in my hands! My favorite beach moment was a warm night at the end of the summer when my best friend threw me a surprise birthday bonfire! It was my first birthday party since I was a little kid and it was magical. The crackling fire and crashing waves, the salty air and sweet friends… oh, those summer nights! ;)









Kip Wilson is a YA writer represented by Roseanne Wells of the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. Her work has been published in the TIMELESS and SPAIN FROM A BACKPACK anthologies as well as several magazines for children. She is also the Poetry Editor at YARN: The YA Review Network publishing new teen poets alongside superstars like Jacqueline Woodson.


My favorite go-to writing snack is turrón de alicante, a Spanish treat made from marcona almonds, honey, sugar, and eggs. Full of energy and oh-so-yummy.


My favorite warm weather memory also comes from Spain. My husband is Spanish, so we were able to spend the past summer there with his family. We live in Boston, where it’s generally cold and dark, so we soaked in the Spanish sun as much as we could. Best of all were the nights we brought the kids out to the park once it finally cooled down a tiny bit and we could enjoy una caña y tapas at a chiringuito beside the playground. Glorious!









Kendra Young writes fiction for middle grade and young adults, usually set in the South, with something lurking in the dark. As a child, Kendra wrote her first books on construction paper and bound them together with ribbon, though she can’t remember even one of those early stories. Once a teen and young adult, she jokingly referred to herself as Queen of the First Five Chapters, as that’s where every story seemed to fizzle out. It wasn’t until she was in her mid-thirties, when her family relocated to the West Coast, that she got lost in libraries again and finally managed to type “The End.”


Since finishing that first manuscript, Kendra hasn’t been able to stop new characters from talking to her. Her fascination with all things abnormal comes out in her writing, whether it’s a steampunk circus, vampires, or ghosts – if it has fangs or goes bump in the night, she’s writing about it.


Kendra now lives back in Chattanooga, Tennessee with her husband, Tim, who’s responsible for making her believe all her writing dreams will come true. Together they have two daughters, Savannah and Tabitha, who both enjoy art and writing as well. By day, Kendra teaches eighth grade Physical Science and U.S. History in an urban middle school where she shares her love of writing and dreaming “big dreams” with her students.


Kendra is represented by Taylor Haggerty of the Waxman Leavell Literary Agency and is currently pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing from Lindenwood University. You can follow her on Twitter, @KendraLYoung, or on her blog,



Most favorite warm weather memory would definitely be the first time I ever saw the ocean. I was 15 and it was in Panama City Beach, Florida. White sand and blue ocean for as far as I could see. I may have even teared up a bit.  :)



There you have it, EIGHT amazing and talented mentors. Now get to work polishing those entries. The submission window opens February 1 at 4 pm EST!!


For contest details check out this link:




FIRST FIVE FRENZY with Jennifer Johnson-Blalock of Liza Dawson Associates December 18, 2015


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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 just the right balance, but I hope by reading each agent’s comments you’ll learn how to make your manuscript a shining gem that will be requested time and time again.


Today I’m proud to share Jennifer Johnson-Blalock’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?




Jennifer: A great first line will certainly make me excited, but I don’t think it’s imperative–that’s the kind of thing we can work on together. Within the first five to ten pages, though, I need to be hooked. Like every other agent, my TBR pile is enormous, and I’ll often take a look at the beginnings of things I’ve requested and then set them aside to read later if I’m not completely captivated. I think the goal is to keep me from setting your book aside.






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?




Jennifer: All of those things–probably also waking up, an ordinary conversation…it’s tough to set a firm rule; there are always exceptions. For instance, I was tempted to fall back on the showing, not telling rule, and then I remembered all the great classic novel openers (“It is a truth universally acknowledged…,” “All happy families are alike…,” “It was the best of times…”). The best advice I can offer is to think about what your primary goal is for this opener, taking into account the story, the genre, etc.. Do you want to introduce a character? Set up a main plot point? Convey a theme? Decide that, and then figure out the most vivid, compelling way to accomplish that goal.





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?



Jennifer: Liza Dawson Associates may be somewhat unique in that we only ask for queries to start–no sample pages. I know this can be tough for writers who may have lovely manuscripts but struggle with the specific kind of promotional writing a query requires. Understanding that, I don’t expect your query to be a masterpiece. If it sounds like the sort of thing I’d like to read, and the writing isn’t noticeably poor, I’ll request the first 50 pages. What I’m looking for initially varies a bit depending on genre. With nonfiction, I want to see a captivating concept and a strong platform. With YA and women’s fiction, I’m very focused on voice and character. With thrillers and mysteries, I’m most concerned with plot.




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



Jennifer: I think the biggest mistakes are an information dump or more general “throat clearing.” The first five pages shouldn’t feel like an introductory paragraph in a classroom essay, generally setting the stage and full of broad statements. They should be targeted and distinctive. Backstory should be revealed gradually, on a need-to-know basis, and the most memorable opening won’t work if it isn’t vital to the story.





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



Jennifer: I should get hooked on the concept in the query, and pacing will bear out over the course of the work. I think voice is the most important thing in the early pages. When I read a book, the voice infiltrates my brain and influences the way I think, even when I put the book down for a minute. As I read the first few pages, I think one of my subconscious questions is whether I want this voice in my head for the next few hours, days, or weeks.





Jennifer Johnson-Blalock joined Liza Dawson Associates as an associate agent in 2015, having previously interned at LDA in 2013 before working as an agent’s assistant at Trident Media Group. Jennifer graduated with honors from The University of Texas at Austin with a B.A. in English and earned a J.D. from Harvard Law School. Before interning at LDA, she practiced entertainment law and taught high school English and debate. Jennifer represents all genres of nonfiction and upmarket and commercial fiction in the genres of thrillers/mysteries, women’s fiction, and contemporary YA. Follow her on Twitter @JJohnsonBlalock.



If you’re interested in submitting to Jennifer, please check the Liza Dawson Associates website for their guidelines.



2016 Sun vs. Snow Details!!! December 14, 2015

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It’s that time again for THE BIG BATTLE between the heat and the cold! Yes, it’s time for the third year of Sun vs. Snow hosted by me and the amazing, Michelle Hauck. This time we have a fun new question and some important details about the entry process. Please read the following THOROUGHLY and then let us know if you have questions.



The submission window for Sun versus Snow will open February 1st at 4 pm Eastern time. Act fast. We will only be taking the first 200 entries. Please do not enter early or your entry will be deleted. You can resend at the proper time if this happens accidentally. Confirmation emails will be sent. If you don’t receive one, don’t resend. We don’t want duplicate entries. Please check with us on Twitter first to confirm your entry did or did not arrive, then you may resend. There is only ONE, yes that’s right, ONE entry per person allowed. Any attempt to cheat will result in entries being thrown out. This contest is only for finished and polished stories.



Important note: The story can’t have been in the agent round of any other contest.



Also, Michelle and I have decided not to accept picture books for this contest. Though we love picture books, contests just don’t seem to be the best place to get them requests. We do accept all MG, YA, NA and Adult genres, excluding erotica. To enter you must be followers of our blogs. Click the “follow this blog” button on my blog. You can find Michelle’s blog here.




The Format:


Send submission to Sunversussnow (at) yahoo (dot) com. Only one submission per person is allowed. It doesn’t matter if you write under different names or are submitting different manuscripts. You are still one person and get one entry.


Here’s how it should be formatted (yes, include the bolded!) Please use Times New Roman (or equivalent), 12 pt font, and put spaces between paragraphs. No indents or tabs are needed. No worries if your gmail doesn’t have Times New Roman. No worries if the email messes up your format. Yes, we will still read it! :-)  (Here’s a trick to keep your paragraph spacing: copy and paste your entry into your email and then put in the line spaces. They seem to get lost when you copy and paste. It may look right but sending scrambles the spacing.)


Subject Line: SVS: TITLE, Age Category + Genre

(example: SVS: GRUDGING, Adult Epic Fantasy)



In The Email:


Title: MY FANTASTIC BOOK (yes, caps!)

Genre: YA dystopian (Age category and genre. YA/MG is not a genre.)

Word Count: XX,XXX (round to the nearest thousand)


My Main Character would use sun or snow to battle their biggest obstacle: 


Which would your character find more helpful in fighting through their biggest obstacle–hot or cold. And why? Tell us which weather would be the most helpful to your character.


(Can be in your MC’s POV, but doesn’t have to be. 100 words or less.)





Query goes here! Include greeting and main paragraphs. Please leave out bio, closing, and word count + genre sentence. You may include comps if you’d like. There is no word count limit on the query but please aim for 250 – 300 words.



First 250 words:


Here are the first 250 words of my manuscript, and I will not end in the middle of a sentence. But I will not go over 257 words. Be reasonable and don’t make us count. Don’t forget to space between paragraphs!



That’s it for now. Get those entries ready for February 1st and leave any questions in the comments or ask on Twitter.



Mentors and agents will be posted in January. As of now we have fifteen fabulous agents, and I have some crazy cool mentors who are itching to work with the selected entries! Keep checking Michelle’s blog too because she may be posting BIG NEWS about a FREE PASS to be on Team Snow!



So get those entries ready! We can’t wait to get started!




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