Sunday, December 20, 2009

What to do When Your WIP Has No Zip?

If you have decent writing skills and spend enough time in writing conferences, attending SCBWI meetings and going to retreats or classes, AND you write with some frequency, I honestly think you will develop some competence in terms of technical excution. You'll know to show, not tell, and you have beginnings, middles and ends, and characters that act on their own and solve their own problems.

What you may not have is a spark, a flame, a roaring fire of "wow!" that makes your work-in-progress irresistable and special. And you need that. To get an editor's interest, to capture the attention of an agent plowing through hundreds of submissions, you gotta have SOMEthing that gives your work that extra edge. That thing that editors and agents describe as "I'll know it when I see it."

Some of this will come from a great plot or a high concept and some of this will come from your voice-both the narrative voice and the voice of your characters.

I have a picture book that has some good points, and has all the questions answered (What are the stakes for the main character? Is there conflict? etc.), but it just feels...blah. Have I done so much techincal editing that I've lost that voice?

Have you had this issue?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Switching from PC to Mac

"Macs are for creative people. PC's are for business people." What do you do if you are a creative business person?

I've recently purchased a Mac laptop for my creative business needs, but I have not spent any quality time with a Mac since 1994. No really- it's all been Unix terminals and PC's since then. I'm totally comfy in computer world, but when I got the Mac, I felt like an idiot. I may be able to create my own databases complete with crosswalk tables and knowing just enough SQL to get me by, but it took me a few HOURS of playing with my Mac to figure out how to resize the windows. And the "multiple fingers do multiple things on the track pad" thing totally throws me. I gotta get a mouse...

But really, the biggest problem is trying to figure out which software to load. Some decisions are easy- Scrivener for drafting novels, non-fiction and larger projects, and Quickbooks for accounting, billing and reporting, and when it somes to graphics, I'll cough up the dough for the Adobe and Quark stuff. But Office for the Mac is missing Access, and I do like to do my own databases. Or should I do the Bootcamp thing and divvy-up the hard drive so I can run Windows programs on the Mac, like Office for PC's and ACT- a client tracking program? And what about that Open Office thing? Anyone ever use it?

If you run a small business off a Mac, please share your successes and failures with software with the rest of us! Please? With an apple on top?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Where You Work

I'm currently trying to create just the right place to write or illustrate. Nothing beats eyeballing the work spaces of others for inspiration. Here are few of my current favorite sources:

The Guardian, a newspaper in the U.K., posts writer's rooms and creative work spaces here.

SCBWI locally has also encouraged members to share photos of studios, offices and the like here.

Another place for ideas is Flickr. Several groups on that site focus solely on posting pictures of work spaces. Try Craft Rooms , Art Studio, Art Studio Makeover, Work Spaces, Creative Spaces, and Creative Places/Creative Spaces.

If you are a fan of "inspiration boards" for your art or writing, check out this group on flickr.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Character Inspiration, Part 6 Fruits, Plates and Dishes

For those creating manga, Japanese fashion rebel characters, or even just creatively dressed children for picture books, the book Fruits is sure to give you a visual feast. It's full of Harajuku street fashion, and even spawned a sequel: Fresh Fruits. Both are bound versions of what you can find from FRUiTS magazine, which now has a website you can browse for free inspiration:

The website also includes photos from the same publisher's Street magazine, another street fashion photo mag, and it has a wider diversity of people and styles from all around. This is not to be confused with the book Street: The Nylon Book of Global Style from the editors of Nylon magazine. If you are looking for hipsters, rebels and fashion forward people from around the world's major cities, you can find them in Nylon's book-Parisian ingenues, edgy New Yorkers and other creatively garbed folks from around the world grace these pages, and most of them fit squarely into YA range.

For a totally different view of humanity, try Plates and Dishes. It's a photo book of dishes and the waitstaff of 70 roadside diners throughout North America. I look at the people in this book and think some of them would make great haggard mothers, or kindly remote second cousins a protagonist is sent to live with.

No matter what your angle, photobooks can provide lots of character inspiration. Check 'em out!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Character Inspiration, Part 5

Of course, a list of sources of photos of people for character inspiration would not be complete without National Geographic. For a much tidier and far easier to search source than the "keeping of piles of old issues" method, use the on-line galleries on the National Geographic website:

And hey, if you are using setting as character, there are bound to be good photos of it here, too!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Character Inspiration, Part 4

Are you writing a middle-grade or young adult story with female protagonists dealing with self-esteem issues? For an intriguing source of real girls talking about beauty and self-esteem, look at Dove's campaign for Real Beauty at . The Reality Diaries they posted two years ago were great (gone now, what a shame), featuring compelling video from young adults that was both heartbreaking and inspiring. The current campaign leans towards the younger set. For provoking thought on the beauty and self-esteem subject, watch the videos "Evolution" and "Onslaught"[cp-documentid=7049579]/. "Evolution" TOTALLY makes me think of Scott Westerfield's "Pretties" series. Scary.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Character Inspiration, Part 3

For a truly inspiring young adult character, go here: to see the ever interesting Tavi Gevinson. She's thirteen and she blogs about fashion- even skipping school to go to NYC Fashion Week!!! Someone, please, write a book about a character like her- I wanna read it, and I'm too lazy to write it. How cool is she? If you're thinking she's a Gossip Girl wannabe, think again- she is 100% unique, and not what you expect. For a taste of her unbelievable realness check out her dance video on 10/9/09 to ABBA.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Character Inspiration, Part 2

People of Wal Mart. Looking for a freaky neighbor/crazy science teacher/carny to interact with your character? Look no further. This is no celebration of individual fashion, it's a "satirical social commentary of the extraordinary sights found at America’s favorite store". Random stealth photos taken of patrons of the mass merchandising giant end-up here. Hysterically funny, revolting, horrifying - you can't tear your eyes away. As you might imagine, this site is not for those who are easily offended.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Character Inspiration, Part 1

We all know that reality is the best place to find characters for fiction, but what to do as a writer when you spend most of your day sitting at home glued to a computer? When your only human contact in a day may consist of "do you want fries with that?" and "sign here, please", you can spot your protagonist, villain or other supporting characters in photo blogs on the web. I will post some interesting resources in this next series of posts starting with:

The Sartorialist I am an armchair fashionista - like many a football fan, I partake from the sidelines having neither the physical attributes nor the stamina (or bank account) to actually participate. The Sartorialist, a fashion photo blog meant to "showcase the wonderful and varied sartorial tastes of real people", fills my fashion cravings with photos of real people, gives me vague hopes of fashion redemption, and provides interesting people to turn into characters. Yes, many of the people are young, pretty, thin adults (many make me think of Scott Westerfield's character, Tally). But there are also those who are older, have intriguing faces or are even (gasp!) pleasingly plump. They may not be kids, but with every person I look at, I wonder what they do for a living, why they wear what they wear, and how they would relate to a child. As of August 2009, Scott Schuman (he who IS the blog) had a book published, so you can thumb though and have a copy for your writing reference shelf.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Elana Roth Wrap Up

I frequently say (more like ALWAYS say) that this is a business of opinion. Seems like we as writers often forget this. Do you love every book that has ever been published? Do you read every genre? Of course not, and editors and agents are people like us, and therefore, no different. They have opinions and preferences, likes and dislikes.

This was readily apparent in Elana's "Be An Agent for a Day" presentation. She took twenty real query letters she has received (identifying info. removed), including some from authors whose books she decided to rep and sold and she gave us fifteen minutes (!!) to read them and pick six we would follow-up on. This technique was borrowed from Nathan Bransford by her own admission, and it was an eye-opener.

Once you've read through an agent's eyes for even only fifteen minutes, you get how sometimes arbitrary the selection process is. In our group of twenty some odd participants, we were all over the board in terms of opinion, and were also surprised at what Elana revealed to be letters that caused her to request more samples.

For me, this was both depressing and hopeful. Sometimes a submission may be the sixth or sixteenth or six hundredth "whatever you think makes your story unique" story that the agent has seen, and she's just plain tired of them. Or maybe she's just plain tired- you know how things all seem uninteresting when all you want to do is sleep? Yikes! Yet sometimes, despite the query letter having a high degree of suckiness, some little thing tickles an agent into requesting more info. Woo-hoo!

My point is, this is a subjective business. This may work in your favor or not. Get used to it, get rejection, get over it and try again.

Friday, October 2, 2009

NaNo Hamlet

It's that time of year! National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) will be here in less than 30 days, and any interested writer needs to decide in that time to do or not to do.

A writer friend feels the way that I do-the "years participated" section of a NaNoWriMo profile looks neat and tidy if there is a pattern-consecutive years, every other year, two years on, one year off... Of course, this means I have to do the first or the last, as I have now completed it two years in a row. It's silly, but there it is.

I can't decide.

On one hand, I'm a firm believer in Anne Lamott and Stephen King's "sh#tty first draft" theory of writing, and NaNoWriMo is a great way to unload those burdensome ideas that clog up my brain.

On the other, I don't have a particular story in mind this year-a first. And once I start NaNoWriMo, I must finish it.

Do I face a blank page without any ideas on November 1st, or do I take a year off?


Monday, September 7, 2009

Elana Roth, Literary Agent

I promised information on Elana Roth, and here are the links to get you started until I can write a post about hearing her speak at SCBWI Western WA events this week.

Profile on agent query:

Her own blog:

Caren Johnson Literary Agency blog:

Insider info from one of her local clients, David Patneaude on the SCBWI Western WA blog:

Q&A on Joelle Anthony's blog March 26, 2008:

Interview on Alice's CWIM blog January 26, 2009:

Follow her on

And if you are really nosy with time on your hands:

Check out her pottery:
Her photostream on Flickr:

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Queen of England Judges a Book by the Cover

At the bookstore, the Queen of England (see profile on the right for explanation), who is picture-book age, determined that she wanted a particular book to come home with her. A young adult book.

I was so worried about appropriateness of content after noting the trendy cover art, that I didn't even read the title. I offered her ANY picture book she wanted. Nope. When I asked her what she wanted, she said it must be blue, it must have pink hearts on it. And it must have swirly letters. This, of course, was what the YA book looked like.

I went back to eyeball it, and the heavens parted and angels sang, for lo, it was Fifteen by Beverly Cleary. A book I remember from my pre-teen years as being pretty tame, and especially so when compared with some of the edgier works that grace the YA shelves these days. It came home with us- I figure she can read it later when age appropriate.

But what sticks with me is that this was a good reminder about how people select books. Despite what we all want to think- that the hook we work so hard to craft in that first sentence will grab a reader-much of book sales rely on capturing a reader's attention before they even read a word. Covers are generally not transparent, so something other than your words has to convince a person to pick-up the book first.

You put a lot of thought into what goes between the covers, but someone else is going to create what goes on the outside to entice a reader. A lot is conveyed in cover art, and it is usually designed to appeal to the book's target audience. Ever notice how genre book covers have certain similarities? Don't believe me? Go check- wander those aisles and examine color and font and cover art. All those visual cues lead up to what a person will initially think your book might be about. Can you guess what yours should (or might) look like, based on what you see?

I love how some trends show-up on so many books, you have to wonder how any one of those books stands out. I'm sure there is a good dose of circadian mimicry- one look worked, so other books in that genre that come along should try and grab the same attention.

I also find horror stories about covers interesting. We've all heard about the book with a character of one race, showing a different race on the cover, or a different physical look (she's supposed to have long red hair, not short blond!) or a cover that screams romance when the story inside is really more sci-fi/fantasy.

Check out book cover websites and blogs for information on cover art and book design, and ponder what your book's look might be:

Children's and YA covers and book design on Jacket Whys , Jacket Knack, Mishaps and Adventures, Apple and the Egg

The NY Times Book Design Review

And a last thought: Reader customizable covers? What would you put on the cover of classics? Look at My Penguin!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Literally Light a Fire to Finish Your Work in Progress?

Much like lovers in love with the idea of being in love, some writers (a LOT of the ones I know, OK, fine, me, too, sometimes) appear to be not in love with writing, but in love with being a writer with writer angst. When we gather, whining commences about characters not doing what we set out to do, or having writer's block, or being uninspired. It's just a rite of passage- apparently, you are officially labeled a "real" writer when you have writerly issues. And you discuss them loudly with other writers.

So here it is in a very public way. I do not need more ideas or story starters. I've never had writer's block. My writing problem (ahem) is finishing my own works when I have no deadline or monetary compulsion to do so. I meet or come in early on deadlines given by clients and editors, but on my own projects, not so much. Books and sources for revising works abound, but I have been looking for resources (free ones) with suggestions on how to finish a work in progress first draft, in my current case, one of my novel manuscripts. Thought I'd share some links with you.

To start you off, an amusing quiz from Writer's Digest:

Useful tidbits and help from children's author Holly Lisle:

Anne Lamott's shi##y first draft method does not work for children's author Linda Sue Park- see what does in this transcript on Verla Kay's website:

If all else fails, burn your house down. Author Timothy Hallinan's thoughts and useful information- he was moved to finish things when his house burned down with his WIP and backups in it:

And if you need someone to tell it like it is, try author Kristy Kiernan's blogpost:

Monday, August 3, 2009

Insert Ad Here

The Seattle Times ran a piece yesterday from columnist Danny Westneat discussing the fact that three technologists from Amazon filed last month for a patent for technology that embeds ads in e-books. Check it out at :

If you really want to read it, check out the application here at the Patent Office:

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Geordi Brings the Smackdown! or Near Death Experience + Years of Kid Lit Experience = "The Rainbow F#@%ing Fish!"

We frequently hear about how children's book editors dislike books with agendas or outright "lessons to teach". They aren't the only ones.

LeVar Burton, the host of the Reading Rainbow television show on PBS (or depending on your age and TV-viewing preferences, Geordi from Star Trek: The Next Generation, Kunta Kinte from Roots, or even that guy from The $10,000 Pyramid- my personal favorite-what can I say, I'm old), recently commented on books for the "worst/most overrated" children's book list on The American . Side note: When you follow that link, be prepared for some serious ripping on various well-known pieces of kid lit with some long flaming and replies, particularly about The Giving Tree, including comments from Shel Silverstein's mom (or are they?).

Scan down to July 21st, 2:05 am, and find the comments from Mr. Burton after another commenter suggested The Rainbow Fish be added to the list, to remind yourself that there are people out there who read kid lit and think seriously about the messages sent in a story, whether implied or openly stated.

Mr. Burton's comments are dated about a week after he was injured in a five car crash in West Los Angeles, but I'm betting that had little bearing on his passionate response. His first comment is snarkier (the one that starts with {eep!} "The rainbow f#@%ing fish!.."), his second has the same message but in a more scholarly form, and the American Library Association's advocates for intellectual freedom will be pleased to see in that second post that he wouldn't ban any books from any islands. If you think Mr. Burton's assessment is harsh, check the reviews of the book on Look familiar? After at least twenty-five years of children's reading advocacy, Mr. Burton surely knows what he is talking about.

The message for us as writers? Kid's books DO send messages. What does yours say?

Fall Programming Is Set- Time to Renew or Join SCBWI Western Washington

Fall is on it's way, and with it, a whole new year of SCBWI Western Washington offerings View speakers and opportunities to have your work viewed by publishing pros here.

We'll kick-off fall with chances to meet with and learn from Elana Roth, agent with Caren Johnson Literary Agency in limited space paid sessions in addition the usual presentation. I'll post more links from the web about her in a later post.

One of the other extra opportunities is from Gergory K. Pincus, screenwriter (Little Big League and movies for ABC, NBC, the Disney Channel among other credits), poet, guy who has a middle grade novel, The 14 Fabulous Fibs of Gregory K. under contract with Arthur A. Levine, and man who loves social media.

His own site:
His blog:
He's a contributor on:
His profile on IMDB: if you want to see more film/TV credits

Should you search for him on the web, do not confuse him with endocrinologist Gregory Goodwin Pincus, the now deceased scientist to created the Pill.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Young Adult Steampunk Fantasy- or Why the Network WORKS

Two lawyers walk into a bar...

and talk about their friends and families. One lawyer describes how her foolish but creative sister-in-law is writing YA fantasy novels, and the other mentions she has a friend whose first YA fantasy novel was just released. The second lawyer e-mails the info. on a book event to the first lawyer, who sends it to her sister-in-law. The sister-in-law is intrigued by the website already set-up to support the book, as it appeals to her fascination for all things steampunk. Even though she cannot make it to the signing, she will buy the book.

The Lesson: the networking thing works.

I haunt the YA shelves in bookstores, but if it weren't for two lawyers chatting, I would not have known about the steampunk fantasy, Eyes Like Stars the week it hit the shelves.

Your personal network is a powerful asset. Use it!

(Oh, and it wasn't a bar, and the lawyer is very supportive of her writer sister-in-law. : )

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Business Hydra 1, Jazz Cat Manuscript 0

I've listened to a lot of grousing from artists and writers alike about craft versus commerce, but for me as a newbie, it's a no-brainer. My family cannot exist on Top Ramen alone, I have no skill in the area of "suffering" for my art, and I would like to have something published before I have to depend on Depends. Writing in a vacuum and ignoring the market would kill my budding career.

I have been debating which of my projects get my time and which will sit. A NaNoWriMo novel whose first page garnered an "I'd read more" from both an agent and an editor at the SCBWI Spring Conference gets top billing, but I need something else to work on in between marathon bouts with the novel.

I ran most of my more interesting works past both of my critique groups to gauge reactions, and all met with positive interest, so it comes down to the reality of marketability.

My inner business geek reared her misshapen many-headed hydra self from the dark recesses of my mind, and snapped teeth at my jazz cat story. The heads hissed, "It's taking up precious time that could be spent on a more marketable work!" "Maybe later when you are actually published!" and "Feed me Seymour- Hey! Is that Brendan Fraser?"

After wiping the drool off of the floor from head number three, I have put the jazz cat to bed for now.


Thursday, June 4, 2009

Editor - Krista Marino

Post Western Washington SCBWI Spring Conference 2009 :

These notes are from material I found on-line, a one-on-one critique of one of a work-in-progress, and any other information gleaned from the opening panel of presenters at the conference.

Krista is a San Diego native, where she began her career as an editorial assistant at Harcourt Children's Books, working for Michael Stearns (see post from last week on agents from the Spring SCBWI conference). She continued working at Harcourt in New York, and moved on to became an associate editor at Delacorte Press (part of Random House Books for Young Readers). Her title at Delacorte these days is Senior Editor. Oh, yeah, and there's this little ting about being named SCBWI Member of the Year in 2006...

Krista's just looking to fall in love with a middle grade/young adult story. She doesn't do cute- she's more on the darker edge of fiction (she has not been buying much of lighter fare lately), but she does like works with comedy in them. She prefers quality over quantity. As many of the works she's edited in the last few years are trilogies or series, she is now looking for amazing stand-alone books.

Some acquisitions from the last six to nine months:
Books in the Celebutante series sold by agent Michael Bourret
Kiss My Book sold by agent Michael Bourret
Carrie Ryan's next YA novel by agent Jim McCarthy
Victoria Laurie's next two YA novels by agent Jim McCarthy
Maze Runner series by James Dashner by agent Michael Bourret

Dystel & Goderich Literary Management (both of the above mentioned agents work there) seem to have a lot of success selling Krista what she wants to see.

Some recent or soon to be released books:
Forest of Hand and Teeth by Carrie Ryan (agent Jim McCarthy)

As I type, I have a ticket to a nice warm place for a two week vacation burning a hole in my pocket (although by the time you read this, I will already be there and blogger "scheduled posts" will be posting this for me), and I am running-out of time to aggregate information, so here are the places I found Krista Marino on the web:

From Alice's CWIM blog
A couple of posts including paraphrased notes on the "best way to run a career" from a speaker panel in 2007, and Krista's thoughts on writing for teen boys in 2006.

An interview with Krista in February 2009 on marketing advice and her publishing house.

SCBWI-AZ The Journey interview in 2007:
An interview with Krista from 2007

And, if you are SCBWI International member, you can access the full transcript of a moderated chat by Stephen Mooser with Krista Marino in 2006. It's nice and lengthy with lots of information.

My critique session with her was great. Given that my meeting with her was in the last hour or so of the conference before the last keynote speaker, she was still alert, kind and thoughtful for the ten minutes we had. She has edited a number of YA novels in my general genre with styles that I thought were similar to mine, and I was curious to see how she would react to the voice in the work in progress that I did for NaNoWriMo 2008. I actually did not get a chance to run the piece by my two critique groups until after the deadline to submit the pieces for the manuscript consultations, so what she saw was pre-critique group. Her reaction to the voice and humor were positive, and she provided some excellent criticism that will help guide my revisions, and also showed that my critique pals' suggestions were on the mark and the changes I've already done are in the right direction.

If you get the chance, and your work is in the right arena for what she likes to read and edit, I highly recommend a manuscript consultation with her.

That's it for now, and this concludes my posts on editors and agents from the conference.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Editor - Connie Hsu

Post Western Washington SCBWI Spring Conference 2009

These notes are from information I picked-up from attending sessions from this editor.

Connie Hsu is an assistant editor at Little, Brown and Company Books for Young Readers (referred to hereafter as LB) which is a group within Hachette Book Group USA, and home to Stephanie Meyer (you know, Twilight). LB is known for being more commercially driven, more about the best sellers.

They are always looking for more multicultural books, and they are a little concerned that although young adult paranormal and fantasy books are still popular, the market may be saturated. They are looking for romance - commercial, beachy reads. They already have vampires and ghosts. In picture books, the more character driven picture books are doing well.

LB has moved to a paperless submission process, and only accepts submissions that are agented, editor-requested or are Hachette employee referrals. The editors use e-readers.

A "no" to a manuscript from one editor at LB is a no from the whole house. And once a manuscript is declined by an editor there, it is a wholesale NO on that work unless they ask for revisions. So make sure you (or your agent) really know what an individual editor wants.

The LB submission process is very selective and they have a long string of steps that includes two committees a manuscript must pass before being acquired. Since the beginning of this year, Connie has received over 200 submissions. Of those, she has only taken ten to the initial committee of editors that have the power as a group to accept or reject a manuscript. On two of those works she had spent a lot of time working with the author to revise over a course of months.

None of them made it past the committee to be acquired.

Thus far, she has only actually acquired two books overall.

This editor is pretty funny in person. She says she takes everything- picture books to young adult, but not as many picture books- she only likes them if they are about dead animals. She claims she likes the morbid and the strange, and that she is "young, hungry and completely weird".

She says that the e-book market is indeed growing, but that it will not affect picture books much due to the nature of picture books. She does think, though, that it may affect paperback sales.

Connie says alphabet and counting books are uphill battles- the more elements you add on make it even harder to do right, because they are for three-year-olds, so sophistication and too many elements don't speak to that audience.

She generally likes alliteration, but watch out for starting a picture book for example, with a lot of hard consonants in a row- difficult to read.

She loves it when animals talk about their humans. And speaking of animals, in picture books, she likes real 100% true animal stories- Marley and Me, Chowder, but not so much fiction starring animals.

Connie will look at a manuscript no matter what. If it is not for her, but she thinks the writing is strong, she may take it down the hall to a co-worker.

In queries, Connie thinks you should be able to describe your book in 200 words or less.

She does not care as much about plot, story and concept- she cares about the writing. If she likes the voice and talent, she'll ask for more.

Next time: Krista Marino

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Editor - Joelle Dujardin

Post Western Washington SCBWI Spring Conference 2009:

These notes are blurbs of information I picked-up from attending sessions from this editor.

There are a number of good interviews on the web with various editors from Highlights magazine, not to mention all the great information on submissions they put on their website, so I won't go into detail on those subjects. The focus here is on Joelle's preferences and thoughts and anything that I have not heard or read before, or gives an inside scoop on Highlights.

Joelle is Associate Editor at Highlights magazine, one of the best markets to try and place short works. After beginning her publishing career at Henry Holt and Company, she spent several years at Carus Publishing in both the Cricket Books and non-fiction magazines arena, before being moving to Highlights in late 2004. She edits fiction for independent readers, nonfiction for beginning readers, and verse.

At Highlights, they run manuscripts through ALL of the editors for comment, and (as is our entire industry) it is subjective. You may pass the same work before one editor at two different times and get differing opinions each time.

In Joelle's opinion, Highlights' intent is to be "not opposed to change, but not spear-heading it."

Reading the reader's mail part of the magazine will give you a lot of insight into the readers that Highlights serves.

Highlights buys all rights, but it is the Highlights custom (NOT expressed in contracts) to share rights with the author if they re-sell a piece to another market, like foreign rights. The split is generally 50%. Some authors have even made more money on pieces that Highlights re-sold multiple times than on a published book!

Highlights does a lot of non-fiction by subject matter experts, but they also do take works from people who interview the subject matter experts and write a great article. They like to see full back-up- get the experts to read and approve your article before sending it in. Also, it is a good idea to include ideas and material for sidebars or other angles kids can get out of the article. Kids want things that are relevant and usable. Make sure you give information organically, without a lot of exposition.

Highlights tends to avoid personifying animals or using their POV in non-fiction.

With science articles, they like to portray science as a self-correcting process, not just a body of facts. It is okay to show that we do not have all the answers, and that it is a learning process.

Highlights refers to their younger fiction as "Thirteen-point fiction", due to the type size they use for those pieces. Topics should not be too babyish , as they still have to please older readers (up to twelve years old).

In fiction submissions, Highlights likes to see all genres represented. Via the 2008 Highlights Fiction Contest, they discovered that sci-fi is a comfortable fit for Highlights. They are trying to branch-out and go for more variety, beyond "typical Highlights" stuff.

In the magazine, there are some mixed piece pages- even if something does not show a by-line, that does not preclude that type of material from being open to submission.

For fiction, Joelle personally likes it to bring her to another place, and she would rather see too much than too little in terms of variety of submissions. Leaving a story synopsis ending hanging in your cover letter is okay with her (not required or preferred, just okay if that is the way you want to write it), since she generally skims the cover letter and looks directly at the story.

Submissions are by snail-mail, but Joelle usually asks for revisions via e-mail.

Next time: Connie Hsu

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Editor - Sarah Shumway

Post Western Washington SCBWI Spring Conference 2009 :

These notes are merely blurbs of information I picked-up from attending sessions from this editor. I'm presenting the editors from spring conference in the order of quantity of information, saving the editor with the most for last.

Sarah joined Katherine Tegen Books (an imprint at Harper Collins) six months ago, and is now building her own list. She is "wide open" for middle grade and young adult fiction. Literary, commercial - she wants to see it all.

I did not have a lot from her, so here is a great link to fill that gap. Laura Purdie Salas, a significantly published author, did an interview/workshop a few weeks back with the Institute of Children's Literature on finding markets for your manuscripts. The interview and answers are on-line, and she does such an excellent job of giving some nice basics for market research.

Next time: Joelle Dujardin

Friday, May 22, 2009

Literary Agent Update - Nathan Bransford

Post Western Washington SCBWI Spring Conference 2009 update:

I did not attend any sessions that featured Nathan as a speaker, but he did state in the opening panel that he is open to just about anything, except picture books and early readers, and that he'd rather see too much than too little.

For the next two weeks, I will be on vacation sans electric umbilical cord and laptop, but through the wonders of prescheduled posts, there will be two posts per week with information on editors- Sarah Shumway, Joelle Dujardin, Connie Hsu and Krista Marino.

Have a great weekend!

Aloha, A Hui Hou Kakou!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Literary Agent Update - Kelly Sonnack

Post Western Washington SCBWI Spring Conference 2009 update:

On cover submissions: "I'm pretty easy." She will read on in an e-mail query to see the writing sample even if the query letter is not catchy- She gives the benefit of the doubt.

It is important to do a two sentence pitch- especially for picture books.

In query letters, if your publishing credits are small, local, not well known, make sure to explain a bit about the work and publisher so she can understand.

If you have no publishing credits, leave that out entirely.

If your book is long, example of a 130,000 word novel, don't tell her that in your cover letter. It usually signals to her that there is a lot of cutting that needs to be done. She said leave it out, and let her fall in love with the work first before letting her find out how long it is.

On the other end of the word count spectrum, she says it is almost impossible to sell a novella right now.

Make sure you give a full sense of the work in your cover letter- don't leave an editor or agent with a cliffhanger in an effort to get them to read a snippet if you are submitting to someone who only goes off of query letters.

She thinks a thirteen-year old protagonist is way too young for a YA novel.

In the last few months, especially with picture book authors, she'll ask to see other picture book manuscripts to see what is in the future for the author.

A short paragraph or sentence about your other works in progress might intrigue her if she likes your writing but the specific work that you submitted is not a fit for her.

Don't panic if you do not have previous publishing credits. A lot of Kelly's authors are debut authors, and for her, it is all about the story- credentials won't guarantee a work will be acquired.

She's interested in graphic novels.

Tomorrow: Nathan Bransford

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Literary Agent Update - Michael Stearns

Post Western Washington SCBWI Spring Conference 2009 update:

This guy is pretty funny in person.

(Added 5/22/09 Why eat light when you can have the full meal deal? Make sure you click on the comments so you can see Michael's own helpful cross-ex and redirect on this post.)

Still likes literary novels that have plots. Example - A Northern Light- repped by agent Stephen Malk.

On plot: think of it as complication and follow through, not just in action, but in character.

He can tell quality of writing in two pages.

Take time in building worlds and choosing names of places and characters. Work hard to make them right.

He kind of likes lists (think Bubba in Forrest Gump)- this was quite a surprise to me.

Tomorrow: Kelly Sonnack

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Literary Agent Update - Stephen Malk

Post Western Washington SCBWI Spring Conference 2009 update:

Still not looking for new clients.

In a "first pages" session, Stephen told us that he always reads beyond the first page of a manuscript, unless it is clearly something that he does not handle, like an adult book. He wanted to make sure that we were not stuck in "first page mentality".

He mentioned that he tends to not like books that start with dialog, especially in a picture book.

As for alliteration, he thinks you have to go all the way, or use it sparingly.

He loves absurdity (think author/illustrator Adam Rex).

He's thinking that at some point, really short middle grade novels like Frecklejuice will make a come back, but that real/true animal stories will be played-out soon (think Marely and Me).

At least two of his cats were adopted from shelters.

Tomorrow Michael Stearns

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Hi from the SCBWI Western Washington Spring Conference

I'll be posting content from my notes for those of you who couldn't make it to the conference, live way too far away (a hearty welcome to my readers in Peru, Spain, Sweden, Israel and India), or even those who were there but just plain missed some of the comments in the sessions today.

Today was only day one, and hoo boy, do I have a pile of great tips and tidbits from and about editors, agents and authors to share with you already!

First things first- congratulations to one of my critique group pals for a winning entry in the joke contest at the conference today- you go, Grumpy Old Man!! You make ASWAAGS proud!

It is going to take me a while to get all this conference information in readable shape, so in the meantime, here are examples of things to come:

-Updates on the literary agents already posted on this blog thus far (Stephen Malk, Michael Stearns, Kelly Sonnack, and Nathan Bransford).

-Notes on editors from the conference

-Great quotes from the presenters

Find out who said s/he really only likes picture books about dead animals, which of the editors used to work for one of the agents, who is young, hungry, and completely weird; who really wants graphic novels; and which venerable children's magazine is now accepting sci-fi in fiction submissions.

Stay tuned!

Monday, May 11, 2009

And here's my card...

Summer conferences for writers are just around the corner. If you have not already, now is the time to ponder creating business cards to keep connected with the people you will meet.

Of course you still need cards even if you are not published! Will that potential critique group pal remember your contact info. if you scribble it on a napkin? What about that person from the first pages session (dream a little dream, here) who wanted to connect you with her agent? How about the guy at lunch who had taken every writing class locally and knew which teachers rock, and which are off their rockers?

You may not have a full brand identity yet (for the moment, mine is rather schizophrenic, and I'm wondering what therapy/medical help/exorcism might help me lock one identity into place), but you can at least start with some basic contact information to hand out to your new writing friends. Or, to your old writing friends who can never remember your blog address -you know who you are...(squint-eyed grin).

Here are some links to help you get started:

An editor's take on writer's business cards:

Business Cards designed for writing professionals at Vista Print:

100 Cards Free from Ooprint:

Go for it!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Free Comic Book Day

Exactly what it sounds like.

No, really:

Saturday, May 2, 2009, support your local independant comic shop and get free loot to boot!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Common mistakes checklists

Check the sidebar- I posted links to the "common mistakes beginning writers make" lists I've collected. These lists come in handy on your own work and on other's work if you are in a critique group. Some are from established writers, some from agents, some from editors, so they do vary- read them all to get a broad view.

For some reason, much of what I found was from romance writers, and who cares? Good writing is good writing. Period. Genres and markets aside, poorly written prose is something to be avoided, whether it is the leering ne'er do well in the darkened alley or crazy Uncle Gilgamesh who happens to grow fangs once a month.

Friday, April 24, 2009

NY Times bestselling author nets a whopping...$26,000 on book- don't quit your day job, but there IS a silver lining to that dark little cloud

Ah, the luscious fantasy that having a New York Times bestseller under our belts will afford us fame, fortune and a true full-time writing career...

OK, pull your heads out. Of, er, fantasy land.

Read the reality in a post on, a website generated by a group of authors of fiction, where one of "those" NYT bestsellers list authors, S. Lynn Viehl, lights a candle in the dark corners of our knowledge of the publishing payment process, and reveals exactly how much of the fantasy is real. Seriously, go read it - I'll wait.

A published author with forty-five novels in five genres, she received a $50,000 advance. Although the word advance implies in advance, and most of us think up front, more and more publishers are holding back a portion of advances even on a high midlist author such as Lynn, until the actual physical books are on the shelf. In this particular case, over 30% was held until then. After expenses, paying her agent, etc., she netted around $26,000. Oh yeah, she's living the high life!

Is reading her post depressing? No, actually, it's liberating, because she also explains that she did minimal marketing, and received little from the publisher, and yet she made it on the NY Times bestseller list. Why?

She attributes the placement to her fans. It may have taken her a few books to get there, but I find it heartening that even with minimal marketing, and a known, but not super famous body of work, she has the kind of fan base that was built the old-fashioned way- with solid, consistent, regular writing. And that is the kind of fan base that sticks with you over a writing career.

I can only imagine what someone with those qualities coupled with the resources and ability to market themselves and their work can accomplish.

Oh, and on the subject of marketing, do not pause, do not wait - RUN to the newsstand/bookstore and pick-up the May/June 2009 issue of Writer's Digest magazine. It is stuffed full of handy info. on getting visible, known, and marketing yourself to stand out to agents and editors that is quite apropos to the self-promotion issue.

Because you need to get something published, and preferably something great, to start that fan base.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Jazz for the eyes: Round Midnight and Ballard Jazz Festival 2009

One of the recommendations from Mr. Origin Records (and for learning about this musical genre was to watch some movies. I already mentioned Straight, No Chaser, and this week the library line finally coughed-up the other title suggested: 'Round Midnight, from 1986 (not the same as 'Round Midnight, 2005)

This movie is total fiction as opposed to documentary, but it captures the essence of the post-war scene of bebop jazz in France versus New York, led by Americans. This movie shuffles along at a slower pace, and like the aging alcoholic musician it portrays, forgets itself in some places but is brilliant in others. Luckily, a good portion of the film is spent on the music scenes, which (among many, many other awards nominated or bestowed) won Herbie Hancock an Oscar for Best Music, Original Score. Real life tenor saxophonist, Dexter Gordon, plays the lead in this film, and does a credible job, given that parts of the character's life are parallel to his own.

I can't help but wonder if my reaction to the pacing of this film is due to the fact that I have been conditioned over time to inhale media quickly and expect a tight, zippy plot and to have everything revealed and dealt with in short order.

Maybe jazz is all about shrugging off that pace and hitting the pause button.

Anyone local who is interested in pressing that pause button should indulge in the offerings from the Ballard Jazz Festival here in Seattle this week.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Critique groups and kiwi vines- separated at birth?

My ASWAAGS writing group met last night and critiqued work for the first time. I am impressed with the knowledge and skill level of the writers that turned out for our meeting, and despite "dreading" one person's comments, (you know who you are, Grumpy Old Man ;) ) all turned-out fine and dandy.

They say you get out what you put in to a group and I put in a decent amount of effort co-chairing one critique group and trying to be a responsive involved member of two others.

This morning, I realized that growing critique groups is a lot like growing kiwi vines:

They require a decent amount of structure and support.

The vines need some initial guidance on where to grow and how to climb.

You need at least two vines, and at least one of each gender if you actually want fruit.

It may take a while to bear fruit, and it might be tiny at first, but it will be sweet.

We put in baby kiwi vines three years ago and were told that we may not get fruit because the plant people were not sure if we had one of each gender, and also that if they bore fruit at all, it probably would not happen for five years or more because the vines needed to mature.

Of our three vines, we do indeed have at least one girl and a boy because we got a teensy little nubbin of a fruit sort of thing the year after planting. We weren't sure if it was actual fruit, until last year, when we were surprised by a tiny, wholly formed, sweet kiwi.

It takes time and effort...and a little fertilizer, but sometimes your vines might surprise you with the reward of fruit quicker than you think.

Anyone for kiwis?

Sunday, April 5, 2009

A Comical Birthday: Boobs, Books, Boots and Bacon

Nothing says "I'm aging, but only in physical years" like going to the Emerald City Comic Con on your birthday. This latest b-day is not a major milestone birthday or anything like that-no, when I finally turn 30 (heh), I'll do something that shows I'm REALLY in denial. Like going to a Hannah Montana concert.

Until then, this serves as a nice mini denial, with plenty of the "it's work-related" excuse. I've always thought it might be interesting, and now that I'm eyeball deep in graphic novels, I figured I could keep up with any rabid fanboys. Really, though, there is nothing like it, and it was, dare I say it? FUN. LOHAL and QOE enjoyed themselves, especially when QOE traded her royal crown for a Wonder Woman crown from the DC Comicts schwag booth, and got her favorite kiddie graphic novel, JOHNNY BOO doodled and signed especially for her by the author, James Kochalka.

A brush with greatness and I did not even realize it. As it turns out, Kochalka is a seriously multi-talented guy, walking the divide between musical (he recorded one of my favorite kid songs found the Greasy Kids Stuff album that also served as the theme song for the FOX sitcom The Loop, not to mention his music videos being shown on Nickelodeon's animation showcase series KaBlam! ) and artistic genius, and the enviable position of straddling the worlds of both indie comics (Top Shelf Productions) and major publishers (Random House). I probably never would have had the guts to even approach the Top Shelf booth where he was sitting if I'd known this. I shudder now, thinking of how I told him his JOHNNY BOO work was a great gateway drug for kids to enter the world of comics and graphic novels. Let's depart from any further mortification at my complete newbie ways, and move on to...

Boobs and boots! Bacon! One of the best things about visiting a comic-con is the costumes. And this one did not disappoint. Besides the whole slew of Star Wars folks, including two Chewbaccas, and lots of storm troopers, there were ninjas, a Ghostbuster, the Comedian, and my personal favorites- Princess Leia and Jedi girl! These ladies have serious confidence. We even saw a piece of bacon, advertising Bacon salt. Mmm-mm! Porky goodness! And steampunks!
Best...comic-con...EVER! (Pop culture extra credit to anyone who can guess what cartoon I borrowed this mangled line from)

Friday, April 3, 2009

The race to characterize

MG/YA author and educator Mitali Perkins wrote an interesting article , posted on the School Library Journal's website about racial stereotypes in kid lit. She posts five questions teachers, librarians, readers and authors should ask themselves about a story, and provides real world specific evidence and examples to explain how to examine the answers to those questions.

What keeps her article from being yet another white-liberal-guilt-let's-learn-about-diverse-people-and-respect-them pontification is that she is a member of a racial minority, and instead of offering opinions and condemnation, she freely admits that she herself made these same mistakes and stereotypes in her own work, and with a character of her own heritage, no less.

That takes intestinal fortitude.

I highly recommend reading the article to any author. Take a long hard critical look at your work with these five questions, and open that dialog with yourself.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Virus straight, with a chaser of jazz

Today, while I worked on finding ways to help my laptop avoid the Conficker virus, I started my jazz journey with a DVD documentary on Thelonius Monk titled Thelonius Monk: Straight No Chaser.

Too cool for words. What a fascinating individual, and although I was interested in the man behind the percussion-like piano style ("Melodius Thunk" as his wife called it) that gave him a reputation in jazz history, I found myself especially taken by the footage of his many pet cats in one scene, eating carefully diced raw meat. I looked among them for a match to the feline character in my "jazzman cat" story, because the cat told my main character he had hung around a jazz musician, but I'm not sure that I saw him in this crowd.

I think I am going to like this stuff.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Jury duty + jazz = writing research

Writing sure seems to involve a whole lot of stuff that isn't writing.

At the SCBWI Western Washington Fall Retreat in 2008, I started a story that includes a feline who is all about jazz, as the protagonist's best friend. And what do I know about jazz?

Very, very little.

After receiving positive feedback from multiple sources on the work, I owe the story some quality time. This cat's voice won't be ignored--he keeps talking in my head (what? you didn't know that writing is the only profession where people are actually encouraged to adopt multiple personalities and hear voices in their heads?) and the idea of finding oneself through music is taking over the story, so I need to know what I'm writing about.

In fact, I REALLY have no excuse to not work on it, because when fate drops the founder of one of the top independent jazz labels, Origin Records, right into your lap (well, next to me - in a jury box at a criminal trial) you have no right to ignore the story that begs for the help sitting right next to you. The universe has spoken in a big way.

And that means more research. But research leads to writing, yes? Yes! And I can think of a lot more painful ways to spend my writing-less writing time.

So, recommendations in hand from my new favorite source, I embark on the jazz journey. If you are a jazz newbie, come along with me, and together, we can admire new musical territory with my main character. If you are a jazz...oldie?, you can laugh and shake your head at my pathetic stumbles through the genre. Either way, enjoy yourself! I intend to.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Thirty-One Flavors - Agent Week - End, and how to find literary agent info on your own

Song playing on brain (I'm too cheap to own an i-pod, yet): Lawrence Welk Show end song- "Good night, (ba-da, dada), sleep tight, (ba-da, dada), and may your dreams come true..."

So we've reached the end of Thirty-One Flavors- Agent Week, and hopefully, you found some of it interesting and useful. And if not, maybe you found it diversionary, giving you an excuse to read something "work-related" and as my best writer pal, A , says, "something to do besides organize my sock drawer".

Tips and resources for finding info on agents:

Read the agent's own agent blogs, websites, and agency websites. This should be obvious, but I figured my list would be incomplete if I did not start with it. And how to find those things if you do not already have a URL, agency name or web address? Do a little searching, but smarter, not harder. Save yourself the effort of using multiple search engines, or worse, only getting results from one search source-do a Metacrawler search. Metacrawler aggregates info from Google, Yahoo! Search, MSN Search, Ask Jeeves, About, MIVA, LookSmart and more, and is one of my faves- I've been using it since the mid-nineties when it was first created at the UW (Go Huskies!) and have not looked back. Use Metacrawler to find lots of hits on your agent name, and start reading. A free source that lists agents, their AAR (Association of Author's Representatives) membership status, what fiction and nonfiction genres they do, what their current submission status is and how to submit to them, any special interests- VERY KEY! - And if you are lucky, some facts and tidbits on them, as well clients lists, previous agencies they've worked at, and links to info about them- i.e., interviews posted on blogs, etc. There are also partial listings of new deals from Publisher's Marketplace (a paid database, see below) on the agent's profiles, but not as many or as recent as available from Publisher's Marketplace itself. Of course, the info is only as current as the agent keeps it, but it appeared that the agents I looked at were editing their profiles regularly. This site also has a nice lists of agent and other writing blogs. Agent Query is geared to help nonfiction and fiction authors of books as well as writers of short-story collections and children’s book authors. They don’t have much information that will help writers of poetry collections, screenwriters, playwrights, or freelance magazine writers.

Publisher's Although it is $20 a month, it does give very recent deals information and a contact database that provide "inside" information. As a member, there are other bennies, too. See the website for more info. Deals info shows you what works and agent has sold sell, who they sell it to (i.e., what editors are receptive to their offerings), and what sort of deals they cut. Sometimes you can find deals info. on the agency website for a larger agency, but that's hit and miss. This source makes that search easy. Another free source that lists agent info., but less than Agentquery. What this site has though, is submissions tracking tools and submission history from users, so you can see what other responses other writers get from the agents, and response times, etc. The submission info is only as good as the data entered by other writers, and how often the agents update their profiles, so again, it is hit and miss.

Check with other writers, editors, etc. Of course, ask your peers and critique group members what they know, and beyond that, some of the info. I liked the best about agents was found in interviews with agents posted on other writer's or writing-related people's blogs and websites. There are some great blogs/sites out there for initial source info. on agents. A few favorites specifically for that:

Cynthia Leitich Smith's blog
Verla Kay's agent workshop transcripts
Alma Fullerton's website
Alice Pope's CWIM blog
Alan Rinzler's blog

Guide to Literary Agents website and blog. Electronic (paid subscription) source. But, the blog contains some free info, as well.

Check forums, chat rooms, bulletin boards
and newsgroups for threads that relate to the agent of interest- like those on

And the resources that you should check when you come upon an agent you know nothing about- i.e., NOT from an SCBWI resource. Sad, but true, there are literary predators out there, you need to protect yourself and do your homework to make sure you don't become prey.

Last- when it comes to submitting to an agent, take your submission guidance from the source closest to the agent- the agent's own blog, agency website, etc. Do not take it from one of the free databases just in case the database has not been updated. In a couple of cases, I found conflicting submission process info., or info. that had not been updated in one place or another, so make sure you get it from the most authoritative source - the agent or his or her agency.

I may add more to each agent profile after the conference if I learn of any additional or different material. Keep your eyes out for it.

But wait, there's more! I did not serve-up thirty-one flavors. Yet.

I still have the Queen of England living in my house for the bulk of the day, and when she starts a full day of practicing her monarchical skills this fall, I will be free to post more frequently. In the meantime, I will be continually adding agent info and editor info as I come upon it, and I will post it in the thirty-one flavors format in the future, just not all back to back in one week.

In fact, I may go beyond thirty-one...check back regularly to see what's new!

Thirty-One Flavors - Agent Week - Nathan Bransford

Before I dive into info. on arguably the agent with the most coverage on the web, here's a link to the Turkey City Lexicon provided by Ojvind Bernander to utilize when you are eyeballing that draft for "turkeys". It's meant for Sci-Fi writers, but most of it is applicable to any work of fiction. I found it amusing (watch out, though, if you are the sensitive sort, there's a certain amount of...ribaldry) useful, and horrifying. Horrifying as in, "mmmm...did I do that?" (RIP, Steven Urkel and Curly of the Three Stooges).

Where Nathan Bransford fits in my flavor spectrum: Chocolate raspberry truffle with brownie bits and pralines. bubblegum.

Nathan Bransford is a literary agent with the San Francisco office of Curtis Brown, Ltd. He is best known among web-savvy authors as the bloggiest agent around, with nearly 7,000 "BranFans" checking his blog every day. Nathan's blog really is a complete treasure-trove of witty writing, great advice and information, and has garnered him somewhere in the range of 7,000 to 10,000 queries a year!

He says that just about all his clients come through his blog, and he only takes two or three new clients per year. Do the math (or ask your nearest math-competent person to do it for you). It all adds up to smokin' hot.

Hold that cone steady, 'cause here comes the scoop!

(Note to readers who write in multiple markets: There's a lot of info. out there from Nathan, and to keep this post from taking over my blog, I have not added some of the specific info. on his adult markets interests. It's out there- just check his blog or do the google thing).

Nathan is particularly interested in literary fiction, mysteries and suspense, historical fiction, narrative nonfiction, business, history, sports, politics, current events, young adult fiction, science fiction and anything else he happens to like. He does not represent poetry or screenplays, and he does not work with author/illustrators or illustrators.

He's really a sucker for: historical fiction, very well-written literary fiction and memoir, sports, fiction that takes place in other countries, philosophical science fiction, narrative nonfiction, and international affairs. Much of his knowledge about kid lit comes from the couple of years he spent in the New York office of Curtis Brown, working with Ginger Knowlton and Laura Blake Peterson and their clients.

He is always looking for an original idea with polished writing, a stellar plot, and fresh original voices.

He only takes on clients with projects he thinks he can sell, and who are as professional as they are talented. He's looking for a long-haul relationship with his clients. Nathan thinks of himself as a editorial agent, helping clients hone their own vision for a project and getting it submission ready for editors. He wants to help build careers. And once you are one of those clients, know that one of the many reasons he started his blog was to build an audience and hopefully give his clients "a boost by the publicity it affords."

Series people- perk up your ears! Nathan really, really advises against trying to start with a series when you are an unpublished writer. He says unpublished authors should focus on one book. And then a reader pointed out to him that some editors prefer series and see them as a selling point, particularly in the fantasy genres.

In response, he stated this: "I think it's very important to focus on telling one story in a query, because attracting an agent (and later an editor) to the first book is the very most important thing. That said, you might suggest in the query that while the book you are writing about can stand alone, you do have some ideas about expanding them into a series if that opportunity arises. That, to me, represents the best of both worlds -- if the agent thinks the idea is great for a single title but not a series it's OK, and if the agent thinks the idea is great for a series you've planted that idea as well. Also this is a good time to point out how much opinions vary within the industry -- please take everything I say with a grain of salt. Another agent might come on and tell you something completely different -- these are just one agent's opinions. There are lots of differing opinions on series -- some think they're a great way of building an audience, some people worry that sequels and series can trap an author into one world that can eventually be more difficult to break out of. So this is definitely one subject where you're going to hear a lot of different opinions."

On YA, he thinks a YA novel should be between 40,000 and 60,000 words, and he talks about the line between YA and adult fiction here. A recent YA debut novel from one of his clients is The Secret Year by Jennifer Hubbard that will come out in early 2010.

Nathan thinks e-books are the future, and since there will be a huge flood of content, branding and marketing will become even more important, and large scale publishers may respond by digging deeper into the bestseller and established authors arena, sadly, making it even harder to get them to take risks on new authors. It may be that smaller presses and publishers become more of the avenue for debut authors.

Dislikes: starting a query letter to him with a rhetorical question, lengthy queries -he thinks 85% of query letters are too long. Word counts over 175,000 words unless there's a darn good reason for it. Aspiring authors who do not research agents they are querying (but that's not you, since you are here, right?). Lakers fans.

Likes: 49ers, basketball (Sacramento Kings), The Hills, sports on high def TV.

He grew up on a rice farm in Colusa, California, and attended school from kindergarten through high school with pretty much the exact same people the whole time, which meant that they all knew each other too well, and did not really segregate into type. He'd classify himself as "the nerd who didn't get stuffed in the trash can", played some sports, and got along with everyone.

In terms of a character from a teen movie, he says "Hmmm… I’d probably go with that kid from Can’t Hardly Wait who goes from a nerd to being cool at the party back to being a nerd again."


If you really want to read all that stuff from Nathan yourself:

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Pause That Refreshes and Class of ??

My bad- I do not have my post done tonight on Nathan Bransford, due to having a grand ol' time bonding with a new group of writers, scarfing free cookies and debating the merits of literary versus commercial fiction.

Okay, I'm lying, it was more like giant octopus versus giant snakes. Titanoboa, anyone?

So, tomorrow I will try to wrangle all those interviews and other resources into a handy-dandy ice-cream analogy, but in the meantime, I have a question:

Why are so many of the children's writers I've met lately high school graduates of the class of 19??

As of the last two weeks, I've counted five, yes FIVE. What are the odds? Are there more in our local SCBWI that I just have not met yet? OH MY GOD! Is this our version of a midlife crisis? And if so, which is worse? Buying a totally expensive midlife crisis car that goes way too fast, guzzles gas and does not have enough of a backseat for a child, or becoming a children's writer who makes no money, guzzles caffeine, writes too fast (NaNoWriMo) and has too much of a back seat because of having children (baby got back!) ?

Discuss amongst yourselves.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Thirty-One Flavors - Agent Week - Kelly Sonnack

Where she fits in my flavor spectrum: Bubblegum milk chocolate raspberry truffle with brownie bits.

Kelly Sonnack recently became an agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency, Inc. after three years with powerhouse Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. Before her life as an agent, she worked for publisher Reed Elsevier as an Acquisitions editor under their Academic Press imprint. At this time, Kelly is not accepting unsolicited submissions in adult fiction or adult non-fiction. Some of the titles Kelly has represented include: Steve Watkins' DOWN SAND MOUNTAIN (Candlewick) and GOAT GIRL (Candlewick); Merrily Kutner's ALPHABET MAGIC (Roaring Brook); Jin Pyn Lee's THE ELEPHANT AND THE TREE (Running Press); Candace Ryan's ANIMAL HOUSE (Walker); Heather Leigh's HEY LITTLE BABY (S&S/Beach Lane Books); Neil Johnson & Joel Chin's THE FALLING RAINDROP (Tricycle Press); and James Burks' graphic novel GABBY AND GATOR (Yen Press). Kelly is a frequent speaker at conferences.

Ok, let's bring out the tasting spoons:

Her interests as an agent include all types of children's literature-(picture books, middle grade, young adult, and graphic novels). She has a soft spot for picture books, but can only handle so many. In picture books and middle grade fiction, Kelly looks for a good sense of humor, stories that stretch a young reader's imagination, and an authentic voice. She would love to see more clever, quirky, smart and well-written middle grade fiction in her slush pile right now, as she sees a need for it in the market. In young adult, she really likes literary and coming of age stories, and appreciates literary voices and character-driven stories with heart. In non-fiction for children, she enjoys projects that inspire and stimulate the minds of our younger generations. She'd also like to see more growing-up memoir for kids- growing up in different countries, identity, living across cultures, and she likes graphic novels, as she thinks the time is ripe for them.

In general, she's looking for a narrative voice that authentically captures the feelings of the age group for whom it is targeted. Beyond voice, she's always looking for good stories told in fresh and interesting new ways. She loves manuscripts that have a clever, or witty sense of humor. With picture books, she tends to go for the silly and zany. With middle grade and YA, it’s important to be subtle and not force humor on the reader. Also, re: MG and YA, she's rarely attracted to overly dramatic. She believes a character does not need to be slamming doors, screaming, or sobbing hysterically for the reader to be affected.

She rejects manuscripts that aren't the type of material her agency accepts, do not have an original idea, or have been overdone, like bedtime picture books, or Da Vinci Code type thrillers. Also heading for the rejection pile are works that just aren't "there" yet. She strongly suggests working with writing groups, professional editors or other writers, and really polishing a work before sending it off.

In picture books, she sees way too many manuscripts that rhyme, and "there are some editors who won’t even look at books in rhyme, and a lot more who are extremely wary of them, so it limits an agent on where it can go and the likelihood of it selling. It’s also particularly hard to execute perfectly." Aside from rhyming, she also sees way too many picture books about a family pet or bedtime.

In juvenile fiction, first chapter, she hates to see a whiny character who’s in the middle of a fight with one of their parents, slamming doors, rolling eyes, and displaying all sorts of other stereotypical behavior. She hates seeing character “stats” (“Hi, I’m Brian, I’m 10 years and 35 days old with brown hair and green eyes”). And she also tends to have a hard time bonding with characters who talk to the reader (“Let me tell you about the summer when I...”).

From an interview: "Write something that I simply can’t ignore. Come up with an original idea that you know could work in the market. Understand what is working today, and read the books that you’ll be competing with. What about YOUR book is going to make a potential book buyer take it to the checkout counter? That is what we’re going to be asking ourselves when we evaluate your book. "

Some of her words re: cover letters: "You should be able to create a 1-liner to describe your book, and then explain what makes your book unique or interesting. Look at the back covers of books to see how publishers pitch their releases. And please don’t tell us that your book is going to be the next Harry Potter, will sell a million copies, or that it will be the next blockbuster starring Leonardo DeCaprio. No matter how you try to word it, this just sounds unrealistic and unprofessional."

"3rd paragraph should list any relevant writing credentials, or experience that relates to the writing of this book. And when I say relevant, “writing copy for technical programming manuals” is not relevant unless you’re submitting a book on programming manuals."

Mmmm-mmm! Tomorrow's flavor: Nathan Bransford

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Thirty-One Flavors - Agent Week - Michael Stearns

Where he fits in my personal flavor spectrum: chocolate raspberry truffle.

Michael Stearns has his own blog, and I suggest a visit there if you want to get to know him and his particular flavor of wit. No time? Want more than that? Here's my summary from a few interviews, his blog,, and other free resources on the web.

Michael Stearns is at Firebrand Literary, as of April 2008. Firebrand Literary is a subdivision of Auden Media Corporation, which is owned by Michael Stearns and Nadia Cornier. The agency's main focus is on teen and middle-grade lit. They are also starting a separate book-packaging company called Tinderbox, but Tinderbox will not employ Firebrand authors, so it is a one or the other choice for authors.

From the Firebrand website:
"Michael Stearns brings nearly twenty years’ publishing experience to Firebrand Literary. Formerly editorial director and foreign acquisitions manager for HarperCollins Children's Books, and Senior Editor, Director of Paperback Publishing for Harcourt Children’s Books, he has worked on hundreds of books for children and adults.Among the many bestselling and award-winning books he’s published are A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly; Tangerine by Edward Bloor, The Secret Order of the Gumm Street Girls by Elise Primavera, Whales on Stilts by M.T. Anderson, Fly By Night by Frances Hardinge, the Young Wizards series by Diane Duane, and the Chet Gecko Mysteries by Bruce Hale. He has taught a dozen classes on writing, edited three anthologies of original stories, and published a half dozen pieces of his own fiction for both adults and children. He received his B.A. from the USC School of Cinema-Television, and his M.A. from Hollins University, where he also won the Andrew James Purdy Short Fiction Prize. "

Yep, he's kind of big deal in children's publishing. Now for some tasty licks:

He wants his list to be 75-80% novels, 20% picture books, but don't get too excited, PB people, as he is only doing PB's from referrals and writers whose work he knows and trusts. This 80/20 split is the make-up of his lists as an editor at Harcourt and Harper. He wants a story that he just can't put down. He is "keenest" for both teen and middle-grade fiction, and in terms of genre books, he's much more interested in non-Tolkienesque fantasy, paranormal romance, comic coming-of-age, and thrillers (all with some literary spin). He responds well to wit; not dorky funny but genuine wit. Nothing makes him happier than commercial novels with literary chops- ie, the writer has skill and voice, and recognizes character as a key to all good storytelling.

He flees far and fast from issue novels. It's okay if the issue comes wrapped up in a compelling plot, but the plot and character and the writer's control of voice always have to come first. He abhors pitches for children's books. He does not do non-fiction, chapter books, nor emerging readers. His ten commandments for writing for children: Thou shalt not: talk down to your readers, sermonize, strain to rhyme, use cutesy names (his example: Marilyn Mouse, Clarabelle Cow, Leon Lion), waste words, indulge in self-consciously "poetic" writing, be afraid to cut your favorite lines, not love language, send first or rough drafts, obey ANY rule to the detriment of good writing. For his explanation of each of these, see the posts on his blog.

He wants to work closely with clients to develop projects and guide their careers, and does not waste time making nice. He is interested in a career over the long haul-working with a writer over many books and years. The three books he's probably most proud of as an editor are the books where he had a great relationship with the author that grew over the course of the book.

He knows foreign rights from his corporate work, and knows the UK market very well. As an editor, he was impressed with the work Stephen Malk (and Barry Goldblatt and Gail Hochman)did to bring him manuscripts that totally fit his interests at the time, and he hopes to be that kind of agent himself.

He's a Mets fan, claims he has no "poker face", is unmarried, child-less and debt-free (Egads, NO! I did not go looking for that info, it was in a tongue-in-cheek response to an interview!). As a child reader he liked Roald Dahl, Edward Eager and Beverly Cleary, then discovered sci-fi /fantasy at age ten or eleven. At twelve, he mapped-out Heinlein's juvenile titles by their writing formula, showing events in a single plot structure.

That's it for now, tomorrow: Kelly Sonnack

Monday, March 23, 2009

Thirty-One Flavors - Agent Week - Up first: Stephen Malk

With the onset of spring comes a great boon to weary winter minds: The Annual SCBWI Western Washington Spring Conference. One of the many amazing opportunities that this conference affords writers is the chance to have work reviewed by professionals. But who to pick? It's like going into the ice cream store and being tempted by all thirty-one flavors, every single one a scoop of creamy cool deliciousness just waiting to be plopped into paper cup and smothered in hot fudge sauce...

I would like to eventually meet the agent and/or editor of my dreams (something along the lines of bubble gum chocolate raspberry truffle with those little brownie bits topped with pralines), but the reality is that none of the conference choices quite fit my particular interests in terms of a whole career package. This is not a judgement call on them as professionals (because there are some serious heavy -hitters in the line-up this year ), just a realization that you have to know who will fit what you are looking for, and what I am looking for just doesn't happen to be offered. I see bubble gum, and I see chocolate raspberry truffle- some without nuts, some without the brownie bits. Only a few pralines in sight.

How did I know this, when the information available in the conference materials is a menu of appropriately tightly written brief sound-bites?

Research. (How many calories are in that bubble gum flavor?)

In this business of opinion and subjectivity, researching your possibilities is of utmost importance. No sense wasting your time and theirs, by trying to offer bubble gum to an editor who really likes, knows and wants rum raisin. Authors are relatively easy to find, and agents are, too, if you have the time and motivation. Editors preferences are surprisingly hard to find via the web, but some can be found. But it really does take time spent. No secrets to agent info, just time and persistence.

I thought I'd share the research I did on some of the talent coming to our conference. Nothing new here, and you can find this stuff for yourself, but here it is. I tried to capture info from free resources like, and a few interviews on various websites, beginning with

Stephen Malk.

Where he fits in my personal flavor spectrum: bubble gum chocolate raspberry truffle with those little brownie bits

Locals in our organization know him as "that guy that sold Justina Chen Headley's debut YA novel at auction resulting in a two-book contract in just a few days". The rest of the world knows him as "that guy who opened the San Diego office of Writer's House Literary Agency in 1998". Do I need to say it? Stephen Malk is a big name in our world. Being the West Coast rep for the venerable Writer's House (and that he also spent four years at powerhouse Djikstra Literary Agency is no small thing, and his client list proves it: John Scieszka, Lane Smith, Adam Rex, Elise Primavera, Karma Wilson, Sonya Sones, Gris Grimly, Jennifer Donnelly, etc. It figures that his background is all children's books, books, books all the time. His grandparents and parents both have owned children's bookstores, and he even worked in his parents' store for six years beginning at age sixteen.

He states in one interview that he's not interested in whatever is "hot" right now, and that he sees a lot of manuscripts that are trying to jump on the latest trend bandwagon. He'd like to see more manuscripts with unique voices, unique well-developed characters and good writing, and believes that writers should take their time to really polish a work before submitting.

He believes writers should read as much as possible beyond the classics and popular titles- educating themselves about their field, and he recommends every writer to read Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom. If he requests revisions before signing a client, it shows interest, and he is curious to see how the writer handles it, as revisions are a part of his process.

He likes music, has a fantasy baseball team, likes Orangina, Cadbury Fruit and Nut Bars, sour patch candies, collects bobbleheads, had at least two cats in 2005, (Dinah and Henry), and figured the writing world wants him reading submissions and doing deals rather than blogging. He does not watch much tv, aside from Sportscenter, Curb Your Enthusiasm, VH1 classic, Alton Brown and the Food Network, and prefers coconut over chocolate chip or oatmeal raisin cookies. He gives a long list of books he likes in this transcript of an interview at Verla Kay's website: .

No, I did not quite find this amount of detail on everyone, but stay tuned tomorrow for the equally riveting Michael Stearns.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Social networks- how well do you really want to know me?

I am sure that I am not the first person to ponder the concept of a Facebook "friend", and come to the conclusion that they are really "acquaintances". I've seen Facebook and MySpace pages with hundreds, even thousands, of "friends" and let's be honest-

No one has hundreds of real friends.

We have piles of acquaintances.

Don't get me wrong- I enjoy my acquaintances. I just don't like the usage of the term "friend" on social networks. I think of "Friends" as the traditional form of friend- people who I try to get together with on some regular basis, albeit infrequently. People I want to spend time with in person. People who get put on the calendar, even if it is only once a year. They are Friends with a capital "F". My point is, my Friends don't need Facebook to find out what is happening in my personal life. If you are close enough to me to wonder about what's up in my personal life, please e-mail me or let's chat in one of our occasional face to face social moments--you already know that I am not a phone person.

Maybe it is different for other people, but beyond my Friends, most people who send me Facebook requests are acquaintances, or "friends" (little "f"). I know that to them, I am an acquaintance, someone they know, a friend of a friend. Sadly, I know less about them and I have seen less of them in the last year than the people who work at the local Target, PCC Natural Market and restaurants.

Come to think of it, if I am going to keep up with MyFaceAcquaintanceBook, THOSE are also the people I should connect with. I have no problem adding far-flung friend/acquaintances to my broader network, but in this era of expanding to a global life, and knowing people in cyberspace, I particularly feel the need to reach out locally, too. I eat predominantly local organic food (although I do slum at fast food drive-ins and such when the schedule is tight), I buy books from small local retailers, only resorting to the large ones when I can't find something (but hey, at least Amazon is a local business for me), and my spouse works in a local bank where clients are known by names, not numbers, and they can see bank employees face to face just by walking into their local branch (no caveats here, it's true!).

Why not friend locally, too? You know, like that old Sesame Street song: "Who are the the people in your neighborhood?" The nice lady at The French Bakery who always puts something extra in the pastry box. The smiling octogenarian in the fast food lane who hands me my bag of naughtiness and waves. The postal carrier with the slicked-back 1950's greaser do and the cool leather cuffs with metal spikes. These are the peeps I should get to know better--they already know more about me than my Friends -like I use those 40%-off and monthly 10%-off coupons religiously, I usually order the Baja combo with extra tortillas, and that I prefer Kleenex brand tissues. If you are one of the people in my new "friending" experiment, welcome!

So, I will add people to my lists, Friends and friends alike, but keep in mind that I feel terrible sending out uninteresting info about myself. I'm just not conceited enough to think that someone cares if I tweet that I am in line to have my tires rotated or debating over the advantages of velcro over duct tape, so I won't do personal stuff very often.

I WILL, however, tell people what is going on in my professional life, and some of that may include all sorts of strange tangential personal things, like learning all about jazz, or carpet sharks, or the name of the angel responsible for teaching mankind about root-cutting. Friend or friend, you'll get to know me better. I'll usually save this sort of detail for my blogs, but you will hear me tweet or post on Facebook the next time I have news to say, like "Sold yet another book to giant New York publishing house. Yawn. hope it does as well as my last best-seller."

Well, I am a fiction writer, after all...