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Query.Sign.Submit.Debut! with Elly Swartz


Elly is a middle grade author and her debut, FINDING PERFECT, releases from Farrar, Straus & Giroux on October 18! She is represented by Tricia Lawrence at the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

Finding Perfect Cover SwartzConnect with Elly . . .

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What advice would you give to querying writers?

My biggest piece of advice for querying writers is to do their homework. Be sure the agents you are querying represent the type of work you do and are open for submissions. Be sure you know their specific submission requirements, what conference you met them at, what advice they gave. Read interviews they’ve given and talk to writers who they represent. Know why you want to work with them. Not simply why you want an agent. Be sure you are a good fit.

What helped you get though the query trenches?

Family, community, and Twizzlers got me through the no’s/maybes/almosts. My husband and sons were my rocks through this entire process. And for me, that spanned 15 years. They never wavered in their support or belief in my ability to get to YES. Along with my family, was my writing community. These friends and I shared this journey and all of its travails. We supported, inspired and encouraged each other along the way. And in those moments when friends and family were not enough, I added a healthy dose of Twizzlers.


Are there any specific questions you’d suggest writers ask an offering agent during “The Call”?

Before the call, I would have a list of questions written down. When you are excited and in the middle of a call you have been eagerly awaiting, it’s easy to forget. As to the questions, my biggest suggestion focuses on communication. As we all know, there is much waiting in the publication business. And, waiting can feel, well, long. So in those weeks/months, how can you and when should you connect with your agent? Will there be regular check-ins, and if so, what’s the expected time frame? Or will there be correspondence only when there’s news, and if so, will it be via email or phone? And, what if you have a question. What’s the best way and time for you to reach out? Remember, agents are busy people. Be gracious and respectful.

Did you sign as a client of a career agent or on a book-by-book basis?

I am a loyal gal. With everything. So, I signed as a career agent. I wanted a relationship with my agent that would allow us both to grow together.


What do you suggest a writer does while out on submission?

While you are out on sub and waiting, waiting, waiting, my one piece of advice is write your next book. Picture book, middle grade, young adult. It doesn’t matter which genre. Just pick one and write something new.

How did you celebrate when you got the news about your book deal?

I celebrated with my family when I got my book deal. With 2 sons in their 20’s, we are often in different directions that land us in different places. But the day I got my deal, we were all together. Being able to share that very moment with them was a gift. We toasted with champagne and the rest, as my mom would say, was gravy!


What is the best thing about being a debut author?

Everything! Honestly, I love being a debut. I love the community of debut authors I’ve met though the Sweet 16’s and through the Emu Debuts (my agency’s debut group). I love the excitement of the yes, the shiny newness of every single thing I am doing, and the sense of unending adventure. Truly, it’s an honor.

What else are you working on along with all the promotion?

I am in the middle of a few new projects. I am revising a middle grade novel about an 11-year-old named Frankie. A story about family with a splash of mystery. I am super excited about this project, and while I can’t share more at this time, I can say, stay tuned. Good news coming!

I am also diving into the picture book world and kicking off another new middle grade.

What was it like to receive your ARCs?

Receiving my arc was like a dream come true. This journey started 15 years ago for me. I had imagined this moment a dozen times. Actually holding the arc of Finding Perfect with a real cover and real pages and cool font, was one of the those inexplicable moments when everything felt possible.

Thank you, Ellly!

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Query.Sign.Submit.Debut! with Kathleen Glasgow


Kathleen is a young adult author and her debut, Girl in Pieces, is now available from Random House/Delacorte! She is represented by Julie Stevenson at Lippincott Massie McQuilkin.9781101934715

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What advice would you give to querying writers?

Relax! Just kidding—that never works, ever. Do your research. What books have they previously worked on that are similar to yours? Are there interviews with them online? If so, read them—you can get some insight into their working process and what they are looking for. Don’t submit to too many agents at once. Give yourself some breathing room. Wait for responses—it may be that several agents have the same reasons for turning the book down and if so, you might have things to work on! Proofread your query letter over and over. Proofread your writing sample. Make sure you follow the submission guidelines carefully. And if you never get a response from some agents, so be it. You’ll get responses from others. After my book deal was announced, I actually received two rejections from agents for the book, so….there you have it. I will say that one agent wrote back telling me, “I’m not the right person to champion this book,” and you know what? I waited a bit, researched some more agents, queried again, and I found my champion in Julie Stevenson.

What do you wish you’d known back when you were in the query trenches?

I wish that I’d learned more about querying agents earlier on. I’d never even queried before I landed my first agent through a writing conference and I wish my MFA program had discussed this process more.

Are there any conferences you attended that really helped you move forward as a writer during this stage?

I attended the Taos Writers Conference twice, which was the best thing I ever could have done for the book that became Girl in Pieces. I needed thoughtful feedback from peers, plus a concrete workshop experience with writers I admired and I needed all of this in one affordable, beautiful package. Thus: TAOS. Which could not be more beautiful, by the way. The first time I went, I took a workshop with Antonya Nelson that was fairly mindblowing and really altered the novel. On her advice, I ended up writing the novel in third person, instead of first. This helped me add a lot of detail for setting and atmosphere and also gave me great insight into the other characters. I took advantage of the meet and greet with an editor at Viking and she was very enthusiastic about the excerpt she read, which gave me some much-needed confidence. I also met my first agent at Taos, which started things rolling. The second time I went, I worked with novelist Summer Woods, and she was truly instrumental in shaping the book, even long after the workshop had ended. I also met some wonderful peers in that group. I recommend attending a conference at least once, because the experience will definitely help you as a writer, and will also introduce you to some great, long-lasting writing friends. Choose wisely, though: how many people attend this conference? How much does it cost? Are you likely to get a scholarship? Sometimes big name conferences are not right for all writers, so do some investigating. Take advantage of any meet and greet opportunities with agents and editors—you never know what might happen.


Are there any specific questions you’d suggest writers ask an offering agent during “The Call”? (answers below)

How are you going to sell this book? What is your pitch and why?

Will you work with me on preliminary editing before we go on submission?

Will you tell me where we are submitting, when, and to whom?

How do you see your relationship to editors? Are you my champion, or do you let me handle the relationship? (i.e., how involved will you be during the publication process, with publicists, etc)


How did you know your agent was the right one for you?

I signed with Julie Stevenson because she offered several pages of notes right from the get go, plus a whole paragraph of her thoughts on the book and its strengths and how she would pitch it to agents. She just “got” the book in ways other agents perhaps did not.

Did you have any previous contact with editors that you shared with your agent?

I did. I let Julie know that I’d met with an editor from Viking at the Taos Writer’s Conference and she followed up on that when we went out on submission.

Do you send sample chapters to your agent or do you wait until the manuscript is finished?

I’m new to all this. My first book took nine years to write (full-time job, kids, etc) so I just had one manuscript when I signed with my agent. I signed a two-book deal with Random House, so for the second book, my editor asked for ideas and outlines for book 2. I sent her two ideas with notes and she picked one, then I was off and running. I didn’t send samples or chapters of book 2 to my agent. I just sent the whole thing when I was done and she made notes, I revised, and we sent on to my editor. But I know writers who are constantly working on several books at once and who send chapters and ideas to their agents all the time.


What is the next step if an editor shows interest?

Generally, you have a phone conversation with the editor to talk about the book and kind of feel each other out to see what a working relationship will be like, what ideas the editor has for the book, what changes they’d like to make. In the case of Girl in Pieces, we had offers from adult editors and YA editors, so my phone conversations varied according to this.

What do you suggest a writer does while out on submission?

Try not to refresh your email constantly, though I know that’s hard. Go to the movies. Go for a run or take walks. Don’t ignore your day job or your kids. Sometimes the first round might not pan out; your agent should have a second round of houses to submit to and you might have better luck. But also: this book might not be the book. I know people who didn’t get book deals until they were on their eighth book.

Can you check in with your agent if there hasn’t been any news in a while?

Ha! My agent emailed me to let me know we were going out on submission and I was like, “Okay,” and proceeded to bite my fingernails for four days. I didn’t really know how any of this worked, because my first agent never submitted my book to editors. I sent an email on the fifth day, like, “So, how are things going?” And she emailed back and said, “Actually, things are getting a little crazy and we should have a phone call.” We had several offers within four days and it was all kind of overwhelming, to tell you the truth. But very, very exciting. But overwhelming! But yes, you should check in with your agent. Don’t wait, but don’t be a pest, I think. This could be one of the things you ask when you are deciding on an agent: how often can I contact you during this process?

Is there anything you learned while being on submission that you didn’t know before?

I didn’t know I’d be talking to editors on the phone, one after the other, all day! Stock up on water!

Did you know there was interest in the book before you got an offer or was it a surprise?

Yes, my agent was upfront with me about the interest, right away, and kept me informed about all offers, foreign sales, next moves.

How did you celebrate when you got the news about your book deal?

I put down the phone and cried in my office. I was at work and the door was closed. Then I cleaned my face up and went and got a vanilla latte.


What is the best thing about being a debut author?

Meeting so many new writers and finding a community. Getting emails from readers telling me how much my Girl in Pieces meant to them.

What’s involved in promoting a book?

All books are different and the marketing for books can vary wildly. Sometimes your house puts a ton of effort into marketing your book, and sometimes they prefer to let the book gather readers through word of mouth. Sometimes you get social media share images and preferred placement on a publisher’s website; sometimes you get sent on tour; sometimes your house just sends you bookmarks. And sometimes you have to do bookmarks, postcards, mailings, and the scheduling of readings yourself. You should be upfront with your editor (or potential editor) about what the plan will be for your book.

Have you done any conferences, book festivals, or events as an author? What was it like?

I have done ALA (the American Library Association’s annual conference) and that was a complete blast. I met with teen readers, librarians, and educators and talked about my book. I had my first book-signing, which was nerve-wracking and thrilling, and I met many, many readers. I have several readings set up for this fall (a tour!) and I am very excited about traveling to meet readers and booksellers.

What was it like to see your cover?

Scary, haunting, beautiful, tearful, lovely.

What do you wish you had known about being a debut author?

How much extra stuff there is to do. And also how much of that stuff you maybe don’t have to worry about.

What advice would you give to writers who are working hard to get to their own debut year?

Don’t give up. Someone out there needs your story and if you give up, they’ll never know it.

Thanks, Kathleen!

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Query.Sign.Submit.Debut! with Jill Diamond


Jill is a middle grade author and her debut, LOU LOU AND PEA AND THE MURAL MYSTERY, will release from Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) on October 18, 2016! She is represented by Jennifer Rofé of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.

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What are some important things for querying writers to consider when researching agents?

First and foremost, consider whether the agent represents the type of book that you’ve written. People always say this, but it’s crucial! Also important is whether your voice and style will resonate with the agent. The agent’s website may be a starting point for determining if you’d be a good match, but reading other books that your agent represents is also a great indicator!

If querying was a long time ago for you, what do you remember most?

My obsessive checking of email and querytracker! I wish I could tell my past self to relax a little, but honestly my present self isn’t very good at that either.

Are there any conferences you attended that really helped you move forward as a writer during this stage?

I attended the Big Sur Writing Workshop and thought it was immensely helpful. It was where I met my awesome agent, Jen Rofé, who facilitated one of my workshop critique groups. I knew very little about the querying and publication process when I went to Big Sur and the workshop demystified this for me. I also met some wonderful fellow writers!


How did you know your agent was the right one for you?

I felt like my agent really “got” my book and would be a strong advocate for it. A bonus was that I had met her and I liked her personally.

How editorial is your agent? Is it what you expected?

My agent is very editorial and this is definitely what I expected. It was really important to me as a debut author to have an editorial agent to help me polish my manuscript before it went out on submission.

What is the revision process like between you and your agent?

I did multiple rounds of revisions with my agent for my first book, similar to the ones I do with my editor. My agent gave me notes, we discussed on a call, I revised, and we repeated the process until the manuscript was ready. For book two in my series, I haven’t done as extensive revisions with my agent because I have an established and very positive relationship with my editor, Grace Kendall. However, my agent still gives me excellent feedback and is available to look at anything I send her way.


Do you see the feedback from editors?

My agent passed a lot of the feedback along. It was interesting to see different opinions and interpretations of my book, even if I didn’t necessarily agree with them all!

What do you suggest a writer does while out on submission?

Commonly given advice is to write your next book and I wholeheartedly recommend that. But I also suggest doing anything else that will keep your mind from obsessing over the submission process. Focus on other work, your family, your cat, your hobbies, your list of ice cream flavors to try, anything besides submission!

Can you check in with your agent if there hasn’t been any news in a while?

Yes, definitely. My agent kept me updated, but I always felt like she was accessible if I wanted to check in.

Did you know there was interest in the book before you got an offer or was it a surprise?

I did know there was interest and I actually had a call with my editor before I received my offer. I appreciated this because even though the call was fairly brief, it gave us both an idea of whether we would work well together. (We do!)


What is the best thing about being a debut author?

The thrill of seeing my art become a reality. And the amazing community of other debut authors who have become my friends and cheerleaders!

What have you learned about being a debut author?

The hard work doesn’t end once you sell and complete your book. Promotion is exciting, but it takes a lot of time and energy!

What else are you working on along with all the promotion?

The next book in the Lou Lou and Pea series, which comes out in winter of 2017.

Thanks, Jill!

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Behind the Book - Back-to-School Bookshelf Tour


Behind The Book

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Jennie K. Brown

Jennie_Brown_PicWhat was your inspiration behind your book in general?

The idea actually came to me when I was stopped at a red light in my hometown. I glanced up at the Starbucks on the corner across the street to see a young girl tossing a ball into the air. From the angle I watched, it looked as if the girl was controlling the ball with her mind. At pretty much the same time I asked myself, What day of the week is it? (I have a tendency to lose track of the days over the summer!) And then I put those thoughts together – What if a person had certain powers depending on the day of the week? Or what if a person had a special power specific to the day of the week in which they were born? And that’s where I got the concept for Poppy’s town of Nova. Inspiration can strike anywhere!

What real-life events/people/items inspired certain scenes or characters?

Well … Poppy’s dog Pickle is based off of my own yorkie – Gia. Also, I have a brother named Willie, and Poppy’s brother Willie and my brother definitely have some similarities! As for certain scenes – some of the conversations between Poppy and Ellie and Poppy and Veronica are similar to conversations I’ve overheard my students have.


Wade White

Wade_White_PicWhat was your inspiration behind your book in general?

The inspiration for my book came from a combination of things: I love adventures, I love humor (especially British comedy), and I thought it would be really cool to write a story that mashes together fantasy and science fiction. Plus, I had this idea for a wizard with a platypus for an arm, and how could I not write about that?

What real-life events/people/items inspired certain scenes or characters?AdventurersGuideWadeWhiteCover

Several elements in my book were inspired by real life. First, the world in my book is made up of millions of islands that float in the air, and in part that idea originated based on where I grew up. Nova Scotia is a peninsula, and Iused to day dream of it breaking off from the rest of Canada and sailing away like a pirate ship (I’m still disappointed that’s never happened). Second, the characters in the story are required to follow a lot of arbitrary rules as they embark on their quest. This came from my observation that pretty much every type of government, no matter what other label is used, is essentially a Bureaucracy at heart. Finally, there’s an orange and white cat in the book, and I based her description on my own cat.


Casey Lyall

Casey LyallPic

What was your inspiration behind your book in general?

My life-long love of the detective genre was the main inspiration for Howard Wallace, P.I. Everything from The Maltese Falcon and the Toby Peters series by Stuart M. Kaminsky to Veronica Mars and Pushing Daisies. As long as it’s got a hot case and snappy banter, I’m there.


Howard Wallace, P.I. Casey Lyall Cover
What real-life events/people/items inspired certain scenes or characters?

Blue, Howard’s bike, is actually inspired by two of my own bikes. She looks a lot like my current bike, but acts like my old bike who tried to destroy me on a regular basis. There were frequent, heated debates over who was in charge of steering.


Sarah Schauerte

Reida_PicWhat was your inspiration behind your book in general?

I've always loved Jumanji, and Halloween, and that morphed into my idea - kids who use a board game to navigate their escape from the monster home of Down Below. Also, anything "horror" (even if it's MG and funny) DOES follow monster movie rules (i.e., don't look behind you!), which was the seed to having Lissa as the main character be all about film-making (so she could be an expert on these monster movie rules). Monsterville_Reida_Cover

What real-life events/people/items inspired certain scenes or characters? 

I grew up in southern Illinois, and I used four towns (Freeburg, Millstadt, Waterloo and Red Bud) as the inspiration for what became Freeburg, Pennsylvania. Also, my husband's Eagle Scout ways came in handy when I was writing the character of Adam (described as "literally a giant Boy Scout" - my husband is 6'5").


Bridget Hodder

BridgetHodderPicWhat was your inspiration behind your book in general?

Well the obvious inspiration for THE RAT PRINCE was "Cinderella", but there are elements of Frances Hodgson Burnett's A LITTLE PRINCESS and THE SECRET OF NIMH in there, as well. Now that my book has been released, readers are finding influences in the text that I hadn't even realized were there...but I can see them when they're pointed out. Like THE RESCUERS, for example. Though at other times, readers see "influences" of books I never read, so that's interesting, too! It's a really fun and unexpected part of being published.

What real-life events/people/items inspired certain scenes or characters?Rat Prince Bridget Hodder Cover

If you noticed that the relationship between Prince Char and his Royal Councillor, Swiss, was a little like Sherlock and Watson as played by Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman on the BBC're not imagining things! Don't worry, though: Sherlock may be ratlike with his ruthless intelligence, but Prince Char is NOT a sociopath.

I guess Sherlock and Watson aren't real-life people, though. This may tell you something about my experience of "real life".


Erin Petti

Erin_Petti photoWhat was your inspiration behind your book in general?

It's a bit hard to pinpoint a single source of inspiration for The Peculiar Haunting of Thelma Bee because there are so many elements that influenced the book! There's my love of ghost stories, the old and haunted places in New England that I love to visit and read about, and a desire to write the kinds of characters I would have wanted on my team as a middle schooler.  But the location of the story, Riverfish MA, was most definitely a driving factor - I modeled it after the quirky river town I was then living in and really let the place of the story become a character itself. When I was drafting the book I lived in a house that directly abutted the Assabett River, and it was an source of tremendous inspiration!

What real-life events/people/items inspired certain scenes or characters?Thelma_Erin_Petti_Cover

Aside from the town of Riverfish, there are a couple of real-life elements that I integrated into the story. My grandmother's name was Thelma - so she inspired the intrepid girl scientist at the center of my story. Also, at one point Thelma and her friend Alexander try to build a full scale Viking Longship...that, interestingly is taken directly from my childhood. My hometown's mascot is the Viking, and when I was in high school there was an amazing teacher who took a group of kids under his wing and actually tried to build a full scale Viking Longship. It was such a cool endeavor. For years the 20 foot model graced the lobby of Winthrop High School.


Mike Grosso

Mike Grosso PicWhat was your inspiration behind your book in general?
My inspiration started with the idea that being an artist of any kind can be lonely. You're often surrounded by people who don't get what it's all about, and trying to verbalize it can be a frustrating experience. The story was inspired by the idea of an artistic kid trying to make it happen I-AM-DRUMS-R4without the necessary support structure to keep them afloat.

What real-life events/people/items inspired certain scenes or characters? 
Pete, the drum teacher, is loosely based on my real drum teacher growing up. My real teacher was a tad more delicate, but he had a similar "Do you want to be good at this or not?" approach that is so important for kids with unique interests.


Kathleen Burkinshaw

Burkinshaw, Kathleen picWhat was your inspiration behind your book in general?

My mother and my daughter were my inspiration to write THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM. My daughter’s request that I speak to her 7th grade history class about the people, like her grandmother who were under the “famous mushroom cloud” motivated my mother to share more details of that horrific day. I wanted to tell my mother’s story because I have always admired her courage and compassion. She lost so much that day, yet she never lost her ability to love.Last Cherry Blossom_Burkinshaw

What real-life events/people/items inspired certain scenes or characters?

The events of the last year of WWII in Hiroshima and the atomic bombing of August 6th. But I also took some family events in my mother’s life prior to the bombing to form her character and the characters of her Papa and best friend Machiko. In addition, I also used the memories my mother had of her favorite occasion, the cherry blossom festival.


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Query.Sign.Submit.Debut! with Abby Cooper

Abby Cooper photo-2Abby is a middle grade author and her debut, STICKS & STONES, is now available from FSG/Macmillan! She is represented by Rebecca Sherman at Writers House.9780374302870

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What was your method for querying? Small batches? Query widely? Wait for feedback?

I sent them out in batches, and I’m really glad I did. My strategy was to send around 5-10 at a time, then wait a couple of weeks to see what I heard. Of course there was a lot of silence, but sometimes agents would respond – especially if they had requested a partial or full – and give a little bit of feedback, and I incorporated that into my manuscript before sending out the next round of queries. By the time my agent saw my work (she was one of the last I queried), my manuscript was in the strongest possible shape.

Did you ever have a Revise & Resubmit? What should a writer consider when deciding whether or not to take one on?

I think you need to consider whether you truly agree with the agent’s suggestions. I didn’t have an official revise and resubmit, but my agent did mention several ideas for revision. Luckily, I totally agreed with her suggestions and was excited to make the changes. You have to remember, though, that it’s ultimately your book. As much as you may be dying to have an agent, if you and the agent have completely different ideas for revision/the direction of your book, it’s probably not the best match.

What helped you get though the query trenches? Inspirational posts? Writer friends? Writing another book?

I think you just need to not make it your entire life. It’s exciting and nerve-wracking and you want to think about it all the time, but it shouldn’t be everything. Have you ever had one of those friends who totally disappear off the face of the earth when they start dating someone new? It’s like that. Don’t be one of those friends. You can be excited, but don’t be obsessed. Do your regular life. Go to work. Write. Eat. Sleep. Read. Hang out with friends and family. And check your e-mail when you normally would and only a teeny bit more. ;)


What was the week surrounding your offer(s) of representation like for you?

It was awesome! I was floating on a cloud of agent-y excitement. I sent out notifications to the other agents who had my full manuscript and didn’t hear back, so I figured that was that and my decision was done and easy. Except – on day ten, AKA the last day people had to respond – BAM! Two agents were interested and wanted to chat on the phone and offer rep. THAT DAY. It was a lot of phone. Since I had to make my decision right away, I was honestly kind of hoping I would completely disagree with their revision ideas or dislike their personalities or something, but no such luck. Both agents were absolutely incredible in every way. And just like that, my easy week became incredibly stressful. I mean, great problem to have, right? But still. Not a decision you want to mess up.

How did you know your agent was the right one for you?

I tried to do pro/con lists and all that jazz, but it really just came down to a gut feeling. I had 100% faith in my agent, and I knew she would make me a better writer. Plus, her love for STICKS & STONES practically oozed out of the phone.


What do you suggest a writer does while out on submission?

Same thing you do while querying: YOUR LIFE. I know it’s hard when all you want to do is stare at the phone/computer, but for the sake of your sanity, you have to walk away and do normal things.

How did you celebrate when you got the news about your book deal?

I went out with family and friends, but honestly, I kind of sat there like a happy zombie. It really didn’t sink in that day, or for a long time after. I just kept staring at the e-mail. I still stare at it, sometimes, and try to truly take in that this happened. THIS HAPPENED!!!!!


What else are you working on along with all the promotion?

I’m finishing up edits on my summer 2017 book, BUBBLES. I’m so excited about this book and can’t wait to share it!

What was it like to see your cover?

Totally surreal. I was sitting in my car about to drive to the dentist when I saw the e-mail, and I was so excited that I couldn’t calm down long enough to actually drive, so I just sat there and stared at it and squealed for a super long time. I was way late to my appointment, but whatever. WORTH IT.

What was it like to receive your ARCs?

Another surreal, incredible moment. I sat in my building’s lobby and waited for the UPS guy for approximately two hours. Totally normal behavior, right? Once again: WORTH IT. So worth it. All the ups and downs along the way – everything. Worth it.

Thank you, Abby!

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Query.Sign.Submit.Debut! with Traci Chee


Traci is a young adult author and her debut, The Reader, will be released from Putnam/Penguin September 13, 2016! She is represented by Barbara Poelle of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency.

chee-TheReader-cover-final-600x900Connect with Traci . . .

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How did you keep track of your queries?

I am a chronic overachiever and a classic Ravenclaw, so when it came time to start querying, I doubled down with Query Tracker (a great service) and a massive spreadsheet of my own making. The spreadsheet included all the research I had done on literary agents: names, agencies, authors they represented, genres they were looking for, little tidbits I gleaned from reading their online interviews, and query preferences (like “query only” or “query + first 10 pages pasted into the body of the email”). Cells were color-coded by how well I thought we would match (with colors of green, yellow, and orange) and by whether or not they had rejected me (red). As the rejections started piling up, it was disheartening to see the red bleeding across the spreadsheet, but it definitely kept things organized!

What helped you get though the query trenches?

Gosh, being in the query trenches was so tough. I didn’t have other querying writers to talk to at the time, so it was mostly me, alone, watching the rejections roll in. I tried taking everyone’s advice and working on another project, but getting rejected over and over again did such a number on my self-confidence that I found myself staring at my screen and refreshing my email inbox more than I did any actual writing.

So I started a book art project called DOUBTS. I printed out all my rejections on tissue paper, stuffed them in empty gel capsules, and put them all in a vintage pill bottle. It was a way to turn something profoundly negative into something productive and positive (and fun!), and get that creative spark back. You can check out the results of my little project on my website. (Click to see it!)


What was the week surrounding your offer(s) of representation like for you?

Okay, so, remember my massive color-coded querying spreadsheet? Every so often while I was researching agents, I happened upon an article explaining some of the questions you should ask if you’re lucky enough to get an offer of representation. Being an optimist, I diligently copied every question into a Word Doc for later use, and once I started getting positive responses from agents, I dug out all those questions I’d found months earlier, organized and consolidated them, and in the end I had an exhaustive (and I mean literally exhaustive) list of questions to ask during “the call.” With all those questions, each of my calls took at least two hours!

As if that wasn’t enough, I also set out to read at least one of the offering agents’ clients’ books (if I hadn’t already), made pro-con lists, set up weighted points systems, and did agent-to-agent comparisons. It was exhausting and thrilling at the same time!

How did you know your agent was the right one for you?

While all my preparation helped me to stay organized and think clearly, for me it all came down to my gut. I knew almost as soon as I started talking to her that Barbara Poelle, my current agent, was the one for me. I felt like she spoke my language. I felt like she loved her work the way I  love my work—fiercely, voraciously. I felt like she “got” my book, and I thought if she “got” my book she’d know how to make other people “get” my book too. She’s a powerhouse behind the scenes and yet always finds a way to keep me calm (and working). I couldn’t be happier that I signed with her!


What do you suggest a writer does while out on submission?

Forget you’re on sub! I actually managed this a couple times, and it was the best thing I could have done. I wasn’t agonizing over hearing nothing. I wasn’t wondering who was reading my manuscript. I could actually live my life without the specter of submission hanging over my head.

How did you celebrate when you got the news about your book deal?

To be honest, I remember sitting and staring and blinking and going, “wait, what?” more than I remember actually celebrating. It was such a shock! I do remember the power was out all the next day, and I didn’t have a landline, so I remember talking to my new editor with my phone battery dying and desperately hoping I wouldn’t accidentally hang up on her on our second call!


What is the best thing about being a debut author?

Hands down, one of the best things about being a debut author is meeting more debut authors! I’ve met so many wonderful people through my debut groups, The Sweet Sixteens and the Class of 2k16, and it’s been incredible getting to know them and their books!

Being a debut author has introduced me to fellow San Francisco bay area authors Parker Peevyhouse (Where Futures End), Sonya Mukherjee (Gemini), Rahul Kanakia (Enter Title Here), Gordon Jack (The Boomerang Effect), and Evelyn Skye (The Crown’s Game), who I get to see every few months to celebrate their books. And of course I could not go without singing the praises of Jessica Cluess (A Shadow Bright and Burning) and Tara Sim (Timekeeper), with whom I now talk weekly—if not daily! They are talented and hilarious and I seriously think I would not have gotten through this year with any sort of grace without them.

What have you learned about being a debut author?

As you can probably tell, I’m a fairly Type-A person. I like to be organized. I like to know what’s happening. I like to be in control. So it’s been a huge surprise to find that, in general, I work so much better when I don’t know everything that’s going on. I think there’s so much in this business that isn’t in the author’s control (reviews, marketing budgets, and media placement, to name a few), and since I can’t control any of that, it’s been a big learning experience for me to sit back, trust my agent/editor/publisher, and focus on the things I can control (my author brand, my social media presence, and most of all my words). Of course, I’m still hustling my hardest to put myself out there, and I still make color-coded spreadsheets and send out a bajillion emails and stress out over everything from trade reviews to event appearances. I am still a Ravenclaw, after all. Smile

Thank you, Traci!

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Query.Sign.Submit. with Alyssa Eisner-Henken


Alyssa represents picture books, middle grade, young adult fiction, nonfiction, and women’s fiction.

She tries to respond to all queries, but if you haven’t gotten a response after three months, you should consider it a pass.

To connect with and learn more about Alyssa . . .

Agency Website


QSS intro


What advice would you give to querying writers?

I would urge a writer not to query before she/he feels the manuscript is complete and in the best possible shape. It can be tempting to want to pitch your gem to the world while you’re in the midst of working on it. But since editors seem to be more and more selective about the editorial quality of the works that they are acquiring, I, too, need to be selective about the books I choose to represent. Of course I’m always more than happy to do editorial work with an author to help the book make the best sale possible. But I feel I can do my job of selling most effectively once the manuscript is completed and has been through some critiques and revisions already.

What are some important things for querying writers to consider when researching agents?

Seek out agents who have worked on the books you love. Never feel that because an agent represents a huge bestseller or several bestsellers that he or she won’t have time for your book. If that’s the case, so be it. But don’t assume that will be the case. When someone tells me they are writing to me because he or she love a particular book that I championed, it’s very gratifying.

What WOWs you in a query?

For me, a query is most successful when it evokes the mood of the book much in the same way a movie trailer makes you want to see a movie. It’s important that the setting, voice, characters, and conflict are all present enough to entice the reader to read. Still, there should be a sense of mystery and subtlety, too, so not everything is revealed, and the story does not feel obvious of cliché at first glance.

What would you love to find in the slush pile?

I am very much on the lookout for middle grade fiction as well as a smattering of picture books and young adult fiction. Books in which the writing is inspiring and you can’t stop thinking about the characters and their dilemmas. Some particular ideas that excite me:

1) A YA reimaging of Mad Men in which gender politics and greed take center stage.

2) A middle grade novel in which the giant balloons from The Macys Day Parade are the protagonists.

3) An illustrated picture book about the s’more. I believe it’s the new cupcake!


How editorial are you?

I am very editorial! I worked as an editor at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers for seven years before becoming an agent. I also read manuscripts with an eye for pacing especially because I find editors are very willing to work on character development and central scenes with a client, but if the pacing is too slow, that can kill a sale, even if the writing is otherwise strong.

How do you put together a list of editors to send to?

This is one of my favorite things to do. That, and writing pitch letters!

I enjoy reading Publishers Marketplace and Publishers Weekly to see who is buying what at this minute, so I have a very current perspective on what types of editors are drawn to what types of themes. I also read the bestseller lists and accolade lists religiously to see which editors are getting books on these lists. I like to have variety on my submission lists between more established editors who have great reputations and younger editors who have success to show for their earlier acquisitions. One can never predict the responses, but I find a balance between seasoned and hungry editors in every submission has worked well for me and my clients over the years.

At what point would a client share new story ideas with you?

I love to be part of the process as early as the author wishes to include me. Sometimes I am known to make big picture comments that can really influence the work in a positive way and help the author ground it further.

Do you want to see sample chapters as a client writes or do you prefer to wait until the manuscript is finished?

Whatever works for the client! Some people need privacy and others use me as a critique partner of sorts. There is no one formula. I do whatever it takes to help make the book successful.


How much contact do you have with a client when he/she is out on submission? Do you send weekly updates or update as responses come in?

A lot of contact! When there is interest, I always let the client know right away. And when there are passes, I share those, too. When there are multiple editors interested or an auction situation, it’s especially important to be in constant contact with the client so he/she can decide which offer to accept. One of the nicest compliments I ever received from a client was that she felt she was “my only client” when we were fielding numerous offers for her books. Of course I have many clients, but in that minute, I was wholly consumed with making the best choice for her and her book. I try to make sure that each clients feels like my only client when we are selling a book together. But I always respond to my other clients promptly while helping the lady or man of the hour, of course!

Is it okay for a client to check in if there hasn’t been any news in a while?

Certainly. I feel if an agent is doing her job, there won’t ideally be painfully long stretches without news of any kind, though, that’s not always the case especially during the holiday season and the late summer when editors tend to take vacation. But usually editors decide within a matter of a few weeks when a book is going to be up for acquisitions. It’s important as an agent to keep in contact with all the editors in a submission round, so if one wants to take it to an editorial meeting, another has time to get his or her ducks in a row in order to make an offer.

What is it like to tell a client there’s an offer on the book?

It never gets old. It’s wonderful, affirming, exciting, and if I’m out and about and get news of an offer forthcoming, there is no better use for an iPhone than to extend this news!

Once a writer has sold his/her first book, how is the next submission process different?

It’s much different! Often after a book has been sold on a full manuscript, the next book is sold on a proposal. This can be wonderful in the sense that the client needn’t invest years of his or her life in order to make a sale. But once the book is sold, but not yet written, it can be overwhelming. To minimize a feeling of “oh, no, they paid me all this money and now I need to write the darn book!” I try to work with my clients to make sure they maintain a sense of calm throughout this process. This might mean reading partial drafts along the way, having long conversations about the plot and where to go with it. Of course, an editor, at this point, will usually do the heaviest lifting, but I’m always happy to jump in and make the process run smoothly.

Thank you, Alyssa!

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Win a copy of THE BFF BUCKET LIST!

9781481446433I’m one of today’s Pitch Wars Mentor Spotlights over at Brenda Drake’s blog and there’s a giveaway. Smile

Stop by and enter to win a copy of THE BFF BUCKET LIST! Better hurry though—winner will be chosen Saturday evening.

Go to Brenda’s website to enter!

Dee & Jen’s Pitch Wars Bios & Wishlist

Hey there, Pitch Wars hopefuls! You know us as Dee and Jen and may have seen us hanging around together in cyberspace. We hang out in real life too, even though we live 450 miles apart. We met in the slush pile of Pitch Madness when I (Dee) couldn’t resist tracking Jen down and demanding respectfully requesting that she send me her manuscript to read. So it’s perhaps meant to be that now we both have books out in the world and we’re co-mentoring in a Brenda Drake contest, like the one that brought us together. We’ve even written a book together (okay, okay, there were seven of us, but at least you know we work well as a team).

Our official bios:

Dee Romito is an author and former elementary teacher. Her middle grade debut, THE BFF BUCKET LIST, is now available from Simon & Schuster/Aladdin, with two more to come in 2017. She blogs about writing at I Write for Apples, where she and her team share tips to help fellow writers. Dee is also Co-Advisor of Buffalo-Niagara Children’s Writers and Illustrators. You’re likely to find her on adventures with her husband and two energetic kids, at the local ice cream shop, or curled up in a comfy chair with her cats. She loves to write, travel, and giggle like a teenager with her friends. You can visit her website at
Twitter and Instagram: @writeforapples 

Jen Malone writes humorous "girl power" MG adventures with Simon & Schuster/Aladdin and Random House/Dreamworks Films, and fun and flirty YA travel romances with HarperCollins/HarperTeen. Her middle grade titles include At Your Service, the You're Invited series (co-written with Gail Nall), The Sleepover, and Follow Your Art. Her young adult titles include Map to the Stars and Wanderlost. She once spent a year traveling the world solo, met her husband on the highway (literally), and went into labor with her identical twins while on a rock star's tour bus. These days she saves the drama for her books. You can learn more about Jen and her books at www.jenmalonewrites.comTwitter and Instagram: @jenmalonewrites 

Are we a great match for you?

We'll be mentoring middle grade, so first let's make sure you're in the right place. :)

The number one thing we’re looking for in a submission is voice. We’d love to get something full of voice with a great hook. Although that’s not to say quieter books that simply have a great story won’t get our attention too. Interesting characters are a big-time plus as well.

As far as what really draws us in, we both love contemporary, anything with pranks, heists, or capers, as well as light historical, stories with magical elements, sports, and humor. Smart or clever characters fascinate us, and so do fun or ingenious story lines.

Things that aren’t for us are horror, high fantasy, sci-fi, anything really dark or angsty, and bullying themes.

So you won’t find it surprising that some of our favorite TV shows, movies, and books are along these lines.

All-time favorite movies and TV shows . . .

Dee: Grease (and yes, even Grease 2), Field of Dreams, The Cutting Edge, Harry Potter, Oceans 11, etc., Friends, Seinfeld, Lie to Me, White Collar, 24

Jen: Almost Famous (“it’s all happening!”), The Parent Trap (the Linsdsey Lohan version with pranks galore), When Harry Met Sally, Bridget Jones Diary (I think I might be her), Thomas Crown Affair, The West Wing (have seen every episode 6-plus X’s, and (all-time fave) Gilmore Girls

Recent favorite movies and TV . . .

Dee: Crazy Stupid Love, Lincoln, Pitch Perfect, The Good Wife, The Grinder (why it was canceled I will never understand!), The Big Bang Theory, White Collar (listed here AND with favorites because it’s funny, clever, has great character relationships, and stars Matt Bomer)

Jen: Downton Abbey, Inside Out, Pitch Perfect, The Bachelor (mostly so I can giggle at quips on the show’s Twitter hashtag), Roadies, and Million Dollar Listing (I love real estate p*rn) (I’m also wondering if Dee is going to let me get away with using the word p*rn on her website. If so: #LifeGoalUnlocked) (Note from Dee: Sorry, Jen. he he he)

Favorite books . . .

Dee: I’ve been reading all the Sweet Sixteens books and loving them! The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society by Janet Sumner Johnson and The Distance to Home by Jenn Bishop are two I loved that might give you an example of what I’m drawn to. 

Favorites besides those? It’s tough for me to nail down favorite books. Harry Potter, YES. The Truth about Twinkie Pie by Kat Yeh, anything by Kasie West or Ally Carter, The Rosie Project by Don Tillman, and the sweet ones I read with my kids, like I Love You Through and Through. So that’s picture book through adult. Obviously I like variety. ;)

Jen: What kind of a sick twisted question is this? Anything by Meg Cabot, Lindsey Leavitt, Jen Lancaster, Christina Lauren, Gail Nall, Alison Cherry…. I like to LOL. Harry Potter is in a class all its own. 

Some recent five-star reviews went to Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys, The Pages Between Us by Lindsey Leavitt and Robin Mellom, Sticks and Stones by Abby Cooper, Up To This Pointe by Jennifer Longo, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, and My Seventh Grade Life in Tights by Brooks Benjamin. There’s also this Dee chick’s stuff I kinda dig… (Note from Dee: I have a Jen Malone shelf!)

Dee also loves: sports (watching, not playing), photography, travel, sleeping in, chocolate, ice cream, baking, the beach, Hugh Jackman, and hanging out with friends and family. I also have a habit of taking on lots of things for the PTA, our local writing group, the online writing community, class reunions . . . I could go on, but this is long already. ;)

Jen also loves: long walks on the beach, fireside chats, and strong, sensitive types with swimmer abs. Hold on, wrong ad! Revised version: pajamas, excessive tote bags, pumpkin chocolate chip muffins, color-coded bookshelves, adding stamps to my passport, gelato, my Mini Cooper, my long-suffering husband who cooks AND grocery shops, and my three kiddos. Please don’t ask me to put these in order, because my kids would not love knowing they may or may not come after gelato.

Dee (question for Jen): But do you love Piña Coladas? Getting caught in the rain?

How it’ll work:

Well that’s really up to you. We’ll do our best to get notes to you asap so you have plenty of time to fine tune your manuscript. There are two of us, so we have some options. We can both read right away, or one of us can give overall notes and we can save the other for a set of fresh eyes for line edits later.

Communication is up to you too. We’re fine with email, Google docs, Skype or Google chats, phone calls, or even the old-fashioned cup and string if we can get it to work long distance. ;)

Most importantly, THIS IS YOUR BOOK, and you should be happy with it and proud to put your name on it. Everything we give you is a suggestion, and while some might be stronger suggestions than others, you decide what to change. However, you should be entering this contest for feedback, not just to showcase what you already have to agents, so please be sure you’re willing to make changes and to have some discussions about what could make it better.
** Looking for the scavenger hunt letter? Head over to Jen's website ( to get it! Scroll down on main page. **