Query.Sign.Submit. with Shallee McArthur

Shallee McArthur


Shallee McArthur writes young adult science fiction and fantasy. Her YA sci fi novel, THE UNHAPPENING OF GENESIS LEE, debuts from Sky Pony Press Nov. 18, 2014. She is represented by Hannah Bowman of Liza Dawson Associates.



Connect with Shallee . . .




literary agent and authorNow for Shallee’s insight on querying, signing with an agent, and going on submission.


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

I think it’s important to remember that agents are more than numbers. How often they sell, how much they sell books for, how many big names they rep—all of these things are fairly easily learned. And they can definitely factor into your decision on who to query (or eventually, who to accept). But your relationship with an agent is not based solely on numbers. If they sell great, but your communication styles don’t mesh, or your vision for your career doesn’t fit with their strategies, they’re not the agent for you. An agent doesn’t have to be your best friend, but they should be someone you work well with!

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

I actually got an R&R after I got an offer of representation! I got an offer, emailed other agents who had the story, and got two more offers. Then I got an R&R from a lovely agent. She had certain ideas for story revisions, but she told me that if I already had an offer from an agent who was a fit for me, that I should go ahead with that. An R&R can be a wonderful opportunity—after all, it’s likely you’ll do revision with any agent, even if you sign. It can be a good way to see if you and an agent are an editorial fit. If the suggestions an agent gives on an R&R fit with your vision of your story, give it a shot! If it’s totally out in left field and it doesn’t fit your vision of the story, you’re never required to say yes!

Had you queried other books before the one that got you your agent?

Yup! I’d queried one previous novel. It got a few requests over about 8 months, but then just more rejections. I re-read it at one point and decided to stop and shelve it. I still loved it, but it was no longer my best work. In addition, I didn’t know exactly how to make it better. I was already working on my new book (which was GENESIS LEE), so I lovingly shelved the previous book in favor of the new one.


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

It was crazy and exciting! I’d just started querying and had my first offer in barely over a week, so I was scrambling to email the other agents I’d queried (and even ones I hadn’t queried yet!) to see if they were still interested. I had two other offers that week, and two more phone calls with great agents. On one of the calls, I was out for lunch at the time. It was busy and loud in the restaurant, so I went outside to talk to her—and of course, there was loud construction going on! It was thrilling to have the offers, and also nerve-wracking. I’m glad it was only a week. J

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

Funnily enough, I’d actually worked with my agent, Hannah Bowman, before she repped me. In fact, she wasn’t an agent at the time—she critted a previous book for me while she was interning at an agency. Her crit was spot on! When she became an agent, I knew I wanted to query her right off. And then she actually requested a full before I even started querying, after seeing me tweet a pitch for the book. I already knew our editorial styles meshed, and when we talked, I knew she really GOT me as a writer. She knew what I was trying to do with a story, and how to make it better. We also got along well, and she already had a good track record as a new agent, and she worked at an agency with a great reputation. With all that plus my gut feeling, I knew she was the best agent for me!

At what point do you share new story ideas with your agent?

It kind of depends on the book. Sometimes, I’ll ask her to brainstorm an idea in its early stages with me (she’s great at that). She’s asked for ideas of what I’m working on and to see early chapters, too—that’s been good to determine if a story is a good one to pursue. And of course, I send her a full draft when it’s ready. “Ready” means a different thing than before I had an agent—it’s not nearly as perfect as when I was querying, because my agent is now part of my editorial process to make the book as good as possible before submission to editors.


What is a typical first round like once a writer goes on submission?

My agent sent out my book to several editors—she told me which ones, and sent me the cover letter/pitch she sent to them as well. When we got responses from editors, she would sometimes forward the responses on to me, but only if they had particular praise or good editorial feedback. Otherwise, she’d just let me know if they passed or wanted to take it to the editorial committee. From there, it was either a pass from the editorial committee, or it would go to the acquisitions committee. This process can take a looooong time. Waiting while on sub can be even worse than waiting while querying!

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

That while on sub, you no longer get “rejections.” They’re referred to instead as “passes.” This can actually be psychologically beneficial—it’s better to hear that an editor passed, instead of rejected you! ;)

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

Hannah had emailed me to let me know an editor was interested and was taking it to the next step. This had happened a few times, but this one sounded a bit more promising, so I was feeling hopeful but trying not to be too hopeful.

And then my phone rang, and I saw my agent’s name on it, and I started freaking out before I even picked it up to hear we had an offer!

Thanks, Shallee!

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Teen Speak - Shipping

By Kate Bucklein

Teen Speak Logo Welcome back to the world of fandoms. Shipping is an incredibly common term, one I use here and there. In fact, I recently used it after an episode of REIGN. (I have since withdrawn my ship, though, because no.)

Shipping is basically an easier way to say “I really want these two/three/+ characters to be in a relationship.” RelationSHIP = SHIP, or SHIPPING.

There are many ways to use this term, though. Some are:

· “I will go down with this ship.” = I believe in this ship so much it had better happen or I can’t even.

· “I totally ship them!” = I want these two characters to kiss and get married and have four babies and a house.

· “My ship has sunk.” = I no longer want these two characters to be together OR It is impossible for these two characters to be together any longer.

In some cases, I actually really like shipping. In other cases, I really don’t. Some fandoms become completely divided over ships, especially if they don’t work out or if the characters end up with someone completely different. All in all, shipping can get aggressive, and should definitely be approached carefully. You may go down with that ship.

About the Author :

Kate Kate Bucklein is a clumsy, nineteen-year-old writer of YA epic fantasy living in Northern Arizona, where they really do get snow and the occasional tumbleweed. She's a college sophomore working toward getting her degree in Global Affairs with an emphasis on Intelligence Analysis.

Connect with Kate: Twitter ~ Blog

Eight Query Do’s and Don’ts

By Renée Ahdieh

1. DO: Personalize your query. Take the time to look up the agent's name and gender. A "Dear Sir or Madame" will not get you far. Nor will a generic "To Whom It May Concern" or an email blast to fifty agents on a preferred list. That being said, I wouldn't write "Sup, Barbara" atop my query, either. Well, my agent might laugh. Right before she deletes it.

2. DON'T: Begin your query with a question. I know the temptation is there. After all, so many movie theater trailers do it. In fact, the ubiquitous-ness of the rhetorical question in all things pitchy makes it an itch that just begs to be scratched. I mean, why wouldn't you want to read something this awesome, har-dee-har? DON'T DO IT. I've seen the rhetorical question work exactly one time. And that person got EIGHT offers of representation. The moral of the story is this: don't count your agents before they offer. Stay away from questions of all kinds. Especially rhetorical ones.

3. DO: Stick to naming one character. Maybe a villain, if you're feeling lucky. If your plot has two points of view, then name both. Once you start naming the main character's grandma Mae, best friend Aesop, and pet hamster Cheeko, you're in Character Soup territory. Trust me. The agent's lost. And his/her finger is hovering over "Delete."

4. DON'T: Go over a page. Really, I don't think your query should be longer than three hundred words. And that includes the ditty about yourself. I know, I know . . . your fantasy world is complex. But the truth is, we don't need to know why the planet is in turmoil from a nearby star in constant flux. We just need to know who the main character is and why we should care about her/him for 60,000+ words.

5. DO: Show us how you write. I know this isn't always what you might hear elsewhere, but I do think it's important to show your voice in a query. That doesn't mean you should write as your character, but be voicey. Showing and not telling is of tantamount importance here. And the best way to do that is by being voicey. Bonus points for making an agent laugh. Seriously.

6. DON'T: Lie. This seems like a given, but it's amazing how many times I've heard this to be an issue. Agents ALWAYS google potential clients. If you say you've been published in something or that you've sold a gajillion things as a self-published author, please know how easy it is to check this. Don't lie in your query. It won't help you. Maybe an agent might give five seconds more to your pages than they would have given without the lie, but if your writing doesn't stand up, it won't make a bit of difference.

7. DO: Offer comparative titles. This is a great way for an agent to get an immediate appreciation for how your book stands up against the market. It also shows an agent your understanding of the industry.

8. DON'T: Compare your book to blockbusters. For the love of all that's holy, don't say you've written the next TWILIGHT or HUNGER GAMES or HARRY POTTER. Please. It's also unlikely you've written the next LORD OF THE RINGS. Just don't do it. And, no matter how many badass sigils and fire-breathing winged things you have in your near-Welsh-like world, you're not GRRM. Just don't. Mmkay? Be original. Show that you've read beyond the grocery store checkout line.

About the Author :


Renee Ahdieh is a writer of Young Adult books. Her novel THE WRATH AND THE DAWN, a reimagining of The Arabian Nights, will be published by Penguin/Putnam in 2015.
Connect with Renee . . .
Website ~ Twitter ~ Goodreads

Query.Sign.Submit. with Patricia Nelson

Patricia represents adult and young adult fiction, and is actively looking to build her list. Agency policy is to respond to all queries. If you haven’t heard from her within four weeks of sending a query, your email might have gotten caught by the spam filter - please resend!

To connect with and learn more about Patricia . . .

Marsal Lyon Literary Agency

literary agent and authorNow for Patricia’s insight on querying, signing with an agent, and going on submission!


What advice would you give to querying writers?

Definitely make sure that your query is polished, but I do think that it’s possible for a writer to focus too much attention on the query letter. Remember that a query is necessary to catch an agent’s attention, but it is not the end product in and of itself – the book is. I think sometimes writers make the mistake of endlessly revising their query and first 10 pages at the expense of polishing the full manuscript, perhaps because it (understandably) seems like a more manageable project to tackle. Don’t let revising your query letter bring the rest of your writing to a halt – you can write the most perfect query, but the book itself still needs to live up to that promise.

Do you always read a query all the way through? If not, what would make you stop reading?

In general, I make it a point to read a query all the way through. However, there are certain kinds of stories that I’m not looking for right now – for example, it’s unlikely that I would be drawn to represent a YA novel about vampires at this particular moment, given the current market – and other storylines that I know that I’m just not the right agent for in general – e.g. plots that center on sexual violence tend not to be for me. (I would have missed out on GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO for sure!) Usually I can tell if a query is pitching one of these “not right for me at this time” stories fairly early on. I also might stop reading a query before the end if the writing itself is extremely clunky: poorly constructed sentences, multiple misused words, etc.

Do you ever offer a Revise & Resubmit? When would you do so?

Yes, I have replied with a Revise & Resubmit in instances where I loved both the hook and the writing, but felt that something wasn’t quite clicking with the story – usually these are cases where the plot or pacing isn’t quite tight enough yet. When I do offer an R&R, I’ll usually send substantial notes for the author to work from… and I am always really hoping that the revisions will pan out and that when the next draft turns up in my inbox I’ll fall in love! That doesn’t always happen, but if I respond with an R&R, it means that I genuinely believe that the book could get to a point where I would want to offer representation.


What is it like waiting to hear back from a writer you’ve offered representation?

Waiting is always nerve wracking! If I’ve offered representation, it means that I’ve really connected to a book, and I want the chance to be a part of that writer’s journey to publication. Just imagine the butterflies that you feel when you’ve just sent off a query to your first choice agent – waiting to hear back after offering representation, the tables have turned, and I’m feeling that exact same feeling.

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

When I offer representation, my hope is always that we are beginning a relationship that will last for the duration of the author’s career. It typically makes sense for an author to start working on a new book while the first is out on submission (keeping busy can keep you from going crazy over what can be a long process!), so it’s likely that we would start discussing a next project before the book that I offered on has even sold.

Once a writer has signed with you, what’s the next step?

I’m a fairly editorial agent, so once I’ve signed an author the first thing I’ll do is carefully reread the manuscript, making comments in-text and then writing up an editorial letter suggesting revisions. Depending on how much work a novel needs to get in the absolute best shape possible, we might go back and forth on a couple rounds of revisions, or we might move on right away to prepping the submission.


Do you forward editor feedback to writers?

This is up to the writers – some people like to see all correspondence from editors, and others would find this experience discouraging or even demoralizing. I’ll tend to explicitly ask what the author prefers before we even go out on submission.

At what point might you suggest making more revisions?

If the feedback from editors is all skewing in the same direction and it’s looking like we’ll need to go out on a second round, I’ll likely have a conversation with the author about whether the passes from editors collectively point to something that we feel could and should be shifted, or whether we just haven’t yet found the right home for the book.

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

It’s always okay to check in! I believe that if you don’t feel comfortable checking in with your agent (and confident that you’ll get a quick response), the relationship isn’t working as it should be.

Thanks, Patricia!

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Posted October, 2014 – Always check for current info and guidelines.

Five Powerful Tools for Writers

Whether you’re gearing up for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) or just want some new writing tools to help things along, here are some great ones to try.

1. Scrivener – Well come on, you knew I’d say that first, right? If you’ve never used this amazing program, or have been putting off trying it out, now’s the time to dive in. Head over to our Getting Started with Scrivener post for a step-by-step guide. And if you want some tips and tricks to get even more out of the program, check out the Scrivener posts under Tools for Writers.

snapshots 3

2. Save the Cat – Plotter, pantster, somewhere in between? The Save the Cat method by Blake Snyder is one everyone can use to structure a story and adjust as you go along. It’s written for screenwriters, but works for novels too. On our Graphic Organizers page, you’ll find a couple Save the Cat Beat Sheet templates as well as an Excel doc that will calculate which pages things should be happening on. If you’re not familiar with it, I’d recommend checking out the website and reading the first Save the Cat book.

3. HivewordHiveword is a great tool for laying out the scenes in your story. You input notes on your scenes including characters, plotlines, and settings. You can then sort by any of the above, list scenes in order or filter by things like POV and plotline, and use the scene sorter to rearrange your scenes. And it’s all free at Hiveword.com.


4. Pinterest – Whether you just need a little inspiration or you want to build a board about your story, don’t forget about Pinterest as a writing tool. When you need a break, or you’re stuck on an element of your story, sometimes exploring the visual makes a big difference.


5. Pro Writing Aid – You probably won’t need this until you’re finished with your draft, but it’s a big help and a huge timesaver. You can copy and paste a chapter or two at a time onto their website at ProWritingAid to find things like overused words, repeated words and phrases, and grammar issues. The paid version (well worth it in my opinion) gives you a Word plug-in that lets you make changes right in your Word doc, saving even more time.

pro writing aid

Now you’re armed with some top-notch tools to take your writing to the next level. Have fun!

   *Illustration by duchessa.

Research agents in Query.Sign.Submit. interviews
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About the Author :

IMG_8578Dee Romito is an elementary teacher, freelance educational writer, and children’s/young adult author represented by Uwe Stender. Her middle grade debut, SUMMER BUCKET LIST will be published by Aladdin/Simon & Schuster in 2015.

Connect with Dee: 

Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Pinterest ~ Tumblr ~ Goodreads

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How to Add Depth to Your Protagonist

Guest post by Angela Ackerman

I love it when a great story idea grips me. Often, it starts with one small thing…a sound or a flash image. Sometimes I’ll get both, something utterly sensory that sends a thrill through me, like the ominous flutter of a plastic grocery bag caught in a tree branch on a windy day. Immediately I’ll start to “know” things. There’s water nearby. A dead body lays in the reeds, a teenage girl. A boy with find her, one who has lost the ability to speak. Snippets trickle in, clues of the story ahead, of what is to come. Excitement builds. I’m sure it’s a similar process for many of you.

There’s always the temptation to rush head first down the rabbit hole, to write that first scene, the one where the mute boy discovers the girl’s body. To leap in and describe it all—how the light dapples the water, the warmth of the sun, the paleness of flesh devoid of life. But the truth is, I’m not ready to write. I shouldn’t write. Because even if I know exactly how the scene will go, what the male hero will do, how he will drag the body onto the bank, hoping, praying the girl is still alive, I don’t know anything yet about who he really is.

The protagonist is the true heart of a story. The immediate events around him—discovering a dead body, pulling it from the river—will keep a reader glued to the page at the start, but the compulsion to read on will fade if something deeper isn’t introduced. What keeps people reading isn’t intense action scenes, but rather the emotional component of the hero’s connection to what is happening, and how it affect him on the inside.

Some assume that emotions are sort of standard…that this situation would make someone scared and that situation will bring them joy. But it really is so much more complex than that. Each person in real life is a complicated and unique being, shaped by their past, molded by what life had thrown their way and how they have coped with challenges, both good and bad. They have motivations for everything they do. People have fears, they have worries, and deeply embedded emotional wounds that mean certain events and situations act as triggers. These triggers may evoke much different emotional reactions (both type and intensity) than they would for someone else.

People have vastly complex personalities, including flaws which have emerged as a type of “emotional armor” as a result of their hurts and fears. And while they believe these negative traits keep them from being rejected, disappointed or hurt again, they actually hold them back from becoming someone stronger, more self assured and complete. Luckily, every person also has a positive side to their personality—morals and character strengths that see them past adversity, helping them achieve their goals, build better relationships and reinforce their individual identity.

The question becomes, if each of us is this complex…don’t we want to read about characters just as layered and meaningful? Of course the answer is yes, but this leads to one more question…to get to know our character in depth, where does a writer start?

You’ll notice this post is peppered with links…why not follow a few to gain a deeper insight about some of these important elements of character building? Then, when you have a deeper understanding of what shapes a character, try out some of the tools below.


The Reverse Backstory Tool: a visual aid to help you see how your hero’s specific attributes, flaws, emotional wound (and lie the character believes about himself), and greatest needs all tie into revealing inner motivation to achieve the outer goal.

Protagonist Goal Checklist: a great Character Arc checklist that asks all the important questions regarding your hero’s pursuit of his goal.

Character Profile Questionnaire: not your average height, weight, hair color type questions...instead, dig deeper into who your character is by asking probing questions about his fears, morals, secrets, emotional wounds, special skills and interests.

A List of 638 Positive and Negative Character Traits: a great starting place to think about how to blend unusual traits to create a truly memorable and unique character.

Character Attribute Target Tool: visualize your hero’s best qualities as they fall into the 4 categories of Positive Traits: Moral-focused, Achievement-focused, Interactive-focused and Identity-Focused, building a well-rounded hero who is capable of winning the day.

Character Flaw Pyramid Tool: organize your hero’s flaws, from minor to fatal, and brainstorm how these flaws manifest through behaviors, especially when stress or fear enters the picture.

Michael Hauge’s 6 Stage Plot Structure for a Character’s Inner Journey: like a bit of structure with your Character Arc? Hit all the highlights for struggle and growth to create a satisfying internal journey.

These tools and links should help you dig deep into your protagonist and his backstory, helping you to better understand what makes him tick, what his demons are, and what emotional wounds from his past they must overcome to succeed.

Happy brainstorming!

image Angela Ackerman is a writing coach and co-author of three bestselling resources, The Emotion Thesaurus: a Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, The Positive Trait Thesaurus: a Writer’s Guide to Character Attributes and The Negative Trait Thesaurus: a Writer’s Guide to Character Flaws. A proud indie author, her books are sourced by US universities and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors and psychologists around the world. Angela can be found at the popular site, Writers Helping Writers, which specializes in building innovative tools for writers that cannot be found elsewhere.