Upcoming Agent Spotlight Interviews & Guest Posts

  • Gemma Cooper Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 12/13/2021
  • Stacey Kondla Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 12/15/2021

Agent Spotlight & Agent Spotlight Updates

  • All Agent Spotlights & Interviews have been updated as of 7/15/2020, and many have been reviewed by the agents. Look for them to be fully updated in 2023.

Transitioning From a Self-Published to Hybrid Author by Author Karen Pokras and The Backyard Secrets of Danny Wexler Giveaway

Happy Monday Everyone! Today I’m excited to have debut author Karen Pokras here to share a guest post to celebrate the release of her MG historical The Backyard Secrets of Danny Wexler. It sounds like a great story that combines historical with mysteries to solve. I’m looking forward to reading it.

Here’s a blurb from Goodreads:

Eleven-year-old Danny Wexler, the only Jewish boy in his blue-collar town during the late 1970s, is obsessed with the Bermuda Triangle. When a local child goes missing, Danny's convinced it's connected to an old Bermuda Triangle theory involving UFOs. With his two best friends and their Spacetron telescope, Danny heads to his backyard to investigate. But hunting for extraterrestrials is complicated, and it doesn't help that his friend Nicholas's mom doesn't want her son hanging out with a Jewish boy. Equipped with his super-secret spy notebook, Danny sets out to fight both the aliens and the growing anti-Semitism in the town, in hopes of mending his divided community.

Now here’s Karen!

Hello and thank you so much for inviting me to write about my publishing journey!

My journey started out later in life, as it took me a while to figure out that I wanted to be a writer. In fact, growing up, I probably wanted to be anything but a writer. I was a numbers person (still am, really) and spent much of my professional life writing only law and tax related emails and memos. But I had a story floating around in my head and a nagging feeling that I’d be missing out on something truly amazing if I didn’t try to write it. Turns out, I was correct – just not about the story. That didn’t turn out quite as amazing as I’d hoped. I’m talking about taking the leap into writing. And while the road to publication has at times been rocky, I haven’t looked back since, although I still do love my numbers.

Putting aside my first non-amazing book, I wrote a second story just over ten years ago and thought it might be good enough to publish. But I knew even less about publishing than I knew about writing. I first learned about self-publishing and felt it was a great place to start, enjoying the business end of each process: editing, cover design, formatting, timing, and marketing. I continued down this path for several more books, winning a few literary awards along the way. But as much as I loved the experience of self-publishing, I met certain roadblocks when it came to stocking my middle grade books in schools and public libraries and became curious about other types of publishing and what they had to offer in terms of distribution.

Finding an agent took many years, several manuscripts, continued growth and learning as a writer, countless internal pep talks, and a lot of patience. At some point, I lost track of the number of rejection letters I’d received. But I’d also been receiving some requests for partial and full manuscripts. Those little inklings of interest, even though they didn’t turn into offers, kept me going, and I kept writing new stories. Then, in 2018, Barbara Krasner from Olswanger Literary offered representation for the manuscript that would become THE BACKYARD SECRETS OF DANNY WEXLER, and I was thrilled! Upon Barbara’s advice, I decided to first submit to PJ Library’s PJ Our Way program. My manuscript went through a few rounds of deep edits based on thoughtful and invaluable feedback from PJ’s young and grown readers, and I’m excited to say THE BACKYARD SECRETS OF DANNY WEXLER will be a PJ Our Way monthly selection next summer. From PJ, we found my publisher, Kar-Ben Publishing, an imprint of Lerner Publishing.

My book hit the shelves on November 1st!  Another thrilling moment!

Admittedly, after self-publishing for many years, I was worried that transitioning to a more traditional model might be challenging. I was used to having complete creative control over things like cover design and even editing, and everything moved much faster with self-publishing. Did I really have to wait nearly two years for my book to come out? But, once the process began, all of my worries disappeared. Each step of the publishing process has been truly exciting through this new experience, and now that DANNY WEXLER is out, there’s nothing better than seeing it in reader’s hands. It’s also great to see it in so many schools and libraries.

Going forward, I have two new middle grade manuscripts: one currently on submission, and another that has made its way through PJ Our Way’s critical eye and is ready to go on submission. I also have a new agent as Barbara decided to take a different career path. I’m so grateful for all that she did for me and look forward to an exciting future with my new agent, Sera Rivers at Martin Literary. Stay tuned!


Karen Pokras is the author of the middle grade novel The Backyard Secrets of Danny Wexler (Lerner/Kar-Ben, November 2021) and the author of numerous award-winning self-published books. A numbers geek at heart with degrees in law and finance, Karen enjoys a good spreadsheet almost as much as she loves storytelling. Always an avid reader, Karen found her passion for writing later in life. Over the past ten years, Karen has spoken at various workshops and events on topics related to marketing books and writing for children. A native of Connecticut, Karen is a daisy lover, cat wrangler, occasional baker, and the proud mom to three brilliant teens/young-adults who still provide an endless stream of great book material. She lives with her family outside of Philadelphia. ​For more information, visit karenpokras.com.  Karen can also be found on social media, mostly on Instagram: @karenpokras_author  and occasionally on Facebook:  www.facebook.com/karenptoz and Twitter: @karentoz .

Giveaway Details

Karen has generously offered a hardback of The Backyard Secrets of Danny Wexler for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower of my blog (via the follower gadget, email, or bloglovin’ on the right sidebar) and leave a comment by December 18th. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter the contest. Please be sure I have your email address.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog and/or follow me on Twitter, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry for each. You must be 13 years old or older to enter. This giveaway is U.S.

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday is hosted by Greg Pattridge. You can find the participating blogs on his blog.

Upcoming Interviews and Giveaways

Monday, December 13th I have an agent spotlight interview with Jemma Cooper and a query critique giveaway

Wednesday, December 15th I have an agent spotlight interview with Stacey Kondla and a query critique giveaway

Thursday, December 16th I’m participating in the Dashing December Giveaway Hop

Wednesday, January 5th I have an interview with debut author Leslie Vedder and a giveaway of her YA fantasy The Bone Spindler and my IWSG post

Monday, January 10th I have an agent/debut author guest post with Charlotte Wenger and Nancy Tandon and a query critique and MG contemporary The Way I Say It giveaway

Wednesday, January 12th I have an agent spotlight interview with Haley Casey and a query critique giveaway

Sunday, January 16th I’m participating in the Winter Wishes Giveaway Hop

Monday, January 17th I have an agent spotlight interview with Shannon Snow and a query critique giveaway

Hope to see you on Monday!



What to Expect When Your Agent Is Submitting Your Work by Agent/Author Cortney Radocaj and Claire Winn + Query Critique & City of Shattered Light Giveaway & IWSG Post

Happy Wednesday Everyone! Today I’m excited to have debut author Claire Winn and her agent Cortney Radocaj here with a guest post to share about how it works for an agent to submit an author’s manuscript to celebrate the release of Claire’s YA fantasy City of Shattered Light. It sounds like an action-packed story.

Here’s a blurb from Goodreads:

As darkness closes in on the city of shattered light, an heiress and an outlaw must decide whether to fend for themselves or fight for each other.

As heiress to a powerful tech empire, seventeen-year-old Asa Almeida strives to prove she's more than her manipulative father's shadow. But when he uploads her rebellious sister’s mind to an experimental brain, Asa will do anything to save her sister from reprogramming—including fleeing her predetermined future with her sister’s digitized mind in tow. With a bounty on her head and a rogue A.I. hunting her, Asa’s getaway ship crash-lands in the worst possible place: the neon-drenched outlaw paradise, Requiem.

Gun-slinging smuggler Riven Hawthorne is determined to claw her way up Requiem’s underworld hierarchy. A runaway rich girl is exactly the bounty Riven needs—until a nasty computer virus spreads in Asa’s wake, causing a citywide blackout and tech quarantine. To get the payout for Asa and save Requiem from the monster in its circuits, Riven must team up with her captive.

Riven breaks skulls the way Asa breaks circuits, but their opponent is unlike anything they’ve ever seen. The A.I. exploits the girls’ darkest memories and deepest secrets, threatening to shatter the fragile alliance they’re both depending on. As one of Requiem’s 154-hour nights grows darker, the girls must decide whether to fend for themselves or fight for each other before Riven’s city and Asa’s sister are snuffed out forever.

Before I get to my guest post with Claire and Cortney, I have my IWSG Post.

Posting: The first Wednesday is officially Insecure Writer's Support Group Day.

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

The awesome co-hosts with me this month are PJ Colando, Diane Burton, Louise – Fundy Blue, Jacqui Murray!

Optional Question: In your writing, what stresses you the most? What delights you?

The thing that stresses me the most is that I’m a slow writer. It makes me afraid to ever try to get published because I worry that I’ll be too stressed out writing on a deadline for a publisher. I’ve been writing four to five days a week for over a year now, and I am learning to write faster and get a chapter done in a few days to a week. But, I’m still nervous being a slow writer.

I do enjoy the process of writing. I also have been happy to see the quality of my writing improve. Even critique partners are commenting on it.

What stresses you and what do you enjoy about writing?

Guest Post by Claire Winn and Cortney Radocaj

Submission is the terrifying (and exciting!) stage after you’ve signed with an agent, who then sends your book into editors’ hands. But what happens, exactly, during that time? How is it different from querying?

      Querying vs Submission

Claire: Overall, I found the submission process less painful than querying.

Working with an agent means you have someone with insider knowledge of what’s selling, and who can vet future projects before you even finish them. You also get to skip the long, uncertain abyss of querying, which means fewer hoops to jump through for subsequent books.This can enable more creative freedom.

I also think the “bottleneck” is a little less extreme during submission. There are many more individuals querying books in your genre than there are authors on submission. Because many publishers only take submissions from agents, most editors have smaller slush piles to wade through than agents do. This means editors often spend a bit more time considering each submission, and you’re more likely to get thoughtful and positive feedback with rejections. However, it does not mean you’ll necessarily have faster response times—especially with the industry backed up after 2020.

Cortney: Definitely not on faster response times! A lot of agents can get back to you within a few weeks (at least on the initial request or decline); with editors, it’s not uncommon, particularly after the pandemic started, to have to wait months to hear back. This is partly because of workload, but also partly because of what editors are receiving—generally, submissions to editors are going to look a lot more polished and stronger than what agents see in their query box (that extra set of professional eyes really helps!). Editors have far fewer submissions, but the submissions they do receive are generally around the same caliber, which can make them more difficult to sort through quickly.

Claire: Submission also requires a few extra approvals before you’re offered a contract. Instead of a single agent falling in love with your book and deciding to rep it, an editor will likely need second reads and approval from an acquisitions committee before you get the book deal. Compared to querying, submission has its own complications, but I still think landing an agent is the toughest part of the process.

Cortney: Also on the author side, as something to be aware of, there also seems to be a lot more anxiety and feeling isolated from your peers. Something to watch for in yourself as you navigate submission!

      What does the submission process look like?

Cortney: Generally, submission looks fairly similar to querying—though there are some differences! The major one being you, as the author, don’t have to do most of the work; your agent is the one who will be building submission lists, emailing editors, nudging, etc. (though I do always ask my clients if they have any editors/presses/imprints they’ve had their eye on, and always make sure they’re happy with the finalized list). I always make sure we have everything prepared before sending off that first email, namely:

-       Full, polished manuscript, formatted to industry standard

-       Partial manuscript (~3 chapters, around 30-50 pages generally)

-       Pitch

-       Synopsis

-       Series synopsis/outline (if the manuscript is the first in a series/potential series)

-       Content warnings

Once we’re both happy with all of these, the submission process can officially begin!

I always start by building the submission list; they’re typically split into three separate “rounds”, depending on who we think might be the best fit and where each editor is at. Once we’re ready, I’ll send out the first round of emails!

….And then the waiting begins.

I nudge about every 3 months. When we get a rejection, I assess from there if we need to do any work on the manuscript, or if it just wasn’t the right fit and we can send to the next. Some agents will stick to individual rounds of editors; I prefer to keep the number of submissions we have out at any given time pretty steady, so when we get a rejection, I look to the next viable editor on our list.

Once you’ve gotten interest (i.e. an editor falls in love with your manuscript and wants to move forward), there are a few more steps that can happen, which Claire briefly mentioned earlier:

-       Second reads; the editor will have a couple other members of their team read the book and decide if they also think it should be picked up. If they agree, the book will move forward (Note: not every publisher has a second reads stage, though many do)

-       Executive approval; after the second reads, the manuscript can be sent to the executive editor, who will then decide if the book should move on to acquisitions or not (Note: not every publisher needs approval from the executive editor specifically, but a few do)

-       Acquisitions; this looks different from press to press, but can consist of the editorial team, marketing, sales, etc. The editor will pitch the book to them, and the team will decide whether to offer a contract. Sometimes there are multiple acquisitions meetings; sometimes the meetings with editorial and sales/marketing are separate.

At any point, the rest of the team can decide they don’t want to take the book on, for a variety of reasons (don’t think the writing is strong enough, won’t navigate the market well, etc.). There are many people a book has to go through to be sold—but be extremely proud of yourself, no matter where in the process you end up!

If your book makes it through acquisitions, the editor will extend an offer, and your agent will notify other editors you have an offer on the table (unless, of course, the offer is a pre-empt, where you take that offer only, and pull your book from consideration from other editors). Once you’ve decided if you want to take the offer, or choose another if you get one, your agent will move into contract negotiations with the publisher. This process can take a LONG time, sometimes months, which is why deals can be slow to be announced. But once negotiations are complete and the contract is signed, that’s when you’ll be able to announce the good news and dive into revisions with your editor! 

      Advice for authors on sub 

Claire: Pick a day—weekly or biweekly—for your agent to send you any rejections that have come in. This way, you don’t need to worry about getting rejection letters on vacation or during stressful times.

Cortney: Also decide if you want to see the rejection letters at all; you’re free to decide how much of a buffer you want your agent to be between you and those rejections. Some authors need to see the actual emails to feel closure, while others do better either just knowing the answer was no or getting a summary. (And you can always change your mind at any point in the process!)

Claire: Be flexible and willing to change anything that isn’t working. Just like querying, you might see trends in rejections that indicate more revision is needed.

And, though it might seem impossible, try to work on your next project. It’s hard to pull yourself out of the headspace of a story you’ve just polished—one with all the potential in the world—but sometimes the only way to avoid rejection heartbreak is to keep moving forward.

Cortney: And in the vein of avoiding rejection heartbreak—hold your author friends close. Submission can often feel more isolating than querying, for a variety of reasons (fewer resources to know what you’re getting into ahead of time, fewer authors to connect with, increased feelings of competition, increased feelings of failure if it doesn’t get picked up, etc.). Actively work against this when you can, and stay active in any writer communities you’re a part of. Getting positive feedback on something new can absolutely help reduce anxiety and disappointment when rejections come in!

           What happens if a book doesn’t get picked up? 

Cortney: This is a very real possibility for every book that goes out on submission—and a very normal occurrence. If you exhaust your list of editors with no success, that’s okay! It happens, and at that point you’ll discuss with your agent if it’s time to shelve the manuscript, if there are a couple other editors you could try, or if there are any revisions that could allow you to keep trying for this manuscript (i.e. if your book straddles age categories, like YA and adult, and you pitched as YA, you can discuss tweaking the book and sending out as adult).

But ultimately, if you shelve the book, you move on to the next. You’ll work with your agent on your next book, make it submission ready, and start the process again with a fresh manuscript. Shelving a book doesn’t mean it will never sell; sometimes books are better pitched once an author has a couple titles under their belt and the publisher sees it as less of a risk, since readers now know the author’s work. Sometimes the market just wasn’t quite right, and years down the line it might be. Sometimes the right editor wasn’t even taking acquisitions at the time, and now is. One book not selling absolutely does NOT mean another won’t, and it’s okay (and very normal!) for the book you sign with your agent to not be the one that sells first.

Claire: I haven’t had this happen on submission (yet), but the first book I wrote and queried is trunked for now. I’ve also grown as a writer since putting it aside, so it’s possible that those characters and concepts will be repurposed and sent on submission in the future. But it’s important to remember that you’ll always have more stories in you. 

      What should you expect of your agent during the sub process?

 Claire: It’s important that your agent keeps you in the loop and is willing to strategize with you frequently about next steps—editors for next submission rounds, whether revisions are required, etc. An agent who also checks in on your well-being is a godsend, and Cortney is amazing in that regard.

 Cortney: (<3 <3 thanks Claire!)

To expand on what Claire mentioned:-       Updates on what’s going on. How often and what you hear will vary, mostly on what YOU personally would like (i.e. some authors like updates as they come in, want the emails from editors forwarded to them, etc. and others prefer to use their agent as more of a buffer), but you should be aware of what’s happening with your book, and should always be able to get answers when you ask for them!

-       Nudging editors. Again, the exact details of this will vary from agent to agent, but you should expect your agent to nudge editors throughout the process. Not hearing from editors happens, and your agent can’t prevent that, but your agent should be doing what they can to get the response (within the bounds of publishing etiquette, of course).

-       Support. Subbing is scary! It’s a big unknown and can feel a lot more anxiety-inducing and isolating than querying for a lot of authors. Every author’s needs will be different and every agent’s approach to supporting their authors different as well, but if you have questions or concerns about what’s going on during sub, you should feel comfortable doing so, and your agent should be able to answer to the best of their abilities. There are a lot of things both agent and author won’t have control over during this process, but we understand that in itself causes anxiety in a lot of authors, and we’re here to support you and be your champion throughout! Be aware of and respect your agent’s personal boundaries (i.e. we can’t be therapists, for our own mental health), but if you’re concerned or need a little reassurance that you’re doing everything you can, ask! 


Overall, the mechanics of query and the submission process are extremely similar—but the nitty gritty of them are vastly different. Submission can feel overwhelming and terrifying, as a lot of the information on individual editors isn’t widely available for anyone to see (which is why agents connect with editors often!)—but having a good agent in your corner is a gamechanger, and they’ll get you through the process as smoothly as possible.


Claire Winn (Author, City of Shattered Light)

Twitter: @Atomic_Pixie

Website: www.clairewinn.com

Instagram: @clairewinnauthor

TikTok: @clairewinnauthor

Cortney Radocaj (Agent, Belcastro Agency)

Twitter: @CortneyRadocaj

Website: www.cortneyradocaj.com

Agency site: www.belcastroagency.com

Query: QueryMe.Online/CortneyRadocaj

Giveaway Details

Claire has generously offered a paperback of City of Shattered Life and Cortney has offered a query critique for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower of my blog (via the follower gadget, email, or bloglovin’ on the right sidebar) and leave a comment by December 18th. If you do not want to be included in the critique giveaway, please let me know in the comments. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter the contest. Please be sure I have your email address.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog and/or follow me on Twitter, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry for each. You must be 13 years old or older to enter. The book giveaway is U.S. and the query critique giveaway is International.

Upcoming Interviews and Giveaways

Monday, December 6th I have a guest post by debut author Karen Pokras and a giveaway of her MG historical The Backyard Secrets of Danny Wexler

Monday, December 13th I have an agent spotlight interview with Jemma Cooper and a query critique giveaway

Wednesday, December 15th I have an agent spotlight interview with Stacey Kondla and a query critique giveaway

Thursday, December 16th I’m participating in the Dashing December Giveaway Hop

Hope to see you on Monday!


Winter Is Coming Giveaway Hop

Happy Wednesday Everyone! I hope you're having a happy holiday season and are getting to spend more time with family than last year. It's a good time of the year to try to relax more too and do fun things. I'm wishing you all Happy Holidays!

Today I'm thrilled to be participating in the Winter Is Coming Giveaway Hop hosted by The Mommy Island and The Kids Did ItI’m doing this giveaway a little differently this time. 

Book of Your Choice or Amazon Gift Card

I am offering a book of your choice that is $20 or less on Amazon or The Book Depository. I’m looking forward to seeing what books everyone is looking forward to reading. If you don’t have a book you want, you can win a $10 Amazon Gift Card.

Giveaway Details

One lucky entrant selected by the entry form will receive a book of their choice for $20 or less at Amazon or The Book Depository or a $10 Amazon Gift Card. Open to entrants internationally as long The Book Depository ships to you for free, 13 years and older. Open for entry from 12/1 – 12/21/2021 at 11:59 pm EST. NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. The selected winner will have 48 hours to respond to the notification email to claim this prize or a new winner will be selected.

Please note that you must be a blog follower and leave a blog comment to enter the contest. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Upcoming Interviews and Giveaways

Today I also have a guest post by debut author Claire Winn and a giveaway of her YA fantasy City of Shattered Light and my IWSG post

Monday, December 6th I have a guest post by debut author Karen Pokras and a giveaway of her MG historical The Backyard Secrets of Danny Wexler

Monday, December 13th I have an agent spotlight interview with Jemma Cooper and a query critique giveaway

Wednesday, December 15th I have an agent spotlight interview with Stacey Kondla and a query critique giveaway

Thursday, December 16th I’m participating in the Dashing December Giveaway Hop

Hope to see you on later today!

Here are all the other blogs participating in this blog hop:

Debut Author Interview: Nancy McConnell and Into the Lion’s Mouth Giveaway

Happy Monday Everyone! Today I’m excited to have debut author Nancy McConnell here to share about her historical MG fantasy Into the Lion’s Mouth. It sounds like a fast-paced story with compelling characters that make me really excited to read it. It’s gotten great reviews.

Here’s a blurb from Goodreads:

In 1498, an orphan can’t expect much out of life. But the Renaissance is burgeoning, and Venice ripe with infinite possibilities. Nico is a child of the city, and his veins run with canal water.

He’s determined to use his wit and wile to become something more than another errand boy. But his hopes come crashing down when he witnesses a crime that puts a target on his back.

To escape the vengeance of the corrupt Lord Foscari, Nico travels half a world away to safety. But danger follows him to the streets of Constantinople where he discovers a peril looms over Venice. Now he’s forced to make a choice: stay safe in a foreign land and let his beloved birthplace fall or risk his life to save everything he loves.

 Hi Nancy! Thanks so much for joining us. 

Thank you for having me, Natalie. I am super excited to be here! Your blog played a big part in my journey to publication, so having an interview is another dream come true for me.

1. I'm so glad to hear that Literary Rambles was a help in your journey. Tell us about yourself and how you became a writer.

Besides being a writer, I teach preschool, am an amateur photographer, and a passionate baker and cook.  I am mom to three adult children, an uber cute doggo and wife of 32 years to my amazing husband. I have always wanted to be a writer.  I think that’s because I have always been an avid reader. But it took me quite a long time to get there. I spent too much time not believing it was possible for me. When my children were small, I revisited my old book friends with them and remembered how much those books had filled my life as I child. I just knew I wanted to write books that would enhance other children’s lives too. So I took the plunge and I joined writer’s groups, made writer friends, attended conferences, took classes, wrote, edited, submitted and after fifteen years (yes fifteen!) I finally achieved the cherry on the top of my writer dream – a published book!

2. That’s great that you decided to take the plunge. Where did you get the idea for Into the Lion’s Mouth?

I got the idea on a family trip we took to Italy. Italy is an amazing country full of good food, beautiful scenery and so much history. We were taking a tour through the Doge’s Palace in Venice, and I was just overwhelmed by the history that must have taken place in between those walls. I could almost feel stories crowding around me begging to be told. But of course, I didn’t know any of those stories. When I got back home I spent some time reading the history of Venice and it was even more fascinating that I had imagined, I knew I could write an exciting story set there, but it had to be kid friendly. When I came across the details about the orphan hospitals I knew my story would start there.

3. How cool that your story idea came to you from a family trip. People who have reviewed your book have commented on how detailed you were in describing Venice and its historical places and that you made them want to visit Venice. What research did you do into the time period and Venice? How did you organize all that you learned to create such an interesting, vivid setting?

I spend a lot of time reading about the history of Venice and lucky for me it is truly fascinating. Last count I read over eleven different books about Venice and the time period I was interested in. I did a lot of Google searching which is hit or miss in terms of good research. Whenever I would come across a detail that I loved, or thought I could use, I would keep a note of it. And when it came to writing the book, I would skim my notes often to remind me what I wanted to include. I also relied on my own experience in Venice, because luckily the city has retained its flavor for the last thousand years. Art from the period was a great help when writing description of events or people. Wherever I have a real person or a real event in the book I would try to find art pieces relevant to who or what I was writing about. Descriptions of Doge Mocenigo and Queen Catarina come directly from portraits painted during their lifetime.

4. It sounds like Into the Lion’s Mouth is very fast-paced and a real page turner. What was your plotting process like and how did you keep the plot constantly moving forward? What tips do you have for other writers?

It’s good to hear that, because typically I am seat of my pants girl when it comes to plotting my novels. But for this book I really wanted to have a direction. I laid out all the big events I needed to include in the book and gave myself a timeline. I used sticky notes for this because it’s easy to move them around when you need to change the timing of events in the story. That really helped. There was one thing I did with this story that I had never done before and maybe that’s what contributed to the fast-paced page turner feeling of the book. Whenever I was writing I would stop writing before I was finished. What I mean is that I would end my writing day in the very middle of a chapter or event so when I picked it up the next day, I knew exactly what was going to happen and I hit the ground running when I sat down to work.  It made it much easier to keep going and to get over the difficult saggy middle sections that often trip me up. It also gave me more incentive to write because I wanted to finish what I had started. I write sparingly anyway, so my editing process often means adding rather than taking away text. I think that worked to my advantage with this type of action and adventure story.

5. That’s a great tip to wait until the next day to finish the chapter so you know where the chapter is headed. Nico sounds like a complex, loveable character. What are some things that you love most about him?

I love that Nico always ends up doing the right thing, even when he really doesn’t want to. I was inspired by the contrast in the character of Venice itself, a supposedly very mercenary city but also a very religious city. The citizens strove to be wealthy and powerful, but they provided free care for orphans and widows, and they insisted on non-hereditary succession to avoid any one family from becoming too powerful. I wanted to put that dichotomy into Nico. He wants to be rich and powerful, but he ultimately does things that will jeopardize his chances because he knows it’s the right thing to do.

6. Share about what your road to publication was like.

Like pretty much all writers my road was a long and winding one. I got a lot of rejections. I have three other novels and a graphic novel that I submitted to editors and agents over a ten-year period. I did secure an agent for another middle grade novel which ultimately was not picked up by any publishing companies. I just had a gut feeling that INTO THE LION’S MOUTH was going to be my debut, and I ended up parting ways with my agent because she didn’t share that vision. Historical fiction for middle grade was not trending at the time, but recently I believe there is a renewed interest in getting kids into history. After submitting it to quite a few agents and not progressing I happened to read a Literary Rambles blog with a debut author (Karen Biggs) who had published with Immortal Works Press. I did some research and thought my book sounded like a good fit for the company. I submitted and a few months later and I got an offer. I was elated! The timeline was faster than with a bigger company, so it was just over year from when I signed the contract until my book was available!

7. So happy to hear that my interview with Karen helped you so much. Your book released on 9/7/2021. What did you do to promote your book? In retrospect, was there anything you would have done differently?

I did a lot of social media and reaching out to reviewers. I requested my reviewers to post their reviews on publication day which really help get a boost in sales. My book even sat at number one in a category on Amazon for a day! That was fun! Because my book is set in Venice, I used that as well as other fun history facts to create excitement about what was in the book. Looking back, I found it hard to promote something that didn’t exist yet, in the future I would try harder to find materials related to my book to promote it pre-publication. The other thing I didn’t find out about until later was that there are groups for authors debuting each year that you can join and brainstorm together, I didn’t find out about this until my book was almost out and I probably missed some opportunities there. But the good news is that it is never too late to promote your book, and a slow and steady sales are even better for your book’s life!

8. What advice do you have for other writers about what they should do in the year leading up to their release to build a social network platform and connect with librarians, teachers, and other readers of their book?

I am not the best person to ask about promotion. As an introvert it is super hard to push myself forward. That said, I am very grateful to social media for offering many opportunities to promote my work that I am comfortable with. I found the Instagram community very helpful. There are people there excited about books and wanting to promote good ones just for the love of books. Finding a hashtag that relates to your book and then reaching out to followers of that is a great place to start. For example, I looked for people who used #mgbooks and #historicalficion as starting points to find people who might like to read and promote my book.  Honestly, I think the best thing I did was to reach out to get reviews for my book before it was published. Those reviews really help to get the word out.

Family and friends are great resources as well. We can all tap into a much wider audience than we ever could before. I have sold books because someone else posted it on their social media page. Having a street team who are willing to talk about your book to other people is such a benefit. I know an author who’s organized a whole campaign of friends, family and fellow authors to get the word out on the street about her book!

Promotion is an ongoing thing and it’s never too late to start or try something new!

9. That’s great advice that it’s never too late to market your book or try a new approach to it. What are you working on now?

I probably have too many irons in the fire right now! I have a contemporary middle grade about a girl who inherits a mysterious house I currently editing , I also have a complete graphic novel that is illustrated by my daughter which we are currently looking for an agent for, that’s called THINGS YOU NEVER KNEW EXISTED, and it’s a story about two sisters who discover a real rocket ship that sends one into outer space. And lastly, I have two other books that are still percolating mostly in my brain, and one involves a well-loved character from INTO THE LION’S MOUTH.

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Nancy. You can find Nancy at

Website: Nancymcconnell.com

Instagram – nancyemcc66
FaceBook - @nancywritesforkids

Twitter - @nancyemcc

Giveaway Details

Nancy has generously offered a paperback of Into the Lion’s Mouth for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower of my blog (via the follower gadget, email, or bloglovin’ on the right sidebar) and leave a comment by December 11th. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter the contest. Please be sure I have your email address.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog and/or follow me on Twitter, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry for each. You must be 13 years old or older to enter. This giveaway is U.S. and Canada.

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday is hosted by Greg Pattridge. You can find the participating blogs on his blog.

Upcoming Interviews and Giveaways

Wednesday, December 1st I’m participating in the December Is Coming Giveaway Hop. I also have a guest post by debut author Claire Winn and a giveaway of her YA fantasy City of Shattered Light and my IWSG post

Monday, December 6th I have a guest post by debut author Karen Pokras and a giveaway of her MG historical The Backyard Secrets of Danny Wexler

Monday, December 13th I have an agent spotlight interview with Jemma Cooper and a query critique giveaway

Wednesday, December 15th I have an agent spotlight interview with Stacey Kondla and a query critique giveaway

Thursday, December 16th I’m participating in the Dashing December Giveaway Hop

Hope to see you on Wednesday!



Agent Spotlight: Danielle Chiotti Interview and Query Critique Giveaway

Today I’m thrilled to have agent Danielle Chiotti here. She is a literary agent at Upstart Crow Literary.

Hi­ Danielle! Thanks so much for joining us.

About Danielle:

1. Tell us how you became an agent, how long you’ve been one, and what you’ve been doing as an agent.

I became an agent in 2009. I had been working as an acquisitions editor doing both fiction and nonfiction since 2002, and I wanted to have more freedom and creativity in my work. Also: I had a baby, and I wanted flexibility in my working schedule that, at the time, publishers were not willing to extend to employees (and I’m glad to see how much that has changed in the past 10 years or so). So I sought out a career path that allowed me more balance, and to keep doing what I love—making books—while raising a family.

As an agent, I’ve been working across categories on books that I love, from middle grade to YA to adult upmarket fiction to cookbooks, memoir, and beyond. I tend toward fish out of water stories, and stories featuring characters with rich inner lives, who are trying to find their way in the world.

I love working with first time authors, and the bulk of my list is comprised of clients whom I’ve found from reading queries (rather than from referrals). So take heart, writers! Querying agents is often about playing the long game, but it pays off in the end.

About the Agency:

2. Share a bit about your agency and what it offers to its authors.

Upstart Crow is a boutique literary agency based in Brooklyn. We take a long view of our clients’ careers, working closely with them to shape their projects and build a writing life that is creative, fulfilling, and lucrative. We bring a variety of publishing experience together in one place. Many of us worked at publishers before becoming agents, so we’ve done the job from both sides of the desk, and we use that experience to guide our authors.  

What She’s Looking For:

3. What age groups do you represent—picture books, MG, and/or YA? What genres do you represent and what are you looking for in submissions for these genres?

I represent mostly middle grade and YA (though I recently made my very first picture book sale, which has been exciting and very gratifying!).

I read for voice first, and everything else second. So what I’m looking for is a character with a voice that makes me sit up and take notice. I’m also looking for a strong character arc, in terms of emotional motivation. Basically, I love a story in which a character’s innermost fear messes up their life, and they have to figure out a way to put it to rights!

Since I read for voice first, that means I am open to most every genre. I’m looking to be surprised and delighted, and I always love to take on projects in new categories or categories I haven’t tried before. Categories I seem to come back to again and again are: contemporary with a slightly magical twist, fish out of water stories, books that straddle the literary/commercial divide, novels-in-verse, novels with experimental use of form or prose, historical, adventure, comedy, spooky/horror…I’m sure I’m missing something here. But I think the most important takeaway for readers is that I’m looking to be surprised and delighted, and that feeling spans many categories!

4. Is there anything you would be especially excited to seeing in the genres you are interested in?

I would love to find a YA book that has the sex-positive spirit and deep friendship bonds of the TV show Sex Education.

What She Isn’t Looking For:

5. What types of submissions are you not interested in?

I’m not one to rule anything out—after all, there is growth in being surprised by many different types of stories. I can say that I don’t tend toward high fantasy or sci-fi as much as I do fantasy-lite or sci-fi lite.

Agent Philosophy:

6. What is your philosophy as an agent both in terms of the authors you want to work with and the books you want to represent?

My philosophy is that honesty, transparency, and collaboration lead to growth. In working with my clients, I am looking to help them write as authentically as possible, and to tease out the chewy, excellent human details that make a story great. I also subscribe to a sort of relentless optimism: onward and upward! Writing is a creative endeavor, publishing is a business. And I see my role as fostering a writer’s creativity while helping them navigate the business of being a writer.

Editorial Agent:

7. Are you an editorial agent? If so, what is your process like when you’re working with your authors before submitting to editors?

I am an editorial agent through and through. My publishing background is editorial and I love helping my clients dig deep in their stories. My process differs from client to client, based on their needs and the type of project. We may do several in-depth back-and-forths, or we maybe do a quick pass to add that extra sparkle. Each book is its own journey.

Query Methods and Submission Guidelines: (Always verify before submitting)

8. How should authors query you and what do you want to see with the query letter?

Authors should query via the instructions on the website and should submit the first 20 pages of their project along with their query letter.

9.  Do you have any specific dislikes in query letters or the first pages submitted to you?

First pages should be real first pages—meaning beginning at Chapter One. Authors are often tempted to send later chapters, when the action picks up, but that prevents me from getting to know the protagonist and becoming immersed in their personal arc.

You could talk to 10 different agents and they’d all give slightly differing opinions on how they like their query letters. Personally, I love it when a writer names the category and word count right up front in the first paragraph. It allows me to center myself, in terms of what to expect. I also love it when query letters can tell me what a character’s greatest fear is, and how they will be called upon to face that fear in the story.

Response Time:

10. What’s your response time to queries and requests for more pages of a manuscript?

My response time is 6 weeks. And regretfully, due to changes in my work-life balance since the start of the pandemic, I am only able to respond to queries that I am interested in.

Self-Published and Small Press Authors:

11.  Are you open to representing authors who have self-published or been published by smaller presses? What advice do you have for them if they want to try to find an agent to represent them?

Absolutely! My advice to authors who have self-published or who have been published by a small press is: be able to frame your work in terms of how you’d like to grow as an author, and how you’d like your career to progress. What’s next for you? How did your first book lay the groundwork for that? Use that experience to learn and grow, and look for an agent who can be a partner in helping you move forward.

12. With all the changes in publishing—self-publishing, hybrid authors, more small publishers—do you see the role of agents changing at all? Why?

I see an agent’s role as one that safeguards a writer’s creative space while making sure they can write as widely and freely as they want, and to assure they are being compensated fairly for that. How an agent goes about that may shift and change as publishing shifts and changes, but agents are used to navigating change. And our first priority is always to act as an advocate for our clients. That role doesn’t shift, even if publishing does.


13. Who are some of the authors you represent?

On the children’s side, my clients include NYT bestselling author Jacqueline West, who writes spooky middle grade and YA. Her most recent middle grade, LONG LOST (Greenwillow/HarperCollins), is a tale about ghost stories, sisters, and libraries), was just named to the Texas Bluebonnet Master List.  I also have several forthcoming debut authors I’m very excited about. Nicole Collier’s wonderful and warm debut, JUST RIGHT JILLIAN (Clarion/HarperCollins, Feb 2022) is about a shy fifth grader who is looking for a way to break out of her shell. And E.A. Carrington’s debut middle grade graphic novel, THE KINDA SORTA NORMAL LIFE OF JOSHUA JONES (HarperAlley, 2023) is a fast-paced romp about a boy whose wish for endless snow days results in snow zombies attacking his town, and it’s an ode to boyhood, friendship, and growing up. It will be illustrated by the fantastic Kitt Thomas, and I can’t wait for everyone to read this book! I’m also incredibly excited about Beth Hautala’s forthcoming middle grade, MIRACLE SEASON (Viking, 2022). Beth’s second novel, THE OSTRICH AND OTHER LOST THINGS, won a Christopher Award in 2019, and MIRACLE SEASON is cotemporary story of family with a slight magical twist; it’s a tender exploration of the lengths we’ll go for family, and how everything blooms when it’s ready.

And on the adult side, I’m so very excited about and proud of the work of my client Deesha Philyaw, whose debut short story collection THE SECRET LIVES OF CHURCH LADIES (WVU PRESS) won the Pen/Faulkner Award, the Story Prize, and was a National Book Award Finalist. And Brian Broome’s debut memoir, PUNCH ME UP TO THE GODS (HarperCollins/Mariner), recently won the Kirkus Prize for nonfiction, and was an NYT Editor’s Pick.

Interviews and Guest Posts:

14. Please share the links to any interviews and guest posts you think would be helpful to writers interested in querying you.





Links and Contact Info:

15. Please share how writers should contact you to submit a query and your links on the Web.

You can read about our agency and get our full submissions guidelines here: www.upstartcrowliterary.com.

You can find me online on Instagram and Twitter at @daniellechiotti.

Additional Advice:

16. Is there any other advice you’d like to share with aspiring authors that we haven’t covered?

Remember that querying can feel like shouting into a void sometimes, but it’s important to keep putting your work out there—and to always have something new to work on. All it takes is one “yes”!

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Danielle.

­Danielle is generously offering a query critique to one lucky winner. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower (via the follower gadget, email, or bloglovin’ on the right sidebar) and leave a comment through December 4th. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter the contest. If you do not want to enter the contest, that's okay. Just let me know in the comments.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. This is an international giveaway.

Have any experience with this agent? See something that needs updating? Please leave a comment or e-mail me at natalieiaguirre7@gmail.com

Note: These agent profiles and interviews presently focus on agents who accept children's fiction. Please take the time to verify anything you might use here before querying an agent. The information found here is subject to change.