Upcoming Agent Spotlight Interviews & Guest Posts

  • Caroline Trussell Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 5/20/2024
  • Jenna Satterthwaite Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 6/10/2024
  • Bethany Weaver Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 6/26/2024

Agent Spotlight & Agent Spotlight Updates

  • Agent Spotlights & Interviews have been updated through the letter "K" as of 3/28/2024 and many have been reviewed by the agents. Look for more information as I find the time to update more agent spotlights.

Omit Needless Words & Tighten Your Writing Part III


Part III in my tighter writing series.  If you haven't read Part I and Part II, please do. 


Remember those redundant adjectives?  I wanted to return to that and address redundant phrases / expressions because it's not always the modifier that needs to go. There are a lot of ways to be redundant. 


The reason is because I like you.

Becomes:  The reason is, I like you... OR Because I like you.

Each and every one of your words should count.

Becomes:  Every word should count.

He nodded his head and reached for a pen with his hand.

Becomes:  He nodded and reached for a pen. 

Looking back in the past, I realized it was me who introduced them for the first time.

Becomes:  Looking back, I realized I introduced them.

I tried to warn her in advance that the weather conditions were likely to be quite severe

Becomes: I tried to warn her the weather might be severe. 

This is a good example where I might use a complimentary "that" as a beat ("I tried to warn her that...").  I also exchanged "were likely to be" for "might" to tighten further.  

Here is great list of redundant expressions (pleonasms)that will show you just how prevalent they are. 


On a similar note, make sure you're also on the look out for sentences where you just plain repeat yourself.  If two sentences give us the same information, even if they're worded differently, chances are one of them can go.  I see this (and do this) a lot in transitions from internal thought to dialogue.

A quick example:

Wow, was he reading Jane Eyre?  I snatched the book from him.  "Are you reading Jane Eyre?"

You could take the internal thought off all together (which I would do if you're trying to shed word count) or replace it with something less repetitive.

Could become:  Was I seeing this?  I snatched the book from him.  "Are you reading Jane Eyre?"



The other thing I wanted to expand on is specifying something to the point of subtle redundancy.  Like using the word "there" to reemphasize where your character is, or in the above sample where I specified it was the character's head that was nodding or hand that was reaching, there are a lot of instances where you can be redundant without realizing it. 


1)  In the garage, she walked over to the tool bench to grab a hammer before heading over to get in the car. 

This could be a lot tighter.  Look at the base words.  We want the reader to know she's in the garage, grabbing a hammer, and getting in the car.  We don't need the small movements or specifications. 

Becomes:  In the garage, she grabbed a hammer and got in the car. 

If she was skipping or running, that'd be worth specifying but if nothing out of the ordinary is happening we know she's walking around.  We don't need to know the hammer was on the tool bench unless it's important.  And just like that, twenty-two words becomes twelve. 

2) Sarah really wanted to see what was happening outside.  She turned toward the window and looked down and out toward the scene.  The gardener was yelling at a cat!

Again, we don't need the movements, and we know she'll be looking outside at a scene if she looks out a window. 

Becomes: Sarah wanted to see what was happening.  She looked outside.  The gardener was yelling at a cat!

You could keep mention of the window but it's one of those things that's sort of obvious if we know Sarah is inside.  It all depends on scene setting, really.  When tightening like this, do make sure you're tweaking things, adding conjunctions, stronger words, etc. to adjust the flow and cadence.  You risk sounding stilted if you don't account for cut words.

Compare this to the original sentence: Sarah looked outside to see the commotion.  The gardener was yelling at a cat!

It all depends on your style, the flow, and the information we've already been given.  Sometimes you need these details just for the sake of pacing. That's okay!  Just make conscious decisions and you'll be golden.


Thoughts? Questions? Examples?  Leave your smarts in the comments!

Interview with Agent Intern & Aspiring Author C.A. Marshall

Hi everyone!  Remember Cassandra from a couple week ago?   She provided a fun guest post about pen names.  If you missed it, please check it out.  As promised, I've brought her back for an interview.  Let's see what she has to say about agents, interning, queries, and writing!

Hi Cassandra! Could you start things off by telling us a little about yourself?
Hi Casey!  I'm an aspiring author, agent intern, unemployed and completely broke, and an avid tea drinker.

You intern for a major NYC agent. How did the opportunity come about?
Just after I lost my job last year, I saw a post on an agent blog asking if any of the readers wanted to join them as an intern.  I figured I had all this time now so I applied.  I heard they had something like 150 applicants and I didn't think I had a chance at all but when I got the call and she asked me to be her intern I was totally excited.  

What has the experience been like?
I learn new things everyday.  I know that's a bit of a cliche, but it's true.  I can ask the agent about anything and they will explain it to me.  The agent is completely helpful and encouraging and thats one of the major reasons I love working with them.  If you ever have a chance to be an intern, do it. It's so worth it.

In your time as an intern, is there anything you’ve learned about agents or agenting that has surprised you?
Being an agent is anything but easy.  Successful agents must be very very passionate about what they do.  I myself can spend over half my day reading industry blogs and keeping up with Twitter and other social media, and by the time you add in reading queries and partials/fulls, my whole day is gone.  Agents have to do all that plus go to meetings, have lunches with clients and editors, manage current clients, do pitches and submissions, and a ton of other stuff too.  Add in a husband/wife and/or kids and most agents have five to six full time jobs that they manage to cram into their day.  And that's not including household duties, shopping, personal care, and conferences/book fairs.  Agents totally work hard for their %15 and deserve a whole lot more.

What are the most common mistakes you see in the queries you review?
One of the major ones is not including sample pages.  Make sure you read the submission guidelines for every agent you query.  If they ask for pages, please include them.  It takes a while for your query to make it's way to the top of the pile and if we have to ask for pages, your resent query gets put back at the bottom.  It's a huge time waste for both of us.  

Another mistake is the use of attachments.  Never include attachments unless asked to.  I don't know any agency that opens unsolicited emails and many of them delete all emails with attachments without even opening them.  Always embed your sample pages in the body of the email following your query.

What else have learned from your time in the slush? Any tips for those querying? 

If you have an MA or MFA, make sure your query has only one paragraph about you and make sure it's a small one.  I don't know if MA/MFA holders are just particularly proud of themselves or they think it's going to mean an automatic request for pages, but most of the time the entire query is about the author and his/her hobbies and barely mentions the book they wrote.  

On the other hand, if you don't have any qualifications or publishing credits don't fret.  We will still read your pages and give you just as much a chance as the other authors.  You don't have to include a paragraph about yourself at all if you don't want to.  In a way it's a blessing because you'll have only one thing to talk about: your book.  And that's the one thing we really care about.  

You’re an aspiring author as well as an intern. Where are you with your own writing? Would you like to tell us a little about your current work(s)-in-progress?
I've got one MG book completed that i've been querying for a while.  No bites yet, but I did get a few really helpful feedback emails from the agents that have seen it.  It's a first novel anyway and I didn't really expect it to sell as first books rarely do. 

In the meantime, i've been working on a YA book about a girl who has to decide if she wants to be a grim reaper when she dies in thirty days.  It's written in the style of Gayle Forman's If I Stay, one of my favorite books.  More information about both books are on my website.

What else would you like to share about your experience as an intern and a writer?
I'll tell you a funny story:  I tend to read queries into the wee hours of the morning.  Just after I started as an intern it was around 3 a.m. and suddenly all the emails in the query box disappeared.  Of course I freaked out, thinking I had done something and the agent was going to fire me and in that overfreakedout state I had the brilliant idea to call the agent.  At 3 in the morning.  They were incredibly gracious for being woken up in the middle of the night and explained that the system had been having problems for a while and that I needed to calm down.  In the end, we switched servers and things have been pretty good since.  

You received your Masters in Creative Writing in England. I’m so jealous! What was the experience like? How has it informed and affected your writing?
I actually wrote up a post about what it was like that you can read here ( http://camarshall.blogspot.com/2009/08/mighty-ma.html ) In short, it was the best thing i've ever done, even if I will be paying off student loans until I'm 80.  I met some real quality people and had the most amazing adventures.  It was so very worth it.

It deffo had an impact on my writing.  I actually started out in the poetry section as that was the focus of my undergrad dissertation and what I used to get accepted to the UK university in the first place.  I asked to switch to fiction and they let me and I haven't written a poem since. 

I also write with a British accent sometimes.  I don't know why or how that happens, but it does and I don't notice it.  Thank goodness for critique partners and editor friends! 

Where can readers follow your journey as an intern and aspiring author?
There's my website, camarshall.comhttp://camarshall.com/ and a blog at camarshall.blogspot.com and also i'm on Twitter constantly, twitter.com/thatwemightfly

I'm slowly adding internship goings-on into the blog, so check there if that's what interests you.

If you're on twitter, be sure to follow these hashtags to get the most out of the literary circles there: #thingsishouldnotseeinaquery #queries #askagent #YAlitchat #pubtip #writechat Tweetdeck is awesome for following hashtags as you can have a column dedicated to each one.

Thank you so much for giving us your time. Do you have any closing remarks?
Only that you should never give up, never stop writing.  It only takes one agent to say yes to your work.

Also, I encourage any of your readers that have any specific questions to shoot me an email at camarshallwrites@gmail.com and i'll try to help as best as I can, even with your queries.  Due to legal concerns though, I cannot read or help with your manuscripts.

Great interview, Cassandra!  I love the advice about not giving up.  And the story about waking the agent up at 3 a.m. is classic.  Oops!  Good luck to you on your journey to publication!

Agent Spotlight: Jim McCarthy

This week's Agent Spotlight features Jim McCarthy of Dystel, Goderich & Bourret LLC.
Status: Open to submissions.
About: "Jim McCarthy interned for Dystel, Goderich & Bourret while studying urban design at New York University. Upon graduating, Jim realized he would much rather continue working with books than make the jump (as he had originally intended) to the field of city planning. Eighteen years later, he remains at DG&B as a VP and agent. As an avid fiction reader, his interests encompass both literary and commercial works in the adult, young adult, and middle grade categories. He is particularly interested in literary fiction, underrepresented voices, fantasy, mysteries, romance, anything unusual or unexpected, and any book that makes him cry or laugh out loud. In addition to fiction he is also interested in narrative nonfiction whether it be memoir, historical, science, pop culture, or just a darn good polemic." (Link)
About the Agency:
"Dystel, Goderich & Bourret LLC is a dynamic literary agency boasting an impressive client list and a sterling reputation. Led by Jane Dystel, who founded the company in 1994, our agents are smart, hardworking, compassionate, and focused on their authors’ success. We are a full-service enterprise known for our business savvy and integrity.
"We don’t just sell books. We build careers." (Link)
Web Presence:
DGLM website.
Twitter @JimMcCarthy528.
AAR Profile.
DGLM Facebook.
What He's Looking For:
Middle grade, young adult, literary fiction, commercial fiction, literary women’s fiction, underrepresented voices, mysteries, romance, paranormal fiction, anything unusual or unexpected, narrative nonfiction, memoir, and paranormal nonfiction. (Link defunct)
Additional genres listed on his AAR profile and QueryTracker profile.
From the agency website:
Children's Nonfiction: "Jim says...On Saturdays when I was growing up, my family would pile into the station wagon and head off to the library. One of my earliest memories is of my oldest sister sitting in the kids’ section and reading Babar to me. Our quest, as a family, was always to find our new favorite books. I have never really stopped that search. No matter how many good, or great books I read, I always have faith that I’ll come across something that I like as much or more than my current favorite.
"Those moments of discovery are what have kept me reading as much as I always have. Whether it was the time a teacher gave me a copy of The Hunchback of Notre Dame as a gift, when I happened across a copy of Bee Season, or when I began reading The House of Leaves, these somewhat revelatory instances are among my most cherished memories.
"For me, the most exciting aspect of working at DG&B is the chance that I may have another one of these moments, and that this time I can help in some way to get that book published."From 
From His Manuscript Wish List:
"I'm always looking for fresh voices--whether that means authors from underrepresented communities, new takes on old tropes, something that hasn't been seen before, or all of the above. I love a great humorous novel, but I'm also not afraid of anything that's extremely dark. I'm always on the lookout for great fiction of any stripe but do gravitate towards YA and the fantastical--still, that doesn't mean I'm not very open to realistic adult fiction and anything in between.
"At this exact moment, I would particularly love to find fantasy or sci-fi in non-Western settings, sagas of family or friendship in the vein of Mary McCarthy's THE GROUP or J. Courtney Sullivan's MAINE, queer stories of any kind (particularly if yours has an asexual, non-binary, or intersex lead), and a super fun mystery.
"I'm probably not your go-to for political or medical thrillers or police procedurals or stories involving time travel (with very rare exceptions). And while I love YA fantasy, I have a strange aversion to stories about fae/faeries."
Twitter (4-6/2013):
“We’re tweeting wish lists? Let’s start with big, fun commercial fiction a la Valley of the Dolls, Jackie Collins, Crazy Rich Asians. #MSWL” (Link)
“If you have ANYTHING like the movie Heathers, I’m your man. #MSWL” (Link)
“Novels set in West Africa, epic sci-fi, realistic family dramas with wit or pathos. #MSWL” (Link)
“As always, if you can make me laugh out loud or cry, I am IN. Mostly, I just want all the good stuff! Adult or YA, fiction or non. #MSWL” (Link)
“Gang members, professional eating competitors, world record holders, knitting clubs…unique communities. #MSWL” (Link)
“I’m into alternate history, anything theater related, anything about a subculture (from cheerleaders to Radical Faeries or whatever). #MSWL” (Link)
“Hearing a lot of folks asking for hook-driven contemporary realistic. I too would like to see that!” (Link)
From a Blog Post (08/2012):
“Let’s take a quick moment to clarify what it is I’m looking for: just about anything. I know, I know. That’s not helpful. So let’s say this: it seems I’m known for YA fiction and paranormal adult fiction. And I certainly am always looking in those categories. I’d also love to find some wonderful middle grade, more literary adult fiction, and any breathtaking narrative nonfiction. Just because I don’t do something all the time doesn’t mean I’m not game to try it out (note: this is not a rule that applies for ALL agents).” (Link)
From an Interview (05/2012):
“Like everyone, I suspect, I just want to find thrilling, vital, original, fresh projects. I’ve been on the lookout for some amazing horror fiction for awhile now. I love a good high concept YA novel. I’d like to take a chance with some breathtaking literary fiction. And I’d kill for something laugh out loud funny. I’ve always said that if you can make me laugh or cry, I’ll represent you. So really, anything that provokes a gut level reaction.” (Link)
What He's Not Looking For:
Plays, screenplays, poetry, picture books. (Link)
Editorial Agent?
“I tell people that I would never sign on a project that I wouldn’t be willing to send wide as is, but at the same time, I have never sent a project out as is. I love the editorial stage, and I want to make sure that material is in its best possible shape before editors have a chance to consider.” (Link)
His Advice to Writers:
"If you think you can give up writing, then give it up. If you can't ... if you know that no matter how much stress or rejection or frustration you face, that you can never stop writing? In that case, never give up. Publishing is too hard to face if you aren't in it for the right reasons. But it's not too hard to break into if it's what you need to do." (Link)
A list of his clients is available on the website.
Mr. McCarthy's clients include: Adrienne Tooley, Bassey Ikpi, Candice Montgomery, Caroline Richmond, Christine Virnig, Claire Booth, Cliff Burke, Cristin Terrill, Cynthia Platt, Darcy Burke, Diana Urban, Eric Gansworth, Fonda Lee, Gae Polisner, Geoff Herbach, Ismee Williams, Jake Arlow, Jessica Spotswood, Josh Swiller, Joy McCullough, Juliet Blackwell, Kevin Scott, Kosoko Jackson, Laura Creedle, Laura Silverman, Lauren Spieller, Libby Cidmore, Linda Godfrey, Lisa Bunker, Livia Blackburne, Loan Le, Maria Romasco Moore, Michael Arceneaux, Michelle Rowen/Morgan Rhodes, Miranda Kenneally, Monica Gomez-Hira, Nathan Makaryk, Nicole Melleby, Olivia Abtahi, Richelle Mead, Robin Talley, Rusty King, Saundra Mitchell, Sean Easley, Shawntelle Madison, Tanya Boteju, Tess Sharpe, Victoria Laurie, and Zach Hines, among others.Query Methods:
E-mail: Yes.
Snail-Mail: No.
Online-Form: No.
Submission Guidelines (always verify):
E-mail: Query only; Paste 25 pages of your manuscript in your query. No attachments. Only query one agent at a time.
See the agency website for complete, up-to-date submission guidelines.
Response Times:
The agency's stated response time for queries is 8 weeks. If you do not hear back within the stated timeframe, feel free to resend (Link). Mr. McCarthy has very quick response times ranging from hours to a couple weeks for queries and just days to a month or so for requested material. 
What's the Buzz?
Mr. McCarthy is top notch. He has fabulous clients and sales, a great work ethic, fast response times, a terrific sense of humor, and his clients really seem to love him.  I've heard nothing but good about him and Dystel, Goderich & Bourret LLC..
Worth Your Time:
Interviews and Guest Post: 
Agent of the Month Part 1 and Part 2 at Writing and Illustrating (01/2021)
Podcast Interview with Jim McCarthy at Middle Grade Ninja (9/2020).
Literary Agents Answer Your Burning Questions, Part 3 at The Nasiona (06/2019).
Jim McCarthy and Remy Lai Guest Post at Literary Rambles (05/2019).
7 Questions for Literary Agent Jim McCarthy at Middle Grade Ninja (09/2017).
Interview with Literary Agent Jim McCarthy at Slice Magazine (08/2016).
Interview with Literary Agent Jim McCarthy at Amy Newman (08/2014).
Behind the Scenes with Agent Jim McCarthy at Night Owl Reviews (02/2013).
LitChat Interview: Jim McCarthy with Dystel & Goderich Literary Management at Lit Stack (05/2012).
A Q&A with Agent Jim McCarthy of Dystel & Goderich at Writer’s League of Texas (11/2011).
Interview with Agent Extraordinaire, Jim McCarthy at Caroline in Space (06/2010).
Blog Stuff:
How to Grab an Agent's Attention in a Query, featuring a couple quotes by Mr. McCarthy, at the QueryTracker Blog (06/2010).
Guest Blogger: Agent Jim McCarthy at What Women Write (06/2010).
Please see the Dystel, Goderich & Bourret LLC website for additional contact and query information.
Profile Details:
Last Updated: 5/16/2020.
Agent Contacted for Review? Yes.
Last Reviewed By Agent? 5/17/2020.
Have any experience with this agent? See something that needs updating? Please leave a comment or e-mail me at natalieiaguirre7(at)gmail(dot)com

Note: These agent profiles presently focus on agents who accept children's/teen fiction. They are not interviews. Please take the time to verify anything you might use here before querying an agent. The information found herein is subject to change.

Guest Blogger Pat Martinez: Reading and Writing Patterns


Remember Pat and her great guest post, "Morphemes and the Creation of Character Names and Words?"  Today she's back with another fun and thought-provoking post.  I'm really looking forward to reading the comments to this one.  Please visit Pat's blog, Once Upon a Time...., on your way out.  Thanks!

Reading and Writing Patterns

The admonishment to write consistently and everyday is like the number one song on the radio-you hear it over and over again. Fellow writer and friend, Annie Douglas recently gave an insightful perspective to this admonishment: When they say to write daily, I'm seeing another reason why it's so important. Think about a time when you've picked up a book and read it quickly, in a day or two. Now think of a time when you've read a book a day here and a day there, as time permits.

How does reading this way affect the meaning of the story? Does the story speak differently to you?

I'm seeing that consistent writing helps me write a better, more meaningful story. I'm more engaged with my characters.
I completely agree with Annie and the multitude of other voices- editors, agents, writers, who shout from the rooftops "Write everyday!" Yet, how many of us are as consistent as we should be? Annie's reading to writing comparison caused me to look at the way I read.

At this moment, I am reading When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead; The Story of the World and The History of the Ancient World, both by Susan Wise Bauer; Homer's The OdysseyWrite Beside Them by Penny Kittle, and Have a Little Faith by Mitch Album.

I know. Quite the array of genres. But this is how I thrive as a reader. So, could this have anything to do with how I could thrive as a writer?

For many months I have been snailing at my new edgy YA. In the last month, I've gotten two new ideas for yet two new edgy YA's. But working on three YA's? Crazy, distracting, possible?

Because most writers are avid readers, here is the challenge: Look at the way you read. What are your patterns, time frames, even the hours you love to read? Do you sit down for hours? Or grab snippets of time here and there? What keeps your interest? Do you plow through one book at a time? Many? While examining every aspect of your writing habits, see if you can apply your reading discoveries to your writing success.

Writing / Research Tip Tuesday #25

After reading Heather's tip last week on versioning, S. Kyle Davis sent in some tips he's found extremely useful for novel writing. There's some really great stuff here. Please visit Kyle's website after enjoying the read!

1) Google Docs (https://docs.google.com/)
I found Google Docs several years ago, and have been using it religiously ever since. Google Docs is a simple online office suite that can create documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. It can even export to .doc, etc. I used Google Docs to write The Ledger Domain.
The documents in Google Docs are stored online and are accessible anywhere with an internet connection. This is a GREAT feature. Going to your in-laws’ house for a few days? No need to take the laptop with you. If they have a PC you can use with an internet connection, then you can access your files and work on your book. Do they have a Mac (*shudder*) or a cheap PC without MS Word on it? No problem! All they need is a web browser, and any of them will do.
Be aware that they do limit the size of each file, so you can only put five or ten chapters in each document. Of course, you should be doing that anyway. Large files can corrupt easily, and it would be terrible to lose the entire novel!
Another great thing about Google Docs is versioning. Heather mentioned the benefits of saving multiple versions of your document with all your changes. Well, Google Docs does this automatically, and it’s easy to roll back to a previous version, copy that paragraph you want to retrieve, or even compare the versions to see what you’ve changed.
One final thing about Google Docs. It is easy to share your manuscript with friends and family. I had several people that were reading my book as I wrote it. I didn’t like the idea of just sending my files out into the nexus, even though I obviously trusted my friends. With Google Docs, you can share your documents with anyone with a Google Account, but they can’t resend it, as it’s stored in a secure location. When I did this, I typically waited until I’d completed a chapter, and then copied that file and created a new one, and then shared the chapter with my friends, preserving the one I work from so that I could make additional edits, etc. You can even just allow them to “view” the document, so that it appears like a web page, and they can’t edit it or make changes.
It’s a great tool, and it’s served me well.

2) Microsoft Office Live Workspaces (http://workspace.office.live.com/)
This tool is similar in many ways to Google Docs, only by Microsoft. It is a latecomer to the game, but it is a great and powerful tool. It offers versioning and sharing, just like Google Docs, and lets you store and edit your files. The one thing it doesn’t have (yet) is online editing ability. This is coming, but currently Live Workspaces only works with Microsoft Word (or other MS Office files). However, there are advantages to this.
To use Live Workspaces, you need to have a small app on the computer that allows Workspaces to work with MS Office. Then, when you click “Edit” in the Workspaces website, it will open the file in Word.
Alternately, you can download the Office Live toolbar for MS Office. If you are like me, you don’t like downloading extensions to your applications, but this one is a great one! When you have the toolbar, you don’t have to reopen the Workspaces website (unless you’re at your in-laws again... man, you visit them a lot, don’t you?). The Office Live toolbar has an Open dropdown and a Save dropdown, which lets you choose the workspace you want to open the file from or save the file to. So, Office Live becomes shared internet storage, only with built-in versioning and sharing. It is part on-line storage and part file management.
I have been using this more recently, mainly because it has only been around recently. However, the workflow I adopted has been to finish my first draft in Google Docs. It doesn’t have the grammar checker, which I don’t use for the first draft anyway. When I’m in “writing mode” for that first draft, it’s good to just be able to get it down, and Google Docs is great for that. However, once it is time to really get down and polish, I move to Office Live. I can format into manuscript format, edit the grammar and style, etc.

3) Online Storage
Speaking of online storage, if you haven’t saved a copy of your manuscript onto some sort of online storage location, you really need to. An online storage site will give you a few gigabytes of online storage where you can upload files and access them from anywhere. I don’t use online storage as part of my regular workflow, but I do use it as a backup. The one I use is owned by Microsoft, so you can bet that it is less likely that their memory is going to be lost than the files on your home hard drive. It’s a smart idea to make sure your manuscript is saved in multiple locations so that you always have a backup.
I use Skydrive (http://skydrive.live.com/), which you can use if you have a MS Live account. A simple Google search for free online storage will give you many others.

Wow, Kyle! These are some great tools. I wasn't aware of Google Doc's versioning or sharing capabilities. I'll definitely be checking all these features out now. Thanks!

Omit Needless Words & Tighten Your Writing: Part II


Continuing my series on needless words and tighter writing, we have part II.  Feel free to review Part I here.  As ever, I suggest grabbing your manuscript and applying what you've learned while it's fresh in your mind.  Make it stick!



The word "that" has three functions. It's used as a demonstrative pronoun, to introduce a restrictive clause, and as a complimentizer.

A demonstrative pronoun acts as a noun or pronoun.  It is often acting as the subject.  You need these "thats."


That won't let you down.  If fact, that will outlive the other.

Hey, I wrote that!

That he didn't try was the problem.

A restrictive clause limits or specifies the identity of the subject in some fashion.  You need the "thats" that introduce one of these clauses.


The apple that didn't have mold fell to the ground.  (Not that apple but that apple.)

That car that sped across the grass, didn't you see it? (Not the car on the street, the one on the grass.)

Those are the ones that can stay.  So which ones go?  The "thats" that are meant to compliment.  The majority of them will be empty in purpose. 


I felt that he was an untrustworthy man.

It was apparent that I was late.

I hope that this makes sense.

When was it that you were going to come over?

Sometimes, however, a complimentizer is needed for cadence or respite and you just can't let it go.  If you find one that could go but you're reluctant to delete it for some reason, say your sentence out loud to see if you're using it as a sort of pause.  If so, it should probably stay as a stylistic choice.   Just make sure the sentence really needs it!


The word "there," as you know, refers to a place (concrete or abstract).  Most "theres" are okay and needed but oftentimes a sentence with "there" could be strengthened/tightened.  Particularly, I see a lot of writers use the word "there" to reemphasize location when it's not needed.


There was nothing there.  Change to: Nothing was there.

She laid there on the bed and cried.

He leaned there on the locker, afraid to go to class. 

He came out of there and faced me.  (Either delete or use a concrete noun in a case like this.)

While you're examining your "theres" make sure you're using them in concrete ways.  Should it be "there"? or should you be giving "there" a name?  Do you even need to reference location again?


An example of tightening and revision using "there:"

My house was like a circus, loud and animated.  Then there was Grandma's house, such a quiet, peaceful place.  I loved visiting there.


My house was like a circus, loud and animated while Grandma's house was a quiet, peaceful place. I loved visiting.

My house was like a circus, loud and animated, but Grandma's house was quiet and peaceful.  I loved it. 

ETC.  There are many ways to rewrite it; the point is that I didn't need either "there" from the original sentence. Though, the first could stay if you wanted the emphasis and conversational tone.  I'd definitely launch the second.  Again, it comes down to examining what you want/need versus what came out when the words were flowing. 


So, for both That and There, I recommend hitting Crtl F, doing a search for each, and examining all your uses.  If you find an empty "that," delete!  If you find a "there" that (extra points if you can tell me what "that" I just used) makes location redundant, delete!

As before, please leave your examples, smarts, and thoughts in the comments (and correct me if I'm wrong on anything)!

Omit Needless Words & Tighten Your Writing: Part I


You hear it all the time, "omit needless words," "tighten your writing," and maybe you're thinking, huh?  What words?  How?  What don't I see?  How do I learn?  I'm going to try and point out some things to look for, but I don't think the knowledge won't will really soak in unless you're willing to you'll treat it as an exercise and get into it.  So grab a few pages of your manuscript (double or triple spaced) and a red pen and get ready to wage war on extraneousness.  This will be is a series, so keep your pages and mark them up as we go.

Disclaimer:  I am no expert at this. I'm just trying to share what I've learned and may make errors or omit important info in doing so.  Please add to the lessons in the comments!


The Adverb: 

An adverb modifies a verb, adjective, or another adverb.  They often end in -ly, but don't always, and tend to qualify, intensify, or downtone what you're saying.  They also ask a question such as, How? When? Where? How much? or Why? 

The cat jumped quickly leapt onto the couch. 

The boy walked slowly and carefully tiptoed out of his room.

John ran quickly from fled the scene.

"Get rid of those words!" she said loudly and hastily shouted.

I really want you to understand this.

It's very quiet here.

This is really, quite fun.

Sometimes you need adverbs to convey something more than your base words do alone, but if they're not adding to the sentence, cut!  Check them all, especially your -ly words.  Remember: Weak verbs depend on adverbs.  If you feel you need an adverb, examine your verb before moving on.

Here are some adverbs to look for:  very, not, too, really, basically, in a sense, rather, quite, extremely, totally, essentially, somewhat, almost, a bit, a little bit, nearly, severely, sort of, kind of, etc.

The Adjective: 

An adjective describes a noun or pronoun and tends to answer a question such as What kind? How many?  How exactly? or Which?  Adjectives are interesting because sometimes you're removing one to tighten a sentence and sometimes you're adding one. 

An adjective needs to go if your noun or sentence implies the description your adjective offers (is redundant).  Make sure your adjective is telling us something your noun absolutely cannot.


The icy icicle hung from the ledge.

The fragile glass shattered.

The hot summer sun seemed stagnant that summer day.

It was a horrible, horrible crime to shoot that woman.

The small baby didn't like the harsh cackle of the evil witch. 

The loving mother hugged her child and said, "My heart is yours."

He was a furious, violent, and rabid man. (In this case I'm getting rid of two adjectives and keeping one that implies the other two).

An adjective should be added if it can replace a clause or phrase and still convey what you want to convey.


The woman was very intelligent and knew all about knowledgeable in physics. 

With little thought or care Irresponsibly, the couple left the dog on the side of the road.

He was deserving of deserved the award.

The haze of the atmosphere atmospheric haze was thick.  (Watch out for "of the.")

A large number of Many students love her. 

It was within the realm of possibility that possible she had magic. 

And so on and so forth. 


Here is an example of a sentence that could be edited of adverbs and adjectives:

A harsh, wicked wind swept quickly through the empty streets that cold, stormy night and made a loud, mournful sound outside my thin window.


Wind swept through the streets that night and howled outside my window. 


That night, wind swept through the streets and howled outside my window.

Not the greatest example, but do you see how much faster it reads?  How many less words it uses?  "Harsh, "wicked," and "quickly" are implied by the action of the wind sweeping through the streets.  "Empty" is almost a given and doesn't seem to be relevant.  "Cold" and "stormy" are implied.  "Loud, mournful sound" needed to be replaced with a strong verb.  "Thin" is redundant.

The one adjective I might keep is "wicked."

That night, a wicked wind swept through the streets and howled outside my window. 

The key is not to cut and tighten everything that could be tightened, but to examine whether keeping, discarding, or adding an adverb or adjective best conveys your intent for the sentence in as few words as possible. 

In the comments, please add examples, knowledge, and your own findings in regard to adverbs and adjectives!!  Part II is now available. 

Guest Blogger Alisa M. Libby: What Inspires Me? Bad Girls

My guest blogger this week is Alisa M. Libby, author of two historical YAs, The Blood Confession and The King's Rose. Please visit her website and blog before you skip out. Enjoy!!

“What Inspires Me? Bad Girls.”

Looking for inspiration? Consider history. Don't worry, I'm not talking about that boring list of dates that you had to memorize in junior high. I'm talking about history as it was lived by real people who did amazing, ridiculous, dangerous and devilish things.

I like writing about historical bad girls. My first novel, The Blood Confession, is inspired by Countess Bathory, who (according to legend) believed that bathing in virgin's blood would keep her eternally young and beautiful. My second novel, The King's Rose, is about Catherine Howard, the fifth wife of King Henry VIII, who cheated on King Henry with one of his servants. These are two very different women, of course, but when I came across their stories I had a similar response: “What in the world were you thinking?” The fact that I couldn't easily answer that question was what intrigued me most. I wondered how they would explain their actions, if they were given the chance. While I certainly don't agree with what they did, my task was to create reasons that would seem believable, while not entirely releasing them from blame.
Do I worry that a historical character I would like to write about might be snatched up by some other author? Yes, I fear this all the time. The thought wakes me up at night. That said, every story can be told in a myriad of different ways: different voices, different approaches to the character and their context. Everyone writer has their own voice, their unique perspective. No one can tell this particular story in the same way that you can.

Poll: New Background Color or Old?

Hi Again!

I've changed the background color from light text on dark to dark text on light in a way that allows me to keep my color scheme. But, I'm really on the fence about it. So, poll time! If you're reading from a reader, please click through and vote. I'm almost thinking the text would have to be bolder if I were to keep this look. Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments. I promise this layout stuff will be over soon!

ETA: I've changed the font. I think it reads better but let me know if it's not standing out enough still.

Which Background Color Do You Like Better?

Writing / Research Tip Tuesday #24

I have a Tuesday Tip from the fabulous Heather Hansen today.  Please visit her blog and considering following.  She's fun and hilarious! 

If you're a perpetual editor/nitpicker in drafts and your editing includes cutting large sections of text (like me!), it's helpful to back up your work periodically in a new file. That way you can always go back to an earlier version if you need to rescue something you inadvertently cut. To make it easy, I use a current file (NAMEOFNOVEL-CURRENT) and then save my back up files using the date for easy retrieval. Such as:

2010.01.15 NAMEOFNOVEL
2010.01.26 NAMEOFNOVEL
2010.02.03 NAMEOFNOVEL

Heather does this for each draft!  Isn't she so organized?  I only back up drafts when I'm revising and making huge changes, but I think I'm going to adopt this method from now on.  It has to be nice in those instances where you've rewritten a paragraph or chapter and think you might have liked the first version best after all.  And it means you're constantly backing up as well.  Thanks Heather!

Blog Changes. Feedback Please!

Soo, I'd like everyone's input.  I've been changing things here and there on the blog, and I'd like to know what you think and what other changes you might like to see.

Here's a list of what I've done so far:  Created static pages and took some of the clutter off the right sidebar.  Put up a new bio for my "About Me" page.  Changed my RSS feed and twitter links to cute icons.  Deleted some extraneous links.  And, the big one, changed the subtitle of the blog.

I'd particularly like to know if you like the new subtitle and if you have any other suggestions for it.  Also, how many of you think I should change the blog title (Literary Rambles) altogether?  It's been suggested that the blog is no longer a place of rambling, so I've been considering new titles.  I felt the subtitle, at least, had to go and so it has.  If you think Lit Rambles should change too, please throw out some suggestions.

Additionally, I'd like to know if reading on this layout with this color scheme has been a bother for anyone.   Would you like something easier on the eyes?

I'm wondering too if I should create agency labels.  Would it help to be able to view the agents I've spotlighted by agency?

Let me know!  This is basically an open feedback thread so feel free throw out whatever you want.  It can pertain to what I've already mentioned or anything else you have on your mind.  I want this blog to be the best it can be and that really comes down to you, dear readers, and what I can give you. What do you want to see?

Thanks in advance!!!!  I'm eager for your thoughts.

Win Linger by Maggie Stiefvater!

Linger Cover LargeIn Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver, Grace and Sam found each other.  Now, in Linger, they must fight to be together. For Grace, this means defying her parents and keeping a very dangerous secret about her own well-being. For Sam, this means grappling with his werewolf past . . . and figuring out a way to survive into the future. Add into the mix a new wolf named Cole, whose own past has the potential to destroy the whole pack.  And Isabelle, who already lost her brother to the wolves . . . and is nonetheless drawn to Cole.

At turns harrowing and euphoric, Linger is a spellbinding love story that explores both sides of love -- the light and the dark, the warm and the cold -- in a way you will never forget.

Comes out in stores everywhere July 20th. Pre-order here.

Enter to win an advanced review copies of LINGER, Sisters Red, The Dead-Tossed Waves, and The Replacement on Maggie's blog.

Interview with Author Beth Pollock

A warm welcome to Canadian children's author Beth Pollock!

Hi Beth! Thanks so much for allowing me this interview. You have two published middle-grade novels, THE NEXT STEP and HARLEY’S GIFT, can you tell us a little about them?

Harley’s Gift is the story of an eleven-year old girl who lives in a single-parent family. Her biggest Christmas wish is to reconcile her feuding mother and grandmother so they can share Christmas dinner together. Her wish is granted, although not in the way she had imagined. By the end of the book, Harley also develops the courage to respond with integrity to the homeless people she encounters.

In The Next Step, Clara is an eight-year old girl whose mother has just died. Her new life includes buying clothes with her father, eating her nanny Tessa’s cooking, and taking more responsibility for her little brother Calvin. Hardest of all, she doesn’t know how to tell her dad she doesn’t like ballet class. With the help of her good friends and a caring teacher, Clara learns how to grow up without leaving the memory of her mother behind.

Both books were published by James Lorimer & Company – Harley’s Gift in 2007 and The Next Step in 2009.

Both stories sound wonderful. I love the themes behind them. What did your journey from aspiring author to published author entail? What were the key milestones along the way?

My path has been anything but straight! As a child, I loved to read and write more than anything. But I couldn’t imagine myself making a career in it so I studied Economics at university. After a couple of years working, I went back to get my MBA.

I got a job at a bank, moved to Toronto, and shortly afterward got married. I worked at Scotiabank for ten years, cutting back to part-time when my oldest daughter was born. When my youngest daughter turned two, my husband and I decided that we could make it work if I stayed at home with them. I was too embarrassed to tell most people, but I decided I’d also like to try writing children’s books, having fallen in love with so many of them as I read them to my girls.

It's a good thing you dove in despite your initial embarrassment! How did you come to work with your literary agent? If you don’t have one, how did you come to work with your publisher?

I don’t have an agent. I’m one of those writers who was discovered in the slush pile!

Ooo, another slush discovery! I love that. Is there anything that you’ve learned or experienced during the publishing process that’s surprised you?

I’m constantly delighted at the kindness of other writers. They’ve been generous with their help and advice, and I always try to repay that kindness to other writers, beginners and experienced.

I’m also surprised at how much fun school presentations are. I love the energy of the kids and, for me, giving presentations is almost as much fun as writing.

Speaking of kids, you began your writing career as a stay-at-home mom. What has that been like?

It has been a complete joy. My daughters are now fifteen and twelve, and I treasure the many hours we’ve spent together. Even if my writing had never come to anything, I’d still consider I made the right decision by leaving the bank to be a stay-at-home mom.

What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Don’t give up! I have more rejection letters than you can imagine. Keep sending your work out, but never stop improving it.

And do whatever you can to get input from other writers. I’ve taken several writing courses that have really helped me improve my craft. I’ve been a part of two writers’ groups – one that I heard about through a course, and one that I formed with two friends. Getting and giving feedback as part of these groups has made improved my writing immeasurably.

Love the advice not to give up. Sometimes it's so tempting! But stories like yours can really rejuvenate a weary writer.

On your website, you have a picture of you and your children the day you found out your first book would be published. The caption says, “We look remarkably good, considering we were twelve hours off a trip that involved three continents, four countries and five airports — most of them unintentional.” I definitely have to ask! What’s the story there?

I’ll try to condense this story, but if I ever meet you or any of your readers, I’ll tell you the long version! We were returning from a family holiday to Morocco. Ironically, the Moroccan part of the trip was smooth and problem-free. But when we arrived in London, the line for security was unbelievable. By the time we made it to the desk, the agent told us we wouldn’t make our connecting flight to Toronto. There was also a terrible winter storm over much of northeastern U.S. and Canada, and airports were shutting down. She couldn’t get us to Toronto, but could fly us into Boston, with a flight from Boston to Toronto the following day.

We took it, and ran to make the flight. The plane was about an hour outside of Boston when they announced that Logan airport had been shut down, and they were rerouting us to Montreal. Good news for us – right? Montreal is much closer to Toronto, and maybe we could get a connecting flight that night! However, when we arrived, the flight attendant said that no one could get off the plane unless everyone did. After an hour and a half sitting on the tarmac, another announcement was made that Logan airport had reopened and we were flying back!

When we arrived in Boston, it was past midnight – sometime the next morning in Moroccan time. A worker in security told us every hotel in the city was sold out because so many flights had been cancelled. Undaunted, we decided to double-check at the Hilton, which is directly connected to the airport. Indeed they were sold out, but after hearing our sorry tale, they were able to find half a suite that wasn’t being used. It had no bed, but we were happy for the pull-out sofa and the extra cot they wheeled in.

Wow, this story is way too long! If you ever interview me again, I’ll tell you how we got from Boston to Toronto. However, it was a thrill to get back from all those adventures and read the e-mail saying that Lorimer wanted to publish my first book that fall.

That's quite the story! And I must say, I love the happy ending. You must be working on something new. Can you divulge anything about your current work(s)-in-progress? I beleive you have another book coming out this year as well, when can we expect it to hit shelves?

I love having lots of projects underway! I have four unfinished manuscripts in various stages, although I only work on one at a time. The one I’m busy with at the moment is a third book for Lorimer. It’s lighter in tone and more humorous than my first two books, and will be published in Fall 2010.

In addition, I have a completed middle-grade manuscript that I’ve been sending out to a few publishers and agents to a (so far) complete lack of interest. To my earlier point, it’s time to consider what I should do to improve it. I also have a young adult novel that I’m dying to get back to. The main character, the voice and the plot are completely different from what I’ve had published, and I really miss working on it. My final manuscript is the dark horse – it’s a fantasy, and I’m not sure it’ll ever see the light of day.

It sounds like you have a lot of great projects in the works. I'm sure we'll be seeing them in the future! Where can readers stay up-to-date on the latest and greatest on you and your books?

My website is at www.bethpollockbooks.com. . Please check it out – and I’d love to hear your comments!

Finally, what’s one interview question you haven’t been asked and wish you would be? And please, answer it!

Q: I love the picture of you in grade three on your website. Do you still have the same sense of style?

A: Unfortunately, yes.

Ha! What a great way to finish things off. Thank you for allowing me the pleasure of interviewing you, Beth. Here's to a successful writing career!

Agent Spotlight: Catherine Drayton

This week's Agent Spotlight features Catherine Drayton of InkWell Management.
Status: Accepting submissions.
catherinedraytonAbout: "Catherine Drayton graduated from the University of Sydney with a BA in English Literature and a Bachelor of Laws. After graduating from the University of NSW with a Master of Laws she worked as a litigation lawyer specializing in copyright and libel law at a major international law firm. But novels, not legal precedents, were always top of her reading pile so in 1998, after a brief stint as a literary scout, she joined Arthur Pine Associates which subsequently became InkWell. She represents a wide range of fiction from around the world for both adults and children as well as some non-fiction on subjects that intrigue her. Her bestselling and award-winning clients include Markus Zusak, Beth Hoffman, John Flanagan, Becca Fitzpatrick, Gavriel Savit, Cath Crowley and Karen Foxlee. Many of her clients are published in multiple territories and sold for film. She particularly loves working with debut authors and is looking for writing that is memorable and enduring. Catherine is InkWell’s Sydney affiliate and when she isn’t reading, she can be found swimming, surfing, hiking and cooking for family and friends." (From the agency website))
About the Agency: 
"InkWell is one of the world’s leading literary agencies, proudly representing major literary prize winners as well as many of the world’s bestselling and best-loved authors. We enjoy a considerable international reputation as a significant and innovative player in the industry.
In addition to its full-time agents and their assistants, the InkWell team includes a tireless foreign rights department and a meticulous contracts manager. We also join forces with leading literary agencies in every foreign market and have agents based in Australia, Boston, and Dallas. We continue to be excited by—and on the lookout for—original ideas, riveting stories and great writing.” (From the agency website)

Web Presence:
InkWell Management website.
Publishers Marketplace.
What She's Looking For:
Literary commercial fiction, world literature, young adult, middle grade, and picture books. (Link)
From an Interview (09/2010):
“I tend to concentrate on all genres of children’s books (picture, middle-grade and YA) and women’s fiction. In young adult, I love the very literary novel such as The Book Thief by Markus Zusak or The Anatomy of Wings by Karen Foxlee, but I also enjoy compelling commercial projects such as Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick and Ranger’s Apprentice by John Flanagan. I look for high-end women’s fiction such as Saving Ceecee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman and am always on the look-out for novels that will appeal to women’s book clubs. I’m excited about Cleo, a memoir by Helen Brown that is about to be published, but I don’t do much nonfiction these days.” (Link)
Editorial Agent?
She makes revision requests and edits as needed.
A list of InkWell management clients is available on the website.
Ms. Drayton's clients include: Katherine Battersby, Jane Bradley, Nathan Bransford, Helen Brown, Joshua Cohen, Andrew Fukuda,Becca Fitzpatrick, John Flanagan, Peter Hartcher, Jacqueline Harvey, Beth Hoffman, Tara Hudson, Katherine Longshore, Shawn Thomas Odyssey, Lisa and Laura Roecker, Craig Silvey, Markus Zusak, among others.
Query Methods:
E-mail: Yes (only).
Snail-Mail: No.
Online-Form: No.
Submission Guidelines (always verify):
In the body of an e-mail include a query letter and short writing sample (1-2 chapters). Despite what it says on the InkWell website, she prefers to receive queries directly. The e-mail address is available on her AgentQuery page.
Please see the Inkwell Management website for complete, up-to-date submission guidelines and terms of agreement.
Query Tips:
"The query letter is very important to me. I want to know that an author has done their research and knows what I represent and why their book would be a good fit for my list. Then I look for imagination – a plot that is unusual, creative – and the ability to pitch the book in one paragraph. A brilliant query letter is very persuasive!" (Link)
Response Times:
The agency has a stated response time of up to two months but may not respond if not interested.
What's the Buzz?
Catherine Drayton seems to be an all-around fabulous agent. She's got the three Ps going for her - prompt, pleasant, and professional - along with a great list of clients, many bestselling, and big sales.
I recommend following her on Twitter @cjdrayton.
Worth Your Time:
Interviews and Podcasts:
Update on 1/26/2023
Please see the InkWell Management website for contact and query information.
Profile Details:
Last updated: 1/26/2023.
Agent Contacted For Review? Yes.
Last Reviewed By Agent? N/A.
Have any experience with this agent? See something that needs updating? Please leave a comment or e-mail me at agentspotlight(at)gmail(dot)com

Note: These agent profiles presently focus on agents who accept children's and/or teen fiction. They are not interviews. Please take the time to verify anything you might use here before querying an agent. The information found herein is subject to change.

Guest Blogger C.A. Marshall: A Writer By Any Other Name...

Please give a warm welcome to guest blogger C.A. Marshall! Cassandra is an intern for a literary agent as well as an aspiring author. Today she'll be talking about pen names, and I'll be featuring an interview with her in just a couple weeks, so please check back. Stop by Cassandra's website and blog to learn more about her.

A writer by any other name...
By C.A. Marshall

Pen names and Pseudonyms have been around for ages. Back when being a female with a pen was looked down on, Anne, Chalotte, and Emily Bronte chose to publish under the names Acton, Currer, and Ellis Bell, respectively.

But it also goes the other way: Anne Rice was born Howard Allen O'Brien. 

(Anne Rice is a MAN?! No, she's a woman, her mother just has a sick sense of humor)

And we've all done those name game things, haven't we? Combine your and your grandfathers' first names to create your Nascar name (Fred James), or your mother’s and father’s middle names to create your Witness protection name (Ann Francis) or your pet's first name and the street you lived on as a child for your Porn Name (Mollie Longview, HA!)

Even Jane Austen (her sister was named Cassandra and that makes me happy) said in Northanger Abbey: "...[W]hat young lady of common gentility will reach the age of sixteen without altering her name as far as she can?" :) I have a hunch that this may be along the same lines as many girls hoping that their "real family" will show up one day and tell them that they are a princess or the daughter of a rockstar.

There are many reasons to use a pen name, here are a few:

1) Your real name is hard to remember and/or spell correctly.

Family Guy executive story editor/co-producer Cherry Chevapravatdumrong released two young adult novels, She's So Money and DupliKate using the name Cherry Cheva.

2) Your real name sounds silly, stupid or obscene.

Pearl Gray dropped his first name and changed the spelling of his last name to become Zane Grey, because he believed that his real name did not suit the Western genre. Romance novelist Angela Knight writes under that name instead of her actual name (Julie Woodcock) because of the double entendre of her surname.

On the other hand, Lemony Snicket sounds so much better than Daniel Handler for kids, doesn't it? Plus it's fun to say.

3) Your real name is the same as, or similar to, another author or a famous figure.

Stephanie Meiers, Stephen Kingsleys, and JP Rowling’s are not going to make it past the ed board.

4) To hide who you really are.

Romance writer Nora Roberts writes futuristic thrillers under the pen name J.D. Robb so as not to accost her readers who would expect the same kind of writing in the new genre.

C. S. Lewis used two different pseudonyms for different reasons. He published a collection of poems (Spirits in Bondage) and a narrative poem (Dymer) under the pen name "Clive Hamilton", to avoid harming his reputation as a don at Oxford University. His book entitled A Grief Observed, which describes his experience of bereavement, was originally released under the pseudonym "N. W. Clerk".

The Histoire d'O (The Story of O), an erotic novel of sadomasochism and sexual slavery, was written by an editorial secretary with a reputation of near-prudery who used the pseudonym Pauline Réage.

Alice Bradley Sheldon wrote under the pen name of James Tiptree, Jr. because she was a woman writing in the heavily male-dominated genre of science fiction and she was a career intelligence officer, first in the Army Air Corps and then in the early years of the CIA, for whom concealment was a way of life.

The identity of the enigmatic twentieth century novelist B. Traven has never been revealed, in spite of thorough research.

5) You want a gender neutral name.

J. K. Rowling used a gender neutral name to secure boy readers, many of whom will not read books written by women or authors with feminine names.

6) To avoid overexposure

Prolific authors for pulp magazines often had two and sometimes three short stories appearing in one issue of a magazine; the editor would create several fictitious author names to hide this from readers.

Robert A. Heinlein wrote stories under pseudonyms so that more of his works could be published in a single magazine.

Stephen King published four novels under the name Richard Bachman because publishers didn't feel the public would buy more than one novel per year from a single author.

What about you? If you're a writer/author, have you considered a pen name or are you gung-ho on using your real name? If you're not a writer, have you ever wanted to change your name to something else? If so, why?

Writing / Research Tip Tuesday #23

Time for another Tuesday Tip! Today's tip was sent in by Simon Kewin who you might recognize from around the blogosphere. To show your appreciation of the fabulous tip he's sent in (and it is fabulous), please visit his blog and website on your way out!

"Recently, I needed to take a walk down a certain road in Manchester (in the UK) for a scene in an urban fantasy novel I've been writing. It was a road I walked along often a number of years ago, but the problem was that I now live a hundred and fifty miles away. I could remember the sights and sounds of the street well enough, but I needed to check on a detail of the road's layout as it was significant to my plot. But conventional maps and satellite photographs didn't give me the three-dimensional, street-level perspective I needed.

"Then I remembered
Google Street View. As you may know, Google are in the process of photographing streets and roads the world over, stitching the pictures together so that you can visually "move" along them. Privacy concerns aside, this can be an invaluable resource for the writer. A series of pictures will never give you the sounds and smells of a particular place, but they can help trigger memories and they can help confirm that this or that road or building are as you recall them. Using Street View I found I was able to check on my facts without having to undertake a 300 mile round-trip."

This is such a great tip, Simon. And it ties in pretty darn good with Ann's tip from last week. Just like I never thought to peruse travel blogs for research information, I never thought to "travel" there via Google Street View. Amazing! I'll definitely be peeping in on some streets in the near future.

THE CALL or, What to Ask a Literary Agent When Offered Representation


403_question markGiven the nature of this blog and my general advocacy of doing research and making informed decisions about literary agents,  I've long wanted to do a post on  THE CALL, THE E-MAIL or, What to Ask a Literary Agent When Offered Representation.  I can't speak from experience yet, but I can give you the list of questions I've been creating for myself.  And we can discuss! 

A couple notes about the questions before I continue.  Depending on the agent, I might already know some of the answers and therefore wouldn't bother asking those questions.  I also expect a lot of these questions would run together and be cross-answered naturally, so while it seems like a lot of questions, I don't think I'd have to ask them all word for word.  At the bottom, I'm listing out the posts that helped me develop my list.


What do you think of my work?  What are the strengths and weaknesses of the manuscript?  Do you think it will stand out in the marketplace?  How ready is it?

Are you an editorial agent?  If so, to what extent?  What are you thinking in terms of revision?  How collaborative are you?

Will I be working solely with you, or will there be times I'll work with an associate or assistant?  If so, please elaborate.

How many clients do you have?  Are you confident you have enough time and energy to add another client to your roster?  If it's not already full, how many clients do you wish to have on your list eventually?

Do you represent clients book by book or on a career basis?  Are you confident that we have a great chance of making a career-long match?

Will you work with me on career planning and marketing?  Do you work with a publicist?

How much of my genre do you handle?  What's your approximate success rate?

What happens if you can't sell this manuscript?  What if you don't like my future projects and ideas? 

Would you still support and represent me if at some point I wrote outside of my current genre?

Do you have a plan for submission in mind already?  Which houses/editors do think will be a good fit for this project?  How many editors do you plan to submit to initially, and how many do you plan to submit to overall if it does not sell as soon as hoped?

I know it varies, but what is the expected turn-around time for an editor during the submission process?  How long will you allow a project to languish before you'll nudge?

How open are you with information during the submission process?  Will you keep me updated as rejections and offers come in?  Will I know exactly who you're submitting to at all times?  Are you willing to share the rejections with me?

What is your preferred method of communication?  How often are you in contact with your clients?  How soon can I expect an answer to any given e-mail?  How about a revision or new project?

What are your business hours?  When do you prefer to be contacted?

Do you have a verbal or written contract?  What do the terms and agreements include?  What is the duration of the contract?  If it's written, would you be willing to go through it word-for-word with me if I felt that was necessary?

Are there any situations where you'd make decisions on my behalf? 

If for some reason we need to part ways, how will this be handled?  Are there any stipulations I should be aware of?  For what reasons would you terminate a client?

If a situation should arise where you are no longer able to represent my work, do you have a plan for me?  Or will I need to seek new representation on my own?  What if I'm in the middle of the submission process?  How would I proceed?

How are subsidiary rights handled within your agency?  Would you say your agency is strong in subright sales?  Do you see potential for my project in this regard?

What are your commission rates?  Are they the standard 15% domestic and 20% foreign/film?

What is your procedure for processing and disbursing client funds?  How soon will I receive my share when payments are received?  Do you keep different bank accounts for author funds and agency revenue?  Will I receive a 1099 at the end of each year?  Will I have full fiscal disclosure upon request? 

Will you be billing me for any submission costs (supplies, etc)?  If so, what should I expect?  How will those costs be charged to me?

How long have you been an agent?  What do you love about it?  Dislike about it?

Generally, what do you expect of your clients in a given year?  What do you feel makes for an ideal agent-author relationship?

What are a few of your recent sales? 

What if another client and I approached you with a similar idea?  How would you move forward in that situation?

Would you allow me to contact a couple of your clients?  Specifically, one you've sold at least one project for and one you you've yet to sell for?  What about publishers you've worked with?

Do you belong to any organizations?  The AAR?  Are you listed on Publisher's Marketplace?  If so, do you report the majority of your deals to them?

What questions do you have for me?


Here are the posts that helped me develop my list:

"Preparing for THE CALL" at Writers Musings.

"What Can I Expect of My Agent" at Editorial Ass.

"How to Interview a Literary Agent" at Writing for Children and Teens.

"Getting THE CALL" at Rants and Ramblings of a Literary Agent.

"Questions to Ask an Agent" at Rants and Ramblings of a Literary Agent.

"Before You Hire a Literary Agent" by Michael Hyatt.

"Questions to Ask a Potential Literary Agent" at Squidoo.

"Questions to Ask Literary Agents" at Quill Driver Books (reprinted from the AAR).


What do you think?  Do you want to discuss any of the questions?  Add your own?  Talk about your own experience with THE CALL?  Please do!  Also, if you're interested in writing a guest post about your experience interviewing one or more literary agents before hiring one, please e-mail me.