Upcoming Agent Spotlight Interviews & Guest Posts

  • Rebecca Williamson Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 7/8/2024
  • Sheila Fernley Agent Spotlight Interview, Critique Giveaway, and One-Hour Zoom Call on 7/29/2024
  • Erica McGrath Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 8/12/2024

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.

Ned Rauch-Mannino: Interview and Book Giveaway

Good Wednesday, everyone! I have another fantastic interview and giveaway to share with you today. This time with Ned Rauch-Mannino, author of the FingerTip Island series.

Here's the description of the first book from Goodreads:

Rudolph Vincenzo is always in trouble. In school, at home, or dueling with his cold-hearted neighbor, his runaway imagination is too hot for the small, frosty little town of Asbury. So when Rudolph needs an escape, his imagination creates one: FingerTip Island, a supernatural place where the slightest thought becomes reality and brings his best daydreams alive. His little brother thinks he's brilliant. His older sister thinks he's insane. Rudolph takes both of them along to his tropical paradise where tigers are tour guides, bathtubs make handy weapons, and creepy creatures are around every corner. The possibilities for excitement and danger are endless and soon Rudolph and his siblings find their best ideas and worst fears coming to life. When a chill blows in and their adventure is threatened by the thing they fear most, Rudolph finds that a good imagination is the island's-and his-last hope.

Hi Ned! It’s so nice to have you on Literary Rambles today. Why don’t you tell us a bit about yourself and the books you write?

Thanks Casey! About me, I’ve been pursuing “the adventure of a lifetime” since I was a kid. Growing up first on a Jersey Shore island and later in the Pennsylvania countryside, I found many opportunities to be adventurous: makeshift expeditions, exploring beaches, inlets and mountains, and even ghost hunting. Now older, I like to spin the globe and pick a spot: Brazil, Turkey, Canada, Kenya, Nicaragua, anywhere and everywhere, really. Sometimes I’ll travel for missions work or research. Other times, I just want to kayak with alligators or ride an ostrich.

When I’m not risking my life to ride giant birds, I’m spending time with my gorgeous wife and daughter, driving around with friends (who are much less gorgeous), or teaching at Temple University, my undergraduate alma mater. I love the outdoors, trying to surf, and growing odd plants in my living room.

I wouldn’t be able to tell you about myself without sharing a few of my favorite books, since they’ve had an impact on more than just my writing. Favorite titles include Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, and Stephen King’s The Stand, particularly as they reflect the influence of faith in both extraordinary circumstances and everyday life. Treasure Island, by Robin Louis Stevenson, The Jungle Books by Rudyard Kipling, Moby Dick by Herrmann Melville, Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton, and Through the Dark Continent by Henry Stanley are also on my bookshelf for their inherent foundation of adventure.

Personally, I enjoy writing about the things I like to read about: exploration and adventure, common people finding themselves in uncommon places, and faith triumphing over evil. I find writing for children is an excellent way to introduce what I love about books to a new generation of readers. My series for middle grade readers, FingerTip Island, accomplishes this through an exciting, relatable children’s story. FingerTip Island follows Rudolph Vincenzo, an 11 year-old with a knack for letting his creativity get away from him. Trapped in a chilly town doing nothing for his imagination, Rudolph creates his escape: FingerTip Island, a place where the slightest thought becomes reality. Bringing his siblings with him, he finds his runaway ideas can lead to limitless fun – and trouble. As Rudolph learns to control his thought and build his self-confidence, I hope to use the series to show children the power of imagination, and the stumbling blocks they’re sure to encounter and how to overcome them.

Your life sounds so exciting! The second book in the FingerTip Island series comes out at the end of the year. What sort of adventure is in store for Rudolph and his siblings this time around?

In the first book, so much of the trouble came from Rudolph himself, whether or not he knew it. In the second, Rudolph is firmly rooted in his own self, confident in his abilities – only to have bullies test that grounding.

FingerTip Island II: The Vincenzo’s Bully Problem
finds Rudolph Vincenzo still in trouble. This time, Asbury’s biggest bully casts a large shadow over the 11 year-old, and Rudolph’s school’s bully problem has only been getting worse. Rudolph has an escape, and decides it’s time to share his greatest adventure with his best friends. But as he and his friends take flight, the most bothersome of bullies follow them to FingerTip Island.

Middle school imaginations face off in the Vincenzos’ thrilling return adventure to FingerTip Island. Rudolph, June and Gus join forces with fresh faces to protect the island from a fearsome foursome. Prehistoric creatures, uncontrolled creativity and super-powered super villains add to the excitement – and danger – of FingerTip Island. Taking a stand against the hot-headed, the unstable and the unruly, Rudolph and his friends hope their best ideas can send their worst classmates back home and solve their bully problem once and for all.

The series sounds like a lot of fun, perfect for middle grade readers. As a child, I desperately wished to escape to a fantastical world. Was the premise for FingerTip Island inspired by a similar childhood desire, or something else?

Like you, as children my siblings and I imagined our own getaway – we’d create it any night we had the energy to flip mattresses and rearrange furniture to transform our bedroom into what we called Pinkyland. Stuffed animals became citizens, the carpet was the ocean, and we imagined invaders threatening our island on a nightly basis. Since whatever we wanted to happen, happened, we were able to really stretch the (perhaps non-existent) limits of our creativity.

Always wanting to write children’s books, not too long after our Pinkyland days I tried my hand at authoring a short story. Revisiting it over the next 15 years, it turned into FingerTip Island as it is today. The series is so much of what we imagined as kids, and throughout the story are links to those late-80’s, early-90’s night. Mitch, the book’s tiger tour guide, is one example of the many moments from Pinkyland that found their way into
FingerTip Island. He was my little brother’s stuffed animal tiger, who had the same role in our bedroom.

Do you have a favorite scene or teaser from one of the books you’d like to share?

Throughout the first book, I make sure to make fun of Gus’ size and strength, as he is basically my little brother, NYC comedian Justice Mannino. Going back to the first FingerTip Island, Gus can’t handle an axe, climb a rope or keep his balance on two skinny, scrawny legs. In FingerTip Island II, I confront the issue of bullying. As the story’s smallest character, Gus becomes a good way to show an example of how bullying happens, and what happens next.

Of course, as the story moves to FingerTip Island, Gus’ bully, the fiery Flame-Thrower, finds himself on a leveled playing field. While Gus may be tiny and unintimidating in Asbury, his imagination more than makes up for his size on the island. Gus, Rudolph and the others find themselves in a firefight with the Flame-Thrower. Gus summons his inner-strength and the result is sweet justice. Without giving too much away, my brother in real life has changed from a skinny-legged grade school boy to a Bruce Lee-inspired weight lifter (but he still has incredibly skinny legs). Since my brother and Gus are the same… watch out for some growth spurts.

For those unafraid of spoilers, I’ve provided a sample chapter from FingerTip Island II: The Vincenzo’s Bully Problem.

I see from your author bio and what's mentioned above that you’ve done a lot of traveling around. I’m totally jealous! Have your adventures influenced your stories much? Are there any anecdotes in the books readers can look for?

I find it impossible for travel not to influence the traveller’s perspective, for better or worse. That influence is everywhere in
FingerTip Island. Sometimes, it’s delivered through subtle phrases, or the description of a beach or the color of the leaves in a jungle or the rusty-hued volcano. Readers can find a good example just in the first pages: I described Asbury, Rudolph’s chilly hometown, after North Sydney, Nova Scotia, where I spent a day waiting for a ferry ride to Newfoundland. It was almost like stepping back in time – not far back, just 10 years or so – and stumbling across a grey, dull borough. The moment I arrived I thought, “this is perfect for my book: this is where Rudolph needs to escape from.”

Other times I just mention a specific expedition or experience outright – typically through one of Charles St. Peter’s ramblings (he brags about lessons learned from adventures in Brazil and Labrador, which are my own).

Have you found it challenging to reach your audience? What have you done to market the books?

To meet the challenge of reaching my audience, I’ve reached out to media sources, bookstores and literary events, promoting FingerTip Island wherever and whenever possible. Attending book fairs has been a must, and my publisher, Better Karma Publishing LLC, has been active in promoting the series across the country. I’ll be at the “Celebrate The Book! Central Pennsylvania Book Festival” on October 22nd, in Carlisle, PA. Creating and maintaining a web presence is important too – adding to the list of time-consuming activities. Marketing is a commitment, without question. Serious authors – who seriously want to be full-time authors – need to make this investment.

Part of that investment is getting out and meeting the readers; being social with my audience has seen the greatest success. I am always looking for an event I can contribute to. Teachers have been a great help, too. I’ve been able to partner with several schools over the past year, conducting interviews, reading programs, and other workshops with elementary and middle grade students. It’s been a privilege to work with so many dedicated educators who are committed to developing a solid foundation for students, and using fresh ideas to build it.

I am presently seeking an agent to transition the FingerTip Island series from my present publisher to a larger one. Better Karma has been a terrific partner, and would like to cooperate with such a transition to make my writing goals a reality. Finding a literary agent has become my chief priority (so, Casey, suggestions are welcomed).

What has your road to publication been like?

The first-time publication process is exhausting. Countless after-midnight hours were spent researching publishers and other resources. Temple University professor and journalism guru Larry Stains gave querying advice and pitch criticism. I would walk around libraries and bookstores, seeking out similar books and scribbling down their publisher information. Investigating hundreds of publishing companies my excitement would grow, only to find at the bottom of the submissions page the words, “we are not accepting unsolicited manuscripts.”

After learning Better Karma was pursuing my manuscript, I then was tasked with dozens of “to-dos,” from creating bios and information to returning edits to creating concepts for an illustrator. Of course, I was happy for the work.

Aspiring authors need to remember: rejection and criticism are eventualities. But with a good story and perseverance, they are also merely stumbling blocks.

What are you working on now? Will there be another FingerTip island book?

FingerTip Island II: The Vincenzo’s Bully Problem
will be available soon, with editing and other details being wrapped up. I’ve already started the third FingerTip Island installment, which I hope to make a total series of four books. Each book in the series looks at different challenges to children development; the first concerns self-esteem issues and responds to them with the power of imagination. The second looks at bullying, with a theme of forgiveness. The third book looks to even more dangerous challenges young readers will face.

Separate from the middle grade fiction world, I am shopping a manuscript for the young adult/teenage audience. This story focuses on three friends coming of-life and out of a small town high school, weighing major life decisions and the best tactics to find girls. Themes of duty, military service, temptation and purpose are explored through the trio’s unique perspectives and misadventures. I feel this story would be a good fit for high school students considering what the next step looks like. It would be of particular interest in the Mid-Atlantic region, with the story largely taking place in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Washington, D.C.

Where can readers stay up-to-date on the latest and greatest on you and your books?

A website is coming, www.nedrauch.com. It’s only a matter of time until I finish teaching myself how to build it. Once launched, it will be the official site for all of my books. [Ned actually launched his website this week. Check it out!]

FingerTip Island
is on Twitter, @fingertipisland, where I’ll post updates, fun facts or ideas.

Also, Goodreads is a great source of new information on me and my books, and I check in there often. And my publisher, too, at www.betterkarmapublishing.com/fingertip. Better Karma offers a wide range of reading for all ages.

Thank you so much for your time, Ned. It’s been a pleasure.

Thank you, Casey!

If you'd like to win a copy of FingerTip Island: The Vincenzo Adventure (or a pre-order of the second book, if you've read the first) please be a follower, if possible, and leave a comment. If your contact info is hard to find or you don't regularly visit the blog, make sure you leave your e-mail address with your comment. The giveaway will run until October 4th at midnight.

Amazon has a preview of the first book through Look Inside here, and I've made Ned's sample chapter of the second book available here.

Thank you for reading, and good luck!

Tip Tuesday #107

Tip Tuesday is a recurring feature where writers send in tips for fellow writers. If you'd like to send in a tip, please e-mail me at agentspotlight(at)gmail(dot)com.

Today's tip involves chocolate (collective YAY) and was sent in by Cate Morgan (tip #95) who blogs at Infinite Monkey and tweets @typemonkeytype. Please visit and follow after you're done reading here. Enjoy your chocolate!

Zen and the Art of Chocolate By Cate Morgan

Now that I have your attention, let’s do an experiment. Here’s what you need:

  • 2 large jars of equal size, large as you like.
  • Enough bags of small candy to fill one of the jars not quite to the top. I recommend M&Ms, but that’s just my personal preference. J
  • A bunch of large candy bars
  • Labels (optional)
  • Marker

We’re going to talk about goals and prioritization. Actually, I’m going to blog, and hopefully I still have your attention with the mountain of chocolate.

We all have roles in life. We’re parents and children and siblings, employees, housekeepers and cooks, volunteers and, since we’re on the ROW80 site, writers. On each candy bar, write or label each of your roles. Line them up in the order of importance.

Okay, fill one of the jars with small candy. You might not fill it all the way to the top, but that’s okay. Get as close as you can. It goes without saying, but I’ll put it in writing anyway: escapees are fair game. Now, one at a time, try to fit the big candy bars into the full jar. Go on, I’ll wait while you stand on a chair for leverage and use the meat mallet. Try to not break anything.

Doesn’t work very well, does it?

Now pull the chocolate bars out of the candy, apologize for trying drown them in the chocolate witch trials, and realign them in order of importance. “Writer” is probably somewhere toward the end, because roles like “parent” or “employee” most likely come first. The whole “starving writer” gig tends to lose its charm after the age of twenty so. But do not despair; it isn’t the end of the world.

Now put the chocolate bars in the empty jar, again in order of importance. Dump the full container into the one with the candy bars a la New York mob. Laugh diabolically if you like. Oh, go on. It’s fun.

See where I’m going with this?

The moral of the story is life is full of minutiae, and we’re often tricked into believing it’s important. Fact of the matter is, minutiae is exactly what it looks like. It piles up around us, burying us, masking what is truly important.

Prioritization works the other way around.

You make room for the big, important stuff, and if a few M&Ms fall to the way side in the process, well, you can laugh. (Have I mentioned how much I love this demonstration? *crunch crunch crunch*)

I will bet you a crisp, new twenty dollar bill you forgot a role.

Forgot yourself, didn’tcha?

I thought as much. *grins*

You, as in YOU, are an individual-type person, complete and whole. You deserve some prioritization too, so be sure you take at least a little time for yourself, even if it’s only a half hour here and there.

One of my favorite me-rituals takes place on Sunday morning. The husband is still snoring merrily away like a grizzly bear hibernating for the winter. The coffee is fresh and piping hot, the resident Ninja Katz cavorting about my ankles. I sit at the dining room table and plan my week: What do I need to accomplish? How will I meet my goals?

Goals on their own are lovely, all bright and shiny and full of promise. Especially writing goals. But they do you no good whatsoever if you don’t have a plan to reach them. A word count goal or a promise to yourself to write every single day the sun brings is a good start.

Know what works better? Specific steps, or mini-goals, to get you there. Whether you’re a pantser, planner, or somewhere in the middle, you need milestones to reach for. I’m seriously OCD (I prefer the term “Zen”), and I like balance in my life every bit as much as coffee and M&Ms. I also work on more than one project at a time, whether I’m in the discovery stage of one and the revision or rehabilitation stage of a second (as I am now), which requires optimal prioritization.

It doesn’t have to be painful. I have a specific process, with very specific tasks. I assign myself tasks in groups of three for each project and if you’re a full, er, on pantser, you can brainstorm a scene before you write it. This way you get a real feel for what you’re working with before forming definite words around it. Yanno, minimizing the staring at the Blinking Cursor of Doom while maximizing the typeity-typeity. It isn’t planning so much as discovery, and one of my favorite parts of writing..

Do yourself a favor and consolidate either your writing or your you time with studying your craft. Spend some time reading and analyzing what you’ve read, or join a critique group just to read the work of others. You’ll gain beaucoup perspective. Every bit of insight helps.

Let’s review.

Block out time at the beginning of the week and assign yourself specific, reachable tasks in order to accomplish a larger goal.

Invest time to develop your craft, so your art will transcend craft.

Finally, treat your time as valuable. If you don’t, who will?

Ummmm . . . gonna eat those M&Ms?

~Cate Morgan


First I'm going to announce the winners of SOLSTICE. The winners are:




Congrats! I already e-mailed your contact information to P.J. Hoover so you can get your books.

Today I’m excited to interview Kiki Hamilton about her debut novel, THE FAERIE RING that’s being released tomorrow. I’m especially excited to help Kiki celebrate her debut because I’ve become friends with her through following her blog. And I loved THE FAIRIE RING because it involves fantasy and fairies, two of my favorite things to read about.

Here’s a description of THE FAERIE RING from Goodreads:

The year is 1871, and Tiki has been making a home for herself and her family of orphans in a deserted hideaway adjoining Charing Cross Station in central London. Their only means of survival is by picking pockets. One December night, Tiki steals a ring, and sets off a chain of events that could lead to all-out war with the Fey. For the ring belongs to Queen Victoria, and it binds the rulers of England and the realm of Faerie to peace. With the ring missing, a rebel group of faeries hopes to break the treaty with dark magic and blood—Tiki’s blood.
Unbeknownst to Tiki, she is being watched—and protected—by Rieker, a fellow thief who suspects she is involved in the disappearance of the ring. Rieker has secrets of his own, and Tiki is not all that she appears to be. Her very existence haunts Prince Leopold, the Queen’s son, who is driven to know more about the mysterious mark that encircles her wrist.
Prince, pauper, and thief—all must work together to secure the treaty…

Hi Kiki. Thanks so much for joining us.

Hi Natalie! Thanks so much for inviting me over to your awesome blog (!) and for your kind words about my book.

1. Tell us a little about yourself and your book.

After reading the beginning books of the Harry Potter series and falling in love with reading again, I decided to write a story for my daughter. That’s when the madness set in. I LOVE writing. I had so much fun with the characters, the plot, the world – loved the process. Soon, the book wasn’t for my daughter any more (it was too old for her at the time) but was for my characters, who wanted to tell me their story. That novel is still incubating on my hard drive. Ahem. THE FAERIE RING was the second book I wrote. I loved writing that story even more!

2. I can’t believe how similar our start to writing was. I read the first Harry Potter book and it rekindled my love of fantasy. I decided to try writing a fantasy I’d been thinking of, which I wrote for my daughter too. THE FAERIE RING is set in 1871 London. I read that you’d never been to London before writing the story, which I find amazing since you describe the era and London in such detail. What research did you do into London and the Victorian era in writing your book?

My story is considered historical fantasy, so I’ve worked hard to keep all historical facts accurate. The Faerie Ring is set in 1871 because that’s the year one of my characters, Prince Leopold, Queen Victoria’s youngest son, was 18. My research was conducted through a variety of sources – several books were a wonderful resource: What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Pool (Simon & Schuster 1993) and Victorian London, The Tale of a City 1840-1870 by Liza Picard (St. Martin’s Griffin 2005). Additionally, I used online resources including Google Earth.

After I’d sold the book, but before I’d worked on any editorial revisions, I had the opportunity to visit London for the first time. It was such a wonderful experience! As everyone knows, London is an ancient city with so much history oozing out of the buildings and sidewalks, it can’t help but to inspire a writer! I got to walk in Tiki’s footsteps (my main character) from Charing Cross to St. James Park to Buckingham Palace and more. The trip was surreal and fantastic (!!!) and very beneficial in filling in some of the more oblique, but still very important, details.

3. You did such a good job nailing the historical facts. And I’d love to visit London. Tiki is such an interesting character. Even though she’s a pickpocket, she’s doing it for a cause—surviving and because she’s driven to take care her new family that she found while living on London’s streets. And she’s independent in a time when women were dependant on men. How did you develop her as a character and what were the challenges in balancing her independence with the time she lived in?

There is a fine line in creating the heroic character you (usually) want and adhering to the class and moral structure of the era. But I don’t believe that women are ever really dependent on men. Though they may make it *seem* that way, even in the 19th century, I truly believe, when there is a will – there’s a way. So, though it might have been more difficult to control the outcomes of some events in the Victorian era, there are always ways around an imposed structure, whether it’s pretending to be a boy, employing a man’s name as a front or simply being clever enough to convince a man to think his choices are his own and not influenced by a woman. Blasphemous, aren’t I? ;-)

4. Ha! I totally agree with you. I loved Tiki’s relationship with Rieker, especially because their chemistry was not love at first sight. Can you give us some tips on how to build the tension in the relationship like you did here?

Tension is built by conflict or an impediment to that which you desire. In a novel, there are many ways to thwart or confuse a relationship – just like in real life. People are complicated and multi-layered – where a person might pretend to be transparent and lay their soul bare – they rarely do. And then of course, there are the types who have so many layers of secrets even they may not know their own truth any more. Those types of characters fascinate me and I’m drawn to including them in my plots, with the final result (hopefully) being that the tension is not manufactured simply as a plot device but because the characters are multi-dimensional and layered. The key is how quickly or slowly you peel back the layers.

5. That’s awesome advice. I read that you wrote books 2 and 3 of this series and then worked on combining them so you could write a new book 3. How much of the complete story did you know when you wrote THE FAERIE RING and what advice do you have on writing a series?

When I first started writing I wasn’t intending to write a series. I just had a story I wanted to tell. But when I got to the end, I realized that the story was far from over. I had only peeled back a few of the layers of my characters – there was a lot yet to discover!

If you can outline, it would be much easier to outline the entire series before you start, that way you can see where your turning points are and the shape of your story arc. In a perfect world – that’s the way I would do it if I could! 

6. I’m glad you decided to make it a series. I want to learn more about Tiki and Rieker. I love that your magical system involves faeries. I love them! What research did you do in developing this aspect of your story?

I love the idea of worlds existing unseen but intersecting with our own. We’ve all had moments of seeing shadows move out of the corners of our eyes and we turn and nothing is there; the sense that we’re being watched;
For research, I read alot about faerie lore and faeries of the British Isles, through books and the internet, and then used my imagination.

7. I think that’s the draw of fantasy—the unseen world we long to be real. At least it’s one of the reasons I love to read fantasies. From following your blog, I know you’ve already been taking steps to market your book, such as being interviewed by bloggers who review books and getting really good reviews from some like Kristi at The Story Siren. (This is a really popular book blogger site that I really recommend BTW.) I was so excited when I read Kristi’s review. Tell us how you’ve reached out to the book blogging community and other marketing steps you’ve taken that you think are spreading the word about your book.

The blogging world has been phenomenal to me! I am SO grateful!! Honestly, a year ago – I didn’t even know it existed. I started reaching out to a few people and I’ll tell you – what a WONDERFUL group of people. I feel so lucky to count many of them as my friends, now.

8. What are you working on now?

I just finished a YA contemporary called THE LAST DANCE and I’m having my crit partners read it. At this moment, I have two things I’m working on – one is a fantasy with an alternate history set in London 1895 with a male main character, Blackjack Bailey. The other is a fantasy that I’m very excited about. I’m going to leave it at that. LOL – don’t you love and hate secrets at the same time? ;-)

Yes, those secrets are torture! Can’t wait till you can tell us about them. Thanks so much for your advice Kiki. Good luck with your book.

Thank you so much for having me, Natalie, and for your good wishes. Good luck with your book too! When do we get to hear about that?

Thanks so much for asking. I’m hoping to get my revisions done by early next year so I can start querying. Gulp!

You can find Kiki at her blog, website, Twitter and Facebook.
Kiki Hamilton

Kiki’s publisher generously offered an ARC for a giveaway. All you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment by midnight on October 8th. I’ll announce the winner on October 10th. If your e-mail is not on Blogger, please list it in your comment. International entries are welcome.

I’m going to do something different with my giveaway. If you mention this contest on your blog, Twitter, or Facebook, please let me know in the comments and I’ll give you an extra entry.

I’ve got a lot of awesome interviews coming up in October. On October 3rd, I’m interviewing Hilary Wagner and giving away a copy of THE WHITE ASSASSIN. On October 5th, I’ll be blogging again so I can interview Jean Nadol and give away a copy of THE VISION. Then on October 10th, I’ll be interviewing Janice Hardy and giving away a copy of DARKFALL. I’ll tell you about the rest of my awesome October later.

Hope to see you next Monday!

Agent Spotlight: Jason Anthony

This week's Agent Spotlight features Jason Anthony of Massey & McQuilkin Literary Agents (formerly Lippincott Massie McQuilkin Literary Agents).
Status: Currently closed to submissions.
About: “JASON ANTHONY (agent) is a former film executive who joined Massey & McQuilkin Literary Agents after a three-year affiliation with Zachary Shuster Harmsworth. As a film executive, Anthony worked for the Disney, MGM and Sony Pictures studios and ran the New York offices of Spider-Man producer Laura Ziskin and Men in Black director Barry Sonnenfeld. In his ten-year career in film, Anthony specialized in developing film and TV properties from books. Before becoming a literary agent in 2004, he worked in London as a film consultant for the TBWA/Chiat-Day advertising agency and originated the popular ‘Hollywood Reader’ column for Publishers Weekly, the industry's most influential trade magazine. Anthony graduated from Columbia University in 1993 with a B.A. in film and is the co-author of five published books. He specializes in young adult and commercial fiction and most areas of non-fiction, including pop culture, memoir, true crime, and general psychology.” (Link)
About the Agency:
Massey & McQuilkin Literary Agents is a full-service literary agency that focuses on bringing fiction and non-fiction of quality to the largest possible audience. We work closely with our clients at every stage of a project’s development, submission, and placement—staying involved in all issues of design, publicity and sales, long after the ink has dried on a contract, to ensure that the author’s needs are being met by his or her publisher.” (Link)
Web Presence:
MMQLIT website.
MMQLIT Facebook.
AgentQuery, QueryTracker.
What He's Looking For:
“He specializes in young adult and commercial fiction and most areas of non-fiction, including pop culture, memoir, true crime, and general psychology.” (Link)
What He Isn't Looking For:
Screenplays; otherwise unknown.
Editorial Agent?
Unknown, though the agency prides itself on being involved in “every stage of a project’s development” and I’ve seen mention of client revision.
A list of clients is available on the MMQLIT website.
Mr. Anthony’s clients include: Craig Bridger, Rebecca Dana, T.M. Goeglein, Jesse Karp, Lish McBride, Roberta Marie Munroe, Rodney Peet, Ilyasah Al-Shabazz, Joanna Wiebe, Jen Violi, among others.
Query Methods:
Jason Anthony is currently closed to queries.
E-mail: Yes (only).
Snail-Mail: No.
Online-Form: No.
Submission Guidelines From the Agency Website (always verify):
"Please send us a query letter that briefly describes your project as well as any personal or professional information that may be relevant (for instance any awards you have won, regular media appearances you make, and/or professional or academic affiliations you may have). Do not query more than one agent at the agency at one time, though if one agent passes on your work, you are welcome to query another. Include the word “Query” in the subject line of your email. Please also include the first 5-10 pages pasted into the body of your email. We look forward to reviewing your work.
See the MMQLIT website for complete, up-to-date submission guidelines."
Response Times:
Mr. Anthony usually responds within hours to a few days to queries, days to a few weeks to requested material.
What's the Buzz?
There isn’t a lot of extra information about Jason Anthony and his tastes online aside from what’s on the MMQLIT website.  He first became a literary agent when he joined Zachary Shuster Harmsworth as an agent in 2005, and moved to Lippincott Massie McQuilkin in 2008.  His clients seem settled, and he has many confirmed sales.  Past YA sales have included dystopian, paranormal, fantasy, and contemporary, so he seems open to genre YA.
Worth Your Time:
None I could find online.
Around the Web:
Please see the MMQLIT website for contact and query information.
Profile Details:
Last updated: 12/29/2022. 
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 natalieiaguirre7(at)gmail(dot)com

Note: These agent profiles presently focus on agents who accept children's 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.

Tip Tuesday #106

Tip Tuesday is a recurring feature where writers send in tips for fellow writers. If you'd like to send in a tip, please e-mail me at agentspotlight(at)gmail(dot)com.

Happy Tuesday! Today's tip on music comes to you from Alexandra Loewen. Alexandra doesn't blog, but she does have a Twitter @alexandraloewen. Please consider following, and to read another tip from Alexandra see #75. Cheers!

Add Music to your Writer’s Tool Box

We all know how powerful music is in evoking emotion and enhancing mood, whether it be in a movie, a wedding, a restaurant, or at a sporting event. I have found the same is true when I am writing. The right music can help me craft everything from high energy adventure to tension-filled emotional dialogue. My personal rule is that the music must be lyric-free. Instrumental music works best for allowing me to capture the right feeling.

Finding music for your writing is by nature personal. If you need a starting point, I suggest trying some movie or television soundtracks. I favor them because their tracks have been chosen to support a rich variety of moods, and often you can get a nice mix of fast-paced action, lighthearted songs, slow romantic ballads, suspense builders, and songs evoking any feeling you can imagine.

A terrific place to find soundtracks and other CDs is your local library. Borrow a few and see what kind of muse you can conjure!

If you already have a playlist of inspirational “writing music”, please consider sharing it in the comments!

Here are some of my favorites:

  • Anything by John Williams, Hans Zimmer, and Alexandre Desplat
  • “The Painted Veil”
  • “Memoirs of a Geisha”
  • “The Piano”
  • BBC’s “Planet Earth”
  • “Pearl Harbor”
  • All the soundtracks for “Harry Potter,” “Chronicles of Narnia,” “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and “Star Wars”
  • “Pride and Prejudice” (Dario Marianelli’s version)

- Alexandra Loewen


Today I'm so excited to interview Kris Summers, who just started college this Fall, and who not only reads a lot, but also has been blogging while in high school about books with her friend Hikari (who I'll be interviewing for this series later) at Imaginary Reads. I enjoy reading their book reviews and they do quite a few book giveaways so I recommend you check it out.

Hi Kris. Thanks so much for joining us.

1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself, your school, and what you like to read.

I’m a first year university student with a love for reading, writing, and blogging. (Note: I’m not majoring in English. I may love reading and writing, but it doesn’t mean I like to spend my days analyzing literature!) In general, I’m open to any books excluding horror and thrillers, but I do have a preference for contemporary and paranormal romances. I’ve also been getting into dystopian novels lately.

2. My daughter and I have been getting into dystopian novels lately too. Before you started blogging, how did you find out about the books you read? What about new books coming out?

I started blogging around the time that I found Goodreads and book blogs in the late Fall of 2010. Before then, I would skim the library shelves of my school and the public libraries, or I’d go to Barnes and Noble and look around the shelves for contemporary/fantasy books. (It was after I started blogging that I started reading paranormal romances and dystopian books.) I started Imaginary Reads late April 2011.

3. What made you decide to start blogging? How did your blog partnership with Hikari come about?

I started blogging because it looked fun. Every blog I saw was so enthusiastic about the books read and reviewed, and I wanted to share my opinions. At first, I started a personal/writing blog because I really enjoy writing and because it lets me talk about funny, random things like a series of photos I put together like a comic strip with captions underneath.

Then I began to notice a conflicting desire to blog about reading and writing. I’d started posting some book reviews at my blog, and I wanted to share them with more people. However, I had noticed that most book blogs were centered on books, so I decided to start running two blogs. Because I was in school at the time, I wasn’t sure if I could handle a book blog by myself, soI asked my good friend Hikari if she’d like to blog with me. It took a little wheedling, but she finally agreed. And am I glad she did! We’ve gotten a lot closer while working together on Imaginary Reads.

4. That's so awesome you have a blogging partner. I love being Casey's blog partner and don't think I could handle blogging without her too. How has blogging changed what you read, if at all? What books are you waiting to be released?

Blogging has definitely changed what I read. It has opened me to many books that I hadn’t read before and wouldn’t have read if the reviews (and ratings) didn’t attract me. Since book blogging, I’ve begun reading paranormal romances and dystopian novels. I’m currently waiting for a bunch of sequels to be released, including Wings of the Wicked by Courtney Allison Moulton, Hallowed by Cynthia Hand, Endlessly by Kiersten White, Bloodrose by Andrea Cremer, Inheritance by Christopher Paolini, and the sequels to Carrier of the Mark and Dark Inside, both of which I’ve been lucky to receive ARCs of.

5. I can't wait for Bloodrose and Endlessly too though I'm just going to read the second books in theses series soon. You're ahead of me. But I've found my reading tastes have expanded too from blogging and I'm reading some books I might not have picked up. Do you buy most of your book, receive ARCS, or get them at the library? How often do you go to a bookstore?

I do receive a fair number of ARCs to review, but I also check out a lot of new releases from the local public libraries when they receive them, or I’ll buy them on my Kindle. Since getting my Kindle, I’ve rarely had reason to go to the bookstore. It’s a portable, wireless library after all!

6. I love the library too and read many books from there I'm not giving away here. I don't have a Kindle yet. Do you read any teen book blogs, author blogs, or author or publisher websites? Become a fan of an author on Facebook? Why?

All of the above. Reading book blogs is a great way to find new books and to find out if a book is for you. The reason I’ll return to a book blog dependent on our common interests. The more kinds of book interests you share with a book blogger, the more likely you are to return and check out what they’ve read/ what authors they’re hosting.

I read author blogs and fan their Facebook pages because I like their sense of humor (like Kiersten White’s), or because I’m interested in what’s coming next from said author, the latter of which is the same reason I’ll read a publisher’s website. I’m a big fan of many Harper Teen and Penguin books, so I frequent the websites for the titles of upcoming releases.

7. I'll have to check out publisher websites more. Thanks for the tip. Have any of your teachers recommended any blogs or websites to your class or to you?

I once asked my English teacher how she finds new books, and she recommended that I check the bookstore or look on Goodreads. Other than that, I haven’t really talked to a teacher about book blogs and websites, and they make recommendations other than where we can buy required readings. I get the vast majority of my recommendations from fellow book bloggers.

8. Are there things your favorite authors could do that would make you more likely to visit their website, their blog, or become a fan on Facebook?

In general, I don’t visit author websites because all of the fun is in the blog, though I will fan authors that I like on Facebook to show my support (and for updates on events, upcoming releases, and blog posts). I love visiting blogs where authors talk about more than their books. I like hearing about… okay, this is going to sound stalkerish… what’s going on in their lives. Not the nitty gritty, but the fun stuff. Like what you see at Kiersten White’s blog. And Stephanie Perkins’s blog. Those are but two examples of author blogs that I love!

9. That's good to know that as a reader you like to read author blogs. Have any authors visited your school? Who? Is there anything you’d recommend that an author do to make their presentation more interesting to you and other kids at your school?

Unfortunately, I’ve never had an author visit my school. I really think that my past schools have been swarming with book-deprived zombies. It’s been years since I had a best friend (offline) who reads just as much as I do. I don’t know what kind of recommendations I’d make to an author, but there is one universal fact that I know. If you’re enjoying yourself on stage, then in general your audience will have fun too. It doesn’t hurt to have a wicked sense of humor.

10. Do you see starting college changing your reading habits or your blogging? If so, how?

I’ll definitely have less time to read since I’m determined to study hard (and party hard… in the good, non-alcoholic way). I might resort to reviewing books that I’ve already read—or start writing shorter reviews, something that I’ve been telling myself to do. Once I start writing a review, I want to pore all my thoughts out onto the screen, which is bad. No one wants to read a ten-page essay on all my likes and don’t-likes of a book!

Thanks for all your awesome advice Kris! Good luck with college and blogging.

Today I'm also giving away a signed copy of FOREVER by Maggie Stiefvator. She came to Novi, Michigan on July 18th and I got to meet her. It was a highlight of my summer. I'm a huge fan of Maggie's and got an extra SIGNED copy of FOREVER to share with you.

Here's a description from Goodreads:

The thrilling conclusion to #1 bestselling Shiver trilogy from Maggie Stievater.

In Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver, Grace and Sam found each other. In Linger, they fought to be together. Now, in Forever, the stakes are even higher than before. Wolves are being hunted. Lives are being threatened. And love is harder and harder to hold on to as death comes closing in.

I loved watching Grace and Sam's journey. And we get to learn more about Isabel and Cole, two very complex characters, through their POV.

I'm giving away one SIGNED copy of FOREVER. All you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment about my interview with Kris by midnight on October 1st. Please leave your e-mail address with your comment if you don't have it on Blogger. I’ll announce the winner on October 3rd. International entries are welcome.

Next week I'll be interviewing Kiki Hamilton and giving away a copy of her debut book THE FAERIE RING. And on October 3rd, I'll be interview Hilary Wagner and giving away a copy of THE WHITE ASSASSIN.

Hope to see you next Monday!

Agent Spotlight: Kathleen Rushall

This week's Agent Spotlight features Kathleen Rushall of Andrea Brown Literary Agency, Inc..
Status: Open to submissions. 
Update on 1/6/2022: Kathleen as been promoted to a senior agent.
KatRushallAbout: “Kathleen joined the Andrea Brown Literary Agency in 2016 after agenting for five years with the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. She represents writers and illustrators for picture books (both fiction and nonfiction), middle grade, and YA.
"When it comes to picture books, Kathleen loves to laugh, have her heartstrings pulled, and enjoys quirky, character-driven stories with heart. She would be happy to find more biographies and what some call “ficinformational” picture books (books with a fictional story that ties into the Common Core). She's always interested in picture books that inspire emotional intelligence, self awareness, and empathy.
"Kathleen is excited to find middle grade novels across all genres. She has a soft spot for heartfelt stories with depth, as well as humorous stories with a relatable voice. She particularly enjoys middle grade with strong friendship and family themes. She would love to find more spooky middle grade and always enjoys a good mystery.
"For YA novels, Kathleen loves voice-driven contemporary (and is especially fond of magical realism), compelling fantasy with unforgettable characters, and historical fiction. She's keen to find a contemporary romance with humor and depth. She is always on the lookout for something smart and edgy that pushes the envelope. She would love to see more YA horror, particularly if it has a feminist bent or social commentary.
"Kathleen’s YA list includes Lisa Maxwell’s NYT bestselling, captivating tale of time travel and magic, THE LAST MAGICIAN (Simon Pulse/S&S); Gloria Chao’s hilarious and heartwarming contemporary, AMERICAN PANDA (Simon Pulse/S&S); Laurie E. Flynn’s boundary-pushing contemporary, FIRSTS (St. Martin's/Macmillan); and Breeana Shields’s gripping fantasy, POISON’S KISS (Random House/PRH). Some of her middle grade titles include Lois Sepahban’s moving historical, PAPER WISHES (Margaret Ferguson/Macmillan); Jess Keating’s humorous My Life is a Zoo series (Sourcebooks); and Lindsay Currie’s smart, mysterious THE PECULIAR INCIDENT ON SHADY STREET (Aladdin/S&S). Recent picture book releases include Josh Funk’s riotous LADY PANCAKE AND SIR FRENCH TOAST (Sterling); Lori Alexander’s charming FAMOUSLY PHOEBE (Sterling); accessible nonfiction with personality such as Jess Keating’s clever PINK IS FOR BLOBFISH (Knopf/PRH); and empowering female biographies like Jess Keating’s SHARK LADY (Sourcebooks) and Annette Pimentel’s GIRL RUNNING (Nancy Paulsen/PRH).
"Some topics that are close to her heart (and that she’d love to find incorporated into picture books or novels) include environmentalism, animal welfare, social justice, women in science, literature, technology, and little known events or people in history. Kathleen is always interested in anything witchy, whimsical, or feminist. She’d love to find more stories (in any genre) by diverse creators and underrepresented voices.
"In addition to her children’s list, Kathleen also represents select adult nonfiction and is interested in mind/body/spirit books.
"Kathleen earned an MA in Children’s Literature at San Diego State University. In addition to her passion for children’s literature, she loves animals (especially dogs!), crystals, tarot cards, and would never say no to Mexican food.” (Link)
About the Agency:
“The Andrea Brown Literary Agency was founded in August 1981 and has offices in the San Francisco Bay area, San Diego, Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago.
“Our agency works to bring to light the voices and perspectives of new writers as well as to nurture and develop the careers of experienced authors. Our goal, whether seeking to secure a publishing contract for a first book or a fiftieth book, is to make sure that clients are not only published, but published well.
“Our philosophy is to remain a ‘small’ agency at heart. We invest a great deal of personal care and attention in each project, and we are hands-on in all aspects of our interactions with clients. We work closely with clients in an editorial capacity and we devise a strategy at every stage of the writing process that will enable us to find the best publisher for each book. In doing so, we think about both short term and long term goals for our clients, always keeping the trajectory of a successful career in mind.
“Our agents have backgrounds in New York publishing, editing, academia, business, teaching, writing and film, and one of our strengths as an agency is that we work collaboratively. Our clients have the benefit not only of their individual agent's expertise but of the combined experience and vision of the group.
“As a West Coast based agency, we follow a tradition of West Coast innovation in our passion for discovering new voices, in our efforts to make New York publishing more inclusive of voices from other parts of the country, and in our attempt to see publishing trends that result from this broader perspective. We combine this approach with access, standing, and visibility in the publishing community at large. Our agents make regular trips to New York, attend industry conventions, and participate as faculty at writers' conferences all over the country. We ensure a high profile for our clients and actively keep our fingers on the pulse of publishing.” (Link)Web Presence:
Andrea Brown Agency website.
Personal website.
AgentQuery, QueryTracker.
What She's Looking For:
Picture book through YA and select adult nonfiction. See her bio above when she discusses what she's looking for.
From Her Manuscript Wish List:
"I’m looking for picture books, middle grade, and YA (no chapter books please).
"For picture books, I love to laugh. I love irreverent character driven stories with a surprise ending or twist. And, on the other side of things, I’d like to find something sweet with a deeper meaning and beautiful language. I'm looking for picture books that inspire emotional intelligence, self-awareness, and empathy in a non-didactic way.
"I’m also on the hunt for nonfiction picture books. (Science! Biographies! Common Core topics made fun!). I’d love to find more biographies and what some call “ficinformational” picture books (books with a fictional story that ties into the Common Core, or with a true-life story that has been fictionalized but includes factual back matter), a la Jess Keating's EAT YOUR ROCKS, CROC! and Karen Jameson's WHERE THE WEE ONES GO as examples of the former and Carole Lindstrom's WE ARE WATER PROTECTORS and Laurel Neme's THE ELEPHANT'S NEW SHOE for the latter. I would especially love to see more biographies about young climate activists.
"I'm particularly passionate about the environment, conservation, animal welfare, and social justice and these are all themes I'm always happy to see in picture books. Climate change and pollution (still looking for a great book about plastic) are topics I very much want to see more books about across all ages. Let's nurture the next generation of activists and advocates!
"I'm especially hungry for more middle grade. Please send me your middle grade!
"For MG, I’m always looking for heartfelt stories, as well as contemporary ‘coming of age’ stories with a relatable voice.
"I’m happy to see atmospheric spooky MG or truly scary MG. I represent Lindsay Currie's THE PECULIAR INCIDENT ON SHADY STREET and it's a fantastic example of the kind of voice-driven, fast paced fright with atmosphere that I enjoy. I also love middle grade mysteries.
"It's all about voice! I love middle grade with a memorable narrator, and especially when the story dives into themes of family, culture, and friendship like Supriya Kelkar's AMERICAN AS PANEER PIE and THAT THING ABOUT BOLLYWOOD.
"Another example of MG on my list that I'd love to find more of is literary MG such as Aimee Lucido's gorgeous novel in verse, EMMY IN THE KEY OF CODE, which weaves together friendship and coming of age with music and coding. And, of course I love high stakes adventures with clever kids at the helm a la Jess Keating's Elements of Genius series.
"Friendships and family relationships are something I particularly enjoy in middle grade. I always admire when parents (and other mentor family members like grandparents) are present as opposed to "off stage" throughout the book. I also love a dash of magic in contemporary MG. And again, I am always interested in wildlife, nature, conservation, climate themes.
"For YA, I’m especially interested in voice-driven contemporary. I'm especially looking for a fresh, diverse YA rom-com with depth and heart like Gloria Chao's RENT A BOYFRIEND. I'd love to find more light-hearted contemporary YA. I also enjoy YA that tackles big picture topics with nuance and heart (bonus points for humor).
"I would love to find more YA horror, especially if it has a deeper message or smart underlying social commentary. I'm a fan of thrillers and would like something dark and twisty that makes me think.
"I’m looking for voice-driven, compelling, high stakes fantasy and am especially interested in contemporary fantasy. A great example of my taste is Isabel Sterling's THESE WITCHES DON'T BURN. I enjoy characters that are clever and secretive with the capacity to outwit each other (or the reader). I’m always interested in unreliable narrators or characters who turn stereotypes on their heads. Characters and voice matter most to me.
"I also have a soft spot for historical novels, both MG and YA. Especially if it takes place before WWII. (Take me baaaaaack farther than the 1940s!) I’d love to find historical fiction in the vein of Sharon Cameron or Elizabeth Wein with heart-wrenching choices and fascinating historic detail. And I'm always on the lookout for Celtic or Viking inspired YA such as Adrienne Young's SKY IN THE DEEP.
"I adore magical realism in both MG and YA. Bonus points for complex family relationships (or secrets!) and unique, atmospheric locations that can be considered a character themselves.
"For everything I acquire, from picture books through MG and YA, I’m passionate about championing diverse creators and underrepresented perspectives. LGBTQ voices are always welcome.
"A few elements I'm always excited to see in YA include strong female leads, great rapport, small towns, lesser known mythology, unexpected circumstances, humor, and romance.
"I'm always looking for novels that explore identity, finding yourself, and feeling seen for the first time. Try me!
"I’m also looking for mind/ body/ spirit or metaphysical adult nonfiction (and I also love these topics when they pop up in fiction). I would be thrilled to find a fresh nonfiction project about any of the following: tarot, crystal healing, feng shui, mindfulness, meditation, intuition, astrology, energy healing, reiki, acupuncture, or yoga."
There is more detailed information on what she is looking for on her Manuscript Wish List. You can also find helpful resources for writers on her personal website.
What She Isn't Looking For:
Religion politics, science, nature or overtly spiritual self help (Link)Editorial Agent?
“Each manuscript is different, and requires different levels of edits, but there are always revisions. One of my favorite parts of my job is brainstorming with my authors. Honestly, I think the days when fiction agents didn’t need to be editorial have passed. Editors are looking for a project to be polished and sparkly by the time it reaches their desk, now more than ever.” (Link)
“I think this is probably everyone’s pet peeve that receives queries, but please don’t send a mass query with no personalization. Or one that is outside of my scope of genres that I represent (no poetry, no adult novels, etc.).” (Link)
There is a list of Ms. Katheleen Rushall's clients on the agency and her personal website as well as those listed in her bio above.
Query Methods:
E-mail: No.
Snail-Mail: No.
Online-Form: Yes.
Submission Guidelines (always verify):
“We accept email queries only. Please direct your e-query to ONE agent at our agency, and include the following:
“Fiction: query letter and first 10 pages.”
Please see the Andrea Brown Literary website for complete, up-to-date submission guidelines as well as the agency's Submission Advice, Dos and Dont’s, and Tips.Query Tips:
“For me personally, the perfect query demonstrates the author’s research (why did you choose me to query?), plot points and character intro (what’s the hook, why do I care about these characters - why do I want to open your sample?), and a brief bit about the author (relevant information – are you a member of SCBWI or any writing groups, published before, writing experience, etc.). Bonus points if you can cite comparable books already on shelves and why yours is different.” (Link)
Response Times:
She only responds if interested. If you have not heard from her in six to eight weeks, consider it a rejection.
Worth Your Time:
Featured Agent: Kathleen Rushall at 12 x 12 (11/2016)
Interview with Agent Kathleen Rushall at Fantasy, Futuristic Paranormal (04/2015).
Query Questions with Kathleen Rushall at Michelle Hauck (02/2014).
7 Questions for Literary Agent Kathleen Rushall at Middle Grade Ninja (06/2013).
Interview with Literary Agent Kathleen Rushall at YA Fushion (07/2011).
Interview and Pitch Contest winners with Kathleen Rushall at Operation Awesome (07/2011).
Friday Firsts: Interview with Kathleen Rushall at Deana Barnhart (06/2011).
Friday Firsts: Kathleen Rushall Interview Part 2 at Deana Barnhart (07/2011).
Interview With My Awesome Agent: Kathleen Rushall! at client J.R. Johansson’s blog (04/2011).
Please see the Andrea Brown Literary for contact and query information.
Profile Details:
Last updated: 5/27/2020.
Agent Contacted For Review? Yes.
Last Reviewed By Agent? 9/15/11.
Update 3/5/2017: As of 2016, Kathleen Rushall is an agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Please check their website for details on what she's looking for and how to submit to her.
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 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.

Lisa Nowak: Interview and Book Giveaway

Today I'm happy to offer you an interview with Lisa Nowak. Lisa is a longtime follower of Literary Rambles and a friend. I read an early draft of her debut Running Wide Open and we've exchanged countless e-mails over the past couple years as she's navigated the publishing process. While I have reservations about non-proven writers self-publishing, I totally support it when it's right for a book and its author, and for Lisa, I think it was. I'm thrilled to have her on the blog to share her experience and book with you. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments. Lisa might have time to drop in and answer!

Before we begin, here's the book summary:

Cody Everett has a temper as hot as the flashpoint of racing fuel, and it's landed him at his uncle's trailer, a last-chance home before military school. But how can he take the guy seriously when he calls himself Race, eats Twinkies for breakfast, and pals around with rednecks who drive in circles every Saturday night?

hat Cody doesn't expect is for the arrangement to work. Or for Race to become the friend and mentor he's been looking for all his life. But just as Cody begins to settle in and get a handle on his supercharged temper, a crisis sends his life spinning out of control. Everything he's come to care about is threatened, and he has to choose between falling back on his old, familiar anger or stepping up to prove his loyalty to the only person he's ever dared to trust.

Hi Lisa! It’s so awesome to have you on Literary Rambles. Can you introduce yourself and your novel RUNNING WIDE OPEN?

Running Wide Open is a coming-of-age story about 15-year-old Cody Everett. After a lifetime of abuse from his manipulative mother, he gets busted for tagging and shipped off to live with a laid-back uncle who calls himself Race, eats Twinkies for breakfast, and drives a stock car at the local track. Cody’s sure his new situation won’t work out, but he finds himself drawn into the racing community. Even more importantly, Race becomes the friend and mentor he’s always wanted.

I’m a retired stock car racer, a cat whisperer, a landscaper, and a professional smart ass. (Yes, I can provide credentials.) People tend to confuse me with a certain diaper-wearing astronaut, but I assure you I’m well housebroken and I’ve never been higher than 30,000 feet.

Cody’s story manages to be both heartbreaking and heartwarming, and I think teens (and adults!) will find elements to relate to even if they aren’t into stock-car racing. What led you to write this particular novel? Did you have an audience in mind when you wrote it?

I had two audiences in mind. The first was teens, particularly those who come from difficult family situations. I often escaped into books when I was a kid to escape my dysfunctional and depressing life, and I wanted to pay it forward in that respect. The second audience was the stock car racing community. I think of Running Wide Open as a crossover novel because I’ve had so many adults come away from it commenting that it’s more than “just a kids’ book.” For that reason, I think it will be as popular with adult race fans as it is with teens.

My biggest reason for writing this story was to provide a glimpse of the stock car racing community. People tend to poke fun at circle track fans and racers, dismissing them as rednecks, but that’s really selling them short. These folks are family-oriented and fiercely loyal. Once they’ve welcomed you into the fold, woe be it to anybody who goes against you. They also have their own particular ethic code. For example, finding ways to get around a rule without directly breaking it might be considered creative engineering rather than cheating. And when someone breaks down, it’s not unusual for a competitor, even a sworn enemy, to lend that driver a part so he won’t fall behind in the points. I was fortunate enough to spend four years as part of the Eugene Speedway community. That experience left an indelible mark on my life—in fact re-wrote the entire course of it.
It only felt right to pay tribute.

Do you have a favorite quote or scene from the book you'd like to share or talk about?

You know, Race and Cody both have a lot of great zingers, but when it comes down to it, I think Denny Brisco, one of the secondary characters, has a line that best sums up the book. “Family is everything to us racers. If you happen to lack one, someone just takes you into theirs.”

You’ve had an interesting journey. At one point you had a literary agent, at another a contract with an epub on the table, but you decided to self-publish. What was involved in these decisions?

Actually, I had offers from both an epub and a small traditional press. As for the agent, that came about as a result of four years of relentless submissions. Running Wide Open and its companion book, Driven, were not an easy sell. I got great feedback, but everyone said they just weren’t right for his or her list. Maybe I would’ve had better luck if I’d written about stock car racing vampires. When I finally did sign with an agent, she didn’t have any more success than I had, but again, we got plenty of positive comments. I came to the conclusion that the powers that be simply couldn’t see the market potential for my books. Which is kind of amusing, considering politicians realized the power of this community when they coined the term “NASCAR dads.”

My first serious thought to the idea of self-publishing came in August of 2010, when I saw Colleen Houck speak at the Willamette Writers Conference. Her ebook had become a best-seller on Amazon.com, and as a result, she’d lured in an agent and a movie deal. That told me it could be done, but I knew it was a one-in-a-million kind of thing, and I didn’t think it was for me. Fast-forward to Januar
y of 2011, when I heard agent April Eberhardt speak at another Willamette Writers event. She talked about the ebook revolution, and how it was changing the way agents were doing business. A friend of mine, also in that audience, was starting up an ebook publishing company. She wanted my entire series. Once I’d heard April’s speech, I was pretty well sold on doing it myself, but after conducting more research I decided to join forces with my friend. We worked together for a couple of months, at which time RainTown, a small press specializing in YA and MG fiction, finished reviewing the submission I’d made to them the previous fall. They wanted Running Wide Open and called me into a meeting. Let me tell you, it was a rush sitting down with five people who loved my book and believed in it. I had a great time discussing characters and setting, as well as brainstorming marketing ideas. One editor gave me the ultimate compliment for a woman writing from a male perspective. She said that while they’d been discussing the book, she’d kept referring to me as “he” and having to be corrected, because my teen boy voice was so convincing.

But, nice as it was to finally get some validation by securing a traditional deal, by that point I’d had a taste of empowerment. I’ve always been independently minded. It just took a shift in awareness for me to realize I could apply that to my writing career. Books take time to build a following, especially when you’re relying on wor
d of mouth advertising. I didn’t want to be at the whims of a company who could decide after a month or two that Running Wide Open wasn’t doing well enough by their standards. I didn’t want to live in constant fear that my next book wouldn’t suit the needs of an industry that tries to guess what the market will be doing two years in advance. I also realized that with self-publishing, I’d have the opportunity to make a living from my writing, something that rarely happens for traditional authors. I guess the simplest way to put it is, I wanted to be in the driver’s seat.

All that said, I’m really glad I had an agent and a traditional offer. Those two things give me legitimacy in a world where self-publishing hasn’t fully gained the respect of the majority.

I love the final cover of RUNNING WIDE OPEN, but I know you had a different cover initially. What’s the story behind your cover(s)? How important is the cover of a self-published book, in your opinion?

My first cover featured a helmet and a notebook, two items that have significance in the story. But the feedback I was getting said those images weren’t telling people enough about the book. Starting over was a gut-wrenching decision for me. First, I was afraid of offending my designer, Robin Ludwig. With every little change I asked for, I felt like I was knocking her talent. (I’ve since learned that cover design is all business, and artists are accustomed to clients asking for changes.) Then there was the pressure of coming up with something new. My friends said they wanted to see a car and a kid on the cover, so I started searching through stock photos. I invested five hours looking for a boy, and even then a good friend of mine said he didn’t look like the Cody she’d envisioned. That’s the problem with stock photos. And I never did find a car that would work. Finally, I dug out my old racing pictures, came up with a negative (remember those?) of a car I drove at Hickory Motor Speedway, and had it scanned at high resolution. I had to Photoshop the heck out of it to remove all identifying logos and fix the glare on the hood and roof. Readers will note that the car number and color aren’t an accurate representation of the one Race drives in the book, but at least it’s a Dodge Dart. The background image is also nothing like Eugene Speedway, which was a run-down short track. But there’s only so much you can do. The experience of facilitating this design really gave me some perspective. Now I know why covers often don’t match the story. Artists are limited in many ways, and unless an author is willing to pay big bucks for a private photo shoot, she’s not likely to get exactly what she wants.

As an indie author, a good cover is probably the most important promotion
al tool you can have. Some might argue that a well-written book is even more vital, but the fact is, if your cover doesn’t catch a person’s eye, he’s never going to give you a chance to impress him with your story.

What did you have to do to prepare for the release of RUNNING WIDE OPEN? What did you have to learn? How much time and money (if you’re willing to share) went into its publication?

A lot of preparation went into the release of this book. I started doing research in January, intending to publish in late March, but it was the first of June before the ebook was ready for public consumption. The paperback didn’t become available until mid-July. Among the things I had to learn were how to format an ebook and convert it to mobi (Kindle) and epub (Nook) and how to upload the various retailers. One of the biggest hurdles was forcing myself into situations where I wasn’t particularly comfortable, like filing a copyright, working with a cover designer, and negotiating the application process at Lightning Source. I had to learn how to ask for what I wanted and stand up for myself. I’m sure a lot of writers can relate to that difficulty. Self-publishing is not for the faint of heart. You’re responsible for everything, right down to fact-checking your book. You can’t just shut your eyes and hope someone else will take care of that stuff for you.

As far as money, this book cost more than future ones will simply because I invested in 100 ISBNs (that’s the number used to track book sales). If you buy o
ne it costs $125. You can get 10 for $250 or 100 for $575. Since you need a minimum of four for each book (each format requires its own) and I plan to publish at least six books, it only made sense to get this out of the way from the start. There were also some expenses due to the learning curve (such as the second cover). In the future, I estimate it’ll take about $600 to publish a book in both ebook and paperback forms. That includes editing, cover design, POD set-up, and copyright.

RUNNING WIDE OPEN is available as both an e-book and print book. Are you happy with your decision to do print-on-demand as well as e-publishing? Would you recommend the POD company you’ve been working with?

Definitely, on both counts. POD usually isn’t where most indies make their money, but I think it’s a nice perk for readers. I kept my price low in the interest of getting the book out there.

POD has its own challenges because you have to understand a little about book design, something that’s not important with ebooks, where the user determines how th
ings look by adjusting the settings on their ereader. I chose to go with Lightning Source because they’re a professional printing company associated with Ingram, who distributes books to bookstores, and Baker and Taylor, who deals with libraries. Lightning Source isn’t an author services company. They won’t tell you how to format your book or market it. The learning curve is a bit higher, but the advantage is dealing with a professional company who’s independent of Amazon and who can get your books into foreign markets. I strongly recommend Lightning Source, but be aware that until you actually have an account, they’re not easy to get a response from.

How has marketing and promotion been so far? What is your approach?

It’s been both exasperating and fun. The exasperating part is the online stuff. It’s impossible to keep up with Facebook and Twitter, let alone things like Google+ , Goodreads, Linked-in and the like. I’ve been hearing more and more about how pointless these avenues are for promotion, though, since authors tend to target other authors, rather than their audience, so I’m not sweating it too much. My efforts have been concentrated more on in-person promotions. I’m sponsoring a 12-year-old racer at Sunset Speedway, and more recently I did a book giveaway at River City Speedway in St. Helens, Oregon. That track was a bit more relaxed, so they let me bring in my books and sell them directly to the fans. The announcer, who remembered me from my racing days at Portland Speedway, did a bang-up job of promoting the book, and because of him I made seven sales. The highlight of the night was seeing a boy reading Running Wide Open right there at the track while the racing was going on in front of him.

I think real-life marketing is more fun and effective than online promotions, but it takes time to build a following by word of mouth. I intend to do more speedway events next summer, and this fall I have other promotions scheduled. I’ll do several book signings, have a table at Wordstock, Portland’s writing extravaganza, and present to a class of future middle and high school teachers. I’m also trying to line up some gigs teaching others how to self-publish. I think it’s important for potential indie authors to understand that this is a business, and they have to conduct themselves professionally.

One other thing I’d like to note is that I never look at a book signing or author visit in terms of potential sales. I see it as an opportunity to network. Word of mouth isn’t about making a sale today. It’s about establishing a relationship that will lead to multiple sales down the road.

Has the writing community been supportive? Have you run into any resistance as a self-published author?

For the most part my local writing community has been pretty accepting. There have been a few skeptics, but the majority of authors are curious or even approving. They tend to view self-publishing as something they might use in the future to handle their backlist or books they’ve had a hard time selling. Others even seem to have a little admiration, seeing indies as pioneers. Frankly, I don’t worry too much about getting anyone’s approval. The only opinion I care about is the reader’s. On that front, I haven’t had any trouble getting support and respect.

I know you’ve gained a lot of knowledge about self-publishing since choosing to do so and are happy to educate others. What would you like to share that we haven’t covered already?

First, do your homework. Don’t go into this in a rush, throwing together any old thing and expecting to make a million dollars over night. Self-publishing is hard work, and you need to approach it with the proper planning, the same way you’d start any other business. I recommend reading Zoe Winter’s book Smart Self-Publishing: Becoming an Indie Author to gain an overview of what to expect and how to get started. When you’re ready to format your first book, go to Smashwords and download The Smashwords Style Guide by Mark Coker. If you start there and then convert your Word file to mobi and epub, you shouldn’t run into any of the typical problems many beginners have. For those whose brains just don’t get the whole computer thing, you can hire someone to do the formatting for you for a nominal fee. Smashwords keeps a list of people who can provide this service, and it’s something I’ve been thinking of getting into myself. When you’re ready for POD, get Aaron Shepard’s book, Perfect Pages. He details how to do the formatting using Word. While he tends to make some assumptions about people already knowing the various tools in the program, after reading his book, you’ll be able to create a professional-looking PDF that’s ready for submission to a printer.

My number one piece of advice is, be professional. Get feedback from critique groups and beta readers. Hire a professional editor. There are some qualified, affordable ones out there, you just have to keep looking. Have your cover designed by someone with experience. Create good sales copy, which is one of the three things (along with a cover and great writing) that will sell a book. All this can get expensive or it can be very affordable, depending on who you hire and what you can trade.

For those who are interested but haven’t yet started reading e-books, is there a particular device you recommend? Any words of encouragement you’d to like offer?

Since my only experience is with a Nook, I can’t really say which device is best. I’m happy with what I have, and I understand the new models have even better features, but I think it’s a matter of personal preference. People should do their research, maybe play with a friend’s ereader to see how they like it, and decide from there. I understand that there are some inexpensive off-brands as well.

Where can readers buy RUNNING WIDE OPEN?

It’s available as an ebook through all major online retailers including Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble.com, Smashwords, Sony, The Apple Store, and even those obscure ones like Kobo and Diesel. The paperback can be purchased at Barnes and Noble.com or Amazon.com.

When will we be seeing other books in the series? Are you working on anything else?

There will be five books total in the Full Throttle series. Four are written and the last one is in outline stage. At this point I’m going through revisions to the second book, Getting Sideways, based on feedback from my editor. It should be available by the end of September in ebook form, and in paperback before Christmas.

Where can readers stay up-to-date on you and your books?

The best place to follow me is at my blog, the Tao of Webfoot. I’m also pretty good with Facebook. I’m not an active Twitter user (to me it feels like getting caught in a flash flood) but I do have an account and people can get in touch with me there if they want to. If you’d like occasional email updates, you can sign up for my newsletter . By “occasional” I mean less than once a month, so you don’t have to worry about being spammed.

Thanks so much for joining us and sharing your extensive knowledge of self-publishing, Lisa! I hope Cody’s story makes it into the hands of a lot of readers. His story deserves to be read, so I’m thrilled you’ve made it happen.

Thanks, Casey. I’ve been a fan of your blog since the early days, and being featured on it is an awesome opportunity.

Great insight into the self-publishing process, right? Lisa has graciously offered to give away a copy of Running Wide Open in e-book form. To enter, be a follower (if possible) and leave a comment. That's it! Feel free to enter even if you don't have an e-reader. E-books can be read on your computer, too. The giveaway is open until October 4th. Please consider spreading the word. Happy Wednesday!