Welcome to Literary Rambles! While you’re rambling around and exploring the site enter for a chance to win:

MY YEAR OF EPIC ROCK through October 18th

DOUBLE NEGATIVE through October 18th

4 New Harper Collins Middle Grade Giveaway through October 25th

SNATCHED IN GULLYBROOK through October 25th

The Spooktacular Giveaway Hop through October 31st

Ruby, Not Just on Tuesday

A long-time writer friend of mine, Carol Anne Shaw (author of Hannah and the Spindle Whorl), has a fun new side project I thought I'd share. It's a blog novel called Ruby, Not Just on Tuesday. Here's the summary:
Introducing the fictional world of 17-year-old Ruby Ross (created by published author Carol Anne Shaw). Ruby is a painter, avid reader, writer, supreme idealist and collector of ugly argyle cardigans. She has been known to go to ridiculous measures for a date square, is an avid fan of all things four-legged, and is a hard-core tea granny. She hates bullsh*t, loves her quirky friends, barely tolerates her parents and has a hard time believing that she and her two sisters share the same DNA. Welcome to the adventures of Ruby Ross, a quintessential square peg trying to navigate her way through a "round hole" world.
This started as a writing exercise for Carol Anne and has turned into a new favorite pastime. I love the journalistic approach and how she goes so far as to include artwork and pictures. If you're looking for a fun read and want to follow Ruby's journal, do check it out! She's quite the character.

MARVELOUS MIDDLE GRADE INTERVIEW WITH MERRIE HASKELL AND THE PRINCESS CURSE GIVEAWAY

First of all, I'm so excited about new blog design. I LOVE it! Casey and I have been bouncing around ideas and she came up with this fabulous design for our banner. Thank you so much Casey for doing this. Especially since I don't know how to do this yet.

Next I'll announce the winner of ARTICLE 5. The winner is:

GRACE!

Congrats! E-mail me your address so I can send you your book.


Today I’m excited to interview debut author MerrieHaskell about her book THE PRINCESS CURSE which was released September 16, 2011. When I read in an interview with Merrie thatshe literally lives 10 minutes from me, I knew I had to interview her. I loved how Merrie plotted this. Her story definitely did not suffer from middle story sag. It was like Wow! There's so much more here.

Here’s a description from Amazon:

Twelve princesses suffer from a puzzling (if silly) curse, and anyone who ends it will win a reward. Reveka, a sharp-witted and irreverent apprentice herbalist, wants that reward. But her investigations lead to deeper mysteries and a daunting choice—will she break the curse at the peril of her own soul?

Hi Merrie. Thanks so much for joining us.

Thanks for having me!

1. Tell us a little about yourself and how you became a writer.


Oh, gosh. Long story boring or short story too short? There is toomuch; let me sum up. I’ve been writing stories since I was seven or so. My momeven saved my first story, so I have proof! However, it wasn’t until I had verynearly turned 28 before I woke up and said, “You know, if you don’t do this,you’ll never do this.” I’d been writing much more consistently throughout thatprevious year, but I’d rarely submitted anything for publication--and certainlynever with vigor or persistence.

But in any case, I had always wanted to be a writer,to the point where, when experiencing something awkward or awful or painful orweird or [insert your favorite negative emotion], I would fantasize about howthis would make me a better writer--which would lead me to analyzing the bademotion/situation from a more distanced perspective. I don’t think that’sunique to writers--I think actors and other sorts of artists who perform do thesame thing. I’ve been doing it since I was at least eleven.

2. That's awesome your mom saved the story. Maybe she knew you'd be an author one day. Your book is set in
Romania. I read that you didn’t knowanything about the country before writing your book. What research did you doin developing the setting?

Well, that’s not quite true. I did knowsomething about
Romania. My cousin married a Romanianwoman about five years prior to my writing the book, and I knew a lot abouther--I’d certainly eaten a lot of her cooking, too, and I think there’ssomething inherently vital in experiencing a culture’s cuisine. My aunt andcousin had visited Romania a few times, and had comeback with lots of stories (and pictures!). That said, I only knew much aboutdaily life in the modern era amongst a very slender demographic that consistsof young, educated, half-Hungarian women (my cousin’s wife and her sister).

Romanian history, on the other hand, was something Iknew only slightly and in patchwork format from Roman and Byzantine and Ottomanhistory, and a sixth-grade unit on communism! And frankly, I never put togetherthat a lot of the history of Rome that I knew had a darn thingto do with Romania. I would say prior to mycousin’s marriage I knew almost nothing about Romania; between the marriage and thecommencement of the book, I knew select things. Overall, though--I have to say,not knowing a country’s myths and legends means you don’t know anything aboutit, and it took writing this book to get any facility with that at all.

In college, I was an anthropology major, and sincethen I’ve been working in a major academic research library, so I have areasonable facility with finding information. I read all the anthropological,historical, sociological, etc. information I could get my hands on about Romania, both books and articles. Italked to librarians and got their help finding materials. I read every book ofRomanian fairy tales and legends I could get my hands on (and often had toresort to interlibrary loan). I subscribed to Romanian blogs. I learned somevery poor Romanian. I spent a lot of time with Romanian etymologies and Googletranslate. I read guide books. I stalked satellite imagery. I read historicalatlases. I watched anything I could find--the Romanian episodes of Top Gear,Man vs. Wild, and Anthony Bourdain’s show, for example. I talked to mycousin, too! And then, just after the book went to copyediting, I actuallymanaged to get to Romania, so I had time to correctanything I might have gotten wrong in the galleys.

The sad thing is, I think I found everything inEnglish that there is to be read about Romania, and I still felt semi-bereftwithout going there. It’s hard to write a culture you have not steeped in foryour whole life. I was lucky in that I had three years with Romania, since it took that longbetween writing the book and releasing it (there was an agent hunt and a bookcontract in the middle). I wish I had more time. I glossed the surface of somany things. My biggest concern was getting something big absolutely wrong, ormaking Romanians feel like I had been an extremely inconsiderate tourist intheir culture. It still is, in fact; I wait daily for that outraged email.


3. Wow! I can't think of anyone doing so much research to try to be accurate. I don't think you should worry about someone getting upset. You did everything you could to get it right. I also read that you never intended your story tobe a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. Tell us how it developed into or couldbe perceived as a retelling of this story.

Ultimately, the only story I set out to retell was“The Twelve Dancing Princesses.” Now, I’ve always felt very unsatisfied by thatfairy tale, because it doesn’t explain much of the why. The why got going solong past the midpoint of this book that it’s almost like two books have beenput together. If I intended to add anything in, it was only theHades/Persephone mythos, which is probably the forerunner of “Beauty and theBeast.” But honestly, I didn’t perceive “Beauty and the Beast” until I saw iton the jacket flap copy of the book. For one thing, I did not set out toretell “Beauty and the Beast” because, for my money, it’s been retold in two ofthe best ways possible (by the same author: Robin McKinley). And I would havetold you I had nothing to add to that story, so I couldn’t possibly be tryingto retell it. But you know? I see now what people see. I can’t deny it’s verylike “Beauty and the Beast.”

4. That's really something how you didn't realize it was like Beauty and the Beast. Though your take is very unique. Maybe that's why you didn't see it at first. You’ve got a lot of characters, including twelveprincesses. What were the challenges in making them all unique and do you haveany tips on character development?

Well, to start with , I didn’t name all of theprincesses in the book, you may have noticed. I do have all their names writtendown on a sheet of paper, of course, but realistically, there’s no point forthe audience to know all of them. I only needed 3.5 princesses to stand out:Lacrimora, our seeming villain; Otilia, our sympathetic princess; Maricara, ourtrue villain; and then all the other princesses combined equal about half aprincess for the purposes of the novel. They’re there, but they’rebackgrounded. In retrospect, I perhaps should have tried to develop a groupidentity more for them. Perhaps I did. “The princesses” are referred to a lotmore than any individual one.

But beyond the princesses there are just a ton ofcharacters. I feel bad that I lost at least one of them halfway through--thecobbler’s apprentice never shows back up from his first scene. I tried to writehim in over and over and over--there are drafts with tons of him--but he nevermade it past that one scene in the end.

I used a few methods for character differentiation. Itried in early drafts to associate a color or a physical feature or abackground fact with different characters, though I know that many of those didnot survive contact with the 8th draft. It really helped that I had everyonevery firm in my head. If I had trouble with a character, I would hold a, erm,private conversation with them (purely as a writing exercise).

By the end, I felt like I practically lived in CastleSylvian--I could have walked to the privies in the middle of the night, and Icertainly would have been able to send everyone a birthday card on time.Perhaps this is an artifact of having a very large extended family plus workingin a very large department of a very large library; I’m used to being one ofabout 30 people that I work closely with on a regular basis.

5. That's a great idea to focus on the three most important of the princesses and the most important characters in your story in general. You did a fantastic job plotting your story. Many authors mighthave ended the story with the discovery of the princess’ secret and a quickresolution but that revelation was in the middle of the story and there was somuch more plot-wise after that. Tell us about the process of plotting out yourstory. Were there any major changes after the first draft?

The very, very first draft for this book was actuallya novelette, it did end at that point. Dragos had a different name, he wassolely a villain, and Pa kills him. When I decided to turn the shorter storyinto a book, I immediately knew that I hated that ending. I can’t standsimplistic villains. Further, I already knew the history of how the 12 sistersended up in the Underworld, dancing, and I knew it was really the eldest’sfault--she threw the rest under the bus to save herself. I had no interest inpunishing Dragos (then named Lord Bogden); I suspected his motives were pure inthe end.

Once I knew that the story didn’t end there, I knewthe ending almost immediately. It would be Reveka staring down into a well,feeling morose about what she’d done in the Underworld--what that was, exactly,I didn’t know. But I wanted her dad to ask her if she was okay, if he was toolate in rescuing her, and she was going to lie to him. For the first, I don’tknow, four drafts, the book ended with, “‘You weren’t too late, Pa,’ I lied.”

Major changes... well, yeah, the first half of thebook used to feature an extremely long sequence with Reveka getting lost in theforest, an assassin, meeting first Frumos, then Mihas, and finally Otilia’sfamily on her way back to the castle, as well as a blacksmith named Jonic whowas later merged into the character of Armas. It was my agent who actuallycalled out that this sequence as unnecessarily long, though frankly, I didn’ttake it all out until my editor kept saying, “The first part of the book...something is wrong.” It took me a while to see how that didn’t work. I had avery journeyman (maybe even apprentice) writer’s view on how to introducecharacters. Bring them on one at a time! In dramatic ways! With import and intriguein every moment! It was silly.

The second half of the book went through a lot ofrestructuring--there’s such a tone shift from the first to second half, and myeditor wanted to make sure it matched a little better than it did when shefirst got the manuscript. I can’t say enough about how brilliant both my editorand agent are; I have supremely lucked out with both of them. I have learned somuch, and continue to learn, from both of them. It’s very humbling. It alsomakes me extremely impatient with people who dismiss editors and agents,because while I do truly believe that the wrong agent is worse than no agent,there is no book that can’t be made better with a keen editorial eye and awriter who listens.

6. That's great how your agent and editor helped you. And it is so important to be willing to change things like you did. It gives us all hope that we can fix our less-than-perfect plots. I know you work full-time at
University of Michigan too. Share how you jugglewriting, marketing your book, and working full-time for the rest of us who haveto do the same thing.

Well, first, I have an incredibly understanding bossat UM, and I burn a lot of vacation time on writing and writing-related things.But most of the juggling is done by being ruthless about cutting myextracurriculars.

So--knowing that 40 hours a week are at work, andanother 5 hours are commuting, and 5 hours beyond that are lunches, that’s 50hours I spend away from home. I write during lunch breaks--I can usually get500 words in, sometimes a thousand. I dictate memos or listen to writing booksand podcasts on the commute. At home, we eat dinner and watch a very littletelevision before the Writing Hammer is brought out (a squeaky plastic hammermy husband bought at Cedar Point), and it is pounded like an obnoxious gavel ifI’m not writing promptly at 8PM. Then, I write between 8-11.

I get Thursday nights off. Though mostly, that nightends up being the marketing/email answering night.

I have to say, it’s the marketing that suffers. I keepa Twitter account and a blog, and I have to use a scheduler on both to makesure everything gets updated semi-regularly. I am keen on anylabor-saving/time-saving device or program you can think of. I have the addonthat disables the Internet on my browser after 15 minutes. I only watchtelevision through the DVR (saves up to 12 minutes per hour of TV!).

7. Your schedule sounds similar to mine though I can get some work done before my full-time jobk and stop working at 9. I try to be productive on my lunch hour too. I so agree you have to be disciplined to work and get writing/social networking done. Though I could use to disable the Internet.Your agent is Caitlin Blasdell. Tell us about yourroad to obtain an agent and a publisher.

I will tell you right now: I was lucky and I’ve had iteasy. I don’t think that speaks to the quality of my writing or anything likethat--I mean, I’m competent, I hope!--but more to right book, right time, rightmarket, right agent, right editor, right... everything.

I wrote The Princess Curse over the summer of2008, but didn’t look for an agent until March 2009. I studied the heck out ofagentquery.com, and zeroed in on a list of 51 agents that represented the threegenres I believed I would eventually want to write in (YA, women’s fiction, andsf/f). Then I ranked them based on what I knew about them, in particular, whothey represented and their records with foreign sales. Then I queried 3 agents.I had a system: query three, and for every rejection, query 2 more.

In the interest of full disclosure: my top 3 wereCaitlin, Jennifer Jackson (who had just started repping YA), and... oh, ScottWesterfeld’s agent. I forget her name.

Anyway, almost straight out of the gate (well within aweek), Caitlin asked for a partial.

I had no plan for success! Just rejection. So Ipanicked and queried 5 more agents. Just so I wouldn’t be dead in the waterwhen the inevitable rejection was forthcoming. (As someone who cut her teeth onscience fiction short stories, success right out of the gate was notanticipated.) And then Caitlin asked for a full, and I didn’t know what tothink.

While the full was with Caitlin, I got threerejections. I signed with Caitlin at the beginning of April, and immediatelygot two more requests for partials, that I politely urned down--and about threemonths later, the last rejections came trickling in.

Caitlin and I did edits, and I dragged my feet on themout of a bad perfectionist moment. The MS was ready to go in November 2009, andshe put it out on submission, in spite of the adage that nothing ever sells inlate fall. But it did--about 3 weeks in, there was an auction. Prior to theauction, I had some phone conversations with a few of the editors who wereinterested, which was a surreal experience--“Here’s how I’d want to change thebook if we bought it.” People sure can have different visions... Thankfully,the best bid was from the editor who liked the heart of the book the way itwas--no beefing up of romantic triangles, no making the father into abrother... Cue angelic chorus + sighs of relief!

8. Yes, we all want to be that lucky. What did you do to market your book? In retrospectare there things that worked really well or that you wished you had donedifferently?

I did a few Goodreads giveaways, plus one on Twitterand one on Facebook. I started a blog--less for promotion and more for “here’sa place for me to disseminate information and for people to ask questions.”(I’ve been blogging on various platforms since 2000, so I didn’t have anyillusions about what a blog might actually do for me.) I joined the Elevensies,which was a group of YA/MG authors with debuts out in 2011; they were/are agreat resource, and they did giveaways and printed up fantastic posters. I helda reading at the library (where I work), which was open to the public, andpurchased a magnificent cake for it--we had 90 people attend. I attendedscience fiction conventions, but I would have done that anyway.

Overall, the thing to remember about marketing in generalis that marketing is not simply advertising. The best marketing for my book wasfrom my publisher’s marketing people and my editor; they talked up the book at
ALA and to librarians, theycirculated advanced reading copies, they made sure I got a good spot on the newreleases shelf in MG... It’s hard to market to ten-year-olds, but if anyone cando it, I’m sure it’s HarperCollins. That’s all stuff that would have beenimpossible for me to do, and I don’t know that there’s much that could beat it.

9. What are you working on now?

I am working with my editor on another stand alone MG,which I am currently calling A Handbook for Dragon Slayers, set on the
Rhine River in the 1130s. There is anextremely faint connection to The Princess Curse, and I consider it setin the same world--the same slightly sideways version of Europe, even though we are hundredsof miles and years away from Reveka’s story. We’ll see if the title sticks.

Thanks Merrie for all your advice. You can findMerrie at her website and her blog.

Merrie generously offered a copy of THE PRINCESS CURSE for a giveaway.All you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re nota follower) and leave a comment by midnighton March 10th. I’ll announce the winner on March 12th. If your e-mail isnot on Blogger, please list it in your comment. International entries arewelcome.

If you mention this contest on your blog, Twitter, orFacebook, please let me know in the comments and I’ll give you an extra entry.

Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays was started by ShannonWhitney Messenger to spotlight middle grade authors. Check it out here.

And check out these other Marvelous Monday Middle GradeReviewers:


Here's what coming up in the next few weeks. On Friday, Casey is interviewing Deborah Blumenthal with a giveaway of THE LIFEGUARD. Next Monday I'll be doing a newer release YA giveaway. The following Monday I'm interviewing a middle grader for my ASK THE EXPERT series and giving away another popular debut YA book. Then the next Monday I'll be interviewing Jenny Lundquist and giving away an ARC of SEEING CINDERELLA. I seriously loved that book.

Hope to see you next Monday!










Agent Spotlight: Marie Lamba

This week's Agent Spotlight features Marie Lamba of the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency.

Status: Open to submissions, actively building her client list.

marielambaAbout: “Marie Lamba joined JDLA as an Associate Agent in 2011.  She is the author of the young adult novel WHAT I MEANT . . . (Random House), and her work appears in the short story anthology LIAR LIAR (Mendacity Press) and the anthology CALL ME OKAASAN: ADVENTURES IN MULTICULTURAL MOTHERING (Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing).  Marie's articles appear in more than 100 publications, including national magazines such as Writer's Digest, Garden Design, and RWR.  She has worked as an editor, an award-winning public relations writer, and a book publicist, has taught classes on novel writing and author promotion, and is a member of Romance Writers of America and The Liars Club.” (Link)

About the Agency:

“The Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency is a New York City-based full-service literary agency founded in 2001 and named one of the top 25 literary agencies in the country by Writer’s Digest.

“The agency represents children’s literature for all ages – picture books and middle-grade and young adult novels – but also represents high-quality adult fiction and non-fiction in a wide range of genres. The categories we are most enthusiastic about agenting are literary and commercial fiction; mysteries, thrillers, celebrity biographies; humor; psychology and self-help; parenting; health and fitness; women’s issues; men’s issues; pop culture; film and television; social issues and contemporary affairs.

“JDLA is proud to be one of the few literary agencies to represent illustrators, as well as screenwriters for both television and film, including Emmy-winning writers and a Peabody Award-winning illustrator.” (Link)

Web Presence:

JD Lit Website.

Author website/blog.

Twitter.

Facebook.

LinkedIn.

QueryTracker.

What She's Looking For:

Genres/Specialties:

Middle grade, young adult, general fiction, women’s fiction, memoir.

From the Website:

“I am currently looking for: Young adult and middle-grade fiction, along with general and women's fiction and some memoir.  Books that are moving and/or hilarious are especially welcome.” (Link)

From an Interview (05/2012):

“Something fresh and unusual that doesn't simply echo what's already popular.  Do this with a voice that grabs me, and you'll really be cooking.” (Link)

From an Interview (02/2012):

“I don’t represent category romance, but I do like novels with romance in them. Women’s fiction is a broad term (ha ha) that encompasses chick lit as well as fiction with strong female characters in either a literary or commercial form. I’m open to them all.

“What keeps me reading? Brilliant writing, an unforgettable character, a problem that makes me worry and wonder, a fresh voice that I can’t get enough of…” (Link)

What She Isn't Looking For:

“I am NOT interested in picture books, science fiction, or high fantasy (though I am open to paranormal elements), category romance (though romantic elements are welcome), non-fiction, or in books that feature graphic violence.” (Link)

Editorial Agent?

Yes, as needed.

Quotables:

“Some recent favorite titles on my shelf include: SEARCHING FOR CALEB by Anne Tyler, JUST LISTEN by Sarah Dessen, PAPER TOWNS by John Green, THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE by Audrey Niffeneger, TWENTIES GIRL by Sophia Kinsella, THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman, SHUG by Jenny Han, and DOING IT by Melvin Burgess.  I also admit to watching many, many chick flicks.” (Link)

“I’m so glad I came to agenting after being a full-time author for such a long while. Because I worked so hard myself to get published, including spending 10 years on a manuscript that was never accepted, I’m endlessly empathetic to writers. I understand how huge it is to get ‘the call’ from an agent, and how important the agent is to the happiness and well-being of an author. […] And because I come at this from the writerly end, I’m a strong editor and have really decent marketing skills too. Skills that not only help me as a writer, but that help me to be a supportive agent as well.” (Link)

Clients:

The agency represents over 200 clients, including a PEN Award-winner and a Newbery Honor Medal winner. A list of selected clients can be found on the site here

Ms. Lamba’s clients include: Stephanie Winkelhake, Carmella Van Vleet, among others.

Sales:

As of 7/2012, Ms. Lamba has not reported any deals to Publisher’s Marketplace.  The agency is listed as having made 8 deals in the last 12 months, 1 six-figure+ deal, and 69 overall. 

NOTE: PM is usually not a complete representation of sales.

Query Methods:

E-mail: Yes (only).

Snail-Mail: No.

Online-Form: No.

Submission Guidelines (always verify):

“Please email a query and put ‘Query’ in the subject line of your email.

“For queries regarding children's and adult fiction, please send the first twenty pages in the body of your email, along with a one-paragraph bio and a one-paragraph synopsis.” (Link)

Query only one agent at the agency at a time. 

See the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency website for complete, up-to-date submission guidelines. 

Query Tips:

“In the query, if you don’t include my name, if you address the query To Whom It May Concern, or you misspell my name, things start off on a bad foot right away. If your letter is riddled with misspellings and grammatical errors, I’m going to be really turned off (if you can’t pull off one page, how are you going to write an entire book?). And if you show off a bad attitude in your query, saying things like ‘I know you agents don’t really care and I’m pretty sick of trying to get your attention,’ or ‘If you know what’s good for you, then you’d better write back to me right away,’ then there is no way I’m going to want to work with you.” (Link)

See the interviews below for more query tips and preferences.

Response Times:

The agency’s stated response is 2 weeks for queries. Stats on the web show Ms. Lamba responding to most queries in this time frame. Data on requested material is limited but suggests a response time within four weeks.

What's the Buzz?

Marie Lamba began agenting July of 2011 and is actively building her client list. She has been very selective so far. The Jennifer De Chiara Agency is recommended by P&E.

You can find her on Twitter and her blog where she talks about her books, writing and, occasionally, agenting things.

Worth Your Time:

(Agent) Interviews:

Interview with Marie Lamba of the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency at MiG Writers (05/2012).

Q&A with literary agent and author Marie Lamba - Part 1 at An Englishman in New Jersey (03/2012).

Q&A with literary agent and author Marie Lamba - Part 2 at An Englishman in New Jersey (03/2012).

Interview with Literary Agent Marie Lamba at All the Write Stuff (02/2011).

Blog Stuff:

Ms. Lamba has a blog on her author website. She provides a link to her writing-related posts here.  

Marie Lamba, Literary Agent (10/2011). 

Around the Web:

Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency thread on AbsoluteWrite.

Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency on P&E ($ Recommended).

Client Stephanie Winkelhake “I have an agent” post (01/2012).

If interested, there are a lot of other interviews and guest posts related to Ms. Lamba’s writing available with a web search.   

Contact:

Please see the Jennifer DeChiara website for contact and query information.

Profile Details:

Last updated: 7/12/12 - (added new interviews.)

Agent Contacted For Review? Yes.

Last Reviewed By Agent? 2/23/12.

***

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 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 #118

Tip Tuesday features writers' tips on craft, research, querying, blogging, marketing, inspiration, and more. If you'd like to send in a tip, please e-mail me at agentspotlight(at)gmail(dot)com.

I have another fantastic tip from Ryann Kerekes today. I posted one from her a couple weeks ago (Tip #116) and she also sent in Tip #101. Ryann blogs at Novel Addiction where she last posted on what makes a writer succeed. While poking around her blog, I also noticed she's now represented. Congrats, Ryann!! After you read her tip below, hop over and check out her latest posts.

How to Plot - free writing course!

Can't afford to attend a conference? Check out the free video tutorial series, How to Plot a Novel, Screenplay or Memoir by the Plot Whisperer, Martha Alderson.

I watched all 27 videos (they’re short, around 6-8 minutes each) and highly recommend them.

A few things I'm working on this week:

- Defining my characters and their short term and long term goals.

- Giving my character a flaw that’s going to work against them achieving their goals.

~Ryann Kerekes

UNDER THE NEVER SKY AND SAVING FORT SMOKY GIVEAWAY & ASK THE EXPERT INTERVIEW WITH TEEN AUTHOR JENNA GUSTAFSON

First I'll do one of my favorite things and announce the winners of my blogversary giveaway.

The winners of THE SCORPIO RACES are:

SHANNON O'DONNELL and JOANNE FRITZ

The winner of INSIDE OUT is:

CATHERINE JOHNSON

The winner of MY NOT SO STILL LIFE is:

DAISY CARTER

The winner of LEVIATHAN is:

CATHE OLSON

And finally The winner of TELL ME A SECRET is:

CARMEN

Congrats! E-mail me your addresses so I can send you your books. Carmen, I don't have your e-mail so e-mail me by the end of Wednesday or I'll have to pick another winner.

Today I’m excited to interview 15-year old Jenna Gustafson, a published debut middle grade author, for my Ask The Expert series. Her middle grade novel, SAVING FORT SMOKY, was published November 10, 2010. I found out about Jenna through Shannon O’Donnell at Book Dreaming, who did a blog post about meeting Jenna and asking other bloggers to spread the word about her book. If you don't follow Shannon's blog, I really recommend that you do.

Here’s a description of SAVING FORT SMOKY from Goodreads

There's only one hope for Fort Smoky to survive. After a devastating fire ravages the homes of Fort Smoky, it's up to young Ben Clearwater and his sister and friends to help the residents and get to Fort Futureland to save the people before the harsh, cold winter sets in. To get there, they will have to trek through unknown mountains, relying on Running Wind's compass and Big Jim's maps of the land while struggling against the harsh forces of Mother Nature. Fort Futureland is a place of new and interesting contraptions, like cars and computers, the four children have never seen, and they are captivated. But the children soon uncover a sinister plot to destroy their beloved Fort Smoky. Will they be able to stop the evil leaders of Fort Futureland? Will they ever make it home? Will they be heroes for Saving Fort Smoky? Join young author Jenna Gustafson in this action-packed adventure of four friends teeming with courage, bravery, and determination. Readers will be caught up in this action-filled, futuristic adventure as they follow Ben, his sister, and friends while they struggle to save their home and family using their skills and cunning. It's an enjoyable read for upper elementary students. Sheryl Stansbury, media specialist, Washington Middle School Jenna Gustafson lives happily in Montana with her parents and brother. While she has won local short story contests, this is her first book. She hopes to inspire other children to chase their dreams and understand that they are never too young to accomplish something.

Hi Jenna. Thanks so much for joining us.

1.  Please tell us a little bit about yourself, your school, and how you became a writer.

            I am Jenna Gustafson, a small town girl who loves nothing more than to bury herself in a good book or go on an invigorating hike.  I have a little brother named Jade who I do everything with, a wild imagination, and a go-big-or-go-home personality that is awestruck by God.
Over the years I have poured myself into my friends, dance, cross country, and track.  I take a certain pride in my academics, and I enjoy my high school, where the student body and staff combine to look like a large, weird, and sometimes dysfunctional family to any outsider.  I am particularly fond of art (illustration) and the sciences.  English has always been an easy A for me, but oddly, this is not where my love for writing began.
In about fifth grade I received a diary for my birthday.  I found that I express myself the best on paper, and from then on I have carefully recorded all my adventures and misadventures.  Writing, for me, is freedom at its finest.

2.  Wow! It sounds like you have a lot of interests. I read that you wrote SAVING FORT SMOKY in 7th grade. How long did it take to write the first draft and how many revisions did it go through before you tried to get it published?

            My seventh grade advanced English teacher essentially launched my writing career by giving our class a short story assignment.  The first rough draft of my story was completed after about three weeks of spin-as-you-go plotting and countless hours of typing.  Did you know that after a certain amount of time on Microsoft Word, a prompt actually reminds you to stretch your fingers and avert your eyes from the screen?!  As deadlines for the class drew near, I reluctantly ended my story.  It was then poked, prodded and remolded in the following three weeks for the A.  Later that summer I added a more meat to the manuscript before I sent it to the publisher.  I would say it went through about six rounds of editing before the final proof was submitted.
           
3.  That's so awesome how you were able to get the draft and then the edits done so quickly. And what a great idea to work on edits over the summer. How did you come up with your idea for your story and the idea of the less modern Fort Smoky and the futuristic Fort Futureland?
           
            When I wrote Saving Fort Smoky I was in a profound Louis L’Amour phase, and was primarily reading shoot em’ up westerns.  Naturally, this style found its way into my writing.  I have always been intrigued by fantasy as well, and decided to throw a monkey wrench in the preconceived idea of how westerns “had to be” and added my own spin into my tale for fun.  The story seemed more unique and less faceless when I placed a touch of future in a historical setting.  Hence, Fort Smoky and Fort Futureland sprang to life.

4.  Tell us a bit about your road to publication and how you found your publisher.
           
            The summer after my little story was born, my resolve to get it published hardened, and I spent every waking hour researching everything publishing; agents, self publishing, traditional publishing, and the pitfalls of all.  Call it a three month homework assignment.  I placed all my data in a spreadsheet format and scrutinized the differences between the trustworthy companies I had found.  The problem?  Most of the companies at the top of my list were of the self publishing variety, and cost an arm and a leg.  This was because I didn’t want to risk getting an agent and spend unnecessary money to get accepted by a high profile traditional publisher.  I wasn’t looking to get into the big leagues. I wanted a start where I could make back the money, learn about entrepreneurship, get good publicity, and keep my rights.
            Awfully high expectations for a seventh grader, and the self publishers just weren’t cutting it.
            Finally, near wit’s end, I stumbled across Tate Publishing, a hybrid.  This company demonstrated self publisher and traditional publisher characteristics, accepted few, and took their business seriously.  Before submitting my manuscript I doubted my story’s worth and questioned what I was doing in book world a few times, but in the end I leaped for the opportunity, and by some miracle, managed to drag my parents along for the ride.  I’m sure you can imagine they’re reaction to all this.
            After much debate, they decided to back me on the euphoric day I got my acceptance letter from Tate Publishing.  Getting published has been a very wild ride, one that taught me many useful skills and made me grow up fast.  I don’t regret a thing.

5.  You certainly did your research. And it was definitely a well-thought out plan, especially since you were in middle school at the time. I'm impressed. How have you marketed your book and has that changed at all since your book was first published?

            I was launched out of production into marketing in the fall of 2010.  It was in a whirlwind of long hours at local craft shows, school presentations, and book fairs.  Business was looking good.
            Suddenly winter came and the fairs left, vaporizing my marketing strategy.  There is only so much a fourteen year old can do with no wheels, no money, and a rural geographic location.  I turned to the web for supporters, but my success there was limited.  The Internet is a very vast place, and should not be attempted by an amateur without a guide.  Luckily, several months later, Shannon O’Donnell took me under her wing and set up a blog tour for me.  Now I am working on introducing myself to everyone via interviews like this one.

6I'm so grateful that I met Shannon too through her blog. She's a great friend. What type of books do you read and has writing changed what you read, if at all? What books are you waiting to be released?

            My favorite genres to read are fantasy and YA fiction of superb quality.  Becoming an author has made me even more appreciative of books, yet my mind has also become more cynical.  Nit-picky criticism of plotting, planning, and grammar comes almost second nature to me, and I can’t help but notice good usage of these elements in other people’s work.  Books that have been released recently that I am interested in are Inheritance by Christopher Paolini, and Crossed by Ally Condie.

7.  Fantasy is my favorite genre too. Do you read any teen book blogs, author blogs, or author or publisher websites? Become a fan of an author on Facebook? Why? Has this changed at all since you started writing?

            Honestly, I spend my precious spare time reading books only.  If I run across an exceptional story, I visit the author’s website to see how they market their books.  I am always curious to see what works.  Sometimes I also check out the publisher’s website.  Before I got published this would have never crossed my mind.
            I have yet to become a fan of an author on Facebook.  I see no reason to impersonally add to the already huge fan base of most outstanding authors.  I would rather simply enjoy the book than become a statistic.

8.  Having a daughter in high school, I'm not surprised that you don't have time to read blogs or be on the Internet much. 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? How are you using this knowledge to promote your own book?

            Authors have to have some kind of addictive material at their disposal to draw readers and fans, such as games promoted by the 39 Clues, juicy/helpful blogs, or contests with prizes.  They also must have amazing advertising, and tantalize the readers with bait found exclusively at their website or blog in the back or their books.
            I would use these tactics if more people knew about my book, but as of right now, Saving Fort Smoky is too unknown for me to really push people in the direction of my website.  In order to coax readers, you need readers.  These ideas of marketing tend to work far better with oceans of followers.

9.  The contest idea is excellent. I've found through blogging that an interview with an author gets way more interest when it's linked to a book giveaway. What are you working on now?

            Between sports and school, I am gratefully writing posts for bloggers, scheming over my next book, and attempting to generate more sales for Saving Fort Smoky so I can continue down the enchanted road of publication.

Thanks so much for all your advice Jenna. Jenna has generously offered a copy of SAVING FORT SMOKY for a giveaway. Details will be at the end of this post. I'm hoping whoever wins it will help Jenna spread the word about her book by passing it on.

And I'm hoping some of you can help her spread the word about her book through your blogs. My daughter's in 9th grade and with homework and sports like Jenna's doing, I know she doesn't have the time we adults do to connect with other authors and book bloggers to market her book. There's too much homework. So if you're interested in interviewing Jenna, e-mail me and I'll forward her e-mail to you. Here's a great opportunity for you to Pay It Forward and help a debut author.

I'm also giving away an ARC of UNDER THE NEVER SKY. Here's a blurb from Goodreads:

WORLDS KEPT THEM APART.

DESTINY BROUGHT THEM TOGETHER.

Aria has lived her whole life in the protected dome of Reverie. Her entire world confined to its spaces, she's never thought to dream of what lies beyond its doors. So when her mother goes missing, Aria knows her chances of surviving in the outer wasteland long enough to find her are slim.

Then Aria meets an outsider named Perry. He's searching for someone too. He's also wild - a savage - but might be her best hope at staying alive.

If they can survive, they are each other's best hope for finding answers


I loved this book. The contrast between Aria's world and Perry's is so sharp. It was fascinating to watch Aria, who had lived mostly in a virtual world, have to cope with living in Perry's Outsider world. And watching how their relationship developed, which was definitely antagonistic at the start, felt like a natural progression, which I loved. Trust me, this is a book you want to read.

So onto today's contests. Jenna is giving away one copy of SAVING FORT SMOKY and I’m giving away my ARC of UNDER THE NEVER SKY. 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 Jenna's interview by midnight on March 10th. I’ll announce the winners on March 12th. If your e-mail is not on Blogger, please list it in your comment. International entries are welcome.

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.

Here's what's coming up. Next Monday I'm interviewing Merrie Haskell and giving away a copy of her debut book THE PRINCESS CURSE. On Friday next week, Casey is interviewing Deborah Blumenthal with an ARC giveaway of THE LIFEGUARD. The following Monday I'll be doing a YA newer releases giveaway.

Hope to see you next Monday!






Agent Spotlight: Linda Epstein

This week's Agent Spotlight features Linda Epstein of the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency.

Status: Open to submissions, actively building her client list.

linda-epsteinAbout: “Before joining JDLA as an Associate Agent in 2011, Linda read manuscripts, book proposals, and queries at Folio Literary Management; was Submissions Manager at the McVeigh Agency; and interned at the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency and also Meryl Zegarek Public Relations. Prior to that she was Community Relations Manager at Barnes and Noble, where she set up author readings and signings and organized book groups and book fairs. Currently, Linda co-edits The New York Bookwoman, the newsletter of the New York chapter of the Women’s National Book Association, and manages their blog. She also leads workshops about publishing at Hofstra University. Linda graduated from Buffalo University with a BA in English and Environmental Studies and went on for graduate work in Creative Writing at Temple University. She also holds a BSN from New York University. Linda is an avid reader, a fiction writer, the mother of three children, and a native New Yorker whose breath is taken away every single time she sees the NYC skyline.” (Link)

About the Agency:

“The Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency is a New York City-based full-service literary agency founded in 2001 and named one of the top 25 literary agencies in the country by Writer’s Digest.

“The agency represents children’s literature for all ages – picture books and middle-grade and young adult novels – but also represents high-quality adult fiction and non-fiction in a wide range of genres. The categories we are most enthusiastic about agenting are literary and commercial fiction; mysteries, thrillers, celebrity biographies; humor; psychology and self-help; parenting; health and fitness; women’s issues; men’s issues; pop culture; film and television; social issues and contemporary affairs.

“JDLA is proud to be one of the few literary agencies to represent illustrators, as well as screenwriters for both television and film, including Emmy-winning writers and a Peabody Award-winning illustrator.” (Link)

Web Presence:

JD Lit Website.

Publisher’s Marketplace page.

The Blabbermouth (blog).

Twitter.

LinkedIn.

QueryTracker.

What She's Looking For:

Genres/Specialties:

General fiction, Juvenile Fiction, Mind/Body/Spirit, Health, Lifestyle, Cookbooks. (Link)

From the Website:

“Adult Fiction - I like accessible literary fiction, quality upscale commercial fiction, vibrant narrative nonfiction, and compelling memoirs.  When I read a manuscript I want to be so immersed in its world that I can't put it down.  A distinctive voice is imperative.  I love to learn something about another time, place, or culture while engrossed in a gripping story.  Books with Jewish or other spiritual/religious themes or undercurrents are of particular interest.  I am partial to underdogs and outsiders.  Occasionally I like to read something funny, and sometimes a little magical realism is entertaining.  I don't like bodice-rippers and won't read anything with dead, maimed, or kidnapped children.  I don't read horror.  I'm not really interested in traditional SciFi, but I do like fantasy and I'm intrigued by Steampunk. I'm the wrong person for romance, thrillers, or anything but a very offbeat cozy mystery.

“For Children's Fiction - I like middle-grade and YA fiction and appreciate the same things in books for this age group as I do for adult fiction.  For middle-grade, it should be particularly character driven and quirky, with excellent pacing and rhythm.  For YA, I'm a sucker for strong girls, deep friendships, and overcoming adversity.

“For Non-fiction - I like alternative health and parenting books, cookbooks (especially, but not limited to, Gluten Free cooking), select memoirs, and the right spiritual/self-actualization book (think Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra, Don Miguel Ruiz).

“I am particularly committed to representing books that include, are about, or are geared toward people in the LBGTQ community, for both adult and children's literature.” (Link)

From a Blog Post (01/2012):

“You know what kind of manuscript I’d love to find?! I’d love to find an historical literary fiction set in GreenwichVillage in 1979. Or a YA Steampunky story where the Steampunkness is incidental and the story part is phenomenal. Or a very sad story about two best friends. Or a really romantic gay love story set at the turn of the last century.  Or a MG story for boys with some adventure and personal growth but no paranormal or fantastical creatures. Or a feminist retelling of a Celtic pre-Christian legend. Or a story that takes place on an island. Or a story about food. Or a road trip. Or hats.

“I have eclectic taste in literature. I don’t really know what I want to find until I find it. I like to keep my options open. I like to take chances. I like to be moved. And to think.” (Link)

What She Isn't Looking For:

Picture Books, Horror, Hard Sci-Fi, Thrillers, Mysteries (except as mentioned above), Romance, Screenplays. (Link)

Editorial Agent?

Yes, as needed. See this post on her blog.

Clients:

The agency represents over 200 clients, including a PEN Award-winner and a Newbery Honor Medal winner. A list of selected clients can be found on the site here

Ms. Epstein’s clients include: Bill Konigsberg, Stacy Mozer, Emily Saso, Rhonda Saunders, Katherine Sparrow, among others.

Sales:

As of this posting, Ms. Epstein has not reported any deals to Publisher’s Marketplace.  The agency is listed as having made 12 deals in the last 12 months, 1 six-figure+ deal, and 68 overall. 

NOTE: PM is usually not a complete representation of sales.

Query Methods:

E-mail: Yes (only).

Snail-Mail: No.

Online-Form: No.

Submission Guidelines (always verify):

Fiction - Send a query in the body of an e-mail with a one-paragraph bio and one-paragraph synopsis and the first 20 pages of your manuscript. No attachments.  Put “QUERY” in the subject line. 

Non-Fiction – Send a one-paragraph bio and a one-paragraph synopsis of your book in the body of an e-mail. Attach the entire proposal as a word document.  Your proposal should include a sample chapter.

Query only one agent at the agency at a time. 

See the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency website for complete, up-to-date submission guidelines. 

Query Tips:

“With query letters, authors need to remember that a. it’s a business letter, they’re not writing to a pal, and b. if it’s too long, I stop reading. There are about a million places on the internet that give advice on how to write a good query, so they really have no excuse for not writing one.” (Link)

Related blog posts:

When Sending a Query: What to Include and What Not to Include (01/2012).

Hard Truth: Top 3 Reasons to Immediately Reject a Query (11/2011).

Response Times:

The agency’s stated response is 2 weeks for queries. Stats on the web show Ms. Epstein responding to most queries in this time-frame, often within days. Data on requested material is limited.

What's the Buzz?

Linda Epstein began agenting August 2011 and is actively building her client list. The Jennifer De Chiara Agency is recommended by P&E.

Follow her on Twitter @LindaEpstein and subscribe to her blog, The Blabbermouth, for regular updates and a peak at her personality.

Worth Your Time:

Interviews:

Member Monday: Meet Linda Epstein! at WNBA-NYC (01/2012).

Blog Stuff:

Ms. Epstein has a blog called The Blabbermouth. There are a lot of posts that will give you insight into her preferences and agenting style. As always, I recommend reading through the archives.

When A Query Letter Goes Wrong by Linda Epstein, guest post at Jeannie Ruesch’s Happy Endings (08/2010).

Call Yourself A Writer by Linda Epstein, guest post at Jeannie Ruesch’s Happy Endings (07/2010).

Query Short List of Lessons by Linda Epstein, guest post at Jeannie Ruesch’s Happy Endings (06/2010).

Mixing Metaphors & Petting Peeves, guest post by Linda Epstein at Jeannie Ruesch’s Happy Endings (05/2010).

Around the Web:

Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency thread on AbsoluteWrite.

Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency on P&E ($ Recommended).

See this post for a list of conferences Ms. Epstein has scheduled for 2012 so far.

Contact:

Please see the Jennifer DeChiara website for contact and query information.

Profile Details:

Last updated: 2/16/12.

Agent Contacted For Review? Yes.

Last Reviewed By Agent? 2/16/12.

***

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 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 #117

Tip Tuesday features writers' tips on craft, research, querying, blogging, marketing, inspiration, and more. If you'd like to send in a tip, please e-mail me at agentspotlight(at)gmail(dot)com.

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!
Today I have a tip from Christie Wright Wild. Christie writes picture books and middle grade and has been hanging around Lit Rambles for quite awhile now. You can find her at her website and blog as well as read a previous tip submitted by her here. Here's Christie's latest:

This is a research tip. We all know that Wikipedia is not a reliable source to cite for nonfiction research. However, it CAN be a reliable source for a STARTING point, even for fiction. It can define words, events, and people. It can give you more info for ideas of phrases to put in those lovely search engines we like calling "friend." Wikipedia will provide links to it's sources, leading you on a wonderful maze hopefully leading you to a small block of cheese at the end. I guarantee, somewhere along your path, you'll find a bit of gold at the end of your rainbow. And hopefully, it will be far, far away from Wiki. And thankfully, Wiki will have put us on a path in the right direction. Have fun at Wiki - it's the ticket-taker to your researching theme park fun!

~Christie Wright Wild

KRISTEN SIMMONS INTERVIEW AND ARTICLE 5 GIVEAWAY


Today I’m excited to interview Kristen Simmons about her debut book ARTICLE 5 which was released on January 31, 2012. Being an attorney, I loved how Kristen explored a world where the Bill of Rights were revoked and replaced by the Moral Statutes. And Kristen created a world more frightening than I could imagine.

Here’s a description from Goodreads:

New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C., have been abandoned.

The Bill of Rights has been revoked, and replaced with the Moral Statutes.

There are no more police—instead, there are soldiers. There are no more fines for bad behavior—instead, there are arrests, trials, and maybe worse. People who get arrested usually don't come back.

Seventeen-year-old Ember Miller is old enough to remember that things weren’t always this way. Living with her rebellious single mother, it’s hard for her to forget that people weren’t always arrested for reading the wrong books or staying out after dark. It’s hard to forget that life in the United States used to be different.

Ember has perfected the art of keeping a low profile. She knows how to get the things she needs, like food stamps and hand-me-down clothes, and how to pass the random home inspections by the military. Her life is as close to peaceful as circumstances allow.

That is, until her mother is arrested for noncompliance with Article 5 of the Moral Statutes. And one of the arresting officers is none other than Chase Jennings…the only boy Ember has ever loved.

Hi Kristen. Thanks so much for joining us.

Thank YOU Natalie! I’m so excited to be here! I’ve been a fan of your blog for a long time. It was so helpful to me when I was looking for an agent!

1.      Tell us a little about yourself and how you became a writer.

I’m originally from the West Coast – I grew up in outside of Reno, Nevada. My dad is a cowboy, which meant that I spent a lot of time feeding horses and cattle, and my mom was once a math teacher, which meant I got to go to Math Camp when I couldn’t pass my times tables tests. I like good stories, big dogs that like to sleep on your lap, and most anything chocolate. I do not, however, like bees, bigots, and beer (allergic to all three). I began writing when I was a little kid when I learned stories on paper got you in less trouble than lying to grownups, and have been doing it ever since.


2.      I bet there’s a story behind the writing is better than lying lesson. You created a world where violation of the Moral Statutes results in immediate arrest and never coming back. You show this right away with Ember’s mom being arrested and then Ember being taken away. What made you decide to create your society the way you did?

In Article 5, the Moral Statutes are a very rigid set of rules, enforced by a very rigid organization. It seemed only right that the punishments for these rules be just as severe. The world in A5 has become so polarized in terms of wealth and politics, and the middle has become so thin that there is no room for shades of gray – unless you’re in the resistance, of course.

3.      You can say that again about the society being completely rigid. It made me appreciate that ours isn’t so black and white. Ember goes through a lot of internal doubts about herself and whether she can trust anyone, including Chase. Tell us how you developed her as a character and how your training in social work helped in creating her reactions in light of all the danger she was constantly in.

Ember has been through some traumatic things, and as a result, is dealing with some pretty hefty emotional consequences. Things that anyone might feel after experiencing what Chase and Ember have. But she’s resilient. Perhaps the most important thing I learned from a career in social work is how resilient we all are. How much we can take and still fight back. Witnessing someone recover after they’ve lost everything is awe-inspiring, and that is what I wanted to capture with Ember’s character. In the beginning of Article 5, she’s fairly naïve to the way the world outside her community works, but she learns quickly. Sure, she makes mistakes and tests her boundaries, but isn’t that how we all learn? By the end, she’ll either have to adapt or give up, and ultimately, that’s a choice many of us will have to face in our lives.


4.      That we’re resilient is an important lesson most of us have to learn at some point in life. And I agree that Ember was naïve at first. And occasionally I wished I could tell her not to make a decision she was making. But you’re right, that’s how she and the rest of us learn. I’ve read that ARTICLE 5 is part of a trilogy and that you’re already working on book 3. Did you have the whole trilogy figured out when you started ARTICLE 5 and do you have any tips on writing a trilogy?

Writing a trilogy is harder than I thought! Each book has to have its own arc (and each character their own arc within the story) while being part of a larger, complete arc. When I set out to write the trilogy, I knew how the overall picture would look, but was a bit fuzzy on the details of the second and third installments. I was never much of a plotter, and had to learn quickly! My advice to those writing trilogies is to plan ahead. Even if the finer points of the plot are unclear, try to figure out where your story and characters are going (in terms of motivation and change) in each book, and where the story and characters need to be by the end.

5.      That’s great advice to plan ahead. Because I think you have to plant threads in book 1 for book 2 and 3. But it’s a hard challenge for our first time around. Okay I’m dying to know the answer to this next question. Your agent is Joanna MacKenzie. I read that when you obtained representation the word count of your manuscript was 154,000 and through revisions with her that you cut that down to 96,000. How did you obtain representation with a word count that was so much higher than the range for YA books? Any tips on getting an agent?

I firmly believe that Joanna finding my query (naively boasting my word count of course) and still agreeing to do a read was some kind of divine intervention. What followed, however, was persistence and hard world. A5 in its original form was long (obviously), but it also had never been read or critiqued (at the time, I hadn’t heard of beta readers or critique groups). Joanna took a huge chance and agreed to do a full crit. If the manuscript was in better shape after revisions, she’d consider offering representation. It wasn’t. But she didn’t give up on me, and I didn’t stop trusting her. I liked her style – the way she offered support and criticism, her availability when I needed to work through something. She loved the characters, and believed in the story. We learned to work together. It seemed like a long time, but after three rounds of revisions, the manuscript was finally streamlined and ready, and she offered representation.

It took me 7 years to find Joanna, and a year to sign a contract once I did. My advice to those in the same boat is not to give up. This takes time, and a willingness to take some big risks. Doing revisions with an agent before a contract doesn’t always work out well for people, but it did for me.

6.      That’s amazing that you were able to get her to take you on. And that you submitted before having the manuscript critiqued. How did you cut your word count so much and what advice can you share for those of us who may be too wordy?

This was mostly done in the editing process with Joanna, but even after we signed a contract with Tor, my editor (very sweetly) asked me to cut 50 pages. Ouch. Here’s the thing about cutting: it sucks. I feel for you if you’re in that position. I still feel like some of my best writing was cut. But if I can’t answer in 10 seconds why a scene needs to be in the book (how does this relate to the story?), or if the answer is something like, “this scene HAS to stay because, well, it’s AWESOME,” then it’s got to go.


7.      Yes, cutting over 10,000 words is a lot. I know. Because my manuscript was about 20,000 words too long for a MG book. And it took a number of revisions to cut it down to the acceptable word count. And word count does matter in this competitive market. What are you doing to market your book, including marketing plans for down the road?

Ooh! Riding the marketing train in my newest adventure! I’m doing several guest posts and fun online interviews. I’m on a blog tour (with Teen Book Scene), and have several appearances in the Midwest lined up – all places featured in Article 5! (Louisville, Lexington, Cincy.) My launch party is 2/2/12 at 7PM at Inkwood Books in Tampa, FL (more information can be found at www.kristensimmonsbooks.com/events). Otherwise I blog at www.kristensimmonsbooks.com/blog, at YAFusion (http://yafusion.blogspot.com/), and at Brave New Words (http://www.bravenewwordsdebut.blogspot.com/), and am on Facebook (www.facebook.com/author.kristensimmons).

8.      That’s so awesome that you’re appearances are tied into the settings in your story. What a unique idea I hadn’t thought of using something like that in marketing. What are the plans for publication of book 2 in your trilogy? Are you working on other projects besides book 3?

Book 2 comes out in January of 2013, and yes! I’m in the midst of writing Book 3. Because this industry can be fairly slow, I did have time to write two other manuscripts, one between A5 and the sequel, and another before starting the third. My agent and I are currently in revisions with one of them. It deals with child labor issues. The other is still top secret!

Thank you for having me Natalie! Like I said, your blog and community of readers have been a great inspiration to me over the years!

Thanks Kristen for sharing all of your advice. You can find Kristen at the links above and at her website and on Goodreads.

Kristen 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 February 25. I’ll announce the winner on February 27th. If your e-mail is not on Blogger, please list it in your comment. International entries are welcome.

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.

Here’s what’s coming up in the next few weeks. Next Monday I’ll be interviewing a teenager who’s a debut published author for my ASK THE EXPERT series and giving away a copy of her book and a recently published YA book I know you’ll want. Then two weeks from now I’ll be interviewing Merrie Haskell and giving away a copy of her debut book THE PRINCESS CURSE.

Hope to see you next Monday!


Agent Spotlight: Kat Salazar

Kat has left the Larsen Pomada Agency. She is now a publicist with Red Wheel / Weiser Books.

Tip Tuesday #116

Tip Tuesday features writers' tips on craft, research, querying, blogging, marketing, inspiration, and more. If you'd like to send in a tip, please e-mail me at agentspotlight(at)gmail(dot)com.

Another week has flown by! I'm not quite sure I believe it. If you haven't had a chance to congratulate Natalie on her first year of blogging and enter her giveaway, stop by here. But make sure you open a tab for Ryann Kerekes as well. She blogs at Novel Addiction and is the author of this week's tip series called "Five Tips for Writing a Synopsis." Ryann was also the author of Tip Tuesday #101, which you can read here. Enjoy!

Writing the dreaded synopsis? Here are five simple tips to keep you sane.

1. Pretend you’re telling someone what the book is about in about 5 minutes or less. You're aiming to summarize the novel’s main characters and plot points in the order that they occur in the story in a simplified way.

2. It’s told in omniscient present tense point of view and you do give away the ending.

3. You want the flavor and emotion to come through in the writing, so it’s not a dry, boring re-telling, police report style of the stuff that happens.

4. Use adverbs and adjectives sparingly, every word counts. Don’t waste them describing the color of a dress your main character is wearing.

5. Use short phrases and descriptions whenever possible. It’s fine to say “Hopeless romantic, John.” Rather than, “John spent his nights scouring the Internet, signing up for sites like match.com and eharmony… “

~Ryann Kerekes

BLOGVERSARY GIVEAWAY AND REFLECTIONS ON FIRST YEAR OF BLOGGING

First, I'll announce the winner of WILDWOOD. The winner is:

SHARON MAYHEW!

Congrats! E-mail me your address so I can send you your book.

I can’t believe it’s been a year since I started blogging. I’m doing a giveaway to celebrate. But before I get to that, I want to share some things I’ve learned from my first year.
 
1. Do you ever get beaten over the head with a lesson? For me, it’s that things happen when they are meant to be. This has happened to me a number of times with important events in my life. Years ago I fretted about not getting promoted to a manager at my job. But by the time I had a chance at a promotion, I realized it wasn’t right for me or my family. It was like the universe was looking out for me.

 And when my husband and I made the decision to adopt, I was so impatient for the process to be completed. But adoption is a WAIT. Like getting an agent and being published. Sometimes I would go to such extremes to speed up the process like drive 3 hours to our capital before work (yes, I really did that) to get documents authenticated that would have been returned in a few days if they were mailed. In the end, we had to wait longer anyway because of an organizational change in the Chinese governmental departments that processed the adoptions. But it worked out for the best because my daughter is the perfect kid for our family.
 
It’s been the same with blogging. I’d been reading blogs and commenting for years. I actually planned to start a blog the year before but got too busy planning a big family reunion for my mom’s 80th birthday. It worked out SO much better not to start a blog on my own. Again the universe knew better than me. Hopefully it’ll be the same with getting an agent and getting published.

2.  Casey is the best blog partner I could ask for. I’ll share a secret Casey doesn’t even know unless she reads this. I secretly wished to be her blog partner for at least a year before she posted that she was looking for a partner. I even thought about it a month before she posted her request. But I never asked because of those negative things we tell ourselves, like she wouldn’t  want a partner, she wouldn’t want me, etc. Like what we tell ourselves about our writing sometimes.
 
Seriously, Casey is so awesome! She’s mentored me in how to post a blog post, how to paste a picture, etc. and even e-mailed me detailed instructions. I wouldn’t have had a clue how to do anything without her help. Even with her help, it felt as scary the first time I posted as when I electronically started filing bankruptcy petitions and pleadings. But at least here if I make a mistake there’s no clerk looking to e-mail a DEFICIENCY NOTICE. (Thankfully I don’t get many of those and they can be fixed.)
 
And she’s let me do exactly what I always envisioned I’d do with blogging—promote authors, mostly debut and middle grade, interview kids, and do an occasional personal post. 
 
Seriously, she is such a nice person. I couldn’t ask for a better partner. I hope one day we get to meet in person. But it’s so cool how we’ve gotten to be friends through e-mail.
 
3.  You guys are so awesome and supportive. It’s been amazing watching our blog grow and making so many new friends this year. I love the blogging community of both writers and book review bloggers. I’m grateful for your friendship.
 
4.  Finally, I’ve realized that blogging is work, even blogging once a week. Like a lot of work. And it does take away from writing. But I really enjoy reading the books and making connections with all the authors I’ve interviewed. And I admire those of you who blog daily or a couple times a week.

So now to my giveaway. First, I’m giving away two copies of THE SCORPIO RACES, one with a swag bracelet I won. As many of you know, I’m a huge fan of Maggie Stiefvater.

I’m also giving away some older books that I hope you’ll enjoy. Sorry, my husband might get upset if I go on another Book Depository shopping spree. Here’s the choices. 





So what have you all learned from blogging if you blog?

And to enter the contest, all you need to do is be a follower (just click the followbutton if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment by midnight on February 18th. Tell me your top two choices and I'll try to match the books to the winners. I’ll announce the winner on February 20th. If your e-mail is not on Blogger, please list it in your comment.International entries are welcome.

If you mention this contest on your blog, Twitter, or Facebook, please let us know in the comments and we’ll give you an extra entry.

 Here's what's coming up. Next Monday I'm interviewing debut author Kristen Simmons with a giveaway of her debut book ARTICLE 5. The following Monday I'm interviewing a teen for my ASK THE EXPERT series who is a debut published author and giving away a copy of her book and an ARC of another recently published YA book I know you'll want.

So hope to see you next Monday!