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.


Happy Monday Everyone! Hope you're enjoying some of the warmer weather. I'm loving getting out to walk my dog more.

Before we get to our fantastic post today, I have a winner to announce.

The winner of MY NEAR DEATH ADVENTURES is Paul Greci!

Congrats! E-mail me your address so I can send you your book. Please e-mail me by the end of Wednesday or I'll have to pick another winner.

 I've got a special treat for you today. Debut author Stacey Lee and her awesome agent Kristin Nelson are here to share on how you can make your query stand out. And I've got a fantastic giveaway for you that includes a query critique by Kristin! Kristin is one of my dream agents so I wish I could enter too.

I loved Stacey's YA historical novel, UNDER A PAINTED SKY., that releases tomorrow. I don't usually read historical fiction but I loved the 1800's Western United States setting. And Samantha, a Chinese girl on the run, and her friend, Andy, a runaway slave, are such great, memorable characters.

Here's a blurb from Goodreads:

A powerful story of friendship and sacrifice, for fans of Code Name Verity

Missouri, 1849: Samantha dreams of moving back to New York to be a professional musician—not an easy thing if you’re a girl, and harder still if you’re Chinese. But a tragic accident dashes any hopes of fulfilling her dream, and instead, leaves her fearing for her life. With the help of a runaway slave named Annamae, Samantha flees town for the unknown frontier. But life on the Oregon Trail is unsafe for two girls, so they disguise themselves as Sammy and Andy, two boys headed for the California gold rush. Sammy and Andy forge a powerful bond as they each search for a link to their past, and struggle to avoid any unwanted attention. But when they cross paths with a band of cowboys, the light-hearted troupe turn out to be unexpected allies. With the law closing in on them and new setbacks coming each day, the girls quickly learn that there are not many places to hide on the open trail.

This beautifully written debut is an exciting adventure and heart-wrenching survival tale. But above all else, it’s a story about perseverance and trust that will restore your faith in the power of friendship.

So here's Stacey and Kristin!

Stacey: Today my agent Kristin Nelson and I are giving you the Dope on Trope.
Kristin: Otherwise known as Concept Trends in the Query Inbox!

Stacey: Authors don't like to hear the word ‘trope’ in the same sentence as their manuscripts, but here's the thing: tropes are not necessarily bad. In the broad sense, a trope is simply the use of figurative language in literature. However, it is also used in the more specific sense to mean a common pattern in a story or a recognizable attribute in a character that conveys information to the audience. Some examples include the character trope of a jilted lover, which can convey s/he has revenge on her mind; the character trope of a man with the chest full of medals, which might tell you that the character thinks he's a badass; the plot trope of a love triangle, which may tell us that complications will ensue. Tropes are the tortilla chips of the banquet, designed to get the guacamole to the mouth faster.

While there are some character tropes that should be retired forever, like those that perpetuate offensive stereotypes (e.g., Asian speaking broken English and making a dum luk pun), or those that have been so overused as to be cliché ('it was all just a dream' endings), many are unavoidable (the mean girl, the protective father), and some, we even seek out (admit it, you wanted more vampire-boy-can't-have-girl books after TWILIGHT).

The problem is, if you do have tropes in your manuscript (and who doesn’t?), how do you present them as fresh? Here are three tips.

1) Make sure your trope contains unique elements. In the case of UNDER A PAINTED SKY, I used the trope of girls disguising themselves as boys, something you see most often in historical fiction (e.g. SCARLET by A.G. Gaughen, BLOODY JACK by L.A. Smith, and LEVIATHAN by Scott Westerfeld), when girls had to defy the roles assigned to their gender in order to do the things they wanted to do. In the case of UNDER A PAINTED SKY, the setting is 1849 American frontier, and the main characters are a Chinese girl, and a runaway slave. With enough unique elements, the trope becomes fresh again.

You might also consider flipping the trope. In Rae Carson’s GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS, the main character is a ‘girl of prophecy’ trope, but the author flips it on its head by making the girl overweight and lazy.

Kristin: I have to echo Stacey on this point. Whenever I see queries that say “so and so led a normal life until her twelfth birthday when she receives a magical gift, then is transported to a fantastical world where she must over come dark forces,” it’s going to be a pass. I receive dozens of queries a day with that same, general description. The real question is why this particular girl? What will make the reader want to read about her? The second catch is to capture your unique voice in the query pitch itself. A distinctive voice will shine a spotlight even if your story has all the known tropes: receipt of magical object on definitive birthday, forces of darkness, etc.

Great writing trumps all. Agents, awed by good writing in a query letter, will always request sample pages.

Stacey: 2) In the case of character tropes, go deep. The deeper you dig into a character's psyche, the less
of a cliche they become. Give them quirks, vulnerabilities, fears, insecurities. In the case of my villain, an 'evil landlord' trope, I gave him a gambling addiction not only to make him memorable, but to make his motivations believable.

Kristin: Real details can be essential to help your story jump off the page. Every character is unique/individual and if we have sense of that person, that can add interest to the pitch.

Stacey: 3) Make the trope a source of tension. Don’t just have a bad boy because bad boys are hot, but use the badness as a source of conflict. In Simone Elkeles’ PERFECT CHEMISTRY, when the girl finds that the bad boy who loves her once made a bet that he could lure her into his life, his ‘reputation’ as a gangster makes it unlikely that she’ll ever believe/forgive him.

In UNDER A PAINTED SKY, the girls’ cross-dressing is constantly a source of tension, as if they are discovered as girls, they will be unmasked as wanted criminals.

Kristin: Even as a reader of approximately 50-75 queries a day, I’m still surprised when something hits the cultural zeitgeist and becomes a trend in the query inbox. How does that happen? How can 10 people have the same story idea in the same week and send me a query about it? I wish I knew! I started a tracking list just to keep readers who follow me on Twitter and Facebook apprised of what was showing up in the inbox. And so folks understand, I’m not making a judgment of any kind on the trend. Just stating a fact of what I’m seeing.

When a trope or topic starts trending in the inbox, do agents become more immune to the concept in general? Yes and no. I’m certainly going to be more on my guard in terms of requesting to see sample pages if it feels too familiar but on the other hand, an amazing, well-written, intriguing query will always get a request—even if I saw the same type of concept in a dozen email queries previous to reading this one. A writer’s unique voice can be everything when bringing a story to life.

And because I know Lit Ramble readers will be thinking, “what are the trends currently happening, tell me please!” Here is what I’ve seen “trend” just in the last three weeks.

* Heirloom of incredible power. Or some physical object of magic or power lands in a character’s hands
* Characters who must journey to hell, through hell, to save a friend or family member.
* Dreams! Haunted by dreams when the narrator goes to bed at night. Characters living another life in their dreams. Nightmares experienced that turn out to be real. Dreams as gateway to another world.
* Fantasies where the narrator hails from an all-women, matriarchal society (Not sure why that is popular at the moment but I’m seeing a lot of this trope!)
* Magicians or characters learning to be master illusionists.
* Characters having to time travel to solve an issue in the now.
* Fantasy stories where Chinese culture is the cornerstone of the world building
* Stories with monks, monasteries, stolen artifacts

Stacey: There goes my monks in space idea.

Kristin: But even if your story has one of the above elements, press on! It doesn’t mean your novel isn’t “good” or can’t find a home. As the old adage states, there are no new stories under the sun, just new ways of telling them. So find that unique angle within your own novel and shine the spotlight of great writing there. It will make the difference between a pass or a request!

Stacey: Hope these tips help. And thank you Natalie for having us on Literary Rambles!

Thanks for all the incredible advice, Stacey and Kristin. And Stacey is one of the founders of We Need Diverse Books. More diversity in books is such a critical issue right now. I asked Stacey to tell us a bit about this group and what we can do to help get more books with multicultural characters published.

Thanks for asking about We Need Diverse Books! We're a nonprofit
organization created to address the lack of diverse, non-majority
narratives in children’s literature. We believe that our books should
reflect the world in which we live. In 2013, the Cooperative
Children's Book Council found that of the 3000 books published, only
7.5% had any diversity at all, this despite our country being almost
40% diverse. The numbers are slowly improving thanks to increased
awareness on this issue, but we still have a long way to go.

You can help by buying diverse books and/or requesting them at your
library, as well as recommending the diverse books you've liked to
others. You can let publishers know when you've enjoyed one of their
titles - write the author a letter via their publishers. If you are a
publisher, agent, editor, librarian, or bookseller, take a stand and
make sure diverse titles are a priority. If you are a teacher or
educator, create a diverse reading program. If you are an event
organizer, commit to diversifying your panels.

You can find Stacey at:

And you can find Kristin at:

Please visit our website www.nelsonagency.com for submission guidelines and also check out Kristin’s Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/agentkristin and popular blog

Stacey and her publisher G.P. Putman's Sons Books for Young Readers has generous provided an ARC of UNDER A PAINTED SKY for a giveaway. And Kristin Nelson kindly offered a query critique to one lucky winner. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment through March 28th. If you want to me entered for the query critique as well as the book giveaway, you must let me know in the comments. I’ll announce the winner on  March 30th. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, please leave it in the comments.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. The book giveaway is for US and Canada. The query critique is international.

Here's what's coming up:
On Wednesday I have a giveaway of FLUNKED FAIRY TALE REFORM SCHOOL, a new MG fantasy.

And next Monday I have an interview with debut author Erin Entrada Kelly and a giveaway of BLACKBIRD FLY, her multicultural contemporary MG  novel.

The following Monday I have a guest post by Caroline Rose Starr and a giveaway of  BLUE BIRDS, her new MG historical novel.

Hope to see you on Wednesday!


Beth said...

Great interview. It shed a lot of light on writing query letters, and on what an agent faces in her inbox. Stacey, I'm looking forward to reading that "monks in space" book someday!

This is a terrific giveaway, and I'd love to win the query critique. Thanks for a great post.

Donna K. Weaver said...

Sounds like a fun book. I've wondered the same thing when it comes to movies too, how so many similar ideas can hit the screen at the same time. At least most of those will have been ideas already out there. Maybe it's in the water. ;)

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I'd seen lots of posts about diverse books but I didn't realize the actual percentage published was so low.

Greg Pattridge said...

Love the premise of this new novel. Excellent interview as always. A query is always difficult to nail so add me into the critique giveaway.

Jemi Fraser said...

Stacey's book sounds terrific! Adding it to my wishlist.
It's interesting how trends appear in writing - the trigger is sometimes obvious - but not always!

Liz Brooks said...

UNDER THE PAINTED SKY looks really interested. Normally I don't go for stories like this, but I like the fresh spin Stacey puts in it. Thanks for sharing! And I'd love to be entered into the query critique, but I already got a lovely personalized rejection letter from Ms. Nelson, so there's that...

Emily R. King said...

Wonderful interview! I like the idea of flipping a trope on its head. Stacey's book sounds wonderful. I think of the of pioneers every time I drive through eastern Oregon. And Kristin is the nicest agent ever. She is super sweet, on the ball, and her knowledge of the industry is something every aspiring author needs!

Eileen said...

Lovely interview! I've heard only great things about Under a Painted Sky so I'm looking forward to reading it! Thanks for the giveaway :)

Angela Brown said...

Thanks to Stacey and Kristin for sharing such wonderful information - and shedding a helpful light - on the matter of tropes in writing and how to go about using them. Getting this from both an author and agent is really interesting, sort of like a great tag-team :-)

I've partcipated in an activity or two for #WeNeedDiverseBooks since the titles I've got published include POCs as the MCs. Since I tend to write POCs as the MC, I also forget how few books there are out there.

I would be interested in entering the query critique. Best of luck to the winner (s).

Silvia said...

Great interview on reinventing tropes! I wish you all the best, Stacey, on your book release. Can't wait to read it ;)

Oh, and I'd love to enter the query critique giveaway!

Jenni said...

I love YA historical fiction, and this really sounds intriguing!I really enjoyed reading about about how you turned the dressing up as a boy trope on its head. I really enjoyed getting a peek into the common tropes in an agent's inbox as well.
Count me out of the query critique, because I'm knee deep in revisions, but good luck to all who enter!

cleemckenzie said...

I really love historical fiction, so this is already marked as TBR! Great to meet the author. Good luck with your release.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Clever ways to make the tropes fresh. And a lot of characters going through hell these days? I believe it.

Patchi said...

This sounds like a wonderful book. I've already pre-ordered it, so no need to add me to the giveaway. But I'd love the query critique. The advice in this post was terrific!

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Under the Painted Sky does sound lilke a great book. I like good historical fiction, and this sounds unique. I would love to win the book. Leave me out for the critique, although it sounds like a wonderful opportunity; at present I don't have anything to submit for critiquing. Loved the advice Stacey and Kristin shared.

Unknown said...

Very helpful post, and the book sounds wonderful. I'd love to be entered for the query critique!

MeganC said...

Great interview. I'm already looking forward to the book. It's had great reviews. It was also fun to hear all the trends. Just when I thought I had a completely original idea...:). I guess I'll follow the press on advice as well.

Karen Lange said...

It's great to meet Stacey and Kristen. Thanks for sharing the interview. Love the cover of the book! I'll pass on the giveaways. Have a great week!

Kelly Steel said...

Interesting and insightful post, thanks for sharing.

Christine Rains said...

An excellent post, Stacey and Kristen. I love hearing from both an author and an agent. I know I used to hate hearing the word trope, but now it's in my tagline!

Anonymous said...

I would like to be entered in both giveaways. Thanks for this awesome post!

Rosi said...

What a great interview. I learned a lot. Thanks for that and for the chance to win this book. It is very high on my TBR list. I'd also like to be entered in the query critique giveaway. Thanks!!

Anonymous said...

Fantastic interview! It was great to get to know the current trends in Kristin's inbox.

I'd love to be entered in the query critique draw (tiffanielynn at rocketmail dot com)

Mary Holm said...

Great interview! Stacey, I love historical fiction, and your book sounds compelling. Kristin, your advice is always informative and spot on. Thanks for all you do for writers.

Anonymous said...

What an insightful post! I also love the description of Stacey's book. Thank you for the giveaway. I'd like to be entered in both.

Carissa said...

Thank you for such an informative and fun interview! I'm taking away a platterful of great tidbits! ;) Stacey, I'm so excited to see your novel!!!

Would love to be entered in the drawing!

PattiBuff said...

Great interview! I'm so obsessed with tropes. Could spend hours on the TV Tropes website, but then my book would never get done. I'd love the query critique and also the book, but since I live in Germany, not sure if the book is a possibility.

I also tweeted the interview and put it on my public facebook page. Thanks for the opportunity.

Nancy said...

Ooh! Ooh! *raises hand* I'm a fan of Code Name Verity! I'm happy to know about UNDER A PAINTED SKY and look foward to reading it. Thanks for sharing. Also, query critique - yes, please!
I will share this link on Twitter as I know that several people I'm connected to there will want to know about this new title.

Jennifer R said...

This was a great post, Natalie! And thanks to Stacey and Kristin for sharing their thoughts. I would like to be entered in both giveaways, and I'm going to go share on Twitter and Facebook right now! :)

Dianne K. Salerni said...

I love this post, and I'm adding it to the "resource links" for the adult class I'm teaching! Please enter me in the giveaway for the book! I'd love to read it!

Unknown said...

Thank you for the interview and insight. Brenda Drake is promoting the book on Twitter today! Congratulations Stacey.

Please count me in for the book and critique.

Manju Howard said...

Thank you for sharing your book and agent advice. I would love to win the query critique. I will Tweet this post.

Sam Taylor said...

This is a great post on how to get the most out of tropes. I love hearing about how to use these literary devices in new ways to bring a unique spin on stories. And I'm really looking forward to Stacey's book. Please count me in for both the book and query giveaway.

Taylor said...

Thank you for the advice about queries and tropes! Super helpful information. I would like to be entered for the query critique, please!

Jeri Baird said...

Great interview! UNDER A PAINTED SKY sounds wonderful, and I enjoyed reading the trends hitting Kristin's inbox. I've been following We Need Diverse Books - it's a great way to raise awareness! I'd love to win the book or query critique - thanks for the opportunity.

Stephanie Garber said...

Great post! Although, I totally think you should write a monks in space book. ;)

Heidi Schlottman said...

What a great interview! Loved the discussion of tropes! I'd love to win the book or query critique. Thank you! :)

DL Hammons said...

Thankfully I don't require query tips any longer...but it was a fascinating interview none-the-less! :)

Stephen Tremp said...

What a timely post as I am starting the querying process. i have a ways to go so this is very helpful and worthy of a Bookmark. Thanks again!

Lee Kelsall said...

Would love the query critique! Much as I would enjoy the book, I'm in Australia, so will have to go 'old-school' and purchase it.
What a find this site is! I have shared the comp to twitter @leehotline and subscribed to the email update... leehotline@hotmail.com. Needless to say, I'm not very tech savvy, as I'm not even certain that I've followed correctly. I need a VERY large button labelled 'press here'!

Unknown said...

The book sounds wonderful, and I'd love to win the query. Also, thanks for bringing awareness of the need for more diversity in children's books.

Michael G-G said...

1) LOVE the cover of Stacey's novel--and the fact that it takes place on the Oregon Trail wins even more cheers from me. (Hi from Oregon!)
2) Would love to win either ARC or query critique. Have thought very highly of Kristin Nelson ever since I saw her at a conference many years ago in, yes, Oregon.
3) Am putting this out on Twitter! https://twitter.com/MGMafioso/status/578224456310468608

S.P. Bowers said...

Great interview. Love the dual pov. Congrats on the book! It sounds like something I would love.

Unknown said...

Wow, such an informative post! Thank you so much for this interview!!! I'd LOVE a query critique for my new novel, which coincidentally deals with racism in America, so how cool that Stacey is a cofounder of We Need Diverse Books! I'd also love a copy of her book. My email is info@jamieayres.com. I'll go give some shout outs on social media about it now.

Krysten Lindsay Hager said...

Great advice here. Would love to be entered for the query critique. Tweeted about it as well. krystenlindsay at gmail dot com

Michael Di Gesu said...

Hi, Natalie,

Thanks for featuring this very informative interview with Stacey and Kristin. So great advice here on Tropes and queries...

I'd love to win a critique from Kristen! Thanks Kristen....

Stacey, ALL THE BEST with Under a Painted Sky... sounds like a really interesting read....

Suzi Guina said...

It's fascinating that queries trend that way. Good luck with UNDER A PAINTED SKY! Thanks for the great post and please put my name in for both drawings: bonecabela(at)yahoo(dot)com

Robin said...

I'm excited for UNDER A PAINTED SKY. Some of my favorite books are ones where girls pretend to be boys, as well. Thanks for giving us more insight into your inbox, Kristen.
Please put me in both drawings, thanks!

Rachna Chhabria said...

Loved this interview with Kristin and Stacey, learnt a lot about tropes and how to make our stories stand out. Would like to be a part of both the giveaways!

Jocelyn Rish said...

I'm glad to hear you're getting some warmer weather up there. I've felt bad for all of y'all buried under so much snow this winter.

"Tropes are the tortilla chips of the banquet, designed to get the guacamole to the mouth faster." Ha! Love this! Such a fun way to think about it.

I was lucky enough to win UNDER A PAINTED SKY in a different contest, so don't enter me in the drawing for the book, but I'd love to be entered in the query critique drawing. Thanks!!

Natasha said...

Great interview!
I would love to be entered to win the book.
Thanks for the chance to win!
natasha_donohoo_8 at hotmail dot com

Cipher said...

Great interview. Thanks for the chance, UNDER A PAINTED SKY sounds great!

Pizzos3.com said...

Very original interview. Oftentimes I feel like an agent reading through my blogroll and finding topical 'tropes' that lack fresh information, but I learned lots of new information here and knowledge is power and hopefully a book sale. Please enter me for the book giveaway and critique.

Unknown said...

Such a great interview! Fantastic information and a great story about her journey to publication. Please enter me for the book giveaway and the critique.

Danielle H. said...

I am putting Under a Painted Sky on my to-read list! Thanks for the interview and giveaway. I tweeted: https://twitter.com/dhammelef/status/580449410661904384

Jays said...

I've been looking forward to reading this book for a while now. It sounds wonderful. Please enter me for the query critique, and thank you!

Unknown said...

Interesting and insightful information! I would love to get a query critique...please enter me in the giveaway! Thank you!

Catherine Friess said...

Thank you for a great giveaway! I would like to be entered to win a query critique.

Anonymous said...

So excited to read Under a Painted Sky! Please enter me for the book giveaway.

Angie said...

Great advice! I would like to be entered for the query critique. Thanks!

Unknown said...

Loved the interview, especially the part about how to make tired tropes fresh. Under the Painted Sky sounds exciting. Please enter me for both the book and the query critique giveaway.

Lauren Hunter said...

I'm so excited to read this one! Please enter me for both the book and the critique giveaway. Thanks Stacey and Kristin! :)

Andrea Carroll said...

How exciting for my students... sounds amazing!!