Upcoming Agent Spotlight Interviews & Guest Posts

  • Bethany Weaver Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 6/26/2024
  • 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 Wednesday Everyone! Today I'm thrilled to have author Donna Gallanti here with a guest post  on getting past the agent gatekeeper. She was an intern at Jennifer De Chiatra Literary Agency so has excellent advice on this. And she's giving away a copy of her MG fantasy, JOSHUA AND THE LIGHTNING ROAD. Details of the giveaway will be at the end of the post. I love fantasies and this one sounds fantastic.

Here's a blurb from Goodreads:

Stay away from the window, don’t go outside when it’s storming and whatever you do, do not touch the orb.

Twelve-year-old Joshua Cooper’s grandpa has always warned him about the dangers of lightning. But Joshua never put much stock in his grandpa’s rumblings as anything more than the ravings of an old man with a vast imagination. Then one night, when Joshua and his best friend are home alone during a frightful storm, Joshua learns his grandpa was right. A bolt of lightning strikes his house and whisks away his best friend—possibly forever.

To get him back, Joshua must travel the Lightning Road to a dark place that steals children for energy. But getting back home and saving his friend won’t be easy, as Joshua must face the terrifying Child Collector and fend off ferocious and unnatural beasts intent on destroying him.

In this world, Joshua possesses powers he never knew he had, and soon, Joshua’s mission becomes more than a search for his friend. He means to send all the stolen children home—and doing so becomes the battle of his life.


Based on personal experience as a first-reader intern for the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency, I’m sharing what can get your manuscript past the gatekeeper (the intern!) and in the hands of the agent.

Was it a good story? Did it hold my attention? What are the most common stop-reading mistakes I experienced as a first-reader that led me to recommend the manuscript to an agent – or pass?

Here’s eight problems that could be plaguing your manuscript and keeping you from getting an agent.


My First Reader Notes:
“The writer began with wonderful descriptive details drawing on all five senses and then she just stopped – and I stopped reading. She stopped grounding us in the story.”

Is there is a richness missing in your manuscript?
Answer questions like these:
Where are we? Another planet? Another town? A different world? Are these worlds like ours, but different? How? What are the differences? Lack of sun? Is the air the same? Different?

We need to ground the reader in the story, otherwise they are lost. Where are your characters in the

Are they outside? “The earth was all gravel beneath my feet.”
Are they in a tunnel? “The stale air threatened to choke me.”

Through dialogue you can show time and distance.
“Tom’s house was just two miles away…takes a day’s walk to get there…I hadn’t been back since last summer.”

• Write out a timeline of story.
• Draw a map of your setting/world/town. (see mine here)
• Show us the world through the character’s eyes.



My First Reader Notes:
“The writer needs to vary sentence type. The manuscript is filled with chunks of short sentences and long sentences.”

Is your prose “jabby?” Do you notice that you have too many punchy sentences in a row? Look to intermix with longer sentences to give the reader a chance to breathe.

Is your manuscript bogged down with adverbs? Could dialogue or action could be used instead of multiple adverbs? Does your writing feel cumbersome with lots of –ing words?

• Look to remove unnecessary internal dialogue that slows the pace down.
• Make a list of repetitive words then go back and search and replace.
• Do not report on every physical response. This can weigh the story down. Trust the reader to fill in the blanks with their own imagination.
• Use one word that has the most meaning instead of several to describe something.
• Do a global search for adverbs and point-of-view filter words (realized, noticed, saw, etc.)


My First Reader Notes:
“The writer tells more than she shows, especially with emotion. For much of the book we continually
read that Jill’s heart or chest is bursting, it’s heavy, it’s light, sobs are being torn from it, it’s pumping, guilt nibbled at her heart, it’s hammering, it’s aching, it’s thumping or she can’t breathe. There’s too much reliance on histrionics.”

Go thru your manuscript to see where to break up long sections of dialogue that contain little setting, action, or reactions. We can’t create an emotional connection through a telling narrative. We need interactive dialogue with reactions to want to care about the characters and the story. We need to convey true emotion in a unique way


My First Reader Notes:
“The story wanders for four chapters until we get to the inciting incident that launches us into the story and sets the main character on his journey.”

TIP: Thrust us right into the story and reveal the main character’s desires and motivations right up front. The reader will catch up later.

When it comes to repetitiveness, say it once in the right place. Say it twice or three times and the reader feels stupid. It can reveal an emerging writer not confident in their writing.

Start with an info dump? Move it. Cut it up. Blend in later. Ask yourself, what is the incident that starts the character on his journey? YOU know it all – but the reader doesn’t need to know it all. Be selective in what you reveal and when you reveal it.


Do you have “You See Bob” moments in your story where you feel the need to stop and explain? Well…don’t.

My First Reader Notes:
“We are constantly taken out of the story as the author stops to narrate about Sally: Sally was five ten. She had deep green eyes and blonde hair that was thick and mid-shoulder length. She played flute in the orchestra and three days a week worked at the hospital gift shop…etc. etc. etc.”

• Rewrite this section in the character’s voice to see how much stronger this scene can be told, or show us the main character from another character’s point of view.
• Incorporating dialogue and body language can provide another character’s point of view without breaking away from the voice the scene is written in.


My First Reader Notes:
“The dialogue feels flat and not necessary to move the story forward or reveal something about the characters. Instead, it’s used as backstory and false world building facilitators, telling readers what the author wants them to know through long passages.”

How to beef up your dialogue?
• Check for blocks of dialogue and cut up.
• Incorporate dialogue in creative ways such as through journal entries, character quizzing, or action scenes.

Are you writing in the first person? It’s hard to avoid using “I this” or “I that” in first-person narrative but you must find alternate sentence structures to reduce those “I” sentences. It will bring your readers closer to your character.

AN EXAMPLE from edits with my middle grade book Joshua and the Lightning Road:
Before: “I searched for Charlie in the dark but I couldn’t make out the heads on other bunks.”
After: “In the dark it was hard to make out the heads on the other bunks. Where was Charlie?”

Try this throughout the novel. Your readers will thank you for it.

Too many exclamations in your dialogue? A character that is always hollering is not a fully dimensional character. How else can you write that sentence/scene to convey urgency? You don’t want your main character to be remembered as one who yells a lot.


Is your story more than a good idea? It must be a great story that is executed on.

TIP: Outline the purpose of each scene/chapter and connect it to the story arc and character arc to strengthen the story and move it along. Everything your characters do must have purpose and consequences.
Write out:
Outer turning point: in each scene which things change that everyone can understand.
Inner turning point: in each scene which the point-of-view character also changes as a result.

Do your characters have a special condition? Are they a burn victim, blind, or an amputee? If so this must play a role in the story. Don’t offer it to us as a promise to be part of the story and not deliver on it.


Could your action be bogged down?

My First Reader Notes:
“In action scenes I was slowed down by long, descriptive sentences such as ‘I slipped over the excessively waxed floors as my toes took on the wrinkled texture of raisins; squishing together like slimy slices of sautéed mushrooms.’ Descriptive sentences like these forced me to pause during chase scenes to create this complex visual before moving on.”

Can there be too much action in your story?
Is your story too active, too reactive, and over-dense with words, concepts and emotions? This makes for a frantic tale. It comes at you from every angle and is exhausting. The desire should be to invite readers to turn the pages, not run for cover.

Deciding HOW and WHEN to reveal information is crucial. Decide on your method used to make a big reveal to increase pacing and tension. HINT: Don’t bury it in the middle of a paragraph!

• Move story along by cutting out extra, unnecessary details in action moments.
• Don’t have your character waffle back and forth! Chart their growth as they grow in the story.
• Incorporate the setting to add a richer layer to the story instead of using biological emotion. Take a break from the action, let it explode all around, then let it settle and give your character time to digest and reflect on all that has happened. They need to breathe (and so does the reader).
• Weave in only the necessary information throughout the story to keep the reader’s interest, keep tension high, keep the reader wondering, and keep it dramatic – no matter the genre.

If you revise your manuscript with these issues in mind, you could strengthen your story with enough power to get it past that agent gatekeeper. As a first-reader intern I recognized many of the same issues in my own work and this helped me improve my own story, leading to an agent and a two-book deal.

Literary agents are overwhelmed with submissions from writers of all levels and their time is limited – allowing them to be choosier than ever with the titles they represent. Help them choose yours!

**GIVEAWAY** Donna is offering one copy of her debut middle grade fantasy novel Joshua and the Lightning Road to a random commenter. E-book or print. U.S. only.

About Donna:
Donna Galanti attended an English school housed in a magical castle, where her wild imagination was held back only by her itchy uniform (bowler hat and tie included!). There she fell in love with the worlds of C.S. Lewis and Roald Dahl, and wrote her first fantasy about Dodo birds, wizards, and a flying ship. She’s lived in other exotic locations, including Hawaii where she served as a U.S. Navy photographer. She now lives with her family and two crazy cats in an old farmhouse, and dreams of returning one day to a castle. Donna is the author of the Joshua and The Lightning Road series (Month9Books) and blogs at Project Mayhem. Visit her at www.donnagalanti.com or on Amazon.

Praise for Joshua and The Lightning Road:
"Vividly imagined characters in a gripping action fantasy that never lets you go until the very last page." —Jenny Nimmo, New York Times bestselling author of the Charlie Bone series

Joshua and the Lightning Road is available for pre-order now from these book sellers:
Amazon: http://amzn.to/1Iu6ETw
Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/1DBVtc9

Donna has generously offered a e-book or print  copy of JOSHUA AND THE LIGHTNING ROAD for a giveaway. 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 May 16th. I’ll announce the winner on May 18th. 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. This giveaway is for US only.

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday was started by Shannon Messenger. Find all the other middle grade bloggers on her blog.

Here's what's coming up:

Next Monday I have an interview with debut author Jenny Martin and a giveaway of her YA science fiction TRACKED.

Next Wednesday I have a guest post by debut author Sharon Huss Roat and a giveaway of her YA contemporary, BETWEEN THE NOTES. 

The following Monday I have a guest post by debut author Holly Bodger and her agent, Lauren MacLeod, with a query critique giveaway and a giveaway of 5 to 1, Holly's futuristic, multicultural story.

Hope to see you on Monday!


DonnaGalanti said...

Natalie and Casey, thanks so much for having me on today! I learned so much in deconstructing manuscripts for the agency and it really helped me see issues in my own work. Highly recommend interning in this way to improve your craft as a writer!

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Donna, this is WONDERFUL ADVICE! And -- like many of the posts I read hear at Literary Rambles -- it's getting bookmarked for use in some of the community ed classes I teach on getting published.

Blogoratti said...

What wonderful tips, many thanks for sharing that!

DonnaGalanti said...

Dianne, thanks so much for using as a resource! It was learned in the trenches. :)

Danielle H. said...

Wow! thanks for taking the time to write down your advice--very thorough and helpful. I can't wait to read your book and see how you incorporated these strong writing skills. Thanks for the giveaway! I tweeted: https://twitter.com/dhammelef/status/595947019631349760

Vanessa Morgan said...

It's always good to see these little reminders. By the way, Donna's book looks really cute.

DonnaGalanti said...

Vanessa, no matter how much I learn I find I can still learn more and still need those reminders of what I have added to my writer's toolbox. Thanks for the kind words about my book!

DonnaGalanti said...

Thanks Danielle. I hope I took my own advice! LOL. So much comes together in writing a story. I am in the thick of that now with revisions for book 2 that are due back to my editor soon.

cleemckenzie said...

I've read and reviewed Donna's book, so I'm on record as having loved it. Great kid read. Well, great read because I lapped it up and I'm no kid.

cleemckenzie said...

I've read and reviewed Donna's book, so I'm on record as having loved it. Great kid read. Well, great read because I lapped it up and I'm no kid.

Donna K. Weaver said...

What a fun sounding story. Too bad it's not an audiobook. Great advice too.

Cherie Reich said...

Congrats, Donna! And what great tips!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

That's a great check list for writers.I can see too much action being positively exhausting.

DonnaGalanti said...

Lee, thanks for stopping by and for reading Joshua and the Lightning Road! So glad you enjoyed. And I so enjoyed your book. The Great Timelock Disaster!

Liz Brooks said...

Wow, it's nice to see through the eyes of a first reader. This list is really amazing--I will definitely reference it each time I edit. Thanks so much for sharing. And JOSHUA AND THE LIGHTNING ROAD looks really interesting. (Also, I tweeted about the giveaway @adelethelaptop.)

Jenni said...

Really great tips! I'm bookmarking this, so I can refer to it later when I'm doing final edits. Thank you so much! And congrats, Donna, on Joshua and the Lightning Road! It sounds fantastic!

DonnaGalanti said...

Thanks Liz! As writers, I think we all have to learn these sorts of mistakes - sometimes painfully. Often we think our manuscript is ready to submit to an agent...when it really isn't. But we don't know that yet. I submitted to 189 agents before I got mine...and thought it was ready several times. After many agents had the full MS and gave me great feedback and I did extensive revisions 3x, I was finally there. But it took a couple of years! So while it's painful to go through the rejection process, the good side is that if we keep learning and improving it will be worth it someday and we will be better writers for it! Which is great because once we get book deals and deadlines we have to know how to write a solid good first draft and revise - FAST. (ahem, like I just did!)

Michael G-G said...

Fantastic tutorial by Donna. She's magic!

M Pax said...

A great check list for every writer to keep on his/her desk.

DonnaGalanti said...

Aww, thanks Michael! You've got the magic touch too and so awesome to be part of Project Mayhem with you and all the folks!

Michael Di Gesu said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael Di Gesu said...

Hi,Natalie, Hi, Donna...

These are some really GOOD TIPS! I always knew the problem were interns. I get the agent is busy, but why trust an intern. You may be missing out on something extraordinary... As we all know TASTES are subjective. I know if I was an agent, I would never use an intern to read my queries.....

Your books sounds amazing, Donna... All the best!

Thanks for featuring Donna today, Natalie!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Donna, that is a very concise list of things writers need to watch for in their manuscripts. I used real places in my books, so I relied on Google maps for placement and distances. It really helped.

Unknown said...

Wow, Donna has the whole list of "don'ts" for writers! My pet peeve is "So you see, Bob..." Great tips! Wishing Donna and Joshua much success! :)

Kristin Lenz said...

Thanks for the great tips, Donna, and congrats on your novel!

dolorah said...

Thanks for the insightful info Donna (nice to meet you). I don't have time to read it all, but i book marked it for later reference. Skimming through, its good info I need to be aware of.

Gwen Gardner said...

Thanks for the awesome tips, Donna. Your book sounds wonderful. Congratulations!

Hi Natalie! *waves*

Jocelyn Rish said...

Whoa, so many great tips here. I need to bookmark it so I can refer to it when I'm revising. Thank you for sharing these!

DonnaGalanti said...

Hey Michael, I can understand your frustration but interns have a partnership with the agents and are handpicked carefully based on relationships, experiences, and professionalism. I work for an Ad Agency and we rely on interns as well to vette many projects.

Many agents ask for 5-20 pages with a query so they have a good understanding when they request a MS and hand off to an intern. And the intern IS just a first reader who can recommend that the agent read the work and the work is ready or not - and how the writer can improve the MS to re-submit. So overall it is a positive experience and the interns are experienced readers/writers. So have faith that your MS is in the right hands! I do agree it IS subjective but we writers as interns WANT folks to succeed - we know that their life blood is in our hands and we take it VERY seriously because most of us are in the same position with querying! So, in a way we are our biggest champions!

DonnaGalanti said...

Lexa, thanks - yeah, the "You see, Bob.." moments call to me in my own work on those first drafts sometimes! I laugh, call myself out and delete-delete-delete. :)

Ann Finkelstein said...

Great post. Thanks.

Tyrean Martinson said...

Wow! Thanks for sharing all these tips and the fresh honesty. :)

Rachna Chhabria said...

Donna this is super advice. I need to check my manuscript for most of these faults and work on them.

Unknown said...

Thank you so much for the tips! Too many times authors pretend to give you advice but they actually don't say anything useful! :)
I follow as eleonorerigby24(at)yahoo(dot)it

DonnaGalanti said...

Absolutely Tyrean! I love the sharing camaraderie amongst writers. We can all learn from each other - and must do so to achieve success. I've learned that we can write alone but we can't get published alone.

Greg Pattridge said...

Excellent tips. Made me go scrambling back to my manuscripts. As for Donna's new book, I'll have a review of JOSHUA AND THE LIGHTNING ROAD on my blog next Monday. Thanks for the great post.

DonnaGalanti said...

Greg, thanks for reading and reviewing! I am looking forward to your thoughts :) And best of luck with revision (it's my favorite part!)

Amy Makechnie said...

Congrats on your book deal - the book sounds fantastic and I'd love to read it. Wonderful advice you've given; I'm definitely bookmarking to reread as I revise and revise and revise...!

Rosi said...

This book looks like a lot of fun. I think my grandson would love it. What a wonderful, rich post. I am going to print this one out and keep it. I especially like the reminder, "Trust the reader to fill in the blanks with their own imagination." That's not only good for checking narrative flow, but so many places in a manuscript. Thanks for this post!

Margo Berendsen said...

I loved that example where she showed how to remove the use of "I" in her first person perspective. Her example also gave her character more voice. Going to go back through my MS and implement this one!

Empty Nest Insider said...

I really need to work on "showing" more than "telling." This was chock full of wonderful tips. I'll have to use this as a reference again and again. Your book sounds like a great read! Thanks Donna and Natalie!


DonnaGalanti said...

Oh boy, Margo, I wasn't aware of this technique beforehand and had to go through my entire manuscript to revamp it. It was painful and time consuming but made my story so much better. You can bet I am super aware of it now when I draft new work!

DonnaGalanti said...

Thanks Julie! I think we can all work on more showing, but yet there are times when telling is perfectly fine - and much much shorter. (and sometimes that is needed)

DMS said...

We recently reviewed Joshua and the Lightning Road on our blog and we are so excited for Donna! What a fabulous book!

This was such an interesting post. I loved reading the feedback Donna got early on and her advice about how to work on those areas. I continue to work on show don't tell. :)


Yanting Gueh said...

Excellent tips here!

DonnaGalanti said...

Jess, thanks for popping in! You and Stephanie are such great champions of authors! Everyone go check out their amazing fun blog right now and their book coming out this year: http://thesecretdmsfilesoffairdaymorrow.blogspot.com/

Michele Manning said...

Can't wait to read it! And thanks for the solid advice. Very helpful and informative

Anonymous said...

Fantastic tips. I appreciate the list--thank you for sharing them and holding a giveaway.

Meredith said...

Great advice for writers! The book sounds like like a fun read too.

meredithfl at gmail dot com

Unknown said...

Thanks for the amazing tips!

I follow on Bloglovin, im josy15love.
email: josy15love(at)gmail(dot)com
i shared this on twitter:

Anonymous said...

I so appreciate these tips even if they make me a little terrified.

Marlene Detierro said...

This was an action-packed adventure mixed with futuristic creatures and ancients myths. You can't beat that for an exciting combination.

View this site for Allied Locksmiths