Upcoming Agent Spotlight Interviews & Guest Posts

  • Agent/Author Jennifer Unter and Melissa Dassori Guest Post & Query Critique & JR Silver Writes Her World Giveaway on 7/11/2022
  • Jazmia Young Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 7/13/2022
  • Alex Slater Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 7/20/2022

Agent Spotlight & Agent Spotlight Updates

  • All Agent Spotlights & Interviews have been updated as of 7/15/2020, and many have been reviewed by the agents. Look for them to be fully updated in 2023.


Happy Wednesday Everyone! Before I get to our post I want to give you the heads up that I will be on blog break until July 4th when I'm participating in the I Couldn't Put It Down Book Giveaway Hop. I will be visiting your blogs, but just not blogging until then and during other times this summer. The blog gets slow while people enjoy summer, and I need to use the time to plan the interview and guest post schedule for next year, which takes many hours to do. I'll let you know of other blog breaks as they get closer.

Today I'm thrilled to have follower and friend Jessica Lawson here to share with her awesome agent Tina Wexler from ICM Partners about getting the voice right in middle grade stories. And it's so exciting to have Jessica back to share about her new MG mystery NOOKS & CRANNIES, which sounds like a wonderful story full of twists that you won't see coming.

Here's a blurb from Goodreads:

Tabitha Crum is a girl with a big imagination and a love for mystery novels, though her parents think her only talent is being a nuisance. She doesn't have a friend in the world, except her pet mouse, Pemberley, with whom she shares her dingy attic bedroom.

Then, on the heels of a rather devastating announcement made by her mother and father, Tabitha receives a mysterious invitation to the country estate of the wealthy but reclusive Countess of Windermere, whose mansion is rumored to be haunted. There, she finds herself among five other children, none of them sure why they've been summoned. But soon, a very big secret will be revealed— a secret that will change their lives forever and put Tabitha’s investigative skills to the test.

Here's Tina and Jessica!

Hi Natalie—thank you so much for having us on Literary Rambles today!

“Voice” is one of those things that comes up often when literary agents describe what they’re looking for in a manuscript submission, but it’s also one of the most difficult pieces of the writing-craft puzzle to get concrete advice about. My brilliant literary agent, Tina Wexler, is an expert on middle grade fiction and she’s been kind enough to answer a few questions about the nature of voice in middle grade literature. Get out your notebooks, because she’s got some fabulous advice! 


1. What appealed to you about the voice of Nooks & Crannies?

All of it! Everything! Every word! There are the chapter openers---excerpts from a Sherlock Holmes-esque detective series---which are deliciously droll and good-naturedly authoritative and quite crafty in how they hint at the action to come. Then there is the story itself, narrated in a similar arch tone of voice with a detective’s eye for detail and mischief. The voice also holds a good deal of compassion for the medley of characters---not all of whom are strong of character or reputable in spirit---who get pulled into this wild mystery. And at the center is our dear protagonist: clever, kind, affection-starved Tabitha Crum, whose voice rings clear and true throughout the book, despite the troubles she must endure.

2. Can you tell within a page or two whether or not a manuscript submission is written well for a middle grade target audience?

Yes, that’s usually all it takes. Middle grade kids are undergoing major cognitive, physical, and emotional
changes: an expanding world view; a growing ability to express more complex opinions and ideas; a preoccupation with fairness; growth spurts and the incumbent coordination issues; an ever-increasing desire for independence and a shifting focus on peers over parents paired with an uneasiness about gaining that independence and concern for how they are perceived by their peers (to name a few developmental milestones). It is quite easy to tell whether or not an author is able to capture this tumultuous time period with a voice that speaks to these young readers with respect for what they are going through ---the laughs, the heartache, the accomplishments.

3. Middle grade characters will always vary in background and personality, and plots will vary widely as well, but what are two or three constants that you find in novels with great MG voice? 

A great middle grade voice, like all great voices, is distinct. Take NOOKS & CRANNIES and THE ACTUAL & TRUTHFUL ADVENTURES OF BECKY THATCHER. These two middle grade novels have the same author (a very talented one, I might add), but I can read a page from one and know it is not from the other based on the voice alone. Distinct, consistent, and well-matched to the material: those are the three things I’m looking for in a great MG voice.

3. What are one or two red flags you’ve seen in middle grade submissions that indicate the writer may need to work to develop a stronger MG voice?

Much of the time, it’s a strong narrative voice that makes me turn pages; if the pages are turning slowly, the voice isn’t carrying me along. On the flip side, I may race through pages because there’s a great talky narrator leading me forward, but if the plot isn’t progressing, I’ll tire of the verbal gymnastics. It’s a delicate balance, and striking that balance is no easy task.

4. Do themes that may match up well with the middle grade years (finding a sense of “home,” finding out that adults aren’t always right, finding/embracing friendship) play into a manuscript’s voice?

I’ve never thought about it that way, but yes, I think they do. The voice has to be able to capture the highs and lows, the uncertainty and absurdity and splendor, of those years in a way that feels authentic. The voice shouldn’t be condescending or worse, nostalgic, otherwise the exploration of those themes won’t ring true.

5. What differences do you see in the voice of middle grade submissions that are 1st person narration vs. a more omniscient/3rd person narration style? Do certain genres of middle grade lend themselves to certain voice approaches?

The story dictates the best narrative approach, regardless of genre. I could try to come up with rules based on the contents of my bookshelves and query pile (“Third person is the purview of fantasy; all contemporary realism should be written in first”) but I can’t think of a single “rule” that I really believe in. Likewise, I don’t favor one point of view over another. Some people find third person too distancing; others think first person is a cheat. I don’t agree with either camp, and my reading life is richer for it.


Please name three novels that stand out to you in terms of having a “middle grade voice.” (your own clients) 

Only three? The agony! I’ll pick titles that are coming out this year, in hardcover or paperback, so this doesn’t take me forever to decide (or make anyone feel left out!) Obviously NOOKS & CRANNIES is top of the list, but that’s a given, right? I’ll say:

BRIDGET WILDER: Spy-In-Training by Jonathan Bernstein

TEDDY MARS: Almost a World Record Breaker by Molly Burnham

THE REAL BOY by Anne Ursu

Please name three novels that stand out to you in terms of having a “middle grade voice.” (non clients) 

I thought this question would be easier, since I wasn’t being asked to pick from my clients, but I’m having just as much trouble. I’ll choose from the titles I’ve read recently:


RAIN REIGN by Ann M. Martin

GONE CRAZY IN ALABAMA by Rita Williams-Garcia

Thank you so much for having me!

Tina Wexler is an agent at ICM Partners, focused on middle grade and young adult fiction and non-fiction. She is particularly interested in modern folklore, non-linear storytelling, magical realism, humor, weepies, and most anything with a feminist slant. Current titles include Teddy Mars, Almost a World Record Breaker by Molly Burnham, Nightbird by Alice Hoffman, The Cost of All Things by Maggie Lehrman, and Bone Gap by Laura Ruby. She holds an MFA in poetry from Brooklyn College. Her Twitter handle is @Tina_Wexler. 

Jessica Lawson does not live in a fancy manor house, but she does deal with mysteries on a daily basis. Most of those mysteries involve missing socks and shadowy dessert disappearances. She is the author of The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher and Nooks & Crannies, and lives in Colorado with her husband and children.
Website: http://jessicalawsonbooks.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/JS_Lawson
Blog: http://fallingleaflets.blogspot.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jessica-Lawson-Childrens-Author/149125145284531

Thanks so much for your advice, Tina and Jessica!

Tina has generously offered a query critique and Jessica has generously offered a copy of NOOKS & CRANNIES for a giveaway. To enter, you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment through July 4th. I may be on blog break, but I will notify the winners. If you are interested in the query critique, please let me know in the comments. You must let me know this to enter. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter either contest.

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 is an International giveaway.

Here's what's coming up:

I'll be on a blog break until Saturday, July 4th when I'm participating in the I Just Couldn't Put It Down Blog Hop. I'll have lots of great new YA books to choose from or an Amazon Giftcard if you prefer that.
On Monday, 7/13 I have a guest post by Julia Durango and a giveaway of THE LEVELLER, her new YA science fiction book.

Hope to see you on Monday!


  1. I like this description of the challenge. "I may race through pages because there’s a great talky narrator leading me forward, but if the plot isn’t progressing, I’ll tire of the verbal gymnastics." Thanks for the post! (I re-tweeted it and shared it on Facebook in a secret group for writers.)

  2. Forgot to say I'm interested in the query critique. Thanks!

  3. I can't want to get started on this reading list. Thanks.

  4. Very timely post for me as I am querying a MG novel, so yes I am interested in the critique. Thanks for the reading suggestions-I am always working on that elusive voice! And to help my fellow writers, I tweeted about the giveaway.

  5. I just won a copy of this book, and I'm stoked to get reading it. I just have to find enough brainpower around the new baby. =)

  6. I enjoyed the Q&A on this post. I am interested in the critique giveaway!

  7. Fabulous interview. I'd love to enter for the book and critique!
    jpetroroy at gmail dot com

  8. I love middle grade mysteries and wool keep an eye out for NOOKS & CRANNIES. I'd love to be entered for the query crit.

  9. I love this premise! Lovely interview, ladies :)

  10. MG is a chaotic time in life. Great advice!

  11. Great interview ladies. Sounds like an interesting book for sure - can't wait to read it. I am very interested in the query critique.

  12. Very helpful interview! Love the premise, adding to my TBR either way (but I'm still crossing my fingers for a copy). I'm interested in the query critique too.

  13. Lately I've been trying to read more MG novels, so I'll definitely add Nooks & Crannies to my reading list. And I really enjoyed the discussion on voice. There are so many wonderful MG novels with great narrators, I would be almost too afraid to write one. And I especially enjoyed the details listed, like how kids are preoccupied with fairness and things like that. If I ever do write an MG novel, I'll definitely refer to this post again.

    I tweeted about the giveaway (@adelethelaptop), and I would love to be entered into the query critique giveaway :) Thanks for the giveaway!

  14. What an informative and fun interview! Thank you so much. Voice is the hardest thing for me, as a writer, to learn.

    I'm dying to read this book, so I'd like to enter the giveaway. If I don't win, I'm definitely going to buy a copy.

    1. Oh, and I tweeted: https://twitter.com/JoanneRFritz/status/611346562158100481

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  16. Great interview! Voice is definitely what draws me in and keeps reading. Middle grade voice is especially hard to get right.
    Can't wait to read Jessica's newest book!

  17. Great interview! I am sharing this post on the Eastern PA SCBWI Blog, Eastern Penn Points, as well as on my own social media. I just finished reading BONE GAP, which Tina Wexler worked on with Laura Ruby, and I was stuck in the wonderful-terrible dilemma of wanting desperately to know what happened and wanting just as desperately to stay in Bone Gap! I would love a query critique with Tina. Thank you for sharing! ~Lindsay Bandy LKBandy84@yahoo.com

  18. A well written book is always well read. A wonderful interview thank you.


  19. The books I read in Middle Grade are still the books I remember the best. Its an important time in kids lives. I would love a query critique!

  20. I just also posted about the contest to my Facebook page, so please add that extra entry for me. Thank you, again.

  21. (My first comment didn't go through.) This interview provides one of the most substantive, concise and detailed responses to the question "what is middle grade?"

    Please enter me for the query critique. debragetts@gmail.com. Thank you.

  22. MG kids know a good voice when they read one. Very often MG books speak with a voice that sounds like an adult. It's why I hear from parents..."I loved that MG book but my child couldn't get into it." Anyway great interview and I'm all in on these two contests. Have a great break!

  23. I really appreciated Ms. Wexler's description of what Middle Grade readers are going through. Great things to keep in mind. And I've now got a fabulous summer reading list! Please add me to the contest:-)

  24. MG detective stories are so much fun. I still remember the books I read as a boy. I'm not a writer so I can't really use a critique but I'd love to win a copy of the book. Thanks for the chance.

  25. I loved this interview. I'm still curious how "good" voice changes from younger to older MG and young to older YA. I'd also be interested in that MG to YA gap, but perhaps no worries there as titles don't seem to be coming out for that age group.

    Please do sign me up for the query critique and the Nooks and Crannies give away. It looks like a winner.

  26. Thank you for a great interview. As a middle grade writer, it was wonderful to read such a clear description of middle grade and the middle grade voice. As a middle grade writer, I live in the world of "verbal gymnastics". Always trying to find the perfect balance.

    I am a blog subscriber and would like to be in the query critique and contest.

  27. I tweeeted, too. https://twitter.com/JennsScribbles/status/611545972443738112

  28. Nooks & Crannies sounds like a fun read. I enjoyed the interview and I'd love to get a critique! Happy summer, everyone!

  29. Love the cover of Nooks & Crannies and would love to read it. I don't need a critique at the moment.

  30. I've always thought middle grade would be the hardest to write. Nailing that voice takes skill. Put me in the contest for the query critique! sarapbowers(at)gmail(dot)com

  31. Thanks for the interview--I love hearing about what catches an editor's or agent's eye. Please enter me for the book only. I tweeted: https://twitter.com/dhammelef/status/611604304718225408

  32. Terrific interview - thank you! Voice is so tough to nail; advice is always gratefully received.
    I'd love a query critique: heathermcappsauthor(at)gmail(dot)com
    I tweeted it too: https://twitter.com/HeatherMC66/status/611615601174425601

  33. Thanks for the great article. I tweeted this too.
    I am interested in the query critique or the book! Thanks.

  34. Wonderful article full of great advice; shared it on Twitter. Can't wait to read Nooks & Crannies and would love a critique with Tina.

  35. Great interview! I added Nooks and Crannies to my to-read list. Please enter me in the critique giveaway with Tina. Thanks!

    I also tweeted https://twitter.com/J_Rumberger/status/611894308858408960
    and will share on Facebook.

  36. Thank you for the insightful take on "voice." I appreciate the specific examples and plan to add these to my TBR list so I can study voice. It's something I appreciate as a reader but I'm still working on as a writer.

  37. Lovely interview! I enjoyed learning more about Middle Grade works. The cover for Nooks & Crannies makes the book look fun and exciting.

  38. Great interview and I would love the query critique! libwriter (at) gmail (dot) com

  39. Great interview. I would love to win the book.

  40. I've been hearing a lot about this book and really want to read it soon. Thanks for an interesting interview.

  41. Great interview & would love to be entered into the critique giveaway krystenlindsay AT gmail DOT com

    Tweeted the giveaway

  42. I loved the questions you asked. Great interview. Yes, I'm interested in the query critique. Thanks!

  43. Great MG advice! Please enter me for the book! Thanks!

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  47. I am a fan of Jessica Lawson's books. I enjoyed this interview very much.

  48. Tweeted this! Thanks so much for the helpful interview. Can't wait to read the suggested books. I'm querying my upper middle grade novel and interested in any resources. I'm also interested in the query critique. Thank you!

  49. I loved this book and I loved this interview. Jessica Lawson and Tina Wexler? What a scoop!

  50. It really is all about the voice!

  51. It's great to meet Tina and Jessica. Appreciate the intro, Natalie. I found the "red flag" info interesting. Good to know!

    Will pass on the giveaway this time around. Enjoy your break!

  52. Congratulations to Jessica! I loved her first book and can't wait to read this one too. And I'd love to win the query critique!

  53. I love the sound of Nooks and Crannies. Nice to meet Tina and Jessie. I had queried Tina (she was on my Agent Wishlist).

  54. Nooks and Crannies is on order at my local library, and I'll be the first to read it (I hope). Many thanks for the excellent interview with Tina Wexler; I would love to win a critique from her.

  55. I love, love, love the cover of Nooks and Crannies. I can't wait to read it. It sounds so good. I enjoyed the interview- so many interesting tidbits!

    Enjoy your break- I am on one too- but still popping by blogs a bit here and there. So much to do! Have a great week!

  56. Fabulous post and great advice on MG voice from Tina Wexler! Definitely interested in the query critique and a copy of Nooks & Crannies (great job, Jessica!) I tweeted and blogged about this post :)

  57. Fabulous post and great advice on MG voice from Tina Wexler! Definitely interested in the query critique and a copy of Nooks & Crannies (great job, Jessica!) I tweeted and blogged about this post :)

  58. Excellent info! And yes, please enter me into the contest. :)

  59. The voice in my head is stuck in the middle grades! Please enter me in the contests. Thanks!

  60. Casey,
    Thank you for your interview with Tina Wexler. I was most encouraged by her comment, "I can’t think of a single 'rule' that I really believe in. Likewise, I don’t favor one point of view over another. Some people find third person too distancing; others think first person is a cheat. I don’t agree with either camp, and my reading life is richer for it."
    Please enter me in the query critique contest. I have Twittered about it and I'm also following you on Twitter. Thank you.
    Bob Miller
    wrm12 at att dot net