Upcoming Agent Spotlight Interviews & Guest Posts

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  • 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! I have a treat for you today as we wind down into summer. Debut author Abby Cooper and her agent Rebecca Sherman have a fascinating guest post about Abby's MG magical realism STICKS & STONES.

Follower News

First I have some Follower News to share. Medeia Sharif recently released a new YA book A LOVE
THAT DISTURBS. She is an awesome author who has had a number of books published this year. She is amazingly productive and been able to sell a her books to small publishers. You should really check her out to learn how she's developed her writing career.

Here's a blurb about her new book: Maysa Mazari is alarmed by her mother’s talk about arranged marriage. Haydee Gomez is a former gang member and juvenile detention student. Finding themselves in danger from Maysa’s friends and Haydee’s pimp, it’s apparent their love disturbs everyone around them as they fight to stay together.

Find Medeia – YA and MG Author
Blog   |   Twitter   |   Goodreads   |   Instagram   |   Amazon

Now onto our post today.

Here's a blurb of STICKS & STONES from Goodreads:

Ever since she was a baby, the words people use to describe Elyse have instantly appeared on her arms and legs. At first it was just "cute" and "adorable," but as she's gotten older and kids have gotten meaner, words like "loser" and "pathetic" appear, and those words bubble up and itch. And then there are words like "interesting," which she's not really sure how to feel about. Now, at age twelve, she's starting middle school, and just when her friends who used to accept and protect her are drifting away, she receives an anonymous note saying "I know who you are, and I know what you're dealing with. I want to help." As Elyse works to solve the mystery of who is sending her these notes, she also finds new ways to accept who she is and to become her best self.

Now here's Rebecca and Abby!

Genre & Voice – Making Your Book Your Own

Abby: I am so excited that my first book, STICKS & STONES, releases on July 12th. I still remember back to my querying days and how nervous I was sending it out to agents. One of the toughest parts was deciding if I should call the novel magical realism, light fantasy, contemporary, or contemporary with an element of magic in my query letter. It’s pretty embarrassing to mislabel your own genre, but it can be tough when you’re not exactly sure what to call what you’ve written! Rebecca, when writers have a manuscript that could fit into multiple categories, how do you suggest they describe it to agents?

Rebecca: Abby, I may not have been let in on all that went down during your wild querying days, but I do remember your query. I still have it on file! The subject line read “Query: Sticks and Stones (MG Contemp. w/Magical Realism). I don’t believe there was anywhere that you might have found out about my love of magical realism (from Gabriel Garcia Marquez to A. S. King) ahead of time, or my yen to bring more of it to Middle Grade Fiction (the part of my own list that I would most like to grow), but your query found its way to my inbox still.

But (of course), I didn’t offer to represent because you labeled your work correctly- or in a way that
appealed to me. What if you’d labeled your work only as Contemporary? Or if you had not categorized your book at all? There are several books that don’t fit neatly into a given readership and/or genre, and I am betting there are even more authors that don’t feel comfortable classifying their writing in this way when first approaching an agent. If you are a prospective client wary of mislabeling your work, here’s my advice- don’t label it all! The query should describe your work compellingly and most importantly the writing in your MS itself determines an agent’s interest. There are so many people through the process to and beyond publication that are going to try to fit your work into any given boundary, so why should you, the author? Work with your agent to make decisions on how best to position your text with publishers. Publishers will work to best position your book via sales reps. Ultimately the hope is that it will be prominently featured in bookstores. I haven’t yet seen a bookstore that has a magical realism category let alone a MG Contemporary w/ Magical Realism section. Sticks & Stones will be shelved with other books for its Middle Grade Fiction readership. If a book fits into multiple genres, don’t fret, just describe it as you see it and leave it to others to label it.

Abby, I’m curious, did the fact that Sticks & Stones is magical realism impact your submission to agents/to whom you submitted?

Abby: I think it made querying simultaneously easier and more difficult. It was easier because a lot of agents specify on their websites/wish lists if they’re looking for magical realism. Writing magical realism also gave me a very specific set of comp titles; if an agent mentioned enjoying Savvy, A Tangle of Knots, or When You Reach Me, for example, I knew he or she might enjoy the magical elements of Sticks & Stones. It made querying more difficult because magical realism can be as broad as it is specific (don’t mind me, I’m just going to talk in opposites for this entire paragraph!) There are different styles within the category of magical realism, and many agents prefer magical realism that has a more literary tone. So though the magical realism helped me narrow my search a bit, it also required me to dig deeper. I think it is interesting, though, how I didn’t know about your love of magical realism and still chose to query you! I liked how you mentioned being an editorial agent and I thought that a lot of your favorite books had similarities to the realistic parts of Stones & Stones. When it comes to agents, research is key – but sometimes you also just need to go with your gut.

I love MG magical realism and I want to keep writing it, but say an author wrote an MG magical realism and then followed it with something completely different. Is this a good idea or bad idea and why? How important is it for writers to consistently write within their genre?
Rebecca: As you know (but let me tell the Literary Rambles reader), you are a very prolific writer. I was thrilled to be able to negotiate a two-book deal for your debut Sticks & Stones and a novel to follow, BUBBLES, a middle grade novel about Sophie, who can see people’s actual thoughts in thought bubbles above their heads.  BUBBLES is very much also a MG Contemp. w/Magical Realism. I do think it is ideal for the first books an author publishes to target readers of the same age group and preferred genre. I am far from suggesting that an author write the same book twice. However, writing books that can sit side by side in a bookstore could help to build an audience. Several of my clients write across genres and for different age groups. Most if not all of these clients established themselves first with complimentary titles and then added new readerships. A client should always talk to her agent about ideas, and they should work together to make decisions about what is submitted to publishers and when. 

For those who do not know, Abby, you were a school librarian whose patrons kept asking for books to read after WONDER, so you decided to write one of your own, and that is how Sticks & Stones originated. Wonder is very much contemporary realistic fiction told from multiple points of view, at what point did your manuscript become magical realism and how do you feel magical realism speaks to your (and the Wonder) audience?

Abby: STICKS & STONES actually started as a purely realistic book. It was about a girl who decided that she thought about things too much and challenged herself to be more action-oriented. I wanted her to ultimately realize that she was fine just the way she was, that she should embrace herself instead of trying so hard to change and be the person she thought other people wanted her to be. About halfway through my first draft, though, I got stuck. I tried a number of different techniques to figure out what to do, but none of them worked. I was only able to move forward when I considered my title, which had been my title from the get-go. I repeated the entire “sticks and stones may break my bones…” expression to myself. I had given my book that title because my main character hurt herself emotionally with the names she called herself. That’s when it occurred to me – what if those words actually appeared on her body and literally hurt her, too? The mental image of a girl with words on her arms and legs is one I couldn’t get out of my mind, and one I don’t think readers will be able to shake, either. I’m hoping that this element of magical realism will encourage empathy and self-reflection. As they did with Wonder, I hope that readers will think about how they would handle being in a similar situation to the main character, and have valuable discussions about topics like bullying and self-esteem.
Rebecca, we’ve talked about how the magical realism elements of Sticks & Stones appealed to you. What else stood out to you about the manuscript?
Rebecca: Genre or readership is certainly not the only thing that can link an author’s books or make
that first manuscript stand out to an agent. I represent many illustrators and I want to see a strong aesthetic or style from a potential illustrator client. Whether they are illustrating a walrus or a sunset, I want to be able (and have the reader be able) to tell that the art belongs to that individual illustrator. A portfolio should exhibit range while also demonstrating a singular look.

The same is true of author clients. Here, the “it factor” isn’t called style or aesthetic so often as it is called “voice.” From the first reading of Sticks & Stones it was clear that your manuscript had it. I don’t think that voice is something that an agent or editor can help to give a manuscript (or a writer) that doesn’t have it, but I do think it’s something we can help cultivate once it has already been found. The words that I would call the voice of Sticks & Stones are many- honest and conversational and endearing and well-paced. The book is very inviting for its readership. Thought-provoking and reflective and surprising are some of the words I would use to explain its voice to teachers and librarians. I could give you countless adjectives, but it wouldn’t tell you how the voice of the book is uniquely yours.

Let me give you an example- the introduction to the reader of Liam from Elyse’s p.o.v. “Dumb, beautiful, horrible, amazing Liam. I may have been a little confused about how I felt, but the one thing I knew for sure was that one look into his green-ish brownish eyeballs as he entered the classroom made me completely forget everything. It also made my heart get all lurchy and poundy, which I seriously did not appreciate. Was this feeling really necessary every single time I saw him?...” There is no evidence of magical realism in these lines. There is evidence of voice in spades. Magical realism is not your voice. The situation and emotion conveyed here is not your voice- we’ve all read fiction from a female point of view that details the experience of a crush. Instead, it is the way in which you have shown us what Elyse feels in this moment. Your choice of words- especially lurchy, poundy, and eyeballs- the pacing, the way this moment is about Liam but really about Elyse, even down to your use of italics, all of that and more comes together to create the voice of Sticks & Stones- and that is what had me hooked from the start.

Abby's bio: 
Abby Cooper lives in Minnesota with her miniature poodle, Louis, and a whole bunch of books. A former teacher and school librarian, her favorite things in the world (besides writing) are getting and giving book recommendations and sharing her love of reading with others. In her spare time, she likes eating cupcakes, running along the Mississippi River, and watching a lot of bad reality TV.
Rebecca's bio: 
Rebecca Sherman grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and graduated from Northwestern University with a B.A. in English, transferring there after Freshman year at Indiana University, the alma mater of her entire family before her. After a brief stint writing obituaries for a dotcom and interning for Playbill Magazine, Rebecca took a job as an assistant at Writers House in 2001 and has never left. She is now a Senior Literary Agent at Writers House representing authors and illustrators of picture books, middle grade and YA fiction, and non-fiction. Her client list includes longtime clients: Daniel Salmieri illustrator of the New York Times Bestselling picture book, Dragons Love Tacos, Grace Lin, recipient of the Newbery Honor for Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Melissa Sweet, two-time recipient of a Caldecott Honor, Matt Phelan, recipient of the Scott O’Dell award for The Storm in the Barn, Jarrett J. Krosoczka, the author/illustrator of the Lunch Lady series. She also represent a number of recent debut authors and illustrators including Ruth Chan, Nicholas Gannon, and Abby Cooper. She is a graduate of Northwestern University. More information can be found at www.writershouse.com.

Links for Abby:

Links for Rebecca:

Abby is generously offering one signed copy of STICKS & STONES 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 July 2nd. 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 for U.S. and Canada.

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday was started by Shannon Messenger. You can find the participating blogs on her blog.

Here's what's coming up:

On Monday I have an interview with debut author Aditi Khorana and a giveaway of her YA contemporary science fiction A MIRROR IN THE SKY. 

Then I'll be doing something a little different this summer. I'll announce it next Monday.

Hope to see you on Monday!



Greg Pattridge said...

Super interview. Yes it is tough to categorize some stories into a neat and tidy genre. As long as it is a good story like this one sounds, then I don't care as a reader. Looking forward to what you are doing different???

L. Diane Wolfe said...

When a story has many elements, it's touch to describe it. But the story itself is what really matters.

Tamara Narayan said...

I like this agent's advice on picking a category for your work. The work itself should come first.

S.P. Bowers said...

What an interesting idea for a novel! And great advice about choosing a genre. I always stress about that so much.

S.P. Bowers said...

sarapbowers (at) gmail (dot) com

Karen Lange said...

It's so nice to meet Abby and Rebecca! Enjoyed hearing about the query. Always appreciate tips along those lines, as that part of the process challenges me. :) Wishing you both much success!

Natalie, ever the lovely hostess, thanks for sharing this today. Appreciate your work to bring it to us. I'll pass on the giveaway for now. Have a great week, all!

Michael G-G said...

Sounds like a great one. I really enjoy your agent-and-author posts!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I had no idea the specifics of my genre when I submitted. I didn't even know science fiction broke down into so many.

Bish Denham said...

What an interesting premise! I should think having people's descriptive adjectives bubble up on the skin would be horrifying. MG magical realism is a new genre for me. I think my latest novel would fit into the category. Congratulations, Abby!

Bish Denham said...

What an interesting premise! I should think having people's descriptive adjectives bubble up on the skin would be horrifying. MG magical realism is a new genre for me. I think my latest novel would fit into the category. Congratulations, Abby!

Patchi said...

I love the premise, and that Abby figured out how to get unstuck by switching genres. Thanks for the chance to win.

abnormalalien said...

Thanks for posting this. There's a lot of good info here. I love the story premise; it's a bit similar to a YA novel I've been working on for awhile. In fact, I often really love these stories that make you think about things like how we affect other people.

cleemckenzie said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who can't choose the exact category for some books. Enjoyed reading your interview and finding out about the new books.

Angela Brown said...

Really enjoyed reading the interview and realizing how many difficulties we can have in common even when our journey to publication differs.

Jemi Fraser said...

Knowing the exact spot some books fit in is tough!
The books sound awesome (love the bubbles concept) :)

jpetroroy said...

Loved this interview. Thanks for the honest look at everything. Looking forward to reading this book.

Janet Johnson said...

What a great interview! I loved getting the author and agent side of things! And Abby, you know I love your book! So excited for the world to read it!

Suzanne Warr said...

Ohmygoodness, I love the sound of this book! Such a cool concept to explore in a middle grade, and the road to how it came to be sounds pretty amazing, too!

Great interview to all!

Beth said...

Wow - this sounds like such a powerful book. Congratulations to Abby!
Don't worry about entering me in the draw but good luck to the others.

Debra (Feldman) Getts said...

Thank you for sharing. You have my interest in both novels. I Tweeted about the interview and giveaway.

Danielle H. said...

Thanks for the interview today! These are always informative posts and of course, I love finding out about new books to read. I shared on tumblr.

Rosi said...

Wow! What a terrific interview. Thanks for that and for a chance to win a copy of this book. It sounds amazing.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing my book news. Great interview. I'm always looking for more MG to read.

Carl Scott said...

Cool idea for a physical manifestation of the character's problem and so interesting that it came out of a stumbling block. I'd love to win a copy.
I follow your blog by email: crs(at)codedivasites(dot)com
I also tweeted a link to this post: https://twitter.com/carlrscott/status/745401020050661376

Natasha said...

This one sounds like a great read!!
Thanks for the chance to win!
natasha_donohoo_8 at hotmail dot com

Carol Riggs said...

Congrats to Medeia as well as Abby! (and Rebecca) I enjoyed reading about magical realism, which is a fascinating genre. It seems various people use the term in slightly different ways, like contemporary with a twist of magic, versus containing a magic that is so woven into the story, you can't tell reality from the magic... where the two begin and end. Fascinating, whichever it is. :) I loooove SAVVY by Ingrid Law!

Rachna Chhabria said...

Congrats to Medeia and Abby and Rebecca. People use Magical Realism in different ways. Its always difficult to give it a single slot. Like the cover and the premise of Sticks & Stones.

Crystal Collier said...

Something different over the summer, eh? Now I'm intrigued.

Yay, Medeia! Abby, I love the concept for the story and look forward to it.

DMS said...

So excited for Medeia! I have been seeing her book everywhere!

Sticks and Stones sounds very interesting. I love Wonder- so it is good to know that this is a book that is along the same lines. :) Thanks for sharing and for the giveaway.

Christine Rains said...

Fantastic interview! Congratulations to Medeia and Abby. I love these chats with agents and authors. I learn a lot.

Unknown said...

I really like the premise of Sticks & Stones, and I feel it's so important for pre-teens to realize they shouldn't pay attention to others mean labels for them, especially with the un-pc backlash that's creeping over our country where some people are so intolerant and cruel.

Denise Covey said...

I wish Abby all the best for STICKS & STONES, a very timely topic for a story. Thanks for highlighting Medeia too, Natalie! :-)

Anonymous said...

I've been looking forward to this book for a good long time!