Upcoming Agent Spotlight Interviews & Guest Posts

  • Kelly Dyksterhouse Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 12/12/2022
  • Savannah Brooks Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 12/19/2022

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 Monday Everyone! Today I’m thrilled to have debut author and friend Kristin Bartley Lenz here to share about her YA contemporary THE ART OF HOLDING ON AND LETTING GO that released this month. I’ve known Kristin for years through our Michigan SCBWI, and am so happy to see her debut as an author. Sharing these experiences with friends is one of the reasons I still love blogging so much. And I’m super excited to read Kristin’s book because of the issue of loss and going on that the story explores—something very personal to me. 

I just got to see Kristin yesterday at one of her debut celebrations at Nicola's Books, a local indy bookstore. It was so fun seeing her debut, and all our local SCBWI members and friends who caame to celebrate with her. Here we are together.


Here’s a blurb from Goodreads

Competitive climber Cara Jenkins feels most at home high off the ground, clinging to a rock wall by her fingertips. She’s enjoyed a roaming life with her mountaineering parents, making the natural world her jungle gym, the writings of Annie Dillard and Henry David Thoreau her textbooks. But when tragedy strikes on an Ecuadoran mountaintop, Cara’s nomadic lifestyle comes to an abrupt halt.

Starting over at her grandparents’ home in suburban Detroit, Cara embarks on a year of discovery, uncovering unknown strengths, friendships, and first love. Cara’s journey illustrates the transformative power of nature, love and loss, and discovering that home can be far from where you started.

Hi Kristin! Thanks so much for joining us.

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

Hi Natalie! I’ve been following your blog for so many years, it’s exciting to be here! I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but somewhere in my teen years I lost confidence in my writing and pursed another career instead. My social work career was a detour on my writing path, but it greatly expanded my worldview and shaped my growth as a writer.

  1. I bet your social work experience was super interesting and gave you insight into different types of people. Where did you get the idea for THE ART OF HOLDING ON AND LETTING GO?
My husband and I discovered a new world of outdoor enthusiasm when we moved near the mountains in Georgia and California: hiking, white-water kayaking, climbing. We followed the careers of well-known mountaineers, and one by one, each of those climbers died while attempting epic summits. Most of them had spouses and children. I began to wonder what it would be like to be the child of a professional mountaineer. How would that child’s upbringing be different? And what if both of her parents were extreme mountaineers, not just one? How would this shape her world?

  1. Cool that your husband and you shared this passion. Some of the reviews for your book mention how the readers felt transported to the world of rock climbing in your story. I know you love mountains. But did you draw on your experience or research in getting the details so right? Do you have any tips for other writers?

My own rock-climbing experience definitely helped me, but I also needed to do a lot of research, especially since part of the book is set in Ecuador. I recently wrote a guest post with research tips based on my experience writing this novel.

  1. One of the things that appeals to me about your story is how it focuses on Cara’s transformation and character journey after her tragedy. Were there any surprises for you in her growth as a character?

Not necessarily surprises, but her character gradually grew over time with more and more layers being added. While coping with loss and a major move across country, Cara is discovering herself and developing as a young woman – her body is changing and she has a new awareness of femininity and sexuality.

  1. Layers are so important to a well-developed character. What was the biggest challenge you faced in writing or editing your story? How did you overcome it?

My biggest challenge was trying to balance all of the various and often conflicting feedback I received from agents, editors, and other writers. At one point, I tried to listen to all of it, work all of it into my revisions, and I got lost in my story. I had to set the manuscript aside, and then follow my gut when I returned to revise much later. If I had listened to all of those voices, this manuscript would still be stuck in my computer. It was so rewarding to finally find an editor who shared my vision!

  1. Oh, I can so relate to that frustrating challenge, and I'm sure others can too. You sold your book through winning a contest—the Helen Sheehan YA Book Prize. Share how that came about, why you decided to enter the contest, and tips for others considering contests. 
To be honest, it was an impulsive decision. I saw the announcement right before the deadline, and I
recognized Elephant Rock Books because the last YA novel they published went on to win a Printz Honor, and I loved the story. Carnival at Bray was a literary, realistic coming of age novel with depth and heart, and I thought my book might be a good fit for this publishing house too.
Contests are a great way to receive validation for your work, publishing credits, and visibility to agents and editors, but research is very important to avoid scams. There are reputable organizations that have contests, such as SCBWI and RWA, or publications such as Hunger Mountain. Elephant Rock Books will be looking for their next Sheehan YA Book Prize winner in 2017.

  1. What an awesome publishing story. You also won the YA manuscript competition at the Midwest SCBWI conference this spring. How awesome! How is that helping you with your writing and your plans as a debut author?

Winning the manuscript competition was helpful because it got my new novel in front of a New York editor. I never anticipated publishing with a small press, but I’ve had such a great experience with ERB. I’d do it all over again if I could, but they only publish YA novels through their Sheehan contest. So that means I need to go back on submission for my new novel.

  1. Even more amazing! You're inspiring us all. Your agent is Carrie Pestritto. How did she become your agent?

Actually, this is another example of winning a contest and the generosity of the Kidlit community. Many bloggers host pitch contests as a way to give back or pay it forward, and my agent Carrie Pestritto from Prospect Agency (http://www.prospectagency.com/) was accepting pitches on Monica Bustamante Wagner’s Love YA blog (http://monibw.blogspot.com/). *waves to Monica who has a new NA novel, Frosh, out now!* Carrie selected my pitch for a different YA novel, asked me to revise, and then offered representation. That novel hasn’t sold, and it’s another example of trying to balance everyone’s revision suggestions. I had to set it aside for awhile, and I pulled out The Art of Holding On and Letting Go which had been resting. And ta-da, that’s the manuscript that finally sold first.

  1. Wow! Your experience is such a great example of how contests can help. How are you juggling marketing your book as a debut author with your job as a social worker, being a wife and a mom, and running The Mitten, Michigan’s SCBWI blog? Has this affected your marketing decisions? How?

I’ve definitely had a few freak-out moments! So many wonderful opportunities have been offered to me, but much of it is out of my comfort zone. It’s exciting, but stressful at the same time. I’m learning as I go and leaning on the support and wealth of knowledge from author friends.

I’m no longer working as a clinical social worker; instead I’ve been able to blend my writing and social work careers by writing for non-profit organizations in Detroit. This is flexible, contractual work, and I’m fortunate to have writing time while my daughter is at school. Managing SCBWI-MI’s blog takes time every week, but nothing like the amount of work you do for Literary Rambles on top of your lawyer career. I admire you, Natalie! I have lots of help from my co-editors and guest contributors, and it’s inspiring to be in the midst of the writing/illustrating community and share their successes.

10. I love what you do at The Mitten. I've moved into contract writing too, and I love it. What are you working on now? 

I hope to be revising my new YA novel with an editor soon. It’s a much darker contemporary that deals with human trafficking. While it’s on submission, I need to start something fresh!

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Kristin! You can find Kristin at

 Kristin and her publisher have generously offered a book giveaway of THE ART OF HOLDING ON AND LETTING GO. 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 October 8th If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter the 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. You must be 13 years old or older to enter. This in for U.S.

Here's what's coming up:

Next Monday Natalie Lorenzi will be doing a guest post with a giveaway of her MG historical A LONG PITCH HOME.

The Monday after that follower and debut author Sheri Larson will be here with a guest post and a giveaway of her MG fantasy MOTLEY EDUCATION. 

The following Monday debut author  Ellie Swartz will be here for an interview and giveaway of her MG contemporary FINDING PERFECT.

Hope to see you on Monday!


Happy Monday Everyone! Today I’m excited to have debut author Jennifer Bardsley here to talk about her YA speculative fiction book GENESIS GIRL that released in June. It sounds like a really thought provoking story about our addiction to the technical world.

Here’s a blurb from Goodreads:

Eighteen-year-old Blanca has lived a sheltered life. Her entire childhood has been spent at Tabula Rasa School where she’s been protected from the Internet.

Blanca has never been online and doesn’t even know how to text. Her lack of a virtual footprint makes her extremely valuable, and upon graduation, Blanca and those like her are sold to the highest bidders.

Blanca is purchased by Cal McNeal, who uses her to achieve personal gain. But the McNeals are soon horrified by just how obedient and non-defiant Blanca is. All those mind-numbing years locked away from society have made her mind almost impenetrable.

By the time Blanca is ready to think for herself, she is trapped. Her only chance of escape is to go online.

Hi Jennifer! Thanks so much for joining us.

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

Jennifer: I’ve always told stories to myself before I fall asleep—which is probably why I suffer from insomnia. About ten years ago I finally wrote one of them down in a serious way. No agent wanted to represent me because that first manuscript was horrible, but several years later I wrote another book and that attracted the interest of my agent, Liza Fleissig. She helped sell Genesis Girl to Georgia McBride Media Group as a two-book deal.

2. Awesome how you stuck with it. Where did you get the idea for GENESIS GIRL?

Jennifer: Prepare to be disgusted. Genesis Girl was inspired by opera’s dirty secret. In the 1700s there were parents who would castrate their young sons in the hopes they would become famous singing superstars called castrati. Opera fans adored castrati because they could hit the highest notes.
In the futurist world of Genesis Girl, parents castrate the digital identities of their children in the hopes they will become famous members of the Vestal order. Vestals like my main character Blanca, never go online and don’t even know who to text. They are blank slates, and their digital purity makes them valuable.

3. What a story! What tips do you have for other writers wanting to write speculative fiction?

Jennifer: There’s a big debate happening right now in the YA world and it’s whether or not YA Sci-Fi books can sell. Hopefully Zenith by Lindsay Cummings and Sasha Alsberg has proved once and for all that yes, there is a market for YA Sci-Fi. But speculative fiction also includes everything from YA Fantasy to YA Paranormal. Basically, anything that isn’t Real with a capital R. My tip for writers wanting to write speculative fiction, would to follow your heart and see where your imagination takes you.

4. Share a bit about Blanca as a character and what surprised you about her character


Jennifer: When people ask me to describe my main character from Genesis Girl I tell them that
Blanca is like a Sci-Fi Amish girl, No, she’s not actually Amish, but she does shun all forms of modern technology such as texting and the Internet. She won’t even let her picture be taken because she’s afraid it will be posted online. Blanca is a Vestal, and she and the rest of her Brethren are an elite community that hides from the outside world. They wear white as a symbol of their purity.
The clash between Blanca’s strict upbringing and her entry into the real world was fun to write about, but it was also a struggle. I had to think of all the ways Vestals would protect themselves from accidentally having their pictures taken. I also had to deal with a character who only wore white. One of my beta-readers kept pointing out to me “Strawberries? Shrimp? Wouldn’t that be messy?”
I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but the way Blanca’s characters develops from a sheltered teenager who believes what her teachers tell her to believe, into a young adult who can think for herself, was my favorite part of writing the book.

5. That's such an interesting world. I read that your manuscript went through 22 revisions before you submitted it to your agent.What did you learn from the revision process?

Jennifer: I learned that I revise differently on the computer versus reading on my Kindle, or holding printed out copies in my hand. Each format helps me think about improving my words in new ways. I killed a lot of trees printing out hard copies, but I also utilized technology. Sending drafts as word documents to my Kindle was convenient because it meant I could edit five minutes here, five minutes there while I was waiting to pick up my kids from school.

6. Yes, many authors say looking at the printed version is different. Your agent is Liza Fleissig. How did she become your agent and what was your road topublication like?

Jennifer: When I began writing in earnest I joined The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. They provided me with what’s called “The Book,” a gigantic resource of agents, publishers, and other paths to publication. As soon as my young adult manuscript was complete, I queried agents I discovered via SCBWI. Liza Flessig of the Liza Royce Agency was willing to take a chance on me. She brokered a two-book deal for “Genesis Girl” with my publisher. Signing the contract was just the beginning. It took another two and a half years to see my book in print.

7. You’ve written several articles giving advice on creating a Facebook author page. Share some

of your tips on creating a good Facebook author page and using it to promote your book.

Jennifer: The way Facebook works is that the more likes, comments and shares a post gathers, the more people see it. The algorithm rewards popular posts, and punishes things the community finds boring. The trick is to post something really exciting that everybody loves.

Using my own page The YA Gal as an example, with 20,000 followers sometimes I get 1,000 people viewing a post, sometimes 40,000, depending upon the engagement. Early, immediate engagement seems to make a difference, so I keep track of popular days and times for my audience. Sometimes I schedule posts in advance if I know I’m going to be busy. I use an app called Trackgram to make memes I think my audience might find share-worthy, and also post YA-related questions to spark discussions.

8. Wow! I didn't know any of that. Thanks. Since your book released several months ago, you’ve had some time to see what worked welland what didn’t work so effectively in marketing your book. Share some of your marketingexperiences and what you have learned from them.

Jennifer: I wish I knew with 100% certainty what worked well and what didn’t but I have no idea. My publisher did a blog tour through Chapter by Chapter, and I did a boosktagram and booktube tour with Grace from LovingDemBooks. But what exactly boosted sales (or did not boost sales) is still a mystery.

I will share my pet-peeve though. If you look up the #GenesisGirl hashtag on Instagram you’ll find pictures of my book from all over the world. You’ll also find pictures of cars posted by proud Hyundai Genesis owners. It’s really annoying! Every time I see a car picture pop up in the #GenesisGirl feed I want to tear off my shirt and turn green.

9. I know the Chapter and Chapter blog and like it. What are you working on now?

Jennifer: Damaged Goods, the sequel to Genesis Girl, is with my publisher right now. I can’t wait for readers to find out what happens to Blanca next!

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Jennifer. Ways you can find Jennifer:

Jennifer generously offered a paperback of GENESIS GIRL to one 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 October 1st If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter the 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. You must be 13 years old or older to enter. This in an international giveaway wherever the Book Depository ships for free.

Here's what's coming up:

Next Monday I have a special treat. Our follower and my friend Kristin Lenz is debuting as a YA author. I'll be interviewing her with a giveaway of her YA contemporary THE ART OF HOLDING ON AND LETTING GO.

The following Monday Natalie Lorenzi will be doing a guest post with a giveaway of her MG historical A LONG PITCH HOME.

The Monday after that follower and debut author Sheri Larson will be here with a guest post and a giveaway of her MG fantasy MOTLEY EDUCATION. 

The following Monday debut author  Ellie Swartz will be here for an interview and giveaway of her MG contemporary FINDING PERFECT.

Hope to see you on Monday!


Today I’m thrilled to have agent Catherine Cho here. She is a literary agent at Curtis Brown Group in London and is looking for authors from the US and UK.

FYI, I’m taking over the agent spotlights from Casey. I will be providing all the same information we’ve shared in the past in an interview format. In addition, one lucky person will win a query critique from the agent being interviewed.

Status: Updated 5/12/2021, Ms. Cho started her own agency, Paper Literary. She represents debut fiction and nonfiction authors.

Hi­ Catherine! Thanks so much for joining us.

About Catherine:

1. Tell us how you became an agent, how long you’ve been one, and what you’ve been doing as an agent.

I came to agenting in a roundabout way. I’d gone to law school and worked in corporate law before realizing it wasn’t right for me. I’d lived in Hong Kong for several years and then decided to come back to the U.S. and worked for a lobbying firm in Washington D.C. I loved the process of lobbying for clients, but I felt disillusioned about the work, and I realized that I wanted to lobby for something that I believed in, and something that actually improve the world.

I met with a bunch of editors in New York, and someone suggested that I try to get into agenting. I worked for Folio Literary Management in New York and had some great mentors there. I was building my own list, and I’d just sold a project before I met my husband, who was based in the UK. I was lucky enough to land at Curtis Brown, and I’ve been here for over a year now. I’m building a list in literary and commercial fiction and non-fiction titles.

About the Agency:

2. Share a bit about your agency and what it offers to its authors.

Curtis Brown is the largest agency in Europe, and it’s been a leading literary agency for over 100 years. We represent authors including John le Carré, Margaret Atwood, David Mitchell, David Nicholls and Jojo Moyes. We also have a leading book to film department, TV and film department, and translation rights department. 

What She’s Looking For:

2. What age groups do you represent—picture books, MG, and/or YA? What genres do you represent and what are you looking for in submissions for these genres?

I’m looking primarily for adult fiction and non-fiction. I’m looking for literary fiction and reading group fiction – I also enjoy science fiction and stories with speculative elements. I’m also interested in lifestyle non-fiction, in New York, I worked a lot with social media figures and lifestyle bloggers. I am interested in YA, but mostly cross-over YA titles.

I really look for compelling stories. Of course, the quality of the writing is the most important thing, but I’m looking for stories that make an impact. I love stories that are haunting and emotional. Also, because I grew up in Kentucky, I find that I’m really drawn to the Southern style of writers – atmospheric, vivid writing.

Writers that I really admire include Kazuo Ishiguro, Margaret Atwood, Karen Russell, David Mitchell, Elizabeth Strout, David Nicholls, Ann Patchett and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

3.  Is there anything you would be especially excited to seeing in the genres you are interested in?

I would love to see a story with magical realism or a speculative edge (like Margaret Atwood or Isabel Allende). I’m also really drawn to ghost stories or time travel – I really just want to be transported. In terms of science fiction and fantasy, which I do enjoy, I would love to find someone like Robin Hobb or Stephen King.

What She Isn’t Looking For:

4. What types of submissions are you not interested in?

I’m not the right agent for middle grade or children’s fiction. I’m also not the right agent for dark comedies.

Agent Philosophy:

5. What is your philosophy as an agent both in terms of the authors you want to work with and the books you want to represent?

My philosophy is that I want to work with authors and books that I believe in – books that I’d read myself. I think stories are powerful things, and so I want to work with writers who are passionate about what they write. Writers who write without cynicism, and who write because they have to write.

Editorial Agent:

6. Are you an editorial agent? If so, what is your process like when you’re working with your authors before submitting to editors?

Yes, I’d consider myself an editorial agent. Publishers are increasingly expecting work to be polished and complete. I give my feedback and read through several drafts from writers.

Query Methods and Submission Guidelines: (Always verify before submitting)

7. How should authors query you and what do you want to see with the query letter?

Authors should email their queries to me at catherine.cho@curtisbrown.co.uk with a cover letter and synopsis with the first 10,000 words of their work. A query letter should be concise and carefully written – I should be able to understand immediately what the book is about.

8.  Do you have any specific dislikes in query letters or the first pages submitted to you?

Typos and misspellings are a bad sign in a query letter or first pages. I am also wary of query letters that go in depth about a writer’s personal life (unless it’s very relevant to the book).

Response Time:

9. What’s your response time to queries and requests for more pages of a manuscript?

I try my best to respond within a month (this is the same for manuscript requests, I will usually read and respond within a month.)

Self-Published and Small Press Authors:

10.  Are you open to representing authors who have self-published or been published by smaller presses? What advice do you have for them if they want to try to find an agent to represent them?

Yes, definitely – I think agents are increasingly realizing that there are so many platforms for writers, and so if a writer wants to make the jump to finding an agent, I think success with self-publishing works in their favour. (If a book hasn’t done particularly well in self-publishing, it may be something to leave off the query letter and bring up in conversation.)

11. With all the changes in publishing—self-publishing, hybrid authors, more small publishers—do you see the role of agents changing at all? Why?

The role of agents is definitely changing – writers are able to reach their audiences directly, and agents are very much aware of this. Agents are developing into talent managers – it’s not just about selling books to publishers, but it’s about finding opportunities for writers to exploit their rights.


12. Who are some of the authors you represent?

I represent Patrick Edwards, a very talented literary science-fiction writer. I also represent Julia May in the UK, a historical fiction writer from Australia. In non-fiction, I’m working on several non-fiction projects including an academic who studies hair, a nature writer and several lifestyle bloggers.

Interviews and Guest Posts:

13. Please share the links to any interviews and guest posts you think would be helpful to writers interested in querying you.

Links and Contact Info:

14. Please share how writers should contact you to submit a query and your links on the Web.

A link to my website: www.litseeker.com

Additional Advice:

15. Is there any other advice you’d like to share with aspiring authors that we haven’t covered?

My main advice would be to remember that the most important thing to keep writing. Write every day and read as much as you can. Writing is the most important thing.

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Catherine!

­Catherine is generously offering a query critique to one lucky winner. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower (just click the follower button if you're not a follower) and leave a comment through 10/1/16. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter either contest. If you do not want to enter the contest, that's okay. Just let me know 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. You must be 13 years old or older. This is an international giveaway.

Profile Details:
Last Updated: 5/12/2021.
Agent Contacted for Review? No.
Last Reviewed By Agent? N/A.

Have any experience with this agent? See something that needs updating? Please leave a comment or e-mail me at natalieiaguirre7@gmail.com
Note: These agent profiles and interviews presently focus on agents who accept children's fiction. Please take the time to verify anything you might use here before querying an agent. The information found here is subject to change.


Happy Monday Everyone! I've got a treat for you today. Debut author Traci Chee is here with her agent Barbara Poelle with a guest post and special giveaway to celebrate the release of Traci's debut YA fantasy THE READER. It sounds like a fantastic combination of a fantasy and mystery.

Here's a blurb from Goodreads:

Sefia knows what it means to survive. After her father is brutally murdered, she flees into the wilderness with her aunt Nin, who teaches her to hunt, track, and steal. But when Nin is kidnapped, leaving Sefia completely alone, none of her survival skills can help her discover where Nin’s been taken, or if she’s even alive. The only clue to both her aunt’s disappearance and her father’s murder is the odd rectangular object her father left behind, an object she comes to realize is a book—a marvelous item unheard of in her otherwise illiterate society. With the help of this book, and the aid of a mysterious stranger with dark secrets of his own, Sefia sets out to rescue her aunt and find out what really happened the day her father was killed—and punish the people responsible.

Now here's Traci and Barbara!

with Traci Chee and Barbara Poelle

CHEE: Beginnings are one of those things that I constantly struggle with. Where do I start? How much is too much exposition? How do I get the reader invested in a character they just met? Can I sneakily include this prologue or do I have to cut it?

But beginnings are of utmost importance--to readers, to editors, and to agents! So let’s talk writing strategies for those first pages and get some super-secret insider perspective from agent/warrior Barbara Poelle!

With The Reader, I went through about 5-10 different beginnings before I finally landed on the version that Barbara and I signed with (and that ended up in the final book). Some beginnings started too early. One started too late! Others dragged on for chapters before I realized I had to quicken the pace. B, what kept you turning the pages when you were reading my manuscript?

POELLE: Ohhhh man. It was like…like… an endless bag of salt water taffy: each page, sometimes each WORD, was so satisfying and SUCH a delight to unwrap, the prose so lush and yet so accessible, it was a joy and a privilege to read. I am super jealous of folks who get to read it for the first time.

CHEE: Aw shucks. Thank you! Prose is one of those things I work on incessantly--trying to hone in
on the right image, the right phrase, the right word to elicit just the right emotion or action or nuance. Is that always what you notice first, or is there something else that jumps out at you?

POELLE: Voice! I want to feel invested in the voice. This doesn’t just mean a connection to a first person narrator but the overall narrative construct no matter the execution. In THE READER, for example, there are several “voices” within the pages but the overall architecture of the read is so unique while still being accessible within the tapestry of the plot.

CHEE: Ahh, that makes so much sense! For me, prose--diction, syntax, figurative language, where to break a sentence or a paragraph, all these things--are all part of voice. In some respects, I think voice is dictated by character--what a character notices, how they talk about things, places their mind goes as they move through their world. So in The Reader, which is told through limited third-person perspective, there’s one narrator, but the one narrator kind of hovers over the shoulders of eight different point-of-view characters, and each of them has a slightly different way of engaging with the world. Some characters, for example, use more clipped, fragmented sentences. Others have a bit of a drawl even in their descriptions. Still others tend toward fanciful figurative language.

All these pieces are intricately connected, I think--prose and voice and character. Tell us, what makes you want to follow a character into their story?

POELLE: That perfect marriage of the layers of accessibility and uniqueness. I can follow and connect with a stubborn minotaur as a protagonist as equally as I can a young girl in modern day Tehran if I can not only already see myself in them but also expand my journey of self at the same time. And let’s not misunderstand: accessible doesn’t necessarily mean “likable” but always needs to mean “relatable”. A conflicted and dangerous character is just as viable a touchstone in a great story as long as they are authentically crafted in their motivations for action.

CHEE: That’s a great distinction. I try to give each character (and especially point-of-view characters) a sort of charisma, something that’s really compelling about them. With regards to first pages, I think that means we need to hook readers with our characters as soon as possible. For example, in The Reader, we have Sefia’s aunt Nin, who’s got 5-10 pages to be engaging and memorable before she’s kidnapped. To that end, I gave her what my always-brilliant editor calls “salient traits”--character details that are strong enough to be recalled pages, even chapters, later. Nin has the quick hands of a thief and a bear skin cloak that makes her look like a “hill of dirt: dry, brown, ready to crumble in the humidity of the rain forest.” She’s a gruff and begrudging guardian, but a guardian nonetheless--her last words to Sefia are a warning, and the last thing we see her do before she’s abducted is protect Sefia from being discovered.

To use another example, in The Hunger Games, we have Prim, the main character’s younger sister, who we see for about 7-10 pages before, again, she’s whisked out of the narrative for the rest of the book. Unlike Nin, she has a number of endearing qualities--she’s kind to stray animals, she leaves that beautiful wrapped cheese for her sister, she’s like a “little duck” with the back of her shirt continually coming untucked (lovely detail)--and she leaves such a strong impression on the narrative that her presence can be felt many chapters later.

While we’re on the topic of characters, are there any characterization faux pas that will absolutely kill a manuscript for you?

POELLE: If I come across an inauthentic character- ESPECIALLY a character of diversity that is clearly there as a construct just to BE diverse-  I will not pick the manuscript back up. I also get very eye-rolly when an adult writer uses slang and or pop culture references from when THEY were a teen, thinking it still stands up. Like, no one today is going to talk about how “rad” something is (although now I think we should bring “rad” back. Who is with me?)

CHEE: I so feel you on the problems with token diverse characters and inaccurate/harmful representation. I think when it comes to beginnings, we’ve got such limited time, we absolutely cannot rely on tropes, stereotypes, and shortcuts. It’s a huge task to make characters unique and compelling and well-rounded all at once, so we’ve got to be very careful and very precise in what details we choose as well as what the characters do and say and think.

So far we’ve got prose, voice, and character. What else factors into your reading of a manuscript’s first pages?

POELLE: Micro-tensions within the plot. Of course, a surprising and unique plot can make for a real page turner, but the real craftsmanship comes within the micro-tensions created between the larger plot points. I want to feel like I am reading with a brain full of pop rocks- little bursts of surprise and intrigue peppered throughout the journey. (What IS it with me and the candy today?)

CHEE: I think one of your other authors, Renée Ahdieh, does this amazingly well! I actually studied her first book, The Wrath and the Dawn, while I was revising The Reader, because she’ll introduce a conflict, deepen it, then close it up again while simultaneously introducing a new, more complex conflict. Every time one question is answered, we find another question underneath it!

POELLE: Aw! Yay! Renée is so gifted at unspooling conflict and tension, right? And you now bring up the writer’s greatest tool: reading! Read all the time, across many genres, find what works for you and WHY it worked and then weave the technique into your own work.

CHEE: Yes! One of my other go-to resources for micro-tension is Writing 21st Century Fiction by Donald Maass, which has some great exercises for developing conflict on the level of story, scene, and sentence. That’s where I turn whenever I’m missing that pop rock feeling. Any last suggestions for all the writers out there?

POELLE: I know the writing can be a solo journey,  but craft can’t exist in a vacuum. Get in a class, even an online one, where you are sharing your work with others. Find a critique partner, get a group of first readers you can count on to be honest with you about what is and isn’t working. Enter first page contests and participate in things like Pitch Wars and Query Shark. Challenge yourself to marry any natural talent with the actual blueprints of great writing by reading things like BIRD BY BIRD by Anne Lamott and ON WRITING by Stephen King. Keep working on the craft, technique and detail of the written word as well as the creative artistry of the story!

CHEE: I love this advice so much, and it’s just how I approach my own writing too. I try to learn something from every book I write and every book I read. In between drafts, I write short stories inspired by my favorite writers. I take classes. I read books on craft. I feel like there’s always a way to improve, and I’m continually seeking out ways to challenge myself.

Poelle: And it SHOWS!  I cannot wait for THE READER to become everybody's go to for a fabulous novel but also an exploration and expansion of craft. But, let me just tell you all, make sure to tie your shoes tightly as this book is gonna knock your socks off!!!

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Traci and Barbara! You can find Traci at:

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Find Traci at her website, on Twitter, and on Facebook.

You can find Barbara at: 

Barbara Poelle and Traci Chee have generously offered a three chapter critique by Barbara and a giveaway of THE READER by Traci. 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 September 24th. If you do not want to be included in the three chapter critique giveaway, please let me know in the comments. 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. You must be 13 years old or older to enter. The three chapter critique is international and the book giveaway is U.S.

Here's what's coming up:

On Wednesday I have an agent spotlight interview with Catherine Cho and a query critique. 

Next Monday I have an interview with debut author Jennifer Bardsley and a giveaway of her YA speculative fiction GENESIS GIRL

The Monday after that I have a special treat. Our follower and my friend Kristin Lenz is debuting as a YA author. I'll be interviewing her with a giveaway of her YA contemporary THE ART OF HOLDING ON AND LETTING GO.

Hope to see you on Wednesday!