CURRENT GIVEAWAY CONTESTS

Here are my current Giveaway Contests

Quressa Robinson Query Critique through November 11th
DARK MIGHTY THINGS through November 25th
Gratitude Giveaway Hop through November 30th

Upcoming Agent Spotlights and Query Critique Giveaways

Elizabeth Bewley Agent Spotlight Interview on 1/10/18
Molly O'Neill Agent Spotlight Interview on 1/22/18

STEPHANIE GARBER GUEST POST

Happy Monday Everyone! Today I'm excited to have debut author Stephanie Garber here to share about her YA fantasy CARAVAL. It sounds like a totally riveting story with great characters and world building.

Here's a blurb from Goodreads:

Whatever you've heard about Caraval, it doesn't compare to the reality. It's more than just a game or a performance. It's the closest you'll ever find to magic in this world . . .

Welcome, welcome to Caraval―Stephanie Garber’s sweeping tale of two sisters who escape their ruthless father when they enter the dangerous intrigue of a legendary game.

Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval, the far-away, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But she nevertheless becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with the other players in the game. And whether Caraval is real or not, she must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over, a dangerous domino effect of consequences is set off, and her sister disappears forever.

Now here's Stephanie!

How I Signed With My Agent: Third Time Isn’t Always the Charm

When I first queried, finding an agent seemed as impossible as catching a unicorn. I queried about 100 agents, ended up with zero requests, and cried countless tears. Thankfully, I knew my writing could be better. So I tried again.

The second book I queried garnered around twelve requests. After not having received any interest in the first book, I thought this was it! I believed I’d get an agent and a book deal for sure.

Instead I received detailed rejections, along with an offer to revise and resubmit. I was tempted to
take this R&R offer, but the amount of work it would require was almost equivalent to writing a new book. So, after much deliberation, I decided to write a new novel.

When I queried this third manuscript my request ratio was fifty percent. I thought this surely had to be it! Sadly, every agent who requested quickly passed. Something was still wrong.

Then a writing contest called Pitch Wars happened. I was chosen by a mentor; she helped me see exactly what was wrong with my work, and finally I signed with an agent.

But, while my writing had finally gained the attention of an agent, my story still wasn’t strong enough for a publisher. After that I spent a year doing everything I could to improve my craft. I read every book, attended conferences and book signings, and when I wrote I poured all I had into every sentence.

On the last day of December 2014 I finished writing my sixth book, Caraval (for those of you keeping track, I wrote two books which I didn’t query). Then, a week after pouring everything into this draft of Caraval, my agent informed me she was leaving the business.

It was a crushing time. I’m pretty sure most people thought I was delusional, because I kept writing books no one in publishing wanted to read. But I was determined to give querying one final shot. Only this time, my mentality was that I didn’t just want an agent, I wanted to query a book that was good enough to sell to an editor. So, I rewrote my query about 100 times (yes, really, I did), I had multiple people critique my manuscript, and I sent my first fifty pages to a freelance editor, just to make sure I was doing everything I could.

My request ratio was over fifty percent this time. But although people were requesting no one seemed to be reading. I won’t share how long I waited—I think it feels like forever, no matter how long the wait. Then, after an imaginary eternity, an email asking for a phone call came. An agent had read my book, loved it and wanted to represent it. I was thrilled, so I could hardly believe it when a second agent offered, followed by a third, a fourth, a fifth, a sixth, a seventh, and an eighth.

My current agent, Jenny Bent, was among the agents who offered. I’d heard her speak at an SCBWI conference years before. At the time she was way out of my league; she was the unicorn I never thought I could catch. But I now believe catching unicorns isn’t as impossible as I’d once thought, it just requires a great deal more work than I realized.

When I was querying, I was a faithful reader of Literary Rambles. So I imagine a lot of you might currently be in those same query trenches. Since I spent a lot of time there, I’ve been trying to think of the best advice I can give.

When I wrote my first five books I just wanted to be published. I wrote them fast as I could, revised them as fast as I could, and I queried them with the same intensity. But when it came to book six, rather than trying to write as quickly as possible, I tried to write the best I could, and then I tried to do better than that. I had a freelance editor look over my first fifty pages, I signed up for SCBWI critiques, I shared my query with my all my friends and listened to their advice. And when I revised with my agent, rather than just trying to do what she said, I tried to take everything she said a little further. I read books on craft every day and pushed myself to do more than I felt I was capable of.

So my advice is, don’t worry about how long things are taking or try to rush your writing. Instead, do the best you can, and then push yourself to do a little better than that. When I’m not writing I teach creative writing, and I can tell the difference between the students who just do their homework, and those who put a little more into it. More often than not that little extra polish makes all the difference.

I’m rooting for all you! Thanks so much for having me here on Literary Rambles.

Thanks for sharing your advice, Stephanie! You can find Stephanie at www.stephaniegarberauthor.com/
www.caravalbook.com

Here's what's coming up:

Wednesday March 1st I have an IWSG post and an interview with Caroline Starr Rose and a giveaway of her new MG historical adventure JASPER AND THE RIDDLE OF RILEY'S MINE

Monday March 6th I have a guest post by debut author Michael Miller and a giveaway of his YA science fiction SHADOW RUN

Monday March 13th I have an interview with debut author and follower Rosalyn Eves and a giveaway of her YA historical fantasy Rose Blood Rebellion

Tuesday March 14th I'm participating in the Lucky Leprechaun Giveaway Hop

Monday March 20th I have a guest post by debut author Alyson Gerber and her agent Kate McKean with a giveaway of her MG contemporary BRACED and a query critique giveaway by Kate McKean

Wednesday March 22nd I have an agent spotlight with Kristy Hunter and a query critique giveaway

Hope to see you on Wednesday!


AGENT SPOTLIGHT INTERVIEW WITH LINDA CAMACHO AND QUERY CRITIQUE GIVEAWAY

Today I’m thrilled to have agent Linda Camacho here. She is a literary agent at Prospect Agency.

Update as of 11/12/2017 When I interviewed Linda on 2/22/2017, she was at Prospect Agency. She is now at Gallt & Zacker Literary Agency. Please check the agency website for her current submission guidelines. The general information regarding what she is looking for, not looking for, etc. is unchanged.

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 commenter will win a query critique from the agent being interviewed.

Status: Open to submissions.

Hi¬ Linda! Thanks so much for joining us.

About Linda:

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

My path was kind of backwards. I graduated from Cornell in 2005 and was very lucky to land my first job at Penguin pretty quickly. I worked in reprints, where I learned a lot about the importance of backlist. After a year, I left so I could apply for law school. I took the LSATs and got my letters of recommendation, but I couldn’t bring myself to actually apply. I missed publishing, so I figured it would be so easy to get back into publishing. Oh, how young I was!

I had to do several unpaid internships to get back in. I wanted to get into an editorial role, but I wound up doing everything from foreign rights to production to editorial to marketing at Dorchester Publishing, Simon and Schuster, Random House, and Writers House literary agency. Luckily, Random House took pity on me and hired me on full-time in their children's marketing department. I worked there for five years and while I was there, I got my MFA in children's writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. After that, I eventually made the move to Prospect Agency, where I’m now building my list.

About the Agency:

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

Emily Sylvan Kim is the owner who, after working at Writers House literary agency, hung up her own shingle in 2007. Her mission was to provide top-notch representation and a warm community for authors and illustrators, and she’s certainly done that. Prospect is a boutique agency of six women who really do embody Emily’s mission statement of creating a supportive community. We not only advocate strongly for their clients, but do so in a positive way.

When my Random House colleagues learned I was going to be an agent at Prospect, they only had wonderful things to say about the agents. And that says a lot—not only are they successful, but the agents are actually a pleasure to work with.

What She’s Looking For:

3. 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 seeking middle grade, young adult, and adult fiction across all genres (particularly upmarket and women’s fiction/romance); also seeking select picture book and graphic novel writer-illustrators. Diversity of all types welcome!

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

I’d like to see high concept YA, like maybe a western (pretty please!) or a fantasy (preferably set in a non-European world). And I’m dying for more adult romance, particularly contemporary (would love one with a plus-size protagonist). Frankly, I’d love to see a plus-size protagonist in anything, especially a high concept story (i.e., Sarai Walker’s Dietland).

What She Isn’t Looking For:

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

I’m not looking for early readers, chapter books, poetry, novellas/short stories, or screenplays.

Agent Philosophy:

6. 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?

The agent-author relationship is one based on trust. We’re in it together, so for the both of us to succeed in the world of publishing, we both need to work together and weather the ups and down together. If we don’t have that foundation of mutual respect, it won’t work.

Editorial Agent:

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

I’m definitely an editorial agent. My level of editorial feedback varies from client to client, as some need more guidance than others and for them, it can take longer to get to the submission stage. I might make occasionally comments on a line editing level, but that’s not my main goal. I’m more of a big picture editor, dispensing character and overall structural suggestions to make a manuscript stronger.

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

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

I accept submissions through Prospect Agency’s online form. In query letters, I want to see a strong hook and description of the plot, which identifies the character, conflict, and what’s at stake. It’s all about making me care about the story.

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

I’m not too keen on when a writer gives me their whole life story, how they love to write, when they first started writing, and how they cam to write their novel—and then forgets to tell me about the novel! Remember: Story first.

Response Time:

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

Once a writer uploads their query and sample pages through the submissions page, the writer receives an automatic reply confirming receipt. If I’m interested in seeing more, I’ll reach out with a request for pages. Given the amount of queries I receive, that response time can take up to two months.

Self-Published and Small Press Authors:

11. 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?

Sure! Great writers have come from the self-publishing world (at Prospect, we also have hybrid authors, in fact). I’m also a fan of small presses, where they tend to take more risks in the books they acquire. For authors who come with those backgrounds, the key thing to know is what they’re looking to gain from an agent-author relationship, and to have realistic expectations once they do sign with an agent. They would have had a discussion with the agent before accepting an offer of representation about their career goals, so be sure that they’re on the same page. One last thought—If you’re a self-published author who’s looking to query an agent, be sure to query them with a new (never been self-published manuscript). Unless a self-pubbed project is a big seller, agents aren’t likely to be interested.

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

Publishing is ever-changing, so the role of agents is bound to evolve with it. There are more options nowadays for writers seeking publication, so agents certainly have their hands full in helping their clients utilize various avenues in career management. Like with hybrid authors, for instance, we help with finding the right balance. Agents are working more closely than ever with both their clients and publishers on the whole (from editorial to marketing to even meta data management), so I think agents are becoming more integral to the publishing process as the rules change.

Clients:

13. Who are some of the authors you represent?

I’m newer to agenting, having started in 2015, but I do have a few coming children’s books coming out soon, like Mary E. Lambert’s Family Game Night and Other Catastrophes (Scholastic, 2017), Ale Barba’s Time Out! (Philomel, 2017), and Brenna Burns Yu’s Twig’s Fortune (Candlewick, 2018). I have some other deals I’m at various stages of, but I have to keep them under wraps for now 

Interviews and Guest Posts:

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

• Cynthia Letich-Smith’s Cynsations Blog: http://cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/2015/04/agent-interview-linda-camacho-on.html
• Lee Wind’s Diversity Blog: http://www.leewind.org/2016/05/linda-camacho-prospect-agency-agent.html

Links and Contact Info:

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

I accept electronic submissions via Prospect Agency’s website (www.prospectagency.com), where writers are asked to submit a query letter, sample pages, and a synopsis.

Additional Advice:

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

Find your writing community. Writing can be a solitary endeavor, so fellow writing partners-in-crime will make all the difference in the wilds of publishing, trust me.

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Linda.

Linda 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 March 11th. 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. This is an international giveaway.

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.

Ali Standish Guest Post and The Ethan I Was Before Giveaway

Happy Monday Everyone! Today I'm excited to have debut author Ali Standish here with a guest post and a giveaway of her MG contemporary THE ETHAN I WAS BEFORE. It sounds like a great middle grade story about a boy that I think many of your kids or you will like.

Here's a blurb from Goodreads:

Ethan had been many things. He was always ready for adventure and always willing to accept a dare, especially from his best friend, Kacey. But that was before. Before the accident that took Kacey from him. Before his family moved from Boston to the small town of Palm Knot, Georgia.

Palm Knot may be tiny, but it’s the home of possibility and second chances. It’s also home to Coralee, a girl with a big personality and even bigger stories. Coralee may be just the friend Ethan needs, except Ethan isn’t the only one with secrets. Coralee’s are catching up with her, and what she’s hiding might be putting both their lives at risk.

Now here's Ali!

I’ve found that it is pretty common in conversations with other authors to hear them talk about the many rejections they received from agents, then editors, before they finally heard the word “yes.” Sometimes, another author will chime in to proudly one-up the first. “Dozens? I got hundreds!”

I generally find myself nodding along with these conversations and making that sympathetic face that says “I feel your pain.”

In truth though, I had an exceptionally smooth journey from first page to first edition. I wrote the first draft of The Ethan I Was Before in the spring of 2014. By January of 2015, I had an agent, and by March, I had a two-book deal. This January, just under two years since I wrote the first word of the first page, my debut novel hit shelves.

Before you think me too terribly self-important, let me say that I had a lot of circumstantial things working in my favor at the time that put me at quite an advantage. In 2014 I was enrolled in a children’s writing MFA program, where I had a handful of preternaturally talented readers whose critiques of my first draft were instrumental to my revision process. And because I was living in the UK, where I didn’t yet even have a work visa, I had no pesky day job to distract me from chasing my bliss.

Still, I admit, I never quite understood the boastful tones of authors when they swapped slush-pile
stats. Wasn’t rejection something people generally preferred not to talk about with others? Wasn’t it just a bit…unseemly?

Then, this past fall, I got my first negative review. And I was shattered. The self confidence that had resulted from my expedient path to publication took all of sixty seconds to evaporate into thin air.

Ah, I thought. So this is what real rejection feels like. It feels like failure.

After a few other stumbling blocks in the fall left me feeling uncertain about my future as a writer, my wonderful agents counseled me that publishing is rarely a smooth ride for long. And I realized that of course they were right. Being a children’s author is my wildest dream. And your wildest dreams do not come true without struggle, without setbacks.

I realized something else, too. Those authors who had slogged through months, years, or even decades of rejections from agents and editors—they had known this already. They knew rejection to be an inevitable part of this job. They had been knocked back, and they had gotten up, dusted themselves off, and gone back to work. They understood, much earlier along than I, that rejection is only the end of the world if you let it be.

This is why, I suspect, some authors wear each rejection as a badge of honor. Because every one strengthens your resolve and makes you more resilient. Every door that slams in your face makes you a better writer, more prepared for the challenges that will certainly lie ahead. Had I had to reckon with a bit more rejection at the outset, I might not have been so ready to throw in the towel at the first sign that my book would not be universally adored.

So my difficult (and possibly maddening) advice for aspiring authors is this: Try not to get too discouraged by rejection when it comes. Use it as an opportunity to reflect and grow, and yes, perhaps as an excuse to wallow in front of Netflix for a while, but do not confuse it with failure. Know that you will one day encounter rejection again. Maybe a reviewer hates your book, or ignores it altogether, or a major retailer doesn’t want to stock it, or your second manuscript doesn’t sell. And when that happens, you will be able to look back and say: “I have been rejected before. It made me better. So, too, will this.”

Ali Standish grew up in North Carolina and spent several years as an educator in the Washington, DC, public school system. She has a BA in English from Pomona College, an MFA in children’s writing from Hollins University and an MPhil in children’s literature from Cambridge University. Her debut novel, The Ethan I Was Before, received a starred review in Publishers Weekly and has been honored as a Spring 2017 Junior Library Guild Selection, Winter/Spring 2017 Indies Introduce and Indies Next pick, and Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance Winter 2017 Okra Pick. Find her online at www.alistandish.com and @alistandish on Twitter.

Ali has generously offered a copy of THE ETHAN I WAS BEFORE for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower anyway you want and leave a comment through March 4th. 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 or older to enter. The giveaway 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:

Wednesday, February 22nd, I have an agent spotlight with Linda Camacho with a query critique giveaway

Monday February 27th, I have a guest post by debut author Stephanie Garber about her new YA fantasy CARAVAL

Wednesday March 1st I have an IWSG post and an interview with Caroline Starr Rose and a giveaway of her new MG historical adventure JASPER AND THE RIDDLE OF RILEY'S MINE

Monday March 6th I have a guest post by debut author Michael Miller and a giveaway of his YA science fiction SHADOW RUN

Hope to see you on Wednesday!

ELLY BLAKE and SUZIE TOWNSEND GUEST POST W/ QUERY CRITIQUE and FROSTBLOOD GIVEAWAY

Happy Monday Everyone! I've got a treat for you today. Debut author Elly Blake is here with her agent Suzie Townsend to celebrate the release of Elly's YA fantasy FROSTBLOOD. It sounds like a fantastic fantasy world and real page turner.

Here's a blurb from Goodreads:


Seventeen-year-old Ruby is a Fireblood who has concealed her powers of heat and flame from the cruel Frostblood ruling class her entire life. But when her mother is killed trying to protect her, and rebel Frostbloods demand her help to overthrow their bloodthirsty king, she agrees to come out of hiding, desperate to have her revenge.

Despite her unpredictable abilities, Ruby trains with the rebels and the infuriating—yet irresistible—Arcus, who seems to think of her as nothing more than a weapon. But before they can take action, Ruby is captured and forced to compete in the king’s tournaments that pit Fireblood prisoners against Frostblood champions. Now she has only one chance to destroy the maniacal ruler who has taken everything from her—and from the icy young man she has come to love.

Elly asks: Was there any query so unique that it still stands out in your memory? (In a good or a bad way.)

Suzie answers: Oh, definitely. Once I got a query that was mailed to me in a Starbucks cup and there was flour inside it, so when I opened it, I briefly thought I'd been sent anthrax. Then there was a query years ago that I go in which the writer said he had "two ideas" to pitch me. One was continuing the story from To Kill a Mockingbird and writing about the characters when they were teens and adults. The other idea was wordless picture books based off of a bestselling authors paranormal trilogy. Of course, the ideas weren't written, they were just ideas, and even worse, the ideas didn't belong to him.

Elly asks: I know from experience that you have an extremely positive and supportive editorial style. How did you learn this skill? Do you have tips for making sure critiques are constructive but not crushing?

Suzie answers: Aw, thanks. I'm tempted to ask you if you're sure you feel that way, but I won't try to change your mind. I think that in part, it's easy to be constructive when I really love the characters and the project, but I always try to put myself in the writer's position. I try to think about what their vision for the book and the characters are and how to help build on that. Of course I also try to point out all the things that I love as well.

Elly’s note: I’m quite sure I feel that way! You make an excellent compliment sandwich!

Suzie asks: Now that you've published your first book and are editing your second one, what's been the most rewarding thing about working with an agent and editor in order to revise?

Elly’s answer:

I think the most rewarding thing about working with an agent/editor is collaborating with someone
who genuinely loves your book. Since agents and editors only offer on projects they’re passionate about, you get someone on your team who believes in you and wants your book to succeed. That enthusiasm is energizing, which helps carry you through all those rounds of edits.

Also, pre-agent/editor, you’re doing a lot of guessing about your book and the market. An agent or editor brings editorial experience and industry knowledge to the table. It’s reassuring to have that guiding hand at every step of the process.

Question for Suzie: What do you think is most surprising thing for debut authors, as far as the difference between expectations of being published and the reality?

I think that for a lot of debut authors, they've been working so hard and being so focused on getting published that it's sometimes hard to think beyond that first book deal. Of course they have ideas for other books, but I think sometimes there's a misconception that the hard part is over. In truth, it's just the beginning. Getting an agent and getting a book deal is a walk in the park compared to the publishing process. There are so many ups and downs in the industry, including a lot of things that are completely out of the author's (and often agent's) control.

Suzie asks: What was the most surprising part of this journey from manuscript to published book for you?

Elly’s answer: I think the biggest surprise for me was to realize how many people are working behind the scenes to make a book, and trying to make that book a success. Not only the people you have contact with like your editor and publicist, but a whole team consisting of a copyeditor, proofreader, cover artist, graphic designer, the imprint’s marketing team, sales team, etc. Outside of the publisher, there are those vital early readers and reviewers, other authors who provide cover quotes, bloggers and booksellers and librarians who read and review and create lists of anticipated books. To draw a very loose analogy, if a book is like a clock face—the part we see—behind that is the mechanism that makes everything function.

I’m also surprised at all the symbiotic relationships in publishing—agents have connections with editors, salespeople have their contacts with booksellers, publicists cultivate a connection with book bloggers and librarians, etc. The publicist gives out Advance Reader Copies to reviewers and bloggers, who then provide the amazing magic of reviews and online support, which hopefully create buzz and excitement which help your book sell.

A shared love of reading connects people in a myriad of ways. It’s kind of beautiful, if you think about it.

Elly asks: What's a rule of thumb to keep in mind in publishing? (Anything at all.)

Suzie’s answer: Definitely focus on the things you can control. Try to let everything else go.

Elly: That’s the best advice.


Elly’s question: What advice would you give to an aspiring author who keeps getting close (requests, contest wins, etc.), but hasn't yet had "the call" from an agent?

Keep writing. Keep reading. If you're someone who's drafted a lot of manuscripts, challenge yourself to really dive into a substantial revision and force yourself to go through you book multiple times--more times than you think it needs. Focus on your love for the craft, and push yourself to make every word count. If you're someone who's revised that one manuscript over and over again, don't be afraid to set it aside and open up a blank document. Sometimes those early manuscripts are things you wrote because they helped you hone your craft. There may be a great story there, and there may be really well written lines, and yet something still just isn't quite bringing it together. Sometimes the only way to solve that is to set that manuscript aside, writing something else that doesn't have the baggage of revisions, something that you can get excited about and just dive into.

I read a lot of manuscripts that are good and yet I don't offer on them, because for whatever reason, they just don't stay with me. I would say that's the biggest difference between something I sign and something I don't: when a manuscript stays with me and the characters stay with me, that's how I know that it's worth going back and revising away potential problems.

Suzie's question: Elly can tell you an embarrassing story about me and how we started working together that sort of illustrates this.

Elly’s answer:
Ha! Hopefully not too embarrassing since it all turned out well.

In 2014, I entered Frostblood in a pitch contest, and Suzie requested a partial. In the fall of 2014, I received a kindly-worded rejection from Suzie saying she loved the premise, but she was regretfully passing on the project because the heroine’s voice wasn’t quite strong enough to give her a sense of the character. I was disappointed, of course, but consoled myself that the book had made it into Pitch Wars, an online contest that pairs aspiring authors with agented authors as mentors. In September and October of 2014, my mentor, Sarah Nicolas, and my co-mentee, Shannon Cooley, helped me make extensive changes to the book.

During the Pitch Wars “agent round” in early November, Jackie and Jaida (at the time, they were both assistants at New Leaf Literary) participated in Pitch Wars, and they both requested the manuscript.

Soon after, I received an email from Suzie. I will always remember how the email started out: “So this is random I know, but I’ve been thinking about Ruby and Arcus…” She went on to say that the story had never left her and she’d been thinking about reaching out, and that when Jackie talked about loving the book, she took it as a sign. She even said she’d been wrong about the voice, and that she “must have been delusional” to pass on this project. I was so shocked that I sent a very short email that just said something ridiculous like, “Wow, this is a surprise!” and she had to email back asking if it was a good surprise. Then my brain started working again and I assured her it was the best kind of surprise, which led to one of the best phone calls of my life.

So, it all ended well, at least for me! 

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Elly and Suzie! You can find Elly at:

Website: www.ellyblake.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/elly_blake
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/EllyBlakeAuthor/
Tumblr: http://ellyblake.tumblr.com/
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/e_blake/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/elly_blake/

Elly has generously offered a copy of FROSTBLOOD for a giveaway and Suzie is offering a query critique 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 February 25th. If you do not want to be included in the 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. Both giveaways are international.

Here's what's coming up:

Monday February 20th debut author Ali Standish will be doing a guest post with a giveaway of her MG contemporary THE ETHAN I WAS BEFORE

Wednesday, February 22nd, I have an agent spotlight with Linda Camacho with a query critique giveaway

Monday February 27th, I have a guest post by debut author Stephanie Garber about her new YA fantasy CARAVAL

Wednesday March 1st I have an IWSG post and an interview with Caroline Starr Rose and a giveaway of her new MG historical adventure JASPER AND THE RIDDLE OF RILEY'S MINE

Hope to see you on Monday!


DANA LANGER GUEST POST AND SIREN SISTERS GIVEAWAY

Happy Monday Everyone! Today I'm excited to have debut author Dana Langer here to share about her MG fantasy SIREN SISTERS. This one really appeals to be because of the fantasy, of course, but also because it sounds like it also deals with family relationships, friendships, and the challenges of growing up in the middle grade years.

Here's a blurb from Goodreads:

A soon-to-be siren finds herself responsible for the lives of her sisters—and the fisherman they curse—in this haunting debut novel that Kirkus calls "an exciting fantasy with a heart-stopping ending by an author to watch."

Lolly Salt has three beautiful sisters. When they’re not in school or running their small town’s diner, they’re secretly luring ships to their doom from the cliffs of Starbridge Cove, Maine. With alluring voices that twelve-year-old Lolly has yet to grow into (not that she wants to anyway) the Salt sisters do the work mandated by the Sea Witch, a glamorously frightening figure determined to keep the girls under her control. With their mother dead after a terrible car crash, and their father drowning in grief, the sisters carry on with their lives and duties…until a local sea captain gets suspicious about the shipwrecks.

On the day before her birthday, Lolly watches in helpless horror as her sisters are lured themselves by curse-reversing fishermen—and suddenly it’s up to her and her best friend Jason to rescue the sirens of Starbridge Cove.

Now here's Dana!

Mentor Texts for Siren Sisters

The idea for Siren Sisters came from a combination of my own memories of growing up with my sister and cousins, along with teaching The Odyssey, and also listening to the voices of my students. I knew I wanted to write a contemporary story based in classical mythology, but, rather than focusing on the traditional gods and heroes, I wanted to center the girls and monsters.

Once I knew the kind of story I wanted to write, I got out my highlighters and sticky notes and started
reading and re-reading a list of middle grade books that I thought would make useful “mentor texts.” Teaching Writing through Children’s Literature defines these books as models that serve to “ignite the writer’s imagination and determination to create high quality work” (Dorfmann and Capelli 3).

Today, I am delighted to share some of the books that served as mentor texts for Siren Sisters:

1) The Riverman, by Aaron Starmer: I love the moral ambiguity in this story and that it delves into darker territory without being exploitative. The plot is incredibly engaging, twisty, and exciting, and it doesn’t feel derivative of anything else. I actually have a pretty short attention span, and I was wholly absorbed in this book from start to finish. I never had that Oh, I see where this is going. . .feeling. Every page mattered, and I was constantly afraid for what might happen next!

2) Akata Witch, by Nnedi Okorafor: I love this story for its heroine who often feels like an outsider but is still strong and funny and connected to her family. I also love her sweet, respectful relationship with her best friend and the seamless way the magic of the story is woven into a realistic setting and serves as a subtle metaphor for adolescence and other kinds of power.

3) Doll Bones, by Holly Black: I love the very real concerns of the characters in this book and the fact that the book never condescends to them. Holly Black takes the fears and anxieties of the middle school years seriously and honors her characters despite their youth and their flaws. You feel like you’re right along for the adventure with them, not watching from a distance. And you want to be there. I also like the ambiguity in this story and the way that Black trusts the intelligence of her readers.

These are just a few of the texts that served as mentors for Siren Sisters. Which texts are you using to inspire your own works in progress?

Thanks for sharing your advice, Dana! You can find Dana at:


Amazon: 
Dana is generously offering an ARC of SIREN SISTERS for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower anyway you want and leave a comment through February 18th. 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 or older to enter. The giveaway 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:

Monday February 13th debut author Elly Blake will be here doing a guest post with her agent Suzie Townsend with a giveaway of Elly's YA fantasy FROSTBLOOD and a a query critique giveaway by Suzie

Monday February 20th debut author Ali Standish will be doing a guest post with a giveaway of her MG contemporary THE ETHAN I WAS BEFORE

Wednesday, February 22nd, I have an agent spotlight with Linda Camacho with a query critique giveaway

Hope to see you on Monday!

IWSG and CELESTE LIM and ROSEMARY STIMOLA GUEST POST W/ THE CRYSTAL RIBBON GIVEAWAY

Happy Wednesday Everyone! Today I'm excited to share my IWSG post and a guest post by debut author Celeste Lim and her agent Rosemary Stimola to celebrate the release of Celeste's debut MG historical fantasy THE CRYSTAL RIBBON. I am especially excited for this because it is set in China, where I adopted my daughter from.

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Posting: The first Wednesday of the month is officially Insecure Writer's Support Group Day.
The co-hosts this month are Co-Hosts: Misha GerickeLK HillJuneta Key, and Joylene Buter.

Today's Question: How has being a writer changed your experience as a reader?

When I started writing, I took the advice to read in your genre to heart. For over 10 years, I only read MG and YA books, especially in fantasy, science fiction, and dystopian. In addition, when I started blogging here, I read all the books I featured here. After a point, it left me on too much of a reading schedule because I was reading about 100 books a year. It got to be too much, but I learned a lot from reading so much in my genre and grade level about the craft of writing and how to write for a specific age group.

In addition, my writing has made me be more critical as a reader. If a book really made writing errors or the plot dragged, I stopped forcing myself to plod through the book. There are just too many good books out there that I want to read.

When my husband died almost three years ago, I went through a reading crisis where I just couldn't read for quite awhile. I mention this in case any of you ever find yourself in this situation. Apparently, it's a fairly common problem. For awhile, I could only listen to audio books. Finally about a year ago, I broke through my reading print book crisis, but I've found that I really need to read adult books for now. I've gone through too many life changes, and I need to read about adults going through those kind of challenges too. Now I'm not as interested in audio books, but am really excited to read in general and expand the genres of books I read. Hopefully at some point, I can go back to reading some MG and YA books too.

What about you? How has writing changed your reading?

Now, onto my guest post with Celeste and Rosemary!

What do agents look for in a potential client?

CELESTE:

So, in regards to our chosen topic, we're going to divide the discussion into two stages: the query stage, and the manuscript/revision stage. And in both, I'm going to start by sharing about what I did, and Rose will respond with the things/aspects that worked for her and convinced her that a potential client might be a good match for what she can offer. So let's begin!

The first time I heard about Rose was through attending a writers workshop led by her client, Thanhha Lai, author of INSIDE OUT AND BACK AGAIN, who invited us to query her lovely agent. Rose only accepts query letters during the initial stage, so on July 7th in 2013, I sent one out that read like this:

Dear Ms. Rosemary Stimola,

My story titled The Bride from Huanan is a historical MG fantasy of around 74,000 words that is set in the northern Taiyuan province in Ancient China during the Song Dynasty (around 1260 AD). Intertwined with Chinese folklore and common beliefs during that period, I would think of the story as something similar to Memoirs of a Geisha, but geared towards younger readers, with magical elements thrown in. The story centers around a girl who was sold by her lower class family at the age of ten to become the wife and nursemaid to an infant husband -- a practice called the tongyang xi that was still common in China before the CCP took over around the 1920's. Although the theme of arranged marriages is not uncommon in stories that are set in Asian countries, I believe that the practice of the tongyang xi remains a foreign idea to many in the Western world, and it is my wish to be able to share such knowledge with readers. I believe that I am well-equipped to tell this story, for my own great grandmother had been a tongyang xi who had escaped and migrated out of China to Malaysia where she had settled. I have heard these tales from my grandmother and used information from mostly primary sources.

In this story, the protagonist endures physical abuse and emotional alienation common for a tongyang xi and is eventually sold by her in-laws to a brothel. She is therefore propelled into running away before she loses her chastity, hoping to return to her old home. On that journey, she encounters the woods, snowstorms, and curious strangers of the ethereal kind. She also attempts to come to terms with her supposedly dishonorable desires to disobey her elders and take charge of her own life, and feelings of bitterness and anger that stemmed from the betrayal of her family who sold her into a miserable life of oppression and degradation. Her homecoming to something completely unexpected eventually helps her to discover the answers to her internal struggles, so that she will finally be able to find peace in that she has earned, and that which can never be.

I grew up in Malaysia and later lived in Melbourne for 4 years to finish my BA in English literature, and spent 6 years working in Malaysia. I am now an international student completing an MFA in creative writing at The New School in New York. I have studied under Ms. Thanhha Lai during the Summer Writer’s Week in Manhattanville College, which is how I heard about you and your agency. I have submitted to a few other agents simultaneously, but have not received any reply yet. I would like to thank you in advance for the time and attention you'll be giving my query and will be anxiously waiting for your reply.

Sincerely,
Celeste Lim

ROSEMARY:

There is great joy in finding and nurturing new talent. And for most, the path to that discovery begins
with a query letter—a calling card that strives to stand out in a literal deluge of dailyunsolicited queries. Brief, substantive and persuasive, a good query letter has three baseline components; 1/ the connection; 2/the pitch; 3/the bio, each no more than a paragraph long, chronologically ordered to put your best foot forward, and totaling no more than a page.

Celeste Lim’s query letter for The Bride from Huanan in 2013, which will be published in Winter 2017 as THE CRYSTAL RIBBON with Scholastic Press, hit all three marks with polish, personality and voice that struck a chord, captured my ear and piqued my interest. Timing was in her favor, as I was looking for a multicultural fantasy with historical underpinnings, and it was clear to me she had researched the time and place in which this story would unfold. I was also intrigued by her family history, which I felt would help to lend a sense of intimacy to the writing.

Her first paragraph goes right to the heart of the story being pitched, succinctly laying the groundwork of the historical period of this middle grade and introducing the cultural practice of selling young girls into marriage, which would play a central role in this narrative of approximately 74,000 words.

Her second paragraph introduces her main protagonist, a sympathetic character who struggles with and rails against cultural traditions and expectations, and who immediately exudes a sense of strength and determination that will accompany her on her difficult journey. (Those familiar with my list know a strong young female protagonist is always a go-to for me, so one that would be enveloped by folkloric magic from medieval China was not to be passed by!)

Celeste’s third paragraph speaks of a personal history that gives proximity to the culture framing her narrative, and an educational history that suggests she has worked to hone her craft in creative writing. The personal connection to my author, Thanhha Lai, carries particular weight, not only conveying familiarity with this author’s work, but also demonstrating she had done her homework on my agency and the kind of work we represent.

Overall, Celeste’s query letter spoke confidently about a book, personal and marketable, and her ability to tell this story without hyperbole or unrealistic expectation. She also did me the courtesy of letting me know she had submitted her query to other agents as well.

There was pleasure in this letter that hinted at the pleasure I might find in the pages of her book. I wanted to know more about ancient China; I wanted to know more about the folklore and common beliefs of the period. And I wanted to know more about this girl sold into marriage at ten years of age. Yes, I had to respond and request.

CELESTE:

Thank you so much, Rose! I remember during my early querying days, I was always scouring the Internet for more information such as this, and I feel so happy I'm now able to share our experience to help other writers :)

So, now we're proceeding to the manuscript stage.

After sending in the full thing, I didn't hear back for 19 days (though it felt more like 19 years and I'm sure many could relate ;) Finally, the email I received from Rose's lovely assistant, Allison Remcheck, was long – too long to be a form rejection, that I was used to receiving by then, so my heart was stuck firmly in my throat as I read her email. There were really wonderful comments about how much they loved the story and what they liked about it, but 80% of the email talked about things that they felt needed more work. In the end, I realized they were asking for a non-contractual R&R (a revise and resubmit), which didn’t guarantee an offer at the end. But after some piteous crying and soul-searching (do I really want this? Am I up for this?) I agreed to do it, because no matter how much I hate the idea of doing such major rewrites, I could tell from the detailed and constructive feedback that they really had a firm grasp of what the story was about, and probably knew (better than me, who's too emotionally invested in the story) how to further bring out its potential. I figured that, even if Rose did not offer me representation at the end, I could still possibly come away with a better novel for my next round of queries.

So I slaved away at the R&R, and after close to 3 months of hermit-like existence (my roommates probably suspected I had died in my room), I emailed Rose a novel that I knew at least I was happy with. Allison replied me on the same day telling me how excited she was to read the revision, but reminded me that I needed to keep the manuscript exclusive in the meantime. This condition put a damper on things, especially when another agent from an agency I was also eager to hear from had expressed an interest in the story a couple weeks later. So, during the waiting period, I was counting the days, hours, minutes, manically checking my inbox every chance I had. I was plagued with thoughts like, “They’d probably decide to pass in the end, and where would you be?” and “What if the other agent got tired of waiting?” and “What if they take forever to get back to you?”

Well, it turned out I only had to wait a month, and then Allison got back to me with a very encouraging email – they were utterly enchanted by the revision. And as I continued to read, I was almost expecting a mention of the offer… but it didn’t come. Not in this email. According to Allison, the story still needed a few minor tweaks. One of the main things I had to do in this revision was to cut the 91,000-word novel by about a third.

I went and cried in the shower. But after two hours in it, I came to realize it's really not a bad thing at all. A request for revision shows interest, doesn't it? So I went back to work. It was a heartbreaking process. I had to kill so many of my darlings – those scenes that I really loved but had to admit didn’t feel as essential to the story as other parts, many lyrical paragraphs that are beautiful but unnecessary. And a month after, I ended up with a condensed version of the story. Then it was back to the waiting, and somehow, going through this a second time felt far worse than the first. I was impatient, I was restless, I was anxiety-ridden and frustrated. I forced myself to write and barely produced anything worth a second look. But there was nothing else to do besides distracting myself as much as possible. My darling classmates and professors from my creative writing program were endlessly encouraging; my friends asked me out as much as possible; my family called me from Malaysia every other day; it was a dreary period, but that was also when I realized how much support I had around me.

And then, finally, a month later, Rose gave me a call. Or should I say, THE call. It wasn’t as magical as I had envisioned a thousand times before (I answered the phone in the middle of a nap, all groggy and stuff), but the news still took my breath away. I now have an agent! And I cannot be more thankful that this person is Rose :)

ROSEMARY:

When I share a manuscript with editors, it is understood I do not think it is “done”, as every editor is going to go through another round of revision, maybe more. I need this first draft to convince them that this is a story not only worth their time and one that I think will be of personal appeal based on my knowledge of their interests, but also one that will position well in the current marketplace. Celeste’s first draft was a good one, solid in voice with characters of depth and complexity, presenting a solid foundation upon which to build. With all that I liked, I needed to see that Celeste was a willing and able reviser, able to bring many narrative elements to the surface in a “show” and not “tell” manner.

In this case, I shared the manuscript with my editorial assistant, Allison Remcheck. After reading, we discussed our concerns and decided we would ask for a non-contractual revision in exchange for detailed notes and an exclusive look at the new draft. Celeste agreed, and Allison became the studio point person, guiding Celeste through not just one but two drafts, fine-tuning and polishing for submission purposes.

Some aspects of the story were a bit too mature and/or abstract for a middle grade audience, so we needed some tempering. There were many historical and cultural elements in this medieval Chinese setting, and we wanted to be sure all were deftly woven into the narrative in ways that did not slow or halt plot flow with areas of explanation that added too much bulk to the text—she had to trim a great deal and keep things moving at a pace that would keep readers turning those pages. Add to that the presence of magic in a cultural setting, and we had to be sure all felt consistent in this world such that readers would not only understand, but also suspend disbelief.

Once I had that draft, we were able to move forward with representation confidently and with a trust that is essential to a good author/agent relationship.

You can find Celeste at:
Website: http://www.celesteplim.com/
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/VeryCeleste/
Twitter: @veryCeleste
Buy/ Pre-order links:

You can find Rosemary at:

Here's a description of THE CRYSTAL RIBBON on Goodreads:

In the village of Huanan, in medieval China, the deity that rules is the Great Huli Jing. Though twelve-year-old Li Jing's name is a different character entirely from the Huli Jing, the sound is close enough to provide constant teasing-but maybe is also a source of greater destiny and power. Jing's life isn't easy. Her father is a poor tea farmer, and her family has come to the conclusion that in order for everyone to survive, Jing must be sacrificed for the common good. She is sold as a bride to the Koh family, where she will be the wife and nursemaid to their three-year-old son, Ju'nan. It's not fair, and Jing feels this bitterly, especially when she is treated poorly by the Koh's, and sold yet again into a worse situation that leads Jing to believe her only option is to run away, and find home again. With the help of a spider who weaves Jing a means to escape, and a nightingale who helps her find her way, Jing embarks on a quest back to Huanan--and to herself.

Celeste has generously offered an ARC of THE CRYSTAL RIBBON for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower anyway you want and leave a comment through February 18th. 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 or older to enter. The giveaway is for U.S.

Here's what's coming up:

Monday February 6th, debut author Dana Langer will be doing a guest post with a giveaway of her MG fantasy SIREN SISTERS

Monday February 13th debut author Elly Blake will be here doing a guest post with her agent Suzie Townsend with a giveaway of Elly's YA fantasy FROSTBLOOD and a a query critique giveaway by Suzie

Monday February 20th debut author Ali Standish will be doing a guest post with a giveaway of her MG contemporary THE ETHAN I WAS BEFORE

Wednesday, February 22nd, I have an agent spotlight with Linda Camacho with a query critique giveaway

Hope to see you on Monday!