Upcoming Agent Spotlight Interviews & Guest Posts

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Happy Monday Everyone! Today I’m excited to have debut author Janae Marks here to share about her MG contemporary FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON. It sounds like a fantastic mystery, and I’m anxious to read it.

Here’s a blurb from Goodreads

From debut author Janae Marks comes a captivating mystery full of heart, as one courageous girl questions assumptions, searches for the truth, and does what she believes is right—even in the face of great opposition. A perfect book for fans of Front Desk and All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook!

Zoe Washington isn’t sure what to write. What does a girl say to the father she’s never met, hadn’t heard from until his letter arrived on her twelfth birthday, and who’s been in prison for a terrible crime?

A crime he says he never committed.

Could Marcus really be innocent? Zoe is determined to uncover the truth. Even if it means hiding his letters and her investigation from the rest of her family. Everyone else thinks Zoe’s worrying about doing a good job at her bakery internship and proving to her parents that she’s worthy of auditioning for Food Network’s Kids Bake Challenge.

But with bakery confections on one part of her mind, and Marcus’s conviction weighing heavily on the other, this is one recipe Zoe doesn’t know how to balance. The only thing she knows to be true: Everyone lies.

Hi Janae! Thanks so much for joining us.

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

Hi Natalie! Thanks so much for having me on Literary Rambles.

I’m an author, wife and mom living in Connecticut. Growing up, I was always interested in writing. As a kid, I loved writing and illustrating my own stories. I still have the books I made in the second grade – one of them featured a hamster with magical powers! I was also into journaling and letter writing. (My summer camp friends and counselors were my pen pals!) I didn’t think about writing seriously until I got to college, where I took some creative writing classes. Then I decided to get an MFA in creative writing from The New School in NYC. By then, I’d figured out that I enjoyed writing for kids, so I chose to enter the Writing for Children program. I graduated with my MFA in 2010, so it still took many more years for me to get an agent and book deal, but I learned so much about writing and publishing in that program, and had a wonderful time.

2. Where did you get the idea for FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON?

I was inspired by true stories! In 2014, I was obsessed with the first season of the podcast Serial, which tells the story of a man serving a prison sentence for murder, who may actually be innocent of the crime. I also watched the Netflix documentary Making a Murderer, which tells a similar story. I started thinking about wrongful convictions, and did some research. I read about The Innocence Project, an organization that helps overturn wrongful convictions. Then I started to wonder what it would be like for the child of one of those inmates. Zoe Washington was born from there.

3. That's awesome that you got your idea from true stories. And there are sadly innocent people who are convicted of murder and other crimes. Your story is a mystery and contemporary. What was your plotting process like? What tips do you have for other writers writing MG who want to write a mystery?

With my previous manuscripts (all contemporaries), I struggled a bit with developing a high-concept plot. Those stories were more character-driven. But with ZOE, the mystery helped a lot with plotting, because I knew there were certain plot points I’d need to hit. Zoe would need to uncover the mystery, start her investigation, try and fail a few times, and so on. The “try/fail” cycles helped me keep readers in suspense. I came up with different plans that Zoe could try to implement in order to uncover the truth. With each one, she’d get a tiny bit closer to her goal, but she’d also experience some sort of setback or new challenge to solve.

For other MG writers who want to write a mystery, I recommend plotting out at least the main story points. I like starting with Dan Wells’ Seven Point Plot system. There are a series of YouTube videos where he walks through the process. I usually start with a short plot using his method, and flesh out my outline from there.

4. I've heard a lot about Dan Wells' system. I am going to check our his YouTube videos. Zoe has been described in reviews as a memorable character who is determined and full of heart. What was her character development like?

Zoe turns twelve-years-old at the beginning of the book, and makes it clear that she doesn’t want to

be treated like a little kid anymore. She wants more agency and, when she receives the letter from Marcus, she wants to be able to decide for herself whether or not she has a relationship with him. Up until this point her mom has decided this for her. A lot of Zoe’s determination comes from wanting to do things for herself. This also plays out in her baking internship. She’s determined to prove that she is good enough to audition for a kid baking competition show. What Zoe has to learn, however, is that there’s nothing wrong with accepting help from the adults in her life. She can’t do it all alone.

As for her heart, you see that through the relationship she develops with Marcus through their letters. She also shows a lot of passion when she’s baking.

5. You worked for a Big 5 publisher at one time. Did you learn things from working there that’s affected your writing? What?

Working in publishing didn’t affect my writing per se, but it was super helpful to have that insider
knowledge of how publishing works. It was also really motivating to work with books every day. I kept writing, even in the face of rejection, because I really wanted to be traditionally published like the books on the shelves at my job. And once I got my book deal, I felt more prepared for what was to come while working with HarperCollins.

6. Your agent is Alex Slater. How did he become your agent and what was your road to publication like?

FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON is the fourth book I wrote and the second book I queried. Back in 2013, I queried my first book—a young adult manuscript—and while I got a bunch of requests, I didn’t end up with an offer.

While writing ZOE, I learned about Alex through one of his clients, a friend of mine. She told him about me and my book, so I got on his radar and he followed me on Twitter. I also grabbed his attention when my manuscript won the 2017 Tassy Walden New Voices in Children’s Literature award—a CT writing award for unpublished authors. By the time I queried him, Alex replied right away and requested the full. Then he read my book quickly, and offered representation! I was lucky enough to get four more offers of rep, but I decided to go with Alex, and I’m so happy to be working with him.

As for selling ZOE, Alex sent it to editors at the beginning of 2018, and it quickly went to auction! After speaking to a few of the editors who offered, I decided to go with Katherine Tegen Books. While this part of my journey was fast, it took a lot of years of writing, querying, and picking myself up after rejection to get there.  

7. Thanks for reminding of us of how long the journey can take.  I saw on your website that your book will be sold in the United Kingdom too with a different cover and title—THE FARAWAY TRUTH. How did your sale and cover and title change happen?

I have the amazing foreign rights team at Trident Media Group to thank for this! They were able to sell my book to Chicken House Books in the UK not long after the book sold in the US. The team at Chicken House Books decided to change the title since the phrase “From the desk of…” isn’t commonly used in the UK. THE FARAWAY TRUTH ties in well with the story, so I’m happy with the change. As for the cover, they decided to give it their own spin, and I love how it came out! I’m thrilled with both of my covers.  

8. Your book launch party is at Book of Wonder in New York City. Wow! What else are you doing to promote your book? What advice do you have to other debut authors from your years working in publishing and your own experience?

I’m super excited to have my launch at Books of Wonder! My publisher has been amazing with promoting my book in a lot of ways, so I haven’t had to do as much on my own. They’ve helped get my ARCs into the hands of a lot of educators, booksellers and librarians, and have done some online promotions like giveaways and ads. The two main ways I’ve promoted my book are through social media (Instagram, Twitter and Facebook) and through my newsletter.

I also tried something fun to promote ZOE. Since Zoe is an aspiring pastry chef, and I don’t usually bake much myself, I decided to do a baking challenge. Leading up to ZOE’s release, I baked one cupcake recipe a month. There were four different cupcake recipes, and I shared photos on Instagram under #ZoeWashingtonCupcakes. I also shared the recipes in my newsletter for my subscribers. It was a lot of fun, and those posts on Instagram got a lot of engagement.

One piece of advice I have for debut authors is to learn how to create pretty graphics for your social media pages and website. Canva is a free tool with a ton of templates. It’s pretty simple to use, and putting together graphics with teasers, blurbs, reviews, etc. will make your book stand out on social media. I also recommend creating a newsletter and building a mailing list. With all the algorithms on social media, it’s easy for content to get lost, so a newsletter is a great way to connect with your readers directly.

9.  That's great advice.What’s your favorite social media site? Why?

I love Instagram! I enjoy taking photos and find the platform less overwhelming than Twitter. I also love getting to know other authors through their photos and Instagram stories.

10. What are you working on now?

I’m currently revising my second middle grade book with Katherine Tegen Books, which will be out in 2021! I can’t wait to share more about it soon, but I think fans of Zoe will love my new heroine.

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Janae. You can find Janae at janaemarks.com, and on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook under @janaemarksbooks.

Janae has generously offered a hardback of FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON 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 January 258th. 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 or follow me on Twitter, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. You must be 13 years old or older to enter. This giveaway is U.S. and Canada.

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday is hosted by Greg Pattridge. You can find the participating blogs on his blog.

Here's what's coming up:

Tomorrow I'm participating in the Best of 2019 Giveaway Hop. I'll have some great 2019 and January 2020 new release MG and YA choices

Monday, January 20th I have an agent spotlight interview with Katelyn Detweiler and a query critique giveaway

Monday, January 27th I have an interview with debut author Kim Smejkal and a giveaway of her YA fantasy Ink in the Blood

Wednesday, February 5th I have an interview with debut author Adalyn Grace with a giveaway of her YA fantasy All the Stars and Teeth and a query critique by her agent Hillary Jacobson and my IWSG Post

Monday, February 10th I have an interview with author Katya de Becerra and a giveaway of her YA fantasy Oasis

Monday, February 24th I have an agent spotlight interview with agent Megan Manzano and a query critique giveaway 

Hope to see you tomorrow!


nashvillecats2 said...

A most interesting interview Natalie. Great reading.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That's interesting the UK gave it a different title. Congratulations, Janae.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I'm always fascinated how international publishers alter titles and covers. It's great that you got two good covers! Congratulations to you, Janae. :)

Greg Pattridge said...

Hope to have this one on my desk soon. Thanks for the insightful interview. Very interesting journey for Janae.

Elephant's Child said...

Thank you. I am always fascinated by the author interviews. I hope Janae has a huge success with her debut novel - and continues to write.

Danielle H. said...

Middle grade mysteries are my favorites to read and yours is so different than others I've read. Thanks for the tips on the videos--this is a new resource to me. I have this book on my TBR and can't wait to read it. I shared on tumblr: https://yesreaderwriterpoetmusician.tumblr.com/post/190239192977/janae-marks-interview-and-from-the-desk-of-zoe

Brenda said...

Sounds like a fantastic mystery. Loved the interview and learning more about the changes made by Chicken House Books. Hope this is the beginning of a series for Janae and congratulations!!

Pat Hatt said...

Always a bit weird how things get changed internationally, but interesting too. Having everything set up nice in social media is a win too.

mshatch said...

ooh, I would love to read this book and I bet my niece would, too! Congratulations Janae!

Patricia T. said...

Hooray -- finally a story about a character who has an incarcerated parent who may be innocent of the crime he is accused of committing. Must read. And, you also got me with the baking contest -- I am seeing baking in more MG stories and I think its great. Love the cover and the back story behind Zoe. Enjoyed the interview with Janae. Good luck and I look forward to reading your book!

Maria Antonia said...

This looks like a good book! I've seen it a few places and this just clinches it. I want to read it!

Music That Doesn't Suck said...

My middle grader loves MG books and is now getting into Agatha Christie and she's going to love this.

Angie Quantrell said...

Love it! The cupcake baking is a great idea to engage readers and followers. Congratulations and thanks for sharing your story. :) angelecolline at yahoo dot com. I also shared on Twitter.

Flower T. said...

The story sounds awesome. Thanks for sharing the journey.

Carl Scott said...

This sounds like an excellent MG, quite an unusual story. Thanks for the chance to win a copy.
I follow your blog daily by email: crs(at)codedivasites(dot)com
I also tweeted a link to this post: https://twitter.com/carlrscott/status/1217151683563683840, and pinned an image on Pinterest as well: https://www.pinterest.com.mx/pin/336573772153535032/.
Thanks again, have a great day!!

tetewa said...

New author and a mystery, sounds good! tWarner419@aol.com

Rosi said...

I always enjoy your interviews and glean a lot from them. Thanks for this one. The book sounds terrific. I'm putting it on my TBR list.

Mattea Orr said...

This sounds like a fantastic book!

Debra Branigan said...

Thank you for the lovely interview. One way or the other I will be getting 2 copies of this book, one for my granddaughter and one for my local middle school. Best wishes to the author on this. one. I also shared on twitter (https://twitter.com/BraniganDebra/status/1217592332222173186?s=20)
dbranigan27 (at) gmail (dot) com.

Angela Brown said...

With a lot of attention on the Exonerate Five via Ava Duvernay's When They See Us, I am rather stoked to see a book that takes this type of tragedy (if truly innocent) and turn things around to the child's point of view with an incarcerated parent.

This really sounds like a very awesome book, and as always, another great interview, Natalie!

Jessica Peeling said...

I love mystery novels! Your interview with the author was very detailed and I liked reading about her journey. (jessicapeeling@yahoo.com)

Jessica Peeling said...

Tweeted the giveaway: https://twitter.com/the2ndthought/status/1217672340944904193 (jessicapeeling@yahoo.com)

Raimey Gallant said...

I just retweeted this book. It sounds fabulous.

Melanie B said...

Following your blog and twitter! Shared the giveaway on twitter!


Angela said...

Wonderful interview. Congratulations on the book. I look forward to reading and sharing your book.

Nancy P said...

Terrific artwork. Thanks for the chance.

positive DOT ideas DOT 4you AT gmail DOT com

Anonymous said...

Awesome interview! Congrats! Very interesting

Candie L said...

I am following on GFC. Thank you

Marykate said...

I loved reading this interview with Janae. I've read so much about this book and can't wait to read it! It's also always helpful to be reminded that years of rejection is the norm.

Christina Gould said...

I love the cover. It looks like a fun read. Thanks for the giveaway!

Christina Gould said...

I shared on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/christina.gould.7146/posts/233747304292770).