Upcoming Agent Spotlight Interviews & Guest Posts

  • Bethany Weaver Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 6/26/2024
  • Rebecca Williamson Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 7/8/2024
  • Sheila Fernley Agent Spotlight Interview, Critique Giveaway, and One-Hour Zoom Call on 7/29/2024
  • Erica McGrath Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 8/12/2024

Agent Spotlight & Agent Spotlight Updates

  • Agent Spotlights & Interviews have been updated through the letter "K" as of 3/28/2024 and many have been reviewed by the agents. Look for more information as I find the time to update more agent spotlights.

Debut Author Interview: Sheila M. Averbuch and Friend Me Giveaway

Happy Monday Everyone! Today I’m thrilled to have debut author Sheila M. Averbuch here to share about her MG contemporary/thriller Friend Me. It sounds like a great story, and I’m excited to read it.

Here’s a blurb from Goodreads

What happens when an online friend becomes a real-life nightmare?

Roisin hasn't made a single friend since moving from Ireland to Massachusetts. In fact, she is falling apart under constant abuse from a school bully, Zara. Zara torments Roisin in person and on social media. She makes Roisin the laughingstock of the whole school.

Roisin feels utterly alone... until she bonds with Haley online. Finally there's someone who gets her. Haley is smart, strong, and shares anti-mean-girl memes that make Roisin laugh. Together, they are able to imagine what life could look like without Zara. Haley quickly becomes Roisin's lifeline.
Then Zara has a painful accident, police investigate, and Roisin panics. Could her chats with Haley look incriminating?

Roisin wants Haley to delete her copies of their messages, but when she tries to meet Haley in person, she can't find her anywhere. What's going on? Her best friend would never have lied to her, right? Or is Haley not who she says she is...

With twists, turns, and lightning-fast pacing, this is a middle-grade thriller about bullying, revenge, and tech that young readers won't be able to put down.Hi Sheila! Thanks so much for joining us!

Follower News

Before I get to Sheila's interview, I have Follower News.

Shannon Lawrence has a new book, Happy Ghouladays: A Collection of Holiday Horror Short

that will be releasing in November. Here's a blurb and a few links: Family time can lead to murder and mayhem, especially during the holidays. These and other tales of woe await you beneath the mistletoe. Be careful who you offer a kiss. It may be your last.

Pre-order link - https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08MDZR9K5
My website: www.thewarriormuse.com
My Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thewarriormuse

And Lynda Young writing as Elle Cardy has a new YA fantasy novella, Well of Ash. Here is a blurb and a few links:

No one knows who built the Great Wells across the world or why. To linger near makes the skin crawl and the mind drift in nightmares. Yet this one calls to Ash in whispers that pull her closer. Soon she’s caught in a mystery that can kill. She must find the answers before she loses her sanity and her life.

If you like dragons, magic, and a fierce heroine with a wounded heart, then you’ll love Well of Ash, a YA Fantasy novella by Elle Cardy. Available now as an ebook and paperback on Amazon. OR, for a limited time, pick up a free copy when you join Elle’s VIP newsletter club.

Interview With Sheila Averbuch

Hi Sheila! Thanks so much for joining us.

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

I’ve earned a living from writing, first as a journalist and then as a copywriter, for 25 years. So for me, seeing my name in print wasn’t the dream: the dream was to write for children. I wanted to write stories that 11-year-old me would have read without stopping, forgetting meals, bedtime, and even homework to read just a little more. I wanted this so much, I never told anyone -- because I knew from being a professional actor for a couple years just how badly I handled rejection. I've said before that the goal of becoming a children’s writer was so precious and so huge, it felt like a gigantic and embarrassing imaginary friend that only I could see!

It wasn’t until I was 33 (17 years ago!) that I made the first inquiries about how one goes about that kind of thing, which led me to the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. SCBWI was my gateway to the professionals who helped me work on my craft and connect me with like-minded aspiring children’s authors; I loved it so much, my friend and I started the Scotland region of the British Isles network; it’s now a thriving, supportive community of more than a 100 writers and illustrators.

 2. That's awesome that you already had a writing career before starting to write for kids. Were did you get the idea for Friend Me?

One spark was the day that my 13-year-old son mentioned it was his best friend’s birthday. I encouraged him to call the boy on the phone, and he acted like I’d suggested something unnatural. The aversion that many tweens have to using their phones for voice calls is so well known, it’s a thing now in kidlit  – remember that joke in ONE OF US IS LYING where one character jokes to the other, What does ‘incoming call’ mean? ­– but it also got me thinking.

If a young person could have a whole friendship with someone via text and chat, what could that lead to? And that led me into thinking about bullying, because when I thought about the young person who would become so totally reliant on that phone-friendship, to the exclusion of real-world friends and family, I realized she’d be someone who was suffering badly. I also had another a-ha moment when I realized the central twist of FRIEND ME – I was in the depths of the flu but made myself grab a pen and scratch down a note so I wouldn’t forget it.

 3. So true about kids not wanting to talk on the phone. You were a journalist before becoming a MG author. What made you decide to make the leap to writing for middle graders? Has your writing as a journalist helped you in writing stories?

I worked as a tech journalist for over two decades and FRIEND ME is interesting because it’s the sixth manuscript I’ve written, but the first that marries my background in tech (I was IT Journalist of the Year in Ireland way back in 2000!) with my passion for writing kidlit. FRIEND ME has a lot of tech – cyberbullying, obviously, but also advanced AI, bullet trains…there’s even a robotic cat.

I think the book found a publisher in part because childhood has become so technologized. The innovations that I cover still in my day job as a tech writer definitely fuel my fiction, and the discipline of getting words onto the page I learned in journalism school is also invaluable. My work as an actor was also essential: I wrote my first manuscripts with a kind of cool distance, never realizing I had to get into character and be that person. My writing got a lot better when I used that actor’s insight.

4. Your book is described as a fast-paced thriller. How did you plot this out? What advice do have for other writers on how to create a page turner.

FRIEND ME was the first time I skipped my usual process of writing a plot outline –typically one

sentence, 25 or so, for the projected chapters of whatever middle grade manuscript I was working on. I started writing FRIEND ME slowly and averaged 250 words a day; I wouldn’t let myself advance to the next scene until I knew absolutely that Roisin, my main character, was driving the action. All I had was an idea of the overall online-friendship-goes-bad and the central twist, and I didn’t bother with those 25 sentences.

To be honest I’d intended to write FRIEND ME purely to get myself out of a dark place (I’d actually given up on writing for children, and was feeling really low), but three chapters in, I felt more like myself again. The story was going well, so when I saw the deadline approaching for the Scottish Book Trust New Writers Awards (which give a cash grant, mentoring and training to Scotland’s most promising unpublished writers, funded by Creative Scotland), I went for it and included a 500 word synopsis for the whole story.

That provided a compass, but I kept that commitment to staying deep within Roisin’s point of view, writing slowly, and not letting myself advance without a strong, character-driven reason. I also adore masters of twist like Karen McManus, Elizabeth Wein and Sarah Waters, and tried to apply what they’d taught me about leading readers exactly where I wanted them to go.

5. So interesting that you didn't start with an outline. Roisin is bullied at school and on social media, and it sounds really like extreme bullying from your blurb. How did you tackle this issue, which many middle graders, without getting preachy?

You are so right that middle grade readers won’t stand for preachiness. In FRIEND ME, I try to let Roisin’s actions speak for themselves, showing both what ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ look like on social media. Roisin switches off her phone when notifications are getting her down. She hits the swimming pool and feels more like herself when she’s doing that heavy workout. This based in reality including my own research about the nature of cyberbullying (how it gets deep inside your head, delivered by the highly personal device of your mobile phone), and coping strategies suggested by mental health resources for young people (switch off if you can, delete apps if necessary, get as much physical exercise as you can to get those good endorphins going). There are good resources in stopbullying.gov and Nicola Morgan’s TEENAGE GUIDE TO STRESS on these coping strategies.

6. What was something you learned about making your story stronger from working with your editor?

Working with Emily Seife, who’s a Senior Editor at Scholastic, was an author’s dream. Not only was she sensitive and kind, she also saw a flaw in my story arc that no other reader had. Originally, Roisin feels she has defeated her bully Zara, and starts wanting to escape the increasingly uncomfortable friendship with Haley, right after Zara’s accident. That was dramatically unsatisfying, because it gave my main character everything she wanted in the middle of the book, but it was also hard to believe: would Roisin really be over Zara? Would she really be so quick to drop Haley? The friendship between them, and the way Roisin copes with the lingering trauma of Zara’s bullying, now resolve in a more believable and interesting way in the final version of FRIEND ME.

7. Jennifer Laughran is your agent. How did she become your agent and what was your road to publication like?

If your readers can bear it, I wrote a long how-I-got-my-agent blog post here:[ http://www.sheilamaverbuch.com/blog/how-i-got-my-agent-and-what-nearly-stopped-me/]; in brief, my journey to publication began with a derivative sci-fi adventure I wrote back in 2003. Cut to 2014, and I got a standard but beautifully worded form rejection from Jennifer on a different middle grade manuscript, and her kind reply made me want to return to her when I had totally redrafted it. In 2015 I took advantage of a live Writers Digest webinar where Jenn critiqued the first 500 words. She liked what I’d done, and again her few words of encouragement were manna to me. We met at Big Sur Children’s Writers Workshop in December 2015; I’d queried her just before this, and she offered representation then and there, under the redwoods.

Our first two manuscripts that we went on sub with didn’t find a home (yet!), but we hit gold with FRIEND ME. Shout out to Jenn and her Andrea Brown Literary Agency colleagues for the title! Emily thought its original title (BEST FRIEND CODE) didn’t quite hit the mark, and an all-agency brainstorm by Jenn’s colleagues came up with our wonderful alternative.

8. What an awesome way to get your agent. You live in Scotland. How are your promoting your book in the United States? What advice do you have for other authors who have to focus on online marketing given COVID-19?

The fact that I live in a little stone cottage in Scotland, outside the city, and went through years of manuscripts and over 100 rejections before getting a deal proves that you can do it, too -- and you don’t need to live in London or New York.

 Online promo offers real opportunities, and everyone is in the same online-only boat this year. A year ago, my husband had a terrifying head-on car crash at 60mph; even though he walked away from it, the accident was a drastic reminder of my real priorities. I decided before Covid that I would do online-only promo until 2021, to be here for my family as Ralph recovered.

 I attended a SCBWI debut bootcamp that helped me realize it’s ok to focus on what I like and what I enjoy (for me, that’s Twitter, Instagram, and talking about books). I also took a wonderful Reinventing the Author Visit masterclass with Kate Messner that helped me formulate a virtual school visit that’s right for FRIEND ME.

The best thing to do for your own online marketing is to have your own website (mine is sheilamaverbuch.com). I keep mine updated with info about my book including promo blurbs, links on where to buy, and a full press kit (including high-res photos and biographies) that’s an editable Google Doc.

I also put out a quarterly Kidlit News email newsletter that anyone can sign up for, about what I’m reading, authors resources and other value-added content, not just about my writing. Having your own mailing list, even if it just starts with a handful of people (never subscribe anyone to it unless they ask to be), is one of the best things you can do for your marketing.  

9. That's great that you're staying home to take care of your husband. You have a day job as a senior content strategist and social media manager. How has this helped you develop your marketing plan and social media platform? What advice do you have for the rest of us on developing our online presence?

Content gets conversations started. Focus on making and sharing content you like and are good at: for me it’s pics and mini reviews of what MG and YA books I’m reading, plus mini videos and other content about FRIEND ME –Instagram is a super place to share bookish content because the algorithms really seem to favor it; explore tags there like #bookstagram and #middlegrade. I post this content also on Twitter, where I also follow and react to what’s being said by teachers and librarians, using Twitter lists.

 YouTube mini videos are one of the best things you can do for search engine visibility – unboxing your ARCs, talking to camera if you can bear it – and they’re easy to embed in a website or share on social. For graphics I use tools like Canva and the free PowerDirector mobile app to edit video I shoot on my phone. I also write blogs regularly on my website at sheilamaverbuch.com and I share these on all my platforms. 

 Be authentic with whatever content you share and whatever you say on social media: listen before you post, and never post anything in the heat of the moment.

 In your bio or at the top of your social profiles, include hyperlinks to places that people can buy your book, NEVER just an Amazon link; I use bit.ly to create short hyperlinks (choose a naming convention: all of my links begin with bit.ly/SMA) that I can track clicks and see what’s popular.

 I also sent a few of my precious author ARCs to people who I knew would be willing to put up Goodreads reviews; these have been hugely helpful in FRIEND ME’s visibility to search engines. But I can’t stress this enough: do NOT rely on social media for all of your visibility: have your own website and mailing list, which you control.

 10. That's all great advice. What are you working on now?

 I’m working on another standalone middle grade technothriller, this time centered around selfie culture and what that does to the tween psyche.

 Thanks for sharing all your advice, Sheila. You can find Sheila at:  

Website http://www.sheilamaverbuch.com  

Sheila’s Kidlit newsletter http://bit.ly/SMAkidlitnews

Twitter https://twitter.com/sheilamaverbuch 

Instagram https://instagram.com/sheilamaverbuch/ 

Giveaway Details

Sheila has generously offered an ARC of Friend Me for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower of my blog (via the follower gadget, email, or bloglovin’ on the right sidebar) and leave a comment by November 21st. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter the contest. Please be sure I have your email address.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog and/or follow me on Twitter, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry for each. You must be 13 years old or older to enter. This giveaway is U.S. only.

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

Upcoming Interviews and Giveaways

Tuesday, November 10th I'm participating in the Super Stocking Giveaway Hop 

Monday, November 16th I have an interview with debut author Rachel Short and a giveaway of her MG spooky mystery The Mutant Mushroom Takover

Wednesday, November 18th I have an agent spotlight interview with Tori Sharp and a query critique giveaway

Monday, November 23rd I have an interview with debut author Carol Coven Grannick and a giveaway of her MG contemporary Renni's Turn

Wednesday, December 2nd  I have an interview with debut author Diana Pinguicha and a giveaway of her YA fantasy A Miracle of Roses and my IWSG post

Thursday, December 3rd I'm participating in the Winter Is Coming Giveaway Hop

Monday, December 7th I have an agent spotlight interview with Maria Vincente and a query critique giveway

Monday, December 14th I have a guest post by debut author M.L. Tarpley about marketing and school visits during COVID-19 and a giveaway of her MG contemporary Malie and the Maize

Hope to see you tomorrow!


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

The online friend, Haley, definitely sounds like trouble! Interesting premise for the story...good luck to Sheila. :)

Test said...

I've read the book already, so I don't need the ARC, but it was great to read this interview. Can't wait for "standalone middle grade technothriller"! We need more just like that. I'll try to remember to post on Amazon when they allow it.

Danielle H. said...

I need to read this book! The premise sounds very close to home as my teens don't like to call and have friends they've never met in person. Thank you for the interview and chance to win an ARC to read and review. I shared on tumblr: https://yesreaderwriterpoetmusician.tumblr.com/post/634331016237105153/debut-author-interview-sheila-m-averbuch-and

Greg Pattridge said...

The premise for the story had me hooked from the get go. Interesting and thought provoking interview. Thanks for featuring on MMGM (Marvelous Middle Grade Monday).

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

FRIEND ME sounds like a great read.

Thanks too for sharing about my book, Well of Ash. Much appreciated!

Patricia T. said...

Friend Me really does sound like a thrilling page turner. So many unknown people online, pretending to be someone else. Gives me chills when I think how vulnerable so many teens are. I loved the interview and am delighted that you are represented by Jennifer and her top-notch firm. You must be good! Will check this out for a granddaughter.

Max @ Completely Full Bookshelf said...

This sounds almost more terrifying than a horror novel! ;) Seriously, though, this book sounds genius, and I am already intrigued by the twist! It was interesting to hear about how Ms. Averbuch's editor resolved an issue in the plot. I'll pass on the giveaway, but thanks for the great post!

Fundy Blue said...

Another great interview, Natalie. Good luck with your book, Sheila! I am so glad that I am not in middle school now!

nashvillecats2 said...

A great post to read Natalie, Good luck to Shelia, I'm sure she will be successful.


Tanya Konerman said...

Consider me intrigued! I loved hearing the backstory of how you came up with this idea and the new title! Looking forward to reading it!

Shannon Lawrence said...

It's such an odd time for my kids in that they haven't gotten to see their friends in person since March. Their friendships are all online now, for the time being. Great advice on online marketing and congratulations on your book release!

And thank you for the mention, Natalie!

Beth said...

Great interview, Natalie. Good advice from Sheila. I will be checking out her website and blog. Please enter me in the contest to win. I love MG mysteries (and suspense). Looking for 2020 mysteries to read for nominations for awards. Beth

Maria Antonia said...

Interesting interview! I also enjoy hearing about how authors get their ideas for books. Thanks for sharing!

Eric H. said...

I have a 13-year-old and a 14-year-old at home and I’ve taught fifth and sixth grade for a number of years. I’m sure this book will resonate and help. Cant wait to read it!

Kim A. Larson said...

Congratulations, Sheila! FRIEND ME sounds wonderful! Thank you for sharing about your journey and the helpful social media tips at the end. Great interview.

Pat Hatt said...

That sure is true. Phone calls aren't used much, it's text all the way.

Kelly Barina said...

Sounds like a great read!

Also thanks for the chance! Email darkdragonsflame @ yahoo

Leela said...

I'm an email subscriber.