Upcoming Agent Spotlight Interviews & Guest Posts

  • Kristin Ostby Agent Spotlight Interview & Query Critique Giveaway on 10/11/21
  • Agent Melissa Nasson/Author Alex Perry Guest Post + Query Critique & Book Giveaway on 10/18/21
  • Ginger Clark Agent Spotlight Interview & Query Critique Giveaway on 10/25/21
  • Danielle Chiotti Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 11/15/21

Agent Spotlight & Agent Spotlight Updates

  • All Agent Spotlights & Interviews have been updated as of 7/15/2020, and many have been reviewed by the agents. Look for them to be fully updated in 2023.

Debut Author Interview: Michelle I. Mason and Your Life Has Been Delayed Giveaway and IWSG Post

Happy Wednesday Everyone! Today I’m thrilled to have one of our IWSG coordinators and debut author Michelle I. Mason here to share about her YA time travel, Your Life Has Been Delayed. I’m super excited to read it because I love time travel stories, and Michelle has put a new spin on her story. I have it on reserve at my library.

Here’s a blurb from Goodreads:

Past and present, friends and crushes collide in a YA debut about a girl who takes off on a flight and lands 25 years later.

Jenny Waters boards her flight in 1995, but when she lands, she and the other passengers are told they disappeared . . . 25 years ago. Everyone thought they were dead.

Now contending with her family and friends fast-forwarding decades, Jenny must quickly adjust to smartphones and social media while being the biggest story to hit the internet. She feels betrayed by her once-best friend and fights her attraction to a cute boy with an uncomfortable connection to her past. Meanwhile, there’s a growing group of conspiracy theorists determined to prove the whole situation is a hoax. Will Jenny figure out how to move forward, or will she always be stuck in the past? 

 New Podcast You Might Like

 The Rights Agency, a literary agency, has started a new podcast, Agent Provocateur, which is produced and hosted by literary agents. They post on Tuesdays and discuss what goes on behind the scenes in agenting and publishing. You can find out more about it here and listen to it on AppleSpotifyGoogleStitcheriHeartRadio, etc. 

IWSG Post

 


Before I get to my interview with Michelle, I have my IWSG Post.

Posting: The first Wednesday is officially Insecure Writer's Support Group Day.

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!

The awesome co-hosts for the September 1 posting of the IWSG are me, Rebecca Douglass, T. Powell Coltrin @Journaling Woman, Karen Lynn, C. Lee McKenzie!

Before I answer the optional question, I want to let you know that I contributed to a blog post by Twinkl on the best books of all time to read before the age of 13. We were asked to recommend our favorite book as a child. I hope you'll check out the post and find out what mine was.

Optional Question: How do you define success as a writer? Is it holding your book in your hand? Having a short story published? Making a certain amount of income from your writing?

I don’t define success as a writer by getting published or making any income from it. I measure my success by whether I’m writing consistently and getting better as a writer. It’s also really important to me that I continue to enjoy the process of writing.

I don’t stress out about having publishing goals or income expectations because they aren’t things I can control. After losing my husband, getting laid off, and having other things happen that I couldn’t control, I really focus on what I can control in life. I’ve found this is the best way to be content and happier in life.

What about you? How do you measure your success?

Interview With Michelle I. Mason

Hi Michelle! 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.

I’ve always loved to write, from back in grade school when we used to make books in class and laminate them (I still have some of those). But even though I loved it, I didn’t really see a clear path to becoming a writer as a kid or teen. I pursued a degree in English Lit thinking I might become an editor, but I was also doing a minor in journalism, and my freshman year I discovered public relations. Working in PR is a lot of writing, just a different kind—and I got paid for it! I did that for ten years, but I was itching to write fiction again.

I’m not sure exactly what year it was, but Mary Higgins Clark came to speak here in St. Louis, and she inspired me to start writing again (a story that didn’t go anywhere). Then I had a dream about a 10-year-old boy that made me start investigating middle grade fiction—a whole new world since I was a kid. Ultimately, I found my voice in young adult. I’ve never looked back.

2. I used to read Mary Higgins Clark’s books. How cool she inspired you to write again. You have such an interesting premise in your story. Where did you get the idea for Your Life Has Been Delayed?

I’ve always been fascinated by time travel, from when I first watched all the Back to the Future movies. Then, a few years ago, I tagged along on my husband’s business trip to Australia. On our return flight, we left Sydney on Feb. 27 at 11:30 a.m. and arrived in L.A. on Feb. 27 at 5:35 a.m. I know it’s really just moving across time zones, but it felt like traveling back in time.

I think it sort of lingered in my mind, because a few months later I thought: what if you got on a plane, but when you landed it was many years later? And the rest of the story just came from that central question.

3. Going on a trip with your husband is a cool way to come up with a story idea. Many people who read an ARC of your book said they enjoyed it even though they may not read in your genre and that they couldn’t put your story down. How did you plot out your story and keep the pace moving fast?

I wonder if some of those comments are due to the fact that my book is classified as science fiction because of its time travel setup, but aside from that, it’s basically a contemporary YA. So if you go into it expecting heavy sci-fi elements, you’ll be disappointed (sorry if that’s you!). Either way, having someone say they can’t put my book down is the best compliment of all!

But as far as plotting, I started with the premise and then made a list of the worst things I could do to Jenny. My goal was that with almost every chapter she would be left with some new revelation to make her life worse. It’s hard to be mean to characters you love, but it’s also the best way to keep readers turning pages!

4. Jennifer Nielsen, one of my favorite authors, also recommends doing the worst things you can to your main character too. Did you have to do any research into how life was different in 1995 to show the contrast with our current time when the story is set?

Yes, lots! 1995 is Jenny’s entire world view. So she’s looking at everything in the present from the viewpoint of a 20th century girl. I had to be on top of everything from what people were wearing and how people were using the brand-new internet to popular TV stars and just everyday habits. All of this informed how Jenny would react to a 21st century world. Because I was a teen in 1995, I found myself triple-checking my information. Memory is tricky—you think something happened around a certain year, but when you look into it, you may find you’re off by five or ten years. I watched movies and shows from the nineties, documentaries, and even read through my old yearbooks to make sure I was getting her perspective right.

5. It seems like you had to think out a whole lot about the character arcs of Jenny’s family and friends to show how their lives changed in 25 years. What was that process like for you?

The relationships were the most important part of the book for me. It’s interesting to look at how the world has changed, like all the new technology, or what everyday things someone in the 21st century just accepts that Jenny would be completely clueless about. But really, people and their issues are even more fascinating.

So for the family and friends, I looked at those closest to Jenny and considered what she would care about most, how those people would have changed/remained the same, and then, once again, what would hit her hardest. Even the characters who hurt her the most with the decisions they made while she was gone are still at heart the people she loved. Life is bound to go on—or end in the case of three of Jenny’s grandparents—over the course of twenty-five years. Unfortunately for Jenny, she just keeps getting hit over the head with that fact.

6. That’s great that you focused on the characters most important to Jenny. What was a challenge you faced in writing this book and how did you overcome it?

Oh, that’s a fun question! So, right after I finished drafting this book in 2018, a writing friend sent me a message with a link to an announcement about the show Manifest, which is about a plane that jumps forward five years. I basically freaked out and thought I would have to scrap the book, but my Pitch Wars 2017 group and critique partners urged me to whip it quickly into shape and query, which is what I did. I signed with my agent before the show came out (she was aware of it), and then we went out on submission quickly too. Now, Manifest is on its third season and was just added to Netflix. My publisher has been pitching my book as Manifest meets YA contemporary, so it’s all worked out!

7. Thanks for sharing your challenge. It’s a great reminder not to freak out too much if you see something like your story idea. Your agent is Elizabeth Bewley. How did she become your agent and what was your road to publication like?

Through the query trenches! But it definitely wasn’t my first book. I queried six books over seven years before signing with Elizabeth on this one (my seventh). And signing for this book was a bit like a fairy tale after that long wait. I had three agent offers and an agent within a month of sending out my first queries. Once I signed with Elizabeth, we revised and signed with Bloomsbury within three months. But then the wait for the book to come out was two years (not unusual) and extended further by the pandemic, so it’s been two years and nine months. If you’re counting, in all it’s been 10 years since I started querying! But I learned something from every single book I wrote, and I don’t regret any of it!

I did a blog series on what I learned querying, in case it may be helpful to anyone else: https://michelleimason.com/category/querying/what-ive-learned/

8. I read your blog and have watched you count down to your release date. Share a bit about how you’ve done that and how it’s kept you organized as you got closer to the date you book released.

As I mentioned above, my professional background is in public relations, so I don’t think I can help that PR mindset. At the end of last year, I added a widget with a countdown on my blog, and then at nine months out I started doing blog posts with behind-the-scenes info about the book. At six months, I added a newsletter. In these final few weeks I’ve been doing a character focus every week on Instagram and Twitter. I hope readers enjoy them!

As to how I keep them organized—spreadsheets! I love my spreadsheets and have them for all sorts of things, but for marketing, I have a social media calendar. It includes all the milestones (how many days or weeks are left before release), as well as when I have interviews or events so I can promote those. I’d never be able to keep track of it all otherwise!

9. How are you planning to market your book? Have you learned anything from watching others in The 21ders who already became debut authors?

The best advice I’ve received about marketing is to do the things that you enjoy from a marketing standpoint, so that’s what I’ve been doing. I like making fun graphics in Canva (what a fantastic resource!) and have a pro account. I really enjoy talking, even on camera. I’ve already done one podcast and would love to do more. I also have some virtual events planned. I try to consistently post on Twitter, Instagram, my blog, and newsletter. I would love to do school and other events if that becomes more feasible in the coming months. Basically, any time someone wants to talk with me about my book, I’m there!

As far as learning from other the21ders, absolutely! Our debut group is so supportive, lifting each other up and offering advice on the best marketing tactics. I’m so grateful to have them going through this with me!

10. I’ve heard the same advice to focus on what you enjoy when marketing from other authors too. What are you working on now?

I just turned in revisions for my second book, coming from Bloomsbury September 2022. I am so close to announcing more about it, but for now I’ll just say it is another YA contemporary with a speculative twist. Keep an eye out for more details soon!

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Michelle. You can find Michelle at www.michelleimason.com, on Twitter and Instagram at @michelleimason, and sign up for her newsletter at bit.ly/MIMnews. 

Giveaway Details

Michelle has generously offered a hardback of Your Life Has Been Delayed 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 September 18th. 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. The giveaway is International

Upcoming Interviews and Giveaways

Tuesday, September 7th I’m participating in the September to Remember Giveaway Hop

Monday, September 13th I have an interview with debut author Alda Dobbs and a giveaway of her MG historical Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna

Wednesday, September 15th I have an agent spotlight interview with Nicole Eisenbraun and a query critique giveaway

Monday, September 20th I have an agent/author guest post with Chloe Seager and  Brianna Bourne and giveaway of Brianna’s YA dystopian You and Me and the End of the World and a query critique by Brianna

Wednesday, September 22nd I have an agent spotlight interview with Crystal Orazu and a query critique giveaway

Monday, September 27th I have an interview with debut author Jessica Vitalis and a giveaway of her MG fantasy The Wolf’s Curse

Hope to see you on Tuesday!

 

 

 

 

Debut Author Interview: Jessica Lewis and Bad Witch Burning

Happy Monday Everyone! Today I’m excited to have debut author Jessica Lewis here to share about her YA fantasy Bad Witch Burning. I’m super excited to read it because so many readers said they couldn’t put it down.

Here’s a blurb from Goodreads: 

For fans of Us and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina comes a witchy story full of black girl magic as one girl’s dark ability to summon the dead offers her a chance at a new life, while revealing to her an even darker future.

Katrell doesn’t mind talking to the dead; she just wishes it made more money. Clients pay her to talk to their deceased loved ones, but it isn’t enough to support her unemployed mother and Mom’s deadbeat boyfriend-of-the-week. Things get worse, when a ghost warns her to stop the summonings or she’ll “burn everything down.” Katrell is willing to call them on their bluff, though. She has no choice. What do ghosts know about eating peanut butter for dinner?

However, when her next summoning accidentally raises someone from the dead, Katrell realizes that a live body is worth a lot more than a dead apparition. And, warning or not, she has no intention of letting this lucrative new business go.

But magic doesn’t come for free, and soon dark forces are closing in on Katrell. The further she goes, the more she risks the lives of not only herself, but those she loves. Katrell faces a choice: resign herself to poverty, or confront the darkness before it’s too late. 

Hi Jessica! Thanks so much for joining us.

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

I am a receptionist and author! I live in Alabama with my hilarious grandma. I’ve always loved stories and was a big reader growing up. I actually started writing IP, of sorts; my friends in middle school wanted me to write fan-fiction for them, so I did. I started writing original work in high school and continued from there!

2. That’s so awesome that your middle school friends encouraged you to write. Where did you get the idea for Bad Witch Burning?

BWB is largely based on my own experiences as a teen and young adult, so it’s definitely a very personal book. But the initial idea came from an anime called Violet Evergarden. It’s a very different vibe compared to BWB, but that show got me thinking about how important handwritten letters are, to both those who write them and those who receive them. I added a cool power to the letters (summoning ghosts/raising the dead) and the rest is history!

3. A lot of readers have said that they couldn’t put your story down. How did you plot out your story and try to make it a page turner?

This is a hard question! I knew I wanted it to have a quick pace, since the theme was fire (burns hot, quick, and then it’s over, but can still leave a lot of damage and impact), so I guess I just thought about fast pacing and what might hook me as a reader.

4. You also have a day job. What’s your writing schedule like and how do you continue to write books on a contract with limited time to write?

I won’t lie; it’s very difficult. I work at my day job Monday through Friday, so I usually try to dedicate three hours to writing time (which includes drafting, editing, strategizing about my career, answering emails, interviews, etc.) after work. I also use all weekend to write. It’s a little depressing because I usually don’t have time for hobbies or friends, but I have to get the work done! 

5. I admire your dedication to your writing given your busy day job. What was a challenge you had in writing Bad Witch Burning? How did you overcome it?

It was very difficult to edit BWB at first because it’s a very personal story. It felt like my editor was critiquing my story rather than the book. But I took a deep breath and edited in small chunks with a lot of breaks, and I got through it!

6. Share what developing Katrell as a character was like for you. What are three things you like about her?

Katrell is such a fun character!! She’s tough as nails, vulnerable at times, absolutely rabid at other times. I had a blast creating her. My three things I love about her: she’s tenacious, not afraid to cry when things get tough, and loyal to her friends.

7. Your agent is Holly Root. How did she become your agent and what was your road to publication like?

A brief history of my road to publication…

-Wrote my first book and queried it. Got 64 rejections. Shelved

-Wrote my second book. Couldn’t figure out what was wrong with it. Shelved

-Wrote my third book, then called Wildfire, now called Bad Witch Burning. Entered into Pitch Wars. Got in!

-Did Pitch Wars (class of 2018). Signed with my wonderful agent, Holly Root, in March 2019.

-Got an offer on Wildfire/BWB in June 2019!

And that’s it! A long, winding road, but very exciting and so worth it. My agent is the best advocate (and is generally spectacular), and I’m so proud of how BWB has turned out.

 

8. Bad Witch Burning is your second book to release this year. You also have a debut MG contemporary Meow or Never: A Wish Novel, that released under your pen name, Jazz Taylor, in January 2021. In addition, Monster, a YA horror, will release in September 2022. How has it been releasing two books in one year as a debut author while getting your next book ready for publication?

It's been very stressful! I just do the best I can with the time I have. I was very lucky that MONSTER was already written when my editor bought it, so at least I didn’t have to draft it from scratch. But juggling everything is very tough. I’ll be super relieved once BWB is out in the world and I can take a small breather!

9. How are you planning to market Bad Witch Burning? What did you learn from marketing Meow or Never that is affecting your decisions for this book?

 MG marketing and YA marketing are so different. They’re also different genres (my MG is contemporary, BWB is fantasy/horror), so the reader-base is completely different. Though right now, I’m just doing the best I can without sacrificing my mental health. There are only so many hours in a day, and I spend 10 on my day job, 3 on writing, and the rest eating/sleeping!

10. What are you working on now?

I’ve been working on my next YA, but it’s a surprise!! Stay tuned and hopefully I’ll have news to share soon 😊

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Jessica. You can find Jessica at twitter: https://twitter.com/JLew100 and website: https://www.authorjessicalewis.com/

Giveaway Details

Jessica has generously offered a hardback of Bad Witch Burning 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 September 4th. 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. The giveaway is U.S.

Upcoming Interviews and Giveaways

Monday, August 30th I have an agent spotlight interview with Renae Moore Tobias

Wednesday, September 1st I have an interview with debut author Michelle Mason and a giveaway of her YA time travel Your Life Has Been Delayed and my IWSG post

Tuesday, September 7th I’m participating in the September to Remember Giveaway Hop

Monday, September 13th I have an interview with debut author Alda Dobbs and a giveaway of her MG historical Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna

Wednesday, September 15th I have an agent spotlight interview with Nicole Eisenbraun and a query critique giveaway

Monday, September 20th I have an agent/author guest post with Chloe Seager and  Brianna Bourne and giveaway of Brianna’s YA dystopian You and Me and the End of the World and a query critique by Brianna

Hope to see you on Monday!

 

 

 

 

Old School Giveaway Hop

 


Happy Monday Everyone! Today I'm excited to participate in the Old School Giveaway Hop hosted by MamatheFox. I hope you're having a great end to your summer. I can't believe that September is only a few weeks away. 

I've got a super busy day today on the blog. I've also got an interview with debut author Christyne Morrell and a giveaway of her MG fantasy Kingdom of Secrets. I hope you'll stop by and enter that giveaway contest as well.

Book of Your Choice or Amazon Gift Card

I am offering a book of your choice that is $20 or less on Amazon or The Book Depository. I’m looking forward to seeing what books everyone is looking forward to reading. If you don’t have a book you want, you can win a $10 Amazon Gift Card.

Giveaway Details

One lucky entrant selected by the entry form will receive a book of their choice for $20 or less at Amazon or The Book Depository or a $10 Amazon Gift Card. Open to entrants internationally as long The Book Depository ships to you for free, 13 years and older. Open for entry from 8/16 – 8/30/2021 at 11:59 pm EST. NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. The selected winner will have 48 hours to respond to the notification email to claim this prize or a new winner will be selected.

Please note that you must be a blog follower and leave a blog comment to enter the contest. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Upcoming Interviews and Giveaways

Monday August 23th I have an interview with debut author Jessica Lewis and a giveaway of her YA contemporary fantasy Bad Witch Burning

Monday, August 30th I have an agent spotlight interview with Renae Moore Tobias

Monday, September 1st I have an interview with debut author Michelle Mason and a giveaway of her YA time travel Your Life Has Been Delayed and my IWSG post

Tuesday, September 7th I’m participating in the September to Remember Giveaway Hop

Monday, September 13th I have an interview with debut author Alda Dobbs and a giveaway of her MG historical Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna

Wednesday, September 15th I have an agent spotlight interview with Nicole Eisenbraun and a query critique giveaway

Monday, September 20th I have an agent/author guest post with Chloe Seager and  Brianna Bourne and giveaway of Brianna’s YA dystopian You and Me and the End of the World and a query critique by Brianna 

Hope to see you on Monday!

And here's all the other blogs participating in this blog hop:

  

 

MamatheFox and all participating blogs are not held responsible for sponsors who fail to fulfill their prize obligations.

 

Debut Author Interview: Christyne Morrell and Kingdom of Secrets Giveaway

Happy Monday Everyone! Today I’m excited to have debut author Christyne Morrell here to share about her MG fantasy Kingdom of Secrets. It sounds like a fast-paced adventure story with twists that I’m excited to read.

Here’s a blurb from Goodreads:

Prismena’s father is the hot air balloonist in the peaceful kingdom of Oren. She assists him by mending torn balloons, but she yearns to build and fly the complicated machines herself. One day, a waif named Abi steals Prissy’s only remaining memento of her deceased mother – a silk scarf – and promises to return it only if Prissy smuggles a mysterious box onto one of her father’s flights. Since balloon travel is strictly regulated in Oren, that single act of rebellion results in her father’s arrest and kicks off a spiraling series of events that will yank Prissy out of her predictable life.

Along the way to free her father from jail, she’ll get caught up in a bar fight, nabbed by a sadistic schoolmistress, tossed into a home for unwanted children, schooled in the art of stealing, and thrust into the center of a brewing rebellion. On her journey through Oren – with its glitzy neighborhoods and its seedy underbelly – Prismena will uncover secrets that change the way she views her family, her kingdom, herself, and even her beloved hot air balloons. She’ll have to break a few rules – and even forge metal – to save the people she loves, but she may also get a chance to soar.

 Follower News and Interesting Links 

Before I get to my interview, I have Follower News to share. Colleen Paeff has a picture book, The Great Stink: How Joseph Bazalgette Solved London’s Poop Pollution Problem releasing on August 31st. Here’s a blurb: It tells the story of how, in 1858, engineer extraordinaire Joseph Bazalgette cleaned London's River Thames and saved thousands of lives by building the city's first modern sewer system. The book's back matter delves into modern day "poop pollution" and what we can do to keep our planet's waterways, and the people who use them, healthy. Links: Once Upon a Time (personalized copies, signed by Colleen)Amazon.com Indie Bound www.colleenpaeff.com


Kathryn McKendry has a new release, 
One Year On Broadway: Finding Ourselves Between the Sand and the Sea, on August 26th. Here's a blurb: A true story of forbidden love, adventure, and letting go. Weaving together a fan girl's tribute to her all-time favorite musical and a memoir, One Year On Broadway is a closeup view into the production of a Broadway musical and a testament to the power of the stories that become a part of us forever. Links: One Year On Broadway: Finding Ourselves Between the Sand and the Sea Imagine-Today

And here's a link for you if you're interested. Preply, a global learning language marketplace, recently did a report, Mapped: The Most Translated Books in Every Country. Here's where you can find their map and report:  https://preply.com/en/d/most-translated-books--lp.

Hannah, who is a follower in high school, found an interesting link to an article for an Introduction to Writing course at her community college. She asked me to post about it because she wanted to help other authors and writing. The article has advice on lots of topics related to writing. It's Money Saving Guide for Authors and Writers.

Interview With Christyne Morrell

Hi Christyne! Thanks so much for joining us.

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

Thank you so much for having me, Natalie! I’m delighted to be here. I’m a mom, wife, lawyer, beagle wrangler, Girl Scout troop leader, wannabe baker, and if there’s any time left in the day, an author!   

I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember, but it took me a long time to make it a reality. When I was growing up, I wasn’t exposed to author visits or virtual book talks or any of the other amazing resources kids have today, so I had no idea how an ordinary person became an author. After graduating from college with an English degree, I took the practical route and went to law school, then started working as a corporate lawyer. It wasn’t until my daughter was born that I came back to writing. When she was a newborn, my husband and I would rock her to sleep while reading to her from our favorite middle-grade books - Charlotte’s Web, The Phantom Tollbooth, The Chronicles of Narnia. These were the same stories that had inspired me to be a writer when I was young, and hearing them again rekindled that feeling. I started making up stories just for fun, to read to my daughter when she got older, but eventually I realized that writing was more than a hobby. So I started a website, told friends and family the news, and made it official: I was a writer.

2. That’s awesome that you started writing again when you were juggling so much else. Where did you get the idea for Kingdom of Secrets?

Kingdom of Secrets was inspired by a random piece of history. Many people don’t know this (I didn’t!), but during the Civil War, there was a branch of the Union Army called the Balloon Corps that used hot-air balloons to spy on enemy forces. My husband wrote a research paper on this topic when he was a kid, and he casually mentioned it to me many years later. When he did, I was struck by the contrast of the buoyant, colorful hot-air balloons drifting over a grim battle scene. I didn’t immediately recognize it as a story concept, but I filed it away and kept coming back to that image again and again. It wasn’t until years later that the idea finally evolved into Kingdom of Secrets.

3. That’s so cool that your husband’s research gave you the idea for your story. Your story sounds like a face-paced adventure, and readers say that they enjoyed your plot twists. How did you plot it out?

This book took me many years - and many drafts - to write. When I started, I knew what the basic premise of the book would be, and I knew how it would end, but everything else was up in the air (no pun intended!). I was a pantser back then, so I sat down in front of a blank page and let the story unfold. Unfortunately, little of that original draft remains in the published book. 

After scrapping hundreds of pages of that first manuscript, I decided to give plotting a try! I’d avoided craft books until then because I considered them somehow “cheating.” Looking back, I wish I’d turned to them much sooner. I read Story Genius by Lisa Cron and Save the Cat Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody, and they transformed my approach to plotting. For my next draft of Kingdom of Secrets, I used a hybrid of those two methods to prepare a detailed outline before I sat down to write. I also created a master calendar to plot out the major events in the story and make sure the timing worked, both in the present-day adventure and in the backstory leading up to it. 

In terms of format, I do all of my plotting and early drafting in Scrivener. I’ve always wanted to be one of those writers who use white boards, post-its, and complicated diagrams, but I’m strictly digital!

4. I just read Save the Cat Writes a Novel recently and found it helpful too. What was your world building process like?

I knew I wanted to tell a classic fantasy story with a fairy-tale quality to it, so I started with the familiar “in a kingdom far, far away…” Then I layered my original idea on top of that - about hot-air balloons in wartime - and built a world around it. 

For example, to emphasize the importance of the hot-air balloons, I decided to make Oren a walled kingdom, in which balloons were one of the only ways in or out. Then, I reasoned, if people had a hard time getting into Oren, so, too, would new ideas. Technology (including the gadgets and inventions Prissy wants to build) would be frowned upon - even outlawed - by those in power, who want to retain tight control over the population. In a kingdom both isolated from and at war with its neighbor, a ruler could easily control and manipulate the narrative about major events and his role in them, which is exactly what King Michael does when he labels himself a hero and even invents his own holiday - Savior’s Day. He’d also be able to convince the people they were safer behind a wall, even as they lost the benefits of engaging with the outside world, because nobody would have the means to contradict him. 

This is a lengthy way of saying that I built this world by starting with a single detail (hot-air balloons) and using it to fit another detail into place (the Wall) and then another and another, like putting together a giant puzzle. In this way, I was able to create a full picture of Oren, from the grand palace to the lowliest orphanage and everything in between.

5. I can really see the layers of your world building from your first idea. Your story is unique in that it involves hot air balloons. How cool! Did you have to do any research into how they work or go up in one yourself to get that aspect of your story right?

I’m actually too chicken to go up in a hot-air balloon, so I had to live vicariously through my characters on their high-flying adventures! I researched hot-air balloons primarily through books and online articles. I also interviewed a real-life hot-air balloonist (that interview is available on my website under Bonus Content). 

Once I had a basic understanding of hot-air balloons, however, I allowed myself to deviate from that research for the sake of the story. That’s one of the benefits of writing fantasy - you’re not stuck with reality! In real life, for example, hot-air balloons don’t go precisely where you steer them, but in my story, it was important that characters use hot-air balloons to get from one specific place to another. Luckily for me, one of my young characters is an amateur inventor, so I had her come up with a method to steer the hot-air balloons.

6. Ha! There’s no way I’d go up in a hot air balloon later. You are an attorney by day and also a wife and parent. I know how busy that is because I’m retired attorney and was trying to write while working full-time having a family too. What is your writing schedule like and how do you stay productive enough to complete manuscripts and meet all the other deadlines and duties of an author?

It’s not easy, as I know you can attest! I live by the 30-Minute Rule, which means I write (or do something writing-related) for at least thirty minutes a day. It isn’t much, but it’s a manageable block of time that I can squeeze into my schedule no matter what else is going on. I do have to make hard choices sometimes - like deciding whether to use my daily writing time to market my upcoming book, attend a launch event, draft a blog post, or… well, write! 

In some ways, having a limited amount of writing time is a blessing in disguise. With only half an hour at my disposal, I don’t have the luxury of being able to procrastinate or get distracted. The 30-Minute Rule helps me stay focused, and I can confirm that it’s entirely possible to write novels in thirty-minute increments - it just takes a bit longer! 

7. I really like your 30-minute rule Share about your journey to obtain an agent and to get a book contract.

Once I started querying, it took me five years to get my first agent. During that time, I wrote four different middle-grade manuscripts and numerous picture book manuscripts. I applied for loads of contests and mentorships, including Pitchwars. I don’t know how many rejections I received, but it was definitely somewhere in the triple digits! 

At first, the rejections were mostly form letters, but as my writing improved, I started to receive more personalized feedback and requests for more pages. I had several close calls with agents and contests, so I knew I was moving in the right direction. When I submitted Kingdom of Secrets to the agent that I’d eventually sign with, she responded within an hour asking for the full, then made an offer three days later. 

Of course, getting an agent doesn’t mean the waiting and rejection are over. Kingdom of Secrets was on submission for eight months, and I had just accepted the fact that it was never going to sell when… lo and behold, we received an offer from Delacorte! I find that the moment I stop obsessing over something (like getting a book deal) is usually the moment it comes to fruition.    

8. How are you planning to market your book?

After I got a book deal, I set to work reading every article and blog post I could find about how to market a novel, and I was completely and utterly overwhelmed! If I did all the promotion people recommend to debut authors, I’d have to quit my job and work full-time marketing my book, which is definitely not feasible for me and my family. 

Fortunately, there’s another piece of advice that I’ve received from seasoned authors, which I have taken to heart: my actions won’t have a significant impact on book sales, so I should focus on the marketing efforts I enjoy the most. To that end, I’ve been reaching out to librarians and schools, offering some school visits (in coordination with my day job), and creating book-related bonus content for my website. I’m actively seeking out marketing opportunities that allow me to connect with my end readers, because getting my book into the hands of kids who will love it is the most exciting part of being a published author.

9. I’ve heard that advice from many debut authors too. What advice do you have for other writers who are getting agents and may be signing a publishing contract as a debut author? 

My first piece of advice for writers just beginning their publishing journey is simple: celebrate! Pause to savor each and every accomplishment, because you’ve earned it. The goalposts are always moving, and you’ll be amazed how quickly you can go from elation over signing your first book deal to dejection because you didn’t get a two- or three-book deal (or a huge advance or a cover story in Publisher’s Weekly… the list goes on). Which leads to the other piece of advice I’d give to debut authors, one that I often have trouble following myself: don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Focus on the things you can control and that you enjoy and tune out the rest. And always, always come back to the writing.

10. What are you working on now?

I just finished copyedits on my second book, TREX, which comes out next summer. It’s the story of a boy named Trex who receives an experimental brain implant with an unusual side effect - he shocks everything he touches, and his electrical charge is growing more powerful by the day. When rumors emerge about a prowler sneaking around his new neighborhood, Trex teams up with Mellie “the Mouse,” a reclusive classmate training to be a spy. As a grudging friendship develops between them, Trex and Mellie find themselves pitted against school bullies, their own parents, and even an evil, brain-hacking corporation. Along the way, they’ll question what it means to be “normal” and explore the fine line between secrets and lies.

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Christyne! You can find Chistyne at christynewrites.com and on Twitter and Instagram at @christynewrites.

Giveaway Details

Christyne has generously offered a hardback of Kingdom of Secrets 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 August 28th. 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. The giveaway is U.S and Canada.

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

Upcoming Interviews and Giveaways

Monday August 23th I have an interview with debut author Jessica Lewis and a giveaway of her YA contemporary fantasy Bad Witch Burning

Monday, August 30th I have an agent spotlight interview with Renae Moore Tobias

Monday, September 1st I have an interview with debut author Michelle Mason and a giveaway of her YA time travel Your Life Has Been Delayed and my IWSG post

Tuesday, September 7th I’m participating in the September to Remember Giveaway Hop

Monday, September 13th I have an interview with debut author Alda Dobbs and a giveaway of her MG historical Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna

Wednesday, September 15th I have an agent spotlight interview with Nicole Eisenbraun and a query critique giveaway

Monday, September 20th I have an agent/author guest post with Chloe Seager and  Brianna Bourne and giveaway of Brianna’s YA dystopian You and Me and the End of the World and a query critique by Brianna

Hope to see you on Monday!

 

 

Agent Spotlight: Sera Rivers Interview and Query Critique Giveaway

Today I’m thrilled to have agent Sera Rivers here. She is a senior literary manager at Martin Literary Management.

Hi­ Sera! Thanks so much for joining us.

About Sera:

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

I’ve always loved writing, reading, and everything related to creating stories more than anything. After getting an MFA in writing for children, I worked in educational publishing for seven years and launched Avenue A Books, a children’s graphic novel imprint at Center for Responsive Schools. As Avenue A’s acquiring and managing editor, I loved working with new and established children’s book writers and illustrators to create picture books and middle grade graphic novels from concept to publication. When I left educational publishing, I knew I wanted to stay in children’s publishing. Agenting has been a dream job of mine for years, so I was beyond thrilled when I saw that Martin Literary was looking for someone to join their children’s book division. I’ve been with the agency for a little over three months now, and it’s just as amazing as I’d imagined. I work with a very supportive, collaborative team, which is very important to me.

Since I’m just getting up to speed, I’ve been actively seeking to build my list by reading through queries and requested manuscripts, attending conferences, and meeting with potential clients. My current clients have kept me quite busy as well. In addition to preparing proposals to go out on submission, I’ve been working with each of my clients to create a plan of action to move forward with all their writing projects. I also must stay well-informed on what’s selling and what publishers are looking for—and are not looking for—so I meet with editors to get a better grasp on what they’re excited to discover, and I stay up-to-date on industry news. Plus, so much more!

About the Agency:

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

Martin Literary Management, founded in 2003, is a full service literary and media management agency. We focus on representing authors of adult nonfiction, fiction, and books for children and young adults. Our clients’ titles have appeared on the New York Times bestseller and other national bestseller lists, earned strong reviews, received many awards, and garnered national media attention. Many of our clients’ works have been optioned and developed for film and television projects and have helped promote speaking engagements. 

 

We pride ourselves on providing thoughtful and considerate management of our clients. We also pride ourselves on being a modern literary agency capable of developing the many potential ancillary opportunities that exist outside of the book world. 

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 am mostly seeking to represent middle grade and young adult novels, as well as graphic novels for children of any age. I do represent picture books, but I am only looking for scary picture books and stories that tackle tough topics.

I’m especially interested in inclusive narratives and authentic representation. I welcome queries by children’s authors and illustrators who identify as BIPOC, LQBTQIA+ and other underrepresented and marginalized identities and cultures.

For graphic novels and young adult, I have a wide range of interests, which can be found on my #MSWL on my website.

For middle grade, I am partial to contemporary stories that tackle tough topics.

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

I would really like to see something that’s not been done before, whether that’s a new spin on an age-old tale, or a subject matter that hasn’t been fully explored. I have such an eclectic taste that I cannot pinpoint anything specific. That said, I do gravitate more toward darker subject matters and books that tackle tough topics. I want to be thrilled, scared, deeply moved by the characters—sucked into a world so intensely that I don’t come back up for air until I finish the last page.

What She Isn’t Looking For:

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

I am not interested in high fantasy, historical fiction, or adult fiction/nonfiction.

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?

I want to live in an inclusive, welcoming world that reflects the diversity of my community, and I believe that books have the power to create positive change that supports that vision. I want to champion books where children can see themselves and their peers reflected in the narrative, that uplift historically excluded voices, that tackle real-life challenges and traumas, and that celebrate the diverse world we live in.

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?

Yes! Having worked as an editor for years, I can never shut off the editor brain. When working with my clients, I generally go through at least one or two rounds of revisions before submitting to editors. I focus on the big picture: filling in any plot holes, adding layers to the emotional arc, clarifying confusing scenes, and strengthening any weak spots. I write comments directly on the manuscript during my second read through, and if necessary, provide a detailed editorial letter with my suggestions for revision. I also have a discussion with the author (or illustrator) on my suggestions for change so that we can brainstorm ideas together. Talking through revision suggestions helps me better understand their vision for the book and helps ensure that my suggestions for change are clear.

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 only accept queries through Query Manager, and I would like to see the query letter, a full synopsis (that includes the book’s ending), and the first ten pages of the book (or entire picture book) as well as a link or file upload of any accompanying artwork.

For me, the best queries have a great hook as an opening line, include a concise description of the book, and include the book’s genre, word-count, and at least two comparable titles. It is also very helpful when I see a clear connection between the author and the book’s main character and/or subject matter. For example, if a story includes folklore from another country, what is the author’s relationship to that folklore and country? Similarly, if a writer is writing outside of their identity, what is their reasoning and why are they the right person to tell this story?

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

I urge writers to do their research before querying agents to save everyone’s time and effort.

I’m likely to pass on queries that do not include my name, such as writing “Dear Agent,” get my name completely wrong, or just use a generic salutation such as “Hello.” I also receive many queries for genres that I don’t represent, such as adult novels, which is an automatic decline. These types of queries make me wonder if the person querying is just spamming all agents in the hopes of landing anyone.

Response Time:

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

I try my best to respond to queries within 30 days, though I am leaning closer to 40 days lately, due to the volume of submissions I’m receiving. When I request a manuscript, I hope to read and respond within 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?

I am open to authors who have previously self-published or have published with smaller presses when they have a new, unpublished project that they are querying. I cannot traditionally publish a book that has already been self-published.

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?

The publishing world is always changing; therefore, agents must be open to forever learning about and adapting to these changes. But no matter where the publishing world takes us, I believe that an agent’s role will always be vital. We work hard to shepherd the books we love into the world and advocate for the best publishing deals for our clients. We help our clients build their writing/illustrating careers and guide them through obstacles and successes along the way. I don’t see that role changing.

Clients:

13. Who are some of the authors you represent?

Brooke Hartman

Mariana Llanos

Rebecca Roan

Brian Russo

I am actively building my list of clients; my full list of clients can be found on my website.

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.

This is my first interview as an agent! Thank you!

Links and Contact Info:

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

Writers, illustrators, and graphic novelists should contact me through Query Manager at https://querymanager.com/query/SeraRivers

My manuscript wish list and submission guidelines can be found on my website: https://www.serarivers.com

Publisher’s Marketplace: https://www.publishersmarketplace.com/members/serarivers/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/writeloudly

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/writeloudly/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SeraRiversWriter

For more about Martin Literary & Media Management, visit: https://www.martinlit.com

 Additional Advice:

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

One question I get a lot from new writers is if they will have a harder time finding an agent or selling a book if they do not have any writing credentials. Let your writing do the talking for you. While it’s wonderful hearing about publishing credits or writing awards, my main focus when considering representation is on the book being queried. I pay attention to the writing style, the voice, the plot, the pacing, the characters. Do I love this story enough to read more? Do I love this story to promote it? The answer must always be yes, no matter the credentials of the writer.

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Sera.

­Sera is generously offering a query critique to one lucky winner. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower (via the follower gadget, email, or bloglovin’ on the right sidebar) and leave a comment through August 28th. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter the 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.