Upcoming Agent Spotlight Interviews & Guest Posts

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

Agent Spotlight & Agent Spotlight Updates

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

Debut Author Interview: Derrick Chow and Ravenous Things Giveaway

Happy Monday Everyone! Today I’m excited to have debut author Derrick Chow here to share about his MG contemporary fantasy Ravenous Things. Lately, I’ve been enjoying reading contemporary fantasies, so I’m excited to read Derrick’s book.

Here’s a blurb Derrick provided to me:

Twelve-year-old Reggie Wong has a quick temper that’s always getting him into trouble at school, while at home his mom struggles to get out of bed--let alone leave their apartment. That’s why Reggie desperately needs his dad back. One problem: His dad is dead.

Enter the Conductor, a peculiar man who promises to make Reggie’s wish to see his father just one more time come true. All he must do is climb aboard the man’s subway train, which leaves St. Patrick Station promptly at midnight. Desperate to have his dad and happy family back, Reggie takes him up on the offer, only to discover the train is filled with other children who have lost a loved one, just like him. As he speeds through the wild, uncharted tunnels beneath the city, Reggie meets Chantal, an annoyingly peppy girl obsessed with lists and psychiatry, and Gareth, his arch-nemesis and bully since the fourth grade. As each kid steps off the train and into the arms of their lost family member, Reggie can’t believe his impossible wish is about to come true.

But when Reggie comes to the end of the line and sees his father waiting for him, he soon discovers all is not as it seems. He and his unlikely new friends have been ensnared in a deadly trap. Together, the three must find a way to foil the Conductor’s diabolical plot and find their way out of the underground subway where horrors worse than they have ever imagined lurk around every corner. The rats of St. Patrick Station have taken over and they’re absolutely ravenous.

Hi Derrick! Thanks so much for joining us.

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

Since I was a little kid, storytelling has been an obsession of mine. From drawing and painting, to making comics, to acting in school plays, to writing prose stories. It has always felt like powerful magic to me – the act of crafting a story and making an audience believe in it, making them feel invested in a wholly invented world. There’s nothing more mind-blowingly awesome than that.

That’s why my artistic career has involved various forms of storytelling. As an illustrator, I augment stories by creating artwork to accompany articles in newspapers and magazines.

The short comics I wrote and illustrated for various anthologies was a very satisfying combination of two storytelling tool sets: writing and art.

And although my debut horror novel, Ravenous Things, is a prose novel, it also includes some of my artwork, as I created the chapter illustrations.

2. That’s so cool that you’ve been drawing and writing since you were a kid. Where did you get the idea for Ravenous Things?

My father’s death was very hard on me. Even though I was a fully-grown adult, that loss knocked me down a few pegs, making me feel like a little kid again. My grieving process included a lot of fantasizing about impossible scenarios in which I could see him again. Then one day, I was struck by a very vivid image of myself as a young boy in an underground cavern, walking towards a sunlit recreation of my childhood home where my dad was waiting for me. My entire novel sprung up from that one image. And it’s why my book isn’t just a fantastical horror, it’s also very much an exploration of grief and the different ways we process it.

3. Yes, big losses in our lives can have a huge impact on us. I know from my own experiences too. What made you decide to set your story in modern times rather than a new fantasy world?

Most of the fantasy and horror stories I enjoyed as a child were those with one foot rooted firmly in the real world. This reminds me of a piece of advice my favorite art professor gave me in university. Although she was talking about conceptual art, I think it pertains to writing as well. She said that art tends to create an emotional response in an audience when there is friction, and the thing that causes friction is the push and pull that results when contradictory elements are placed together.

In stories like mine, I think a lot of that friction, that ‘push and pull’, comes about from placing the fantastical in close proximity to the familiar and prosaic.

4. Even though Ravenous Things is set in current times, you have definitely created the world the story is set in, including changling-rats and a subway labyrinth. What was your world-building process like?

I wanted to take the real-world city of Toronto and add various fantastical outgrowths that seem entire plausible. And by that, I mean that I wanted the reader to feel as if they are discovering fantastical parts of the city that have always been there, located just beyond the edges of any reliable transit map. So even though a lot of my locations are entirely fictional, and perhaps even architecturally unfeasible, they have a look and feel that scream ‘Toronto’. For example, in the opening chapter of my book, my protagonist is in a small gothic cemetery squeezed in between a highway overpass and a cookie factory. No such cemetery exists, but I would not bat an eye if I discovered one just like it on one of my rambling night walks in the city.  

5. I’m looking forward to seeing how you created your world in Toronto. What was your plotting process like for this story? Did it work for you or are you changing how you plot out your stories in the future?

I’d say mine is a tale as old as time, in that I started off as a pantser but became a plotter. When I began writing Ravenous Things, I had a few particular scenes fixed clearly in my mind. I also knew how I wanted the story to begin and what my protagonist’s character arc would be.

But my first draft was pure pantsing –  akin to running headlong into the fog with a flickering flashlight. This meant I had to do several rounds of edits and rewrites before it was presentable. I think a lot of the plot inconsistencies and pacing problems I encountered would’ve been solved more quickly had I plotted things out. That’s why I’m firmly in the plotting camp now.

6. I’ve heard a lot of authors say they switched from pantser to plotter for the same reasons. What was a challenge you faced in writing Ravenous Things and how did you overcome it?

I rewrote the climax several times over several drafts. My book is a horror, but there are also a lot of thrilling action sequences and a mystery-solving element. I felt that the first version of my climax didn’t quite live up to the creepy, magic-infused scenes that populated most of the book. It was more like the wrap-up of a whodunnit, complete with the villain speechifying about his motivations. I tinkered with that ending quite lot, and it was quite frustrating for a while there.

The thing that knocked the cork free, so to speak, was going back to the beginning. I honed-in on a magical event that happens earlier in my book and found a way to amplify it in the climax. I feel it works because I’m giving the audience something thrilling and heightened, but something that also feels earned because it piggybacks off of earlier elements.

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

Thao was in the first batch of agents I sent Ravenous Things out to when I started querying. She had requested the full manuscript and eventually asked for a revise and resubmit. The thing that really impressed me about her was her very insightful feedback. She not only shared her wholistic opinion of the book, she also essentially gave the manuscript an edit pass with very finely-tuned notes. That was the moment she flew to the very top of my agent list. A good while later, she ended up signing me for a completely other project I submitted to her.

While this other book was on submission to editors, she asked about Ravenous Things. She gave it another read and decided it was ready to give that a go, too. Suddenly I had two manuscripts on submission at the same time. There was multiple publisher interest in both manuscripts, so within the space of a month, I was nail-biting my way through two auctions for two different books.

8. What are you doing to market your book?

I’ve been doing my best to be active and engaged on social media – tweeting and making videos that share insights about my writing process and the origins of my book. I also joined a wonderful debut author group which has really given me a great sense of community. Marketing aside, this group has really been a highlight of my publishing process, as I’ve gotten to know a lot of people I count as friends.

9. What are you working on now?

I’m currently working on a graphic novel project I’ll be able to talk more about in coming months.

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Derrick. You can find Derrick at @DerrickChow2 on Twitter and @derrickchow.official on Instagram. Go to ravenousthings.com to learn more about the pre-order campaign.

Giveaway Details

Derrick has generously offered an ARC of Ravenous Things 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 6th. 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 international.

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

Upcoming Interviews and Guest Posts

Monday, August 1st, I'm participating in the Apple a Day Giveaway Hop

Wednesday, August 3rd, I have an agent/author guest post with Kari Sutherland and debut author Rimma Onoseta and a giveaway of Rimma's contemporary YA How You Grow Wings and a query critique by Kari and my IWSG post

Monday, August 8th, I have an agent spotlight interview with Monica Rodriguez and a query critique giveaway

Monday, August 15th, I have an agent/author guest post with Marlo Berliner and debut author Refe Tuma with a giveaway of Refe’s MG contemporary fantasy Frances and the Monster and a query critique by Marlo

Tuesday, August 16th, I’m participating in the Old School Giveaway Hop

Wednesday, August 17th, I have an agent spotlight interview with Lynnette Novak and a query critique giveaway

Monday, August 22nd, I have a guest post by debut author Christyne Morrell with a giveaway of her MG science fiction Rex

Hope to see you on Monday!

Literary Agent Interview: Alex Slater Interview and Query Critique Giveaway

Today I’m thrilled to have agent Alex Slater here. He is a literary agent at Sandford J Greenburger Associates in their Greenburger Kids division.

Hi­ Alex! Thanks so much for joining us.

 About Alex:

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

 

After graduating from UConn in 2007, I answered a Craigslist ad (remember those?) for a Literary Internship in New York City. I interviewed and got the gig, for which I am ever grateful. As a result, I’ve only ever worked in agencies. That internship led to a full-time position as an assistant, where back then, I literally manned the slush pile: the big box of query letters, just a few years before they would all turn into emails. So long story short: after two years there (the Maria Carvainis Agency), and then twelve years at Trident Media Group, I am now thrilled to be bringing my passion for publishing and my expertise in its business to SJGA and GreenburgerKids.

 About the Agency:

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

 

Sanford J. Greenburger Associates is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year, and in all that time, the company has represented some of the most beloved children’s authors and illustrators, such as Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (THE LITTLE PRINCE) and Felix Salten (BAMBI). To continue in that spirit of supporting and developing the next generation of classic books for young readers, we’ve launched GreenburgerKids, a new division solely dedicated to picture books, graphic novels, and middle grade and YA literature. GreenburgerKids’ vision is to launch and nurture the careers of today’s most dynamic and important authors with a passionate team whose expertise reaches every part of the complex and competitive children’s market.

What He’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?

Primarily, I represent MG and YA, across all categories: graphic novels, nonfiction, and fiction. I do some picture books, but there are others on my team who are the true experts at that age group. And as always, I am looking to represent passionate projects from writers who have been systematically held back. I love horror, thrillers, off-beat humor, and moving and meaningful rom-coms.

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

I would love to see more middle grade horror. I think there is a lot of interest in that space right now, and I love books that push the envelope, but for substantial, and thought-provoking reasons.

What He Isn’t Looking For:

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

I am not interested in high fantasy, even though, especially when looking at the bestseller lists, I sometimes wish I was!

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 have always been interested in working with authors who offer the respect that I offer them, for their time and their work, and who share a long-term vision for their career. Writers must understand that this business is not only slow, but extremely competitive. In regard to the types of books I represent, I have been known to say that when I’m reading new material, I tend to look to see if I’m engrossed in a voice first, in a character. And when I find that I am, and I witness this character come to a choice, for example, when they decide to do something that they know is wrong, but they do it anyway…that’s when I’m clearing my schedule for the rest of the day because suddenly, I must finish this book. I am forever intrigued by characters who take the harder road, who are messy, and who make mistakes, because I believe that the best readers are also flawed, imperfect, and redemptive individuals. We all want to see ourselves in our stories. We all deserve to. So, what moves me are these choices we make, the mistakes, the journeys and the changes that ultimately bring us to joy.

 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, I am definitely an editorial agent. It’s one of the things I welcomed the most when I moved from being a Foreign Rights agent to a domestic agent. Back then, I was handed the work, and I had to just sell it. Now, I get to roll up my sleeves and get to work on making a project as perfect as we absolutely can make it on our own. When we get there, when we go act by act and make sure that this house is standing tall and strong, so to speak, then I always prepare the submission very transparently. I share the editor lists with my clients, ask for their input, and discuss all the reasons for the potential buyers. I find working this closely always helps generate what could be unexpected ideas.

 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 would love just a straight query letter, modeled on the back cover copy of your own favorites books, emailed to ASlater@sjga.com.

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

Do not make it too long. Keep it economical. Think about it like this: most agents are reading these query letters on their smart phones, so you have the time it takes for someone’s thumb to swipe up to catch them.

Response Time:

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

A few months is much appreciated.

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?

Yes, I am open to this, but usually not for books that have already been self-published themselves.

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?

I see agents being needed more and more to help guide authors through this changing literary landscape. If self-publishing is your thing and you’ve got that down, great, do your thing. However, having an agent expand your business globally is something every author should consider. The same can be said about book-to-film, audio, and the graphic novel spaces. Things are changing quickly, and a good agent should be there with you for not just one project, but for the scope of your entire career.

Clients:

13. Who are some of the authors you represent?

Keah Brown, Frederick Joseph, Janae Marks, and Ali Novak.

Interviews and Guest Posts:

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

N/A

Links and Contact Info:

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

Please feel free to email ASlater@sjga.com.

Check us out on our website: https://www.greenburger.com/agent/alexander-slater

Or my Twitter page: https://twitter.com/abuckslater

Additional Advice:

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

Some brutal truth: prepare for rejection. It is the life of the writer. If you’re not prepared for the shock of someone not connecting with your work (as an agent, I experience this shock on behalf of my clients all the time) then you’re not ready for this life. Tip two: If you’re seeking an agent, research them. Flatter them with your knowledge of their books, style, and wish list. All literary agents are deeply susceptible to adulation, but more than that, don’t waste your time pitching to someone who doesn’t play your sport. Tip three: Have patience. Children’s publishing is not only extremely competitive, but it’s a long game. Even if you get a book deal for your debut novel, the chances of you earning out that first advance are low. The chances of you earning out your second advance are low. Most spines on kid’s books are thin, and the best way to see a return on your business is by building up your volume on that bookshelf. So keep working, but most importantly, keep doing what you love.  

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Alex.

­Alex 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 5th. 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.

 

 

Navigating Online Pitch Contests by Agent/Author Melanie Figueroa and M.T. Khan and Nura and the Immortal Palace and Query Critique Giveaway

Happy Monday Everyone! Today I’m excited to have debut author M.T. Khan and her agent Melanie Figueroa here to share a guest post to celebrate the release of M.T. Khan’s MG portal fantasy Nura and the Immortal Palace. It takes us to the world of Jinn and has gotten great reviews. I’m excited to read it this summer.

Here’s a blurb from Goodreads:

Aru Shah and the End of Time meets Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away in this mesmerizing portal fantasy that takes readers into the little-known world of Jinn.

Nura longs for the simple pleasure of many things—to wear a beautiful red dupatta or to bite into a sweet gulab. But with her mom hard at work in a run-down sweatshop and three younger siblings to feed, Nura must spend her days earning money by mica mining. But it’s not just the extra rupees in her pocket Nura is after. Local rumor says there’s buried treasure in the mine, and Nura knows that finding it could change the course of her family’s life forever.

Her plan backfires when the mines collapse and four kids, including her best friend, Faisal, are claimed dead. Nura refuses to believe it and shovels her way through the dirt hoping to find him. Instead, she finds herself at the entrance to a strange world of purple skies and pink seas—a portal to the opulent realm of jinn, inhabited by the trickster creatures from her mother’s cautionary tales. Yet they aren’t nearly as treacherous as her mother made them out to be, because Nura is invited to a luxury jinn hotel, where she’s given everything she could ever imagine and more.

But there’s a dark truth lurking beneath all that glitter and gold, and when Nura crosses the owner’s son and is banished to the working quarters, she realizes she isn’t the only human who’s ended up in the hotel’s clutches. Faisal and the other missing children are there, too, and if Nura can’t find a way to help them all escape, they’ll be bound to work for the hotel forever.
 

Follower News

Before I get to M.T. and Melanie’s guest post, I have Follower News to share. 

Valinora Troy recently released her MG fantasy Revenge of Rose Queen. Here’s a blurb: The Rock of Diamonds has been attacked, and the Diamonds and Yvonne magically sealed inside their homes. When Vicky and Susan also mysteriously disappear, it’s up to twins Cathy and Alan to travel to far-distant Thule for answers. But the twins get more than they bargain for in this action-packed sequel to the middle-grade fantasy The Lucky Diamond. And her are a few links:

Available paperback & ebook in Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and any bookstore on request.

Amazon: https://bit.ly/3bLWmIB

Barnes & Noble: https://bit.ly/3OSZnFJ

Website: Valinora Troy – Children's Fantasy Writer

Twitter @ValinoraW

Navigating Online Pitch Contests with M.T. Khan & Melanie Figueroa

MTK: Hello everyone! Today Melanie and I are going to discuss one of publishing’s newer eccentricities: online pitch contests. They can seem daunting, merciless, or a cry in the void, but I actually signed with Melanie through one, and since then, we’ve sold my debut novel, NURA AND THE IMMORTAL PALACE, to Little, Brown. Pitch contests are a tricky, unpredictable phenomenon, but sometimes, with enough preparation and solid effort, they can work.

Melanie, would you like to explain what pitch contests are and how agents play a role in them? 

Mel: Pitch contests aren’t new to the publishing world, but an online event like the one we connected through feels very “of the moment,” for lack of a better phrase. Twitter has only been around for the past 15 years, and since its launch, it’s become one of the primary online spaces where the book community engages with one another and the breeding ground for a lot of these pitch contests. People think of publishing as an industry with many gatekeepers, but Twitter made the playing field feel more even. You can grow a platform from nothing, get craft and querying advice directly from other authors, and engage with others in this industry in a way that feels more conversational and personable—some of those folks being agents.

MTK: I definitely agree with Twitter being a great space for connecting with other writers and industry professionals. A lot of my friends and CPs were found there!

Mel: I think some of this context is helpful in understanding what online pitch contests are and how they came to be so popular. Twitter has started to erode some barriers in publishing and made things about the industry that had always felt a bit mysterious more transparent, and one of those things is something we often refer to at my agency as “pitch speak.” It’s also made agents, at least those with Twitter accounts, more directly accessible to the public than ever before. In an online pitch contest, for instance, authors typically craft an elevator pitch for their book, so within one tweet you’re tasked with distilling the concept and stakes and essence of your book (AKA using pitch speak). Authors post these pitches on the designated day of the contest and include a hashtag that agents and others following along can use to search through entries; there are also tags like #PB, #GN, #MG, and #A along with a whole bunch of others if you want to further catalog your tweet by age category or genre to help with searchability. The idea is that if an agent connects with the pitch and wants to see materials for the project, they like the post. And editors who’d like to eventually see the book when you’ve secured representation or other authors who want to support the creator can retweet the post to help boost its visibility. Ideally, one of the agents you send your work to will offer representation after reading. But even if you don’t land an agent, the good news is there’s always the next contest. And trust me, good old fashioned querying works, too. I’ve signed most of my clients from the slush pile.

MTK: There are quite a few pitch contests out there, and I’ve seen more pop up in the recent years. There’s Pitmad, DVpit, SFFpit, etc. I remember the day I participated in DVpit. I scheduled my pitch the night before because I wouldn’t be able to wake up early for the start of the contest (8am ET), and I woke up with a dizzying number of notifications. My pitch was one of the top tweets of the hashtag that day. I thought it was a great stroke of luck at the time, but when I look back on it now, while I do think luck played a role, there were some other factors that certainly helped. My pitch was a freshly drafted MG novel about a Pakistani girl plunging into the enchanting but treacherous realm of jinn in order to save her best friend. It’s what became NURA AND THE IMMORTAL PALACE! You can read my pitch below:

SPIRITED AWAY X ARU SHAH

Pakistani 12-yo Nura works as a mica miner to help her sweatshop worker mother. But when the mines collapse and her bff is ruled dead, Nura digs deeper to find a portal world of jinns, and that the kids aren’t dead—they’ve been stolen.

Melanie, when you first saw this tweet, what did you think?

Mel: When I saw your tweet, I immediately knew this was the kind of story I wanted on my list and that you, as the author who could dream a world like this up, was someone I wanted to work with. It felt big and meaty and important in all those ways I think so many of us hope our work will be, but there were keywords that, to me, spoke to the depth and breadth of this world: mica miner, sweatshop worker, mother, bff, world of jinns, dead, stolen. This was a story with high stakes but also a ton of heart. Because in the span of a few words I was already connecting with and worried for these characters. I had a sense of who they were—a mother who’d do anything for her children, a daughter who’d dig her way to another world to get her best friend back, and a dark mystery (where was this portal taking Nura? what did the beings that stole these children want with them?) at its core. Plus, you comped Spirited Away, and I’m a sucker for anything that makes me feel the way a Ghibli film does.

MTK: High praise! I’m really happy it snagged your attention. And I think what you mentioned here is exactly what brought us together—Ghibli films in the form of books! From a writer’s perspective, pitch contests can either be a nerve-wracking, last-ditch effort, or a random decision made on a whim. But they require two things from a writer: an interesting, hooky pitch, and a clean online presence. That means you have 280 characters to explain 1) who your MC is, 2) what they desire, and 3) what’s stopping them from getting it. Well-written pitches are at the core of what’s going to get your tweet at the top of the hashtag search. Often, other writers will boost pitches that catch their eye, which ultimately means it’ll land in front of more agents. I’ll let Melanie speak to more about what she thinks makes a good pitch and what about them snatches her attention.

Mel: I think your pitch for NURA is such a good example of the components of a great pitch. You had it all: setting, character, conflict, stakes. But even in that initial tweet, Nura didn’t feel two dimensional, which is a hard feat in 280 characters. Here’s a girl who wants to take care of her family, who fights for her best friend even when all hope is seemingly lost. Those things were true when you wrote this tweet and they remain true two years later, even after multiple rounds of revision. You had such a solid grasp on these characters and the heart of this story, and I think that sort of confidence comes through in the pitch itself.

MTK: Mel, I’m blushing.

Mel: To some extent the way that agents review these pitches is subjective, so what sparks for another agent or grabs their attention will be different than me. But I struggle with pitches that rely mainly on vibes. The kind that gives you a bullet point list of the overall tone, a short description of the protagonist that’s generally more surface level, and some tropes the author plays around with. I care more about what a character wants and what’s at stake in a story, so if your pitch doesn’t speak to those things but sounds more like a shopping list of interesting story elements I’m less likely to request material (even if the reality is I might very much love your work if I knew more about it). Comps are good, too, because they demonstrate an author’s awareness of the market they’re hoping to be published in and what’s working in those spaces, but they’re also just a good indicator that we gravitate toward similar stories.

MTK: I agree! Comp titles are a crucial component. A lot of writers dislike directly comparing their manuscripts to novels—and for good reason too—but comp titles are a quick and easy way for people to get an understanding of the genre, themes, plot, aesthetics, and vibe of your novel. But you don’t have to comp books. You can comp movies, songs, shows; really any form of media. I think comp titles played a key role in my pitch becoming one of the most popular tweets of the hashtag that day.

MTK: Now, the second requirement is more like a job screening. Are you retweeting strange things, irrelevant topics, or discriminatory takes? That might turn off an agent who would’ve liked your pitch otherwise. Before establishing my social medias as an author platform, I had a relatively unknown presence online. I would retweet and boost other writers, or share random thoughts or struggles I encountered while writing. All normal and clean stuff, but with a clear inclination towards the writing and publishing side of twitter. This might be a different conversation if you’re an established writer or personality. If your online presence shows that you already have an audience/fanbase, a background in the things you’re writing about, and other opportunities lined up, that can also influence an agent’s decision. What do you think about a writer’s online presence, Melanie?

Mel: I’ve signed clients who had little to no online presence, but I do always check out potential clients online before chatting about representation. Mainly for all the reasons you’ve already mentioned. I don’t want to work with bullies, or people who disrespect and demean communities I want to uplift and support. So how a person uses their platforms is almost more important to me than whether or not they have one to begin with. But assuming you do have an online presence, I like to see that you’re willing to put yourself out there (because your career will be a series of moments when you do just that), experiment with new ways to engage with your followers and find new ones, and perhaps above all, that you’re just a kind human that I could see myself working with for hopefully years to come. Nonfiction agents, people whose business model really thrives on platform and expertise, will have a totally different answer for you I’m sure. But for me it’s really that simple.

MTK: I’ve always wondered this as someone on the writer side, but do agents go into a pitch contest looking for something specific, or do they just like whatever catches their eye? And if a pitch is in a genre or topic they usually don’t represent, will a strong pitch still interest them?

Mel: I often go into pitch contests knowing I’m, say, more hungry or excited to find middle grade projects than anything else and so prioritize those entries, but I also work in other categories and very much keep an eye on those pitches, too, in case anything intrigues me. I’ve long since given up the idea that I have any control over timing in this industry—it’s the thing that’s both deeply fun and deeply frustrating about the job. You never know when you’ll find the next story that keeps you up until 3AM because you can’t put it down or what opportunities are right around the corner. You just have to be ready for them when it happens. So yes, I have a vague plan of attack but also just like whatever catches my eye because the thing about pitches is that you just never really know how you’ll spark to something until you see how that concept is executed on the page, so I cast a wide net. I can also say from personal experience and that of other agents at Root Literary that, yes, a strong pitch can cause even an agent who doesn’t primarily work in that category/genre to throw their hat in the ring. Though, as always, I think it’s important that authors vet those agents and make sure they have the resources and support to guide you. In more tangible terms, that means someone else at their agency should probably have experience in that space even if that agent doesn’t yet, someone they can turn to when they come up against something they may not have seen before. Agents pivot all the time, at different points in their career; you just want to make sure you’ll be taken care of when they do.

MTK: That’s super interesting to hear! Which leads us into stage two: what comes after. If an agent likes your pitch—great! That means they’re interested in seeing more material from you. But pause. Like Melanie mentioned above, take a moment to research the agents that are interested. There have been a few horror stories of fake agents who steal unsuspecting writers’ manuscripts. Make sure the agent you’re following up with is from a trusted agency, with their own client list and sales. Now, for each agent that likes your pitch, they may request different things—some just a query, some want the query and first 50 pages, while others will ask for the full straight away. Make sure to check an agent’s twitter or their submission guidelines. You want to eliminate any possible obstacle that might get in the way of an interested agent—and the easiest one to subvert is improper submissions. The good thing, and may I say great thing about pitch contests, are that they’re a way to skip the line. You’re no longer just another number in an agent’s slush pile. You’re wanted. Melanie, when agents get emails from a writer whose pitch they liked, are they ready to drop everything and read them first? What’s the agent side look like?

Mel: For me it really just depends on what my reading load currently looks like and how excited I am about a concept. If I have a lot of client reading, that’s always going to be the priority, so it might take me a minute to turn to the manuscripts I requested during a pitch contest. With that said, being an agent means you are constantly battling between the need to focus on existing clients and projects with the need to build out your pipeline for future sales so that you make sure you’re able to support yourself, too. I do try to read full manuscripts I’ve requested in order of arrival, but sometimes a story just calls to you and you find yourself wishing you could drop everything to read it. And with Nura and the Immortal Palace, I remember that being the case. So that’s what I did. I read it almost immediately, within a couple days of you sending it to me. It was month two of the pandemic, and if I’m being completely honest, I was anxious and scared and probably a little bored (we all were) and in my personal life I was going through a divorce and I guess what I’m saying is, I needed an escape. And when I picked up Nura, all I wanted to do was fall further and further into those pages. I wanted to dance with the jinn and eat syrupy sweet Gulab jamun and I wanted to give that girl the biggest hug because that’s what the book felt like for me—an embrace, a respite, a moment of catharsis. Because the thing about Nura is that we can all see a parts of ourselves in her. She wants so much for herself and the people she loves, and really, isn’t that all any of us want?

MTK: Hearing that NURA was like an embrace is one of the biggest compliments! And what’s fascinating is that while my book reached you at an anxious time of your life, your offer also arrived during a rough period for me—I was almost about to give up on writing. I’m glad we were able to find each other! I guess that’s the magic of pitch contests.

MTK: All right, last question. If there’s a book out there you wish you could read right now, what would its comp titles be? I’d love to read a book in the vein of Princess Mononoke with the flair of the Jasmine Throne, or Pixar’s Encanto weaved with the historical finesse of the Gilded Wolves.

Mel: I can’t even express how excited I would be about a book that I can comp to Encanto or Turning Red. I’m a kid at heart in many ways—I love Pixar films and Studio Ghibli and am obsessed with the How to Train Your Dragon franchise. Anything that brings me back to that childlike sense of wonder and hope and possibility. The longer I agent, the makeup of my list looks like it’s about 50% children’s literature with an emphasis on middle grade projects and 50% adult fiction. I’m definitely hungry for more middle grade, though. I’d love something that I can comp to Tae Keller’s Jennifer Chan is Not Alone, which is a beautiful lightly speculative novel that tackles the aftermath of a bully incident. That’s a story that’s stuck with me ever since I read it last year. I’d also like to see a book I can comp to Sara Pennypacker’s Pax, so something that center animals and nature and the future of our planet, and historical fiction that highlights non-western cultures like Veera Hiranandani’s The Night Diary. And, of course, I’m always excited to see more fantasy in the vein of Nura and the Immortal Palace or the upcoming Caris Avendaño Cruz’s (another client of mine!) Marikit and the Ocean of Stars.

MTK: Thanks so much for having us Natalie! You can find me at mtkhan.com and @maeedakhan on both twitter and Instagram, and for Melanie you can catch her at melanienfigueroa.com, and @wellmelsbells on both twitter and Instagram.

Giveaway Details

M.T. has generously offered a hardback of Nura and the Immortal Palace and Melanie has offered a query critique 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 July 30th. If you do not want to be included in the critique giveaway, please let me know in the comments. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter 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 book giveaway is U.S. and Canada and the query critique giveaways is International.

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

Upcoming Interviews and Guest Posts

Wednesday, July 20th, I have an agent spotlight interview with Alex Slater and a query critique giveaway

Monday, July 25th, I have an interview with debut author Derrick Chow and a giveaway of his MG retelling Ravenous Things

Monday, August 1st, I'm participating in the Apple a Day Giveaway Hop

Wednesday, August 3rd, I have an agent/author guest post with Kari Sutherland and debut author Rimma Onoseta and a giveaway of Rimma's contemporary YA How You Grow Wings and a query critique by Kari and my IWSG post

Monday, August 8th, I have an agent spotlight interview with Monica Rodriguez and a query critique giveaway

Hope to see you on Wednesday!

Sip Sip Hooray Giveaway Hop

 


Happy Saturday Everyone! Today I'm excited to participate in the Sip Sip Hooray Giveaway Hop hosted by MamatheFox. I hope you're having a good summer. This is a great weekend for me. It was my birthday yesterday. I had lunch with a friend, dinner with my daughter and her boyfriend, and spent time in the afternoon with my mom and daughter. Plus I'm attending as much as I can of an online writing conference, WriteOnCon. It's an annual conference jam-packed with events over three days and is very inexpensive to attend. I highly recommend it if you are a kidlit writer.

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 7/16 – 7/31/2022 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 Guest Posts

Monday, July 18th, I have an interview with debut author M.T. Khan Maaeda and a giveaway of her MG contemporary fantasy Nura and the Immortal Palace

Wednesday, July 20th, I have an agent spotlight interview with Alex Slater and a query critique giveaway

Monday, July 25th, I have an interview with debut author Derrick Chow and a giveaway of his MG retelling Ravenous Things

 Monday, August 1st, I'm participating in the Apple a Day Giveaway Hop

Wednesday, August 3rd, I have an agent/author guest post with Kari Sutherland and debut author Rimma Onoseta and a giveaway of Rimma's contemporary YA How You Grow Wings and a query critique by Kari and my IWSG post

Monday, August 8th,  I have an agent spotlight interview with Monica Rodriguez and a query critique giveaway

Hope to see you on Monday!

And here are 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.

Agent/Author Teamwork by Agent/Author Jennifer Unter and Melissa Dassori & JR Silver Writes Her World and Query Critique Giveaway

Happy Monday Everyone! Today I’m excited to have debut author Melissa Dassori and her agent Jennifer Unter to share about Melissa’s MG contemporary/magical realism JR Silver Writes Her World. I love the blurb and have heard great things about this book so I’m excited to read it.

Here’s a blurb from Goodreads:

What if you could write your dreams into reality with the stroke of a pen? 

Sixth grade is off to a difficult start for Josephine Rose Silver. Her best friend, Violet, returns from camp with a new best friend; her parents refuse to grant her more independence; and her homeroom teacher, Ms. Kline, is full of secrets. When Ms. Kline unveils a collection of old Gothamite magazines and tells her students to build their writing skills by crafting short stories inspired by the iconic covers, J.R. discovers a peculiar power: The stories she writes come true. Soon J.R. is getting a cell phone, scoring game-winning goals, and triggering school cancellations. But it's not long before she realizes that each new story creates as many conflicts as it does solutions. And when J.R. tries to write about her fallout with Violet, all of her problems converge.
 
With a pinch of magic, mystery, art history, and language arts woven into a journey of growth and self-confidence, this promising debut is a heartfelt and satisfying tribute to the power of words.

Now here’s Melissa and Jennifer!

Melissa: Thank you, Natalie, for having Jennifer and me on the blog! I love these author/agent pieces and seeing all the ways writers and their advocates work together, which brings me to the topic of this chat—author/agent teamwork. It’s one that reflects a theme in my upcoming debut, J.R. SILVER WRITES HER WORLD, which is a story about eleven-year-old J.R. Silver who’s struggling with watching her best friend, Violet, slip away. J.R. is anxious to get their two-person team back together but has a hard time saying so. Eventually she figures out, through a combination of magic and personal growth, that even if their relationship changes, it can still be strong.

One thing I knew from the minute you signed me as a client was that I was very happy for us to be a team, especially as I navigate these debut waters! As an agent, how do you decide which authors you want to partner with?

Jennifer: When I read a query letter, the idea of the book really has to grab me.  What I remember first liking about J.R. SILVER is the freshness of the story combined with nostalgia. It reminded me so much of the books I loved as a child, the feeling of real possibility and innocence, but from the view of the 21st century. I look for real scenarios in novels that I want to represent. Many are enhanced in some way, either by magic realism or other worlds or fantasy, but the issues the characters are dealing with are rooted in real life issues. 

Once I love the idea of the book, then I evaluate the writing of the query, and the bio of the author. If the author has really honed their skill, I can tell by both the writing and what they have done in the past in the writing arena. Even if this is their first book, if they have been to conferences or have a writing group or have published pieces, then I know they are serious about their craft.

Melissa: I love that you were taken with J.R. Silver from the start and had helpful ideas for me on revisions before we began to submit the manuscript to editors. Beyond that, though, it’s been so helpful to have someone willing to field my candid questions and advocate for me. I remember, just as an example, being so surprised that my deal would be announced before the contract was signed, and you assured me this was totally an industry norm. Then there are things like what to ask during our meeting with the publicity team, or how to assess whether their plans were robust, which luckily they were. All of those behind-the-scenes processes were so new to me, and I found it invaluable to have a partner with perspective. I know your client list is a mix of experienced writers and debut authors like myself, including a middle grade writer named Sally Engelfried whose September debut I just read an advance copy of and loved, LEARNING TO FALL. What kind of guidance do you find first-time authors need and how have some of your relationships with long-standing clients evolved over time?

Jennifer: My first -time authors are usually just unsure of the whole process and it really can be a lot. Editors do a great job guiding them through the editorial process, but I find I’m needed most for publicity/marketing, subrights, and then on to royalty statements, which most authors have a hard time figuring out. Long-standing clients have publicity contacts and have been down the publishing road many times, so they know what to expect.

Melissa: Readers probably won’t be surprised to hear that I hope that J.R. SILVER is the beginning of a long and fruitful career as a middle grade writer. Fingers crossed! From your perspective, how do you advise your clients to think about developing their careers? Are there industry trends you’re currently watching, or ways in which you’ve seen writers connect with audiences that set them up especially well for success?

Jennifer: I do watch industry trends, but often by the time it’s a trend, it may not stay that way. My advice for authors is usually to write from their heart and do what they love as opposed to following trends. As for connecting with audiences, the writers who are the most successful are the ones who want to find their readers, whether it’s on social media, at festivals, in bookstores, or otherwise. The ones who put in the time to meet their fans are the ones who reap the most reward.

 

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Melissa and Jennifer. They can be reached at:

 Melissa:

      www.melissadassori.com

      Twitter: @mdassori

      Instagram: @melissadassoriauthor

 Jennifer:

      www.theunteragency.com

      Twitter: @JenniferUnter

      Instagram: @jenniferunter

 Giveaway Details

 Melissa’s publisher has generously offered a hardback of JR Silver Writes Her World and Jennifer has offered a query critique 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 July 23rd. If you do not want to be included in the critique giveaway, please let me know in the comments. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter 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 book giveaway is U.S. and Canada and the query critique giveaways is International.

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

Upcoming Interviews and Guest Posts

Saturday, July 16th, I’m participating in the Hip Hip Hooray Giveaway Hop

Monday, July 18th, I have an interview with debut author M.T. Khan Maaeda and a giveaway of her MG contemporary fantasy Nura and the Immortal Palace

Wednesday, July 20th, I have an agent spotlight interview with Alex Slater and a query critique giveaway

Monday, July 25th, I have an interview with debut author Derrick Chow and a giveaway of his MG retelling Ravenous Things

Hope to see you on Wednesday!