Monday, October 29, 2018

Tip Time

This month's tip is a great one: TAKE A BREAK!!!!  Partially inspired by my own hectic life and the need to treat yo'self, this advice is also the result of seeing repeat queries and watching my own clients' occasional stubbornness about holding on to a manuscript for longer than they should.

Holding on to a particular manuscript and making it your primary (or sole) active project, even when it's been through countless rounds of revisions and sent out to everyone twice over, kind of reminds of when I'm running late and waiting for my subway.  I see other trains go by that will take me kind of near my destination, but since I'm already waiting, I stay where I am for the train that I want until eventually I'm waiting for that particular train solely because I've been waiting for so long at that point that getting on anything else will mean defeat.

In a similar vein, when you aren't willing to shelve one manuscript to try something else, you run the risk of driving yourself crazy and shutting yourself off from other possible opportunities that might come if you shrug off the effort you've put into Manuscript A to give Manuscripts B and C a shot.  I have clients who have a hard time trashing their first babies and I've also seen authors cycling pitches for the same story through my inbox for extended periods of time.

Part of moving from a writer who does it for the love of the craft to an author who positions himself/herself to be a commercial success in the marketplace is not being precious about particular stories, and knowing when to take a break and step away from something.  This is not to say you have to be ready to delete something if you don't get a book deal for it right away--I had one manuscript on sub for THREE YEARS before it sold to St. Martin's--but holding on to something for the right reasons is very different from just refusing to let go.

So if you have a project that has been driving you up the wall and you can't figure out the ending or how to make the characters more relatable, do yourself a favor and put it aside to try something new!

Monday, October 22, 2018


Earlier this month, I had my first *huge* auction for Mara Fitzgerald's YA fantasy THE WALLS IN THE RUBY SKY!  The project ended up going to the wonderful Patrice Caldwell at Disney-Hyperion in the biggest deal I've ever done. 螺 螺  螺

Obviously, I am THRILLED!!!!!!  This project is sooo unbelievably great and I'm over the moon that it ended up with such a fantastic editor and house, and also very pleased that so many editors loved it.

THE WALLS IN THE RUBY SKY is one of those unique, incredibly-written manuscripts that is a dream come true to see turn up in your inbox.  I immediately fell in love with the hilariously vain, selfish main character and was completely drawn in by the meticulous world-building and character relationships Mara crafted.  As you know, I'm eager to work on projects that showcase diversity and marginalized voices, so the fact that it featured a queer heroine was the cherry on top for me!

Having editors echo my feelings was incredible, but actually having this auction was such an eye-opener for me.  Although I've had auctions in the past, I've never done one of this magnitude before and once everything was wrapped up, I was completely drained.  If you've read about books selling at auction before, but aren't familiar with exactly what they are, an auction is when multiple houses bid on the same project and the agent is basically in charge of shuttling back and forth in rounds to let everyone know what the highest bidder's offer and terms are to see if the other publishers are willing to re-bid to exceed those terms.

Going into this auction, I thought I would just be laying back and watching the offers roll in, but what actually ended up happening was a two-day long, intense, multi-player ping pong match, with lots of phone calls, packets to read, and discussions between me and my client and the team at LDLA.  As an agent, you end up incredibly stressed because you want to make sure you get the best possible deal for your client while also ensuring that they end up with the right editor/house!!

Thankfully, I'm extremely happy with the deal I was able to negotiate for Mara and the publisher and editor we ended up signing with.  I can't wait to move forward with THE WALLS IN THE RUBY SKY and start the journey to see it become an actual, hold-in-your-hands book!

Monday, October 15, 2018

Query Critique Winner

This month's lucky #8 is Paulette!  Congrats on winning the query critique!  This is her original query:

Dear Carrie, 
 Put kids and a piano together and someone is bound to play “Chopsticks.” Yet hardly anyone has heard of Euphemia Allan, the 16-year old Scottish lass who probably wrote it. 
 Euphemia published “Chopsticks” under a male pseudonym. When her identity was discovered, researchers doubted she could have composed the song herself. But so far, no one has offered any other explanation.  
CHOPSTICKS: A MUSICAL MYSTERY is a 500-word non-fiction picture book for ages 5-9 that explores the origins of the song. Readers also receive instructions for playing “Chopsticks” themselves, and learn about the version Russian children play.  
I’m a pianist, librarian, and writer. My non-fiction writing for children has appeared in magazines including HighlightsCricketSpider, and Ladybug. I’m a member of SCBWI and Julie Hedlund’s 12x12 Picture Book Challenge. 
 I have other manuscripts available upon request, including a picture book biography of 19th century German pianist Clara Schumann. 
 Thank you for considering my story.  

And here are my notes:

Dear Carrie,  
Put kids and a piano together and someone is bound to play “Chopsticks.” Yet hardly anyone has heard of Euphemia Allan, the 16-year old Scottish lass who probably wrote it.  Euphemia published “Chopsticks” under a male pseudonym since no one would have wanted to publish music written by a woman in those days. When her identity was discovered, researchers doubted she could have composed the song herself, since it was thought that women did not have the cognitive abilities to write music, let alone young girls[With these edits, I'm trying to build out a greater sense of context for the reader about why Euphemia had to publisher her song under a pen name and why people had such a hard time believing she could have written it.  Feel free to change if necessary, but you get what I'm going for here.] But so far, no one has offered any other explanation.
 CHOPSTICKS: A MUSICAL MYSTERY is a 500-word non-fiction picture book for ages 5-9 that explores the origins of the song. Readers also receive instructions for playing “Chopsticks” themselves, and learn about the version Russian children play.  This story will appeal to the same audience that loved John Smith's THE MYSTERY OF MOZART and be attractive to early educators and parents looking to help their child develop musical skills. [I'm just making stuff up here, but the point that I'm trying to make is that you need to add comp titles and other information to show agents that there is a market for this book and who the audience is.  Does this involve STEM in any way?  Would it be able to be used in classrooms in some way?  Have other similar books about musicians won awards?]  
I’m a pianist, librarian, and writer. My non-fiction writing for children has appeared in magazines including HighlightsCricketSpider, and Ladybug. I’m a member of SCBWI and Julie Hedlund’s 12x12 Picture Book Challenge. 
 I have other manuscripts available upon request, including I love introducing young readers to famous figures, especially musicians, and am also working on a picture book biography of 19th century German pianist Clara Schumann. [I think it is a good idea to take out the part about having another ms available upon request and just focus on hocking this one, as it were.  I think a better way to phrase things is to say that you have other related projects with potential in order to whet an agent's curiosity.] 
 Thank you for considering my story. 

Right off the bat, I have to say that this query is in totally awesome shape.  Paulette, you've done a great job!!  You draw the reader in right away and get them curious about the story behind the composition of "Chopsticks" and offer interesting, relevant information about what the story will do/offer and what your background is.  I love the clear, concise language you use to deftly get the job done.

With my edits, I mainly wanted to provide more marketing context for agents about how other comp titles have sold and if there is a market for this book.  I hope my thoughts are helpful and if anyone else has any other ideas or questions, be sure to chime in below in the comments section!

Monday, October 8, 2018

Tip Time

I recently did a fun Skype Q&A with Wordsmith Workshops, where attendees had a chance to ask me whatever they were interested in knowing.  One of those questions about my pet peeves re: query letters inspired this month's tip about how to write a good query letter.

Every agent has personal preferences, of course, so this is not a one-size-fits-all tip, but these first ones are pretty universal:
  1. Personalize your query - Getting a "Dear Sir" email is akin to getting those credit card offer letters in the mail.  Also, if you're asking us to read your sample chapter (and hopefully more) and give you helpful feedback, you should be addressing us personally.
  2. Make sure we represent/are looking for authors writing in your genre - You're not going to convince an agent who doesn't rep SFF that they suddenly *do* want to rep SFF.  Doing your research beforehand shows that, well, you've done your research, and doesn't lead to wasting both your times and ours.
  3. Don't be a car salesman - One of my all-time pet peeves are queries that tell me this is my one chance to get in on the ground floor of an amazing opportunity of what is sure to be a bestseller.  It automatically makes me wonder if the writer is going to be a diva with revisions and if they truly understand the amount of work they and I will have to do if we agree to partner.  Let your writing and your platform speak for itself instead of trying to shove it in an agent's face.
  4. Don't be pushy - I'm always a bit surprised when I see submissions that include something like, "If I don't hear back from you in X amount of days, I'll be sure to follow up."  First of all, that kind of reads like a threat.  Secondly, it is kind of a threat, since reading that immediately makes me think that I won't be fast enough for you and that you'll expect super timely responses 24/7, which is never going to happen.
These next ones are more my personal taste, so it may not work to apply them to every query you do, but I thought I'd throw them in:
  1. Be snappy - One of my interns once nicely described my personal taste as "crisp."  I hate wordy, rambling prose in general, and am drawn in by clear, concise language that effectively draws me in and leaves me wanting more.  I always tell people to think of what the back cover copy on their book would be and use that as a model.
  2. Don't share your bio if it's non-writing related - If you have relevant information to share, like your nonfiction platform or your status as a NYT bestseller, then I definitely want to know!  If you have a YA Asian fantasy, tell me if it's own voices, or if you have a thriller that takes place on a submarine and are a submariner, that is something I should know!  If you decided to be a writer because your local library didn't have enough books to satisfy your cravings, that is less important to me.
Good luck with the querying process!

Monday, October 1, 2018

Happy Pub Day!

Tomorrow is the pub day for Anne O'Brien-Carelli's MG historical debut, SKYLARK AND WALLCREEPER!!!  I love, love, love this book (partially because I'm a sucker for unusual WWII stories) and it's fantastic premise.  It is about a young girl named Lily, who uncovers secrets of her grandmother's past as a member of the French Resistance while help her evacuate to a shelter in Brooklyn during Superstorm Sandy.  It's told in alternating POVs: Lily during the storm and her grandmother Colette when she was her age in France.  

It's gotten two great reviews so far, which I am super excited about!  PW praised "the warm, complex relationships between daughter, mother, and grandmother," and Kirkus called it "wholesome contemporary survival tale combines surprisingly well with a spy thriller packed with invisible ink, an exploding cigarette case, and all kinds of secret agent gadgets."  I encourage you all to get your copy ASAP! 

First of all, tell us how you came up with the premise for this story!  Did you draw inspiration from anything specific when it came to the characters or the plot?

I was talking to a nurse in Queens, NY whose nursing home had been hit hard by Hurricane Sandy. She had to evacuate residents to a nearby armory and stayed with them for three weeks, even though her own house was under water. I was blown away by her dedication. I got off the phone and started researching and writing the book. I had no idea where the story was going to go, but my lifelong interest in the French Resistance emerged as I was typing!

What was your road to publication like? 

Luckily, I had been told by authors that the road to publication is long and bumpy. It is tempting to answer this question with words like potholes, dead end, and slow for construction. But when I hit a detour or closed road I regrouped and kept moving. Thank goodness I found Carrie and she had a map!

After the contract was signed, were there any unexpected aspects of the publishing process that surprised you? 

Once I finally got a book contract, I was warned that marketing would be a crucial task for an author. But I didn’t really comprehend how time-consuming it can be. I’ve discovered on social media an entire world of writers, teachers, bloggers, librarians, etc. who are passionate about children’s literature and eager to promote middle grade books. But I’ve had to establish some limits because I could become involved in book promotion all day, and I need time to write!

How do you think your manuscript has changed since you started working with your editor?

What I loved about working with my editor was that he caught little things that might throw off a reader. Sometimes it was just a word or phrase, but he was meticulous and thoughtful in his questions and comments. It’s hard to see some of those details when you’ve been knee-deep in the manuscript for several months. I did change one section at his request and it made perfect sense. Otherwise, there were no major changes.

What is your favorite aspect of the book that wasn’t present in the original draft?

When I had to change the scene mentioned above, I had to create a new character, Rosie. She cracks me up. I’ve had a number of people mention that they love her character – and she wasn’t even alive in the original draft!

What have you had to do to promote your book?  What kind of social media do you think has been the most important in publicizing SKYLARK AND WALLCREEPER?

I’m very active on Twitter (@aobc) because it’s fun to connect with people who love to read and want to get books in the hands of children. There are so many opportunities on Twitter to promote through ARC tours, and to connect with teacher/librarian groups, fellow authors, and book stores. I’m also doing some book signings to meet readers and spread the word.

What part of the publication process has been the most interesting/fun? What part has been the hardest? 

Fun – connecting with other debut authors and promoting their books. I love going into book stores and taking pictures of their books “in the wild” and posting them. There’s a lot of support from other writers out there and I’m glad I discovered it.

Hardest – organizing details for all of the promotion. I’ve done that for years with my business and need a break!

Anything that new authors can learn from your experiences? 

Early on I established a Middle Grade Focus Group that consists of 5 kids ages 10-14 from across the country. I know them from relatives and friends. They have been incredible in giving me feedback about chapters and full manuscripts. They write comments (lots of margin notes!) and we meet in person and on-line to discuss their reactions. They take their job very seriously and can be quite honest! I highly recommend you establish beta readers who will be the actual readers of your book.

Do you have any quirks when it comes to your writing process (e.g. do you have to write at night or while wearing lucky socks)? 

If there’s lots of noise and activity going on around me, I can still concentrate on my writing. But if there’s music in the background with lyrics, it interrupts my train of thought. I start listening to the words of the song. I have been known to actually type the song lyrics instead of what I’m writing.