Jennifer Johnson-Blalock, Associate Agent, Liza-Dawson Associates

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Jennifer Johnson-Blalock joined Liza Dawson Associates as an associate agent in 2015, having previously interned at LDA in 2013 before working as an agent’s assistant at Trident Media Group. Jennifer graduated with honors from The University of Texas at Austin with a B.A. in English and earned a J.D. from Harvard Law School. Before interning at LDA, she practiced entertainment law and taught high school English and debate. Follow her on Twitter @JJohnsonBlalock, and visit her website: www.jjohnsonblalock.com.
Q: Have you always read your own queries?
JJB: Yes! I’m a newer agent–it’s been a little over a year now–and while I have an amazing roster of clients, I’m still looking to grow my list. It’s important to me to read my own queries so that I know I’m not missing anything. Occasionally, I’ll request something I didn’t know I was looking for or even something I thought I didn’t want because something about the letter just seemed too appealing not to take a look.
Our first priorities as agents have to be to our existing clients, so I think most agents reach a point where they have to let someone else do at least the first sift through the query inbox. But I hope to read my queries for as long as possible.
Q: Why did you want to be an agent?
JJB: I love books–that’s why we’re all here, right? More specifically, though, I love how varied agenting is. Since my relationship is with the client rather than a specific aspect of the publishing process, I get to follow a book through from start to finish, helping my client with tasks from contracts to editing to publicity. Every day is different, and every situation is a unique challenge. (I love being challenged.) And there’s nothing more exciting than being one of the very first people to read a truly great book.
Q: Have you fallen in love with any stories but passed because you know they are difficult sells?
JJB: No…ish. If I really fall in love with something, I take it on. That doesn’t always mean the book will sell (I’ve had one so far that didn’t; I’m sure I’ll have more–that’s part of the business), but if I’m head over heels for the book, I have to try. However, I’ve definitely LIKED books that I haven’t taken on because I thought they might be tough to sell. Publishing is competitive, and the reality is that I work for free until a book sells. I like to have a reasonable belief that a book will have a good chance in the market. You never really know for sure, though, so all I can do is go with my gut and hope that if I love something, I’ll find a publisher that does, too.
Q: How do diverse books impact your selection?
JJB: I definitely seek out diverse books, and I’m always happy to receive queries for them, especially if they’re #ownvoices. I recently signed a client through #DVpit, and my first sale was for a YA book with a biracial protagonist. I really love how the conversation about diversity in publishing has expanded recently, and I think it’s so important that we keep talking about how we can better represent more readers. Everyone should be able to see her or himself in a book. That being said, the quality of the book and my love for it is still paramount, and I do consider and acquire books that don’t feature diversity as well. But it is a bonus factor for me.
Q: What’s the most exciting thing about discovering a new writer?
JJB: Oh my goodness, everything. I love when I’m reading a submission, and I start to get that “don’t want to put it down” feeling, and realize it may be something I want to represent. And it’s such an amazing feeling when I’m on the first call with a writer, and they can barely speak because they’re so excited to get an offer of representation. And then getting to call an author and tell them you got an offer on their debut book? THE BEST. I love everything about being on the front lines with an author, helping to achieve their dreams and to bring a new book into the world.
Q: Is the #MSWL helpful for you or are you flooded with one genre because of it?
JJB: #MSWL is incredibly helpful! I think agents get more flooded with genres because of sales; we definitely build reputations for success in certain areas, so it makes sense that writers would query us with those projects. MSWL allows us to say, I know I’m a great fit for this, but I’m ALSO really looking for that. I’ve found that writers are really responsive to that. I think it’s helpful on both sides.
Q: If you could change anything about agenting-what would it be?
JJB: I don’t know that this is something that ever COULD be changed, but one of the toughest things about agenting for me personally is a lack of objective benchmarks. I could always be doing reading more, there could always be more offers, the advances could always be higher. It’s difficult to feel like you’re doing and have achieved enough, and it’s tough to set boundaries. I’m really having to learn to figure out what my limits are and to celebrate achievement milestones along the way.
Q: How intimidating are conferences for you? Many writers attend conferences hoping to make an impression, is that overwhelming?
JJB: Most of the time, conferences are exciting. So much of my work gets done in front of the computer. Even phone calls are becoming less frequent than they used to be, thanks to email. (I’m okay with that, for the record!) But it’s really nice to be able to talk to writers in person, have a conversation about their work, and connect a face and a personality with the manuscript.
They can be tiring, however–many agents, including myself, are introverts, and conferences involve between one and three days of nonstop peopling. But I know how excited and nervous writers get about meeting me at a conference, and frequently I leave conferences invigorated by their energy.
Q: Do you consider yourself an editing agent?
JJB: Absolutely. Publishing is competitive, and I want to help writers get their work in the best shape possible before we go to market. I usually send my clients an editorial letter and potentially a round of line edits soon after signing them. We do at least one round of edits and potentially one or two more. I don’t send a manuscript out until it’s as good as we can make it. And when I offer representation to a writer, I always discuss my broad thoughts for revisions so they can decide if our visions for the manuscript are a good fit.
Q: What’s the process for a writer after they sign with you? Do you typically ask for revisions before submitting to publishers? Is there an estimated timeline you could share about the process after you say yes! I want to be your agent.
JJB: Yes–as discussed above, I almost always do at least one round of revisions with my clients. That process depends on how quickly I can get them edits and how quickly they revise–I’d say generally it’s a few months before we go on submission. (Obviously if something is time sensitive, we’d move much faster.) Once the manuscript is ready, I typically send it out within a week. Then it takes editors a while to evaluate, to get colleagues to read, to decide to pass or present to the acquisitions board. I’ve heard of offers being received in anywhere from a day to a year–I’d say a few months is typical for fiction. Nonfiction can go a bit faster, since they only have to read a proposal. While we wait for a response, I encourage my clients to keep writing and working on the next project because we’ll need that no matter what happens with the current one.
If you enjoyed this interview, you may also enjoy: Sarah Davies, Tricia Skinner, Alan Gratz, Lisa Mantchev, Monica Hoffman, Betsy Thorpe,  and Karen McManus
Michelle4Laughs posts great interviews too.
To Query Jennifer:

Jennifer is acquiring both narrative and prescriptive nonfiction. She is looking for seasoned writers with strong platforms and is excited by works that use a unique story to explore a larger issue. Particular areas of interest include current events, social sciences, women’s issues, law, business, history, the arts and pop culture, lifestyle, sports, and food, including cookbooks and health/wellness.

Jennifer is also seeking commercial and upmarket fiction, especially thrillers/mysteries, women’s fiction, contemporary romance, young adult, and middle grade.

While she’d be happy to receive queries for works in any of those broad areas, Jennifer is especially interested in the following:

  • highly readable books rooted in psychology or sociology that use memorable research (the kinds of details you’d whip out at cocktail parties) to explain why we act and think the way we do
  • politically minded issue books that put hot-button items like education into a realistic, holistic context or Washington insider narratives
  • history that’s quirky (THE SECRET HISTORY OF WONDER WOMAN) or has particular relevance to today’s issues (ON IMMUNITY)
  • works situated in the classical dance world, indie/alternative music world, contemporary art world, or Hollywood at any point in history–working in the entertainment industry didn’t manage to squelch Jennifer’s enthusiasm for it
  • books that help you figure out how to do life better (THE HAPPINESS PROJECT; THE LIFE-CHANGING MAGIC OF TIDYING UP)
  • all things football and basketball–Jennifer graduated from UT the year Vince Young brought home the National Championship, and her family in Oklahoma City never misses a Thunder game
  • chronicles of unique communities like competitive Scrabble players
  • cookbooks that tell a story about the person writing the book or the food itself, research-based health/diet books with programs that sane people would actually follow, or accessible books about wine or cocktails that strive to make reading about it as fun as drinking it
  • food memoirs or novels that take the reader behind the scenes in a fresh way like SOUS CHEF–being VIPed at French Laundry is a recurring fantasy of Jennifer’s
  • thrillers with a literary bent à la Tana French, with an outsider protagonist who stumbles into a conspiracy like THE PELICAN BRIEF, or with a psychological focus and an unreliable protagonist (SISTER)
  • smart, upmarket women’s fiction in the vein of J. Courtney Sullivan or commercial women’s fiction like Emily Giffin’s that subverts common tropes
  • contemporary, realistic young adult with a strong voice and compelling characters (Nina LaCour; Stephanie Perkins; Leila Sales)
  • middle grade or young adult nonfiction, particularly narrative history books about lesser known women or people of color
  • absolutely any sort of book with a strong feminist slant

To submit to Jennifer, please send a query letter only in the body of the email to queryjennifer[at]lizadawson[dot]com.

If you enjoyed Jennifer’s interview, you may also like to read my interviews with Tricia SkinnerSarah Davies, Nancy Handy, Alan GratzLisa Mantchev, Monica HoffmanBetsy ThorpeKaren McManus and  Nicole Ayers.

Nancy Handy, Assistant Director of Mooresville Public Library

Nancy Handy, Assistant Director of Mooresville Public Library, North Carolina worked in public libraries for past 17 years. She received her MLIS from Queens College in Flushing, NY and was a Children’s Librarian in NY for 12 years before moving to NC to be the Head of Children’s Dept. for 5 years.before transitioning to the Assistant Director of the Mooresville Public Library.

Q: Why did you decide to enter the field of library and information science? OR What motivated you to seek a library degree?

NH: My undergraduate is in Elementary Education.  I always knew I wanted to work in libraries. I’ve loved books and libraries ever since I was a little girl. My decision was whether to go into school libraries or public. I chose public libraries.

Q: What surprises you most about your work?

NH: The thing that surprises me most about my work is the constant change. People thought that libraries would no longer be relevant in the digital age. That is so far from the truth. Libraries are needed more than ever. They are the portals to information beyond actual walls. The internet is filled with tons of information. It is the forte of the librarian to decipher and find the valid and authentic information. The library I work in sees 1000 citizens a day walk through our doors. These faces change daily, the information they are looking for changes, their needs and wishes change daily. The library is much more than an archive of books. It’s a place for children to attend storytimes, a student to study for their GED, a homeschooler to check out learning material, a meeting place for seniors, a Pokemon stop for teens, a bridge between the digital divide. My job changes daily, but it’s relevance is never questioned!

Q: What are you responsible for at the library?

NH: My responsibilities: Assists Library Director in the management, supervision, and administration of the library to provide maximum services to the library patron in accordance with library policy.  Performs managerial duties and oversees all aspects of the Adult and Youth Services Departments. Directs the library in the absence of the Director.

Q: When is the library busiest?

NH: The library seems to be busiest in the summer; however, it is a busy place year round.  Summer brings lots of patrons in for the summer reading program, beach reads, and as a pleasant escape sometime from the heat. In any given day, we have 1000 people walk through our doors and have seen upwards of 1500 in one day!

Q: What were the last 3 books you read?

NH: The last three books I’ve read:  Every 15 Minutes by Lisa Scottoline; I re-read the classic A Separate Peace by John Knowles (one of my favorites) and I’m currently reading Different Seasons by Stephen King (a collection of four novellas).

Q: How many events do you have at the library? 

NH:Before I was Assistant Director I was the Head of Youth Services. My experience is strong in library programming. We currently have 30-40 children’s programs offered each month. We’re currently increasing our programming for Adults and have recently added a new book club, an adult coloring club (new trend) and a program for adults with special needs. We have a full calendar of events offered each month and it’s only growing.

Q: If you have author readings, what is your best advice to them for a successful event?

NH: Yes, we have had local author showcases and have had local authors come to share their new book. The biggest advice I can give is to make sure you market for the event. The library will advertise in-house and electronically on our website and social media, but if the author also advertises the event is sure to have a greater turnout. I like events to draw the most interest they possibly can, especially for an author who is just starting out.

Q: How many new books does the library get per year?

NH: That’s a number I would need to look up, however I can tell you it’s thousands! We order consistently and year round all books are processed through technical services. We review professional journals, bestseller lists, and will honor most patron requests.

Q: Does the library carry self-published books?

NH: Yes, I have personally ordered self published books that were written by local authors.

Q: What’s the biggest misconception about being a librarian?

NH: Haha, seriously that we wear our hair in a bun and our glasses on a chain and that we read all day. I cannot tell you how many people still have a stereotyped notion of who librarians are. Sometimes, it is hard to find the time to even review a good book let alone read it at work. Our day is filled with various duties and we wear many hats (librarian, teacher, psychologist, event organizer/planner, boss, author, facility maintenance employee etc.) Librarians are modern-day information specialists who must know their community and the needs and interests of the citizens.

Q: How influential are librarians over book choice for young readers?

NH: If the librarian is engaging and is well versed in reader’s advisory they can be very influential. It’s best to know great books from all of the genres and a few gripping must reads for the reluctant reader. Know your books for the sports fan, the fantasy guru, the graphic novel reader, dystopian reads, classics and sci-fi to name a few. Never let a child who asks for good book suggestions walk out empty-handed!

If you enjoyed Nancy’s interview, you may also like to read my interviews with Tricia SkinnerSarah DaviesAlan GratzLisa Mantchev, Monica HoffmanBetsy Thorpe, Karen McManus and  Nicole Ayers.

Ann Eisenstein, Author, Teacher, Psychologist, Consultant and Speaker

Ann Eisenstein is a teacher, psychologist, author and cancer survivor with a passion for mentoring and molding the minds of children.

She grew up on a farm in Sidney, Ohio, where weekly trips to the library made it possible to explore and dream about the  world beyond. She attended Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, graduating with a BS degree in Education, with an English and Journalism minor.

Ann taught elementary school in Ohio and California before obtaining her MEd. in School Psychology from Wright State University, Fairborn, OH.

As a psychologist, she served in school systems in Texas, California, Michigan, and South Carolina, in adolescent psychiatric treatment facilities, in private practice, and for the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice.She taught college level Psychology in Columbia, SC, where she currently resides.

Ann continues to mentor at Logan Elementary, where the inspiration for her debut novel, Hiding Carly, and the Sean GRay, Junior Special Agent Mystery series began. Fallen Prey, published in 2013, is the second in the series.


Q: When did you first start writing?

AE: I think I was born writing! No, seriously, I had a love for books and words before I could read. I would sneak into my father’s library, fascinated by the glass doors leading to the musty odor of his old medical books, my uncle’s mysteries, I would lift one out and – much to his chagrin – add my own “words” to the pages with a crayon! I wrote hundreds of short stories, poems and sonnets all throughout my school years. I was editor of the school paper, and I wrote the senior class play and song.

Q: How long did it take to write your first book?

AE: I spent a good deal of time thinking about and planning Hiding Carly and researching and interviewing FBI agents before I actually began to write. The actual writing process – including editing and revising – took about a year.

Q: Are you a panster or plotter?

AE: I am a happy mix of both, I think! I didn’t outline Hiding Carly. As I stated above, I did quite a bit of note-taking and researching – but when I sat down to write – words just began to flow! About half way through, I wanted to visualize the story structure, so I put scene ideas on index cards so I could lay them out and move them around. I also did character sketches and setting foundations in my Sean Gray journal – which I always take with me!

I really like the idea of storyboarding and utilized that technique in Fallen Prey. I still use magnetized index cards on a whiteboard so that I can move them easily if I feel a scene needs to move to another chapter. I also have an Index Card app on my iPad.

I guess in writing a series, I realize the importance of keeping with the integrity of the story line and have become more of a plotter.

Q: Do you have critique partners?

AE: I belong to a writer’s group, Savvy Wordsmiths. I also have an in-house critique partner/editor!

Q: Are you a member of SCBWI? Do you think it helps?

AE: Yes, I have been a member of SCBWI since around 2000. More than anything I know it helps! I have met some very brilliant and talented writers, illustrators, editors, publishers and agents – many of whom have become good friends and some are in Savvy Wordsmiths. SCBWIC always offers the most wonderful workshops, sessions, intensives and panel discussions. No course or degree in writing could have given me as much as my attendance at these conferences! And throughout the year, our members are always there to offer support, congratulations, and advice!

Q: Where do your ideas come from?

AE: Everywhere and everything! I have always been an intense people watcher – so much so that my best friend often slaps me and tells me to stop staring! But nothing interests me more than the intrigue of people – who they are, what they are thinking, what they are doing. That’s the reason I became a psychologist – I love watching and studying the behavior of people!

I have always worked with children – as a teacher and a psychologist – and their families. And I have an intense interest in behavior – of children and of other’s toward them. Missing kids. Mistreated and abused kids. Social interaction – the media.

Ideas bombard me at every turn. If only I had the time and energy to capture them all!

Q: Are you an introvert or extrovert?

AE: If you asked the people who know me best – and I have had this discussion with many of them – they would say I am an extrovert.

But I think sometimes I am an introvert. I value my time alone. I cherish it. I seek it.

I don’t know – I’m a Libra – I might just be a balance of both!

Q: What is your writing routine?

AE: I don’t really have the “from 5:00-10:00 in the morning I will write” routine! Maybe I should!

I try to write when I can, where I can – on the beach, in the car (I use a micro-recorder), at Starbucks or Panera. I do have an office in my home that is my writing space (when I’m not paying bills, returning calls or filing an enormous amount of stuff).

And I try to pay attention to my writing mantra: “If you are not writing – you are not a writer”.

Q: Do you have a favorite topic to write about?

AE: I write in many genres. But my favorite is MG/YA fiction. My published works of fiction are about contemporary real life situations involving youth.

I love writing mystery and adventure.

As far as a topic, I love to focus on social issues affecting kids of today – internet use and abuse, child predators, abusers, and traffickers, drugs and alcohol, relationships, family, gangs and crime.

Q: How many drafts do you typically write before submitting to your critique partner, agent or publisher?

AE: For my first book, I wrote a banker’s box full of drafts. I had a critique partner working with me, but I had at least 8 drafts before submission to an agent. But that was before I had a publisher.

I had only 3 drafts for my second book before submitting to Peak City Publishing.

Q: What word did you delete the most from the last draft you revised?

AE: Ha! I spend a lot of time revising and attempting to find unique words for “said”. But I learned a while back (from an SCBWIC conference) that sometimes “said” is the best choice! Attempting to insert “shouted”, “whined”, and “whispered” to spike things up is akin to over salting a bland dinner! Yech!

The important thing is the content and delivery of the dialogue itself.

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Q: How do you keep self-motivated?

AE: That’s tough. Because lately, writing the final book in the Sean Gray series, I have been less than motivated.

On days that I lack the desire to put my butt in chair (BIC), I set the ambience in my office. I have a couple play lists that I use. I also enjoy scents – candles, incense, fresh flowers. But nothing motivates me more than the kids (and adults) that keep asking me when the next book is coming out!

Q: How do you cope with rejection?

AE: With wine! No, seriously, the human spirit rejects rejection as we all want to be wanted! And with artists – whether through art, music, theater or the written word, we are opening up our personal thoughts and ideas – our very lives to the world. We labor with love and the put ourselves out there and say: “Look what I made!” We want everybody to love it!

I believe because of that creative and sensitive self we don’t have a natural thick skin – so we must learn how to accept that rejection is part of this game. The first few times I had agents and editors read my manuscript and respond with the “It’s really good, but not right for our list”, I was confused and, admittedly, crushed.

But then I had to step away from the personal rejection and realize that the “not right for our list” was analogous to my choice of asparagus over broccoli, pizza over steak, red wine over white.

Q: How do you cope with reviews?

AE: If they are good reviews – I enjoy the wine more! If they are not – pretty much the same way as rejection! (Still with wine!)

Q: How has the industry changed for writers over the last ten years?

AE: I think in some ways for the good – self publishing is no longer the pariah it once was. But the industry has also become smaller in some ways – the big houses are less open and approachable for new writers. On the other hand, there are many more small publishers/presses that are open to new writers. Unfortunately, many of those very same small publishers don’t make it and then those authors are left out in the cold.

Ann’s website.

Twitter

If you enjoyed Ann’s interview, you may also like to read my interviews with Tricia SkinnerSarah DaviesAlan GratzLisa Mantchev, Monica HoffmanBetsy Thorpe, Karen McManus and  Nicole Ayers.

Karen McManus, Author

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As a kid I used to write books when I was supposed to be playing outside, and not much has changed. I’m a marketing and communications professional who also writes Young Adult contemporary and fantasy fiction in Cambridge, MA. 

When not writing or working I love to travel, and along with my nine-year old son I’ve ridden horses in Colombia and bicycles through Paris. A member of SCBWI, I hold a bachelor’s degree in English from the College of the Holy Cross and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northeastern University. Which I have never, ever used professionally.

Q: How long did it take you to write ONE OF US IS LYING? Is it the first book you wrote?

KM: ONE OF US IS LYING took me two months to write and another two months to revise. It’s my third book. My first was filled with classic rookie mistakes and should have been filed away under “Learning Experience: Do Not Query,” but of course I didn’t know that. I racked up lots of form rejections in early 2015. Then I joined Twitter, found CPs, and started studying writing as a craft. I wrote a second book over the summer that got a decent number of requests, but they all moved slowly. I started ONE OF US IS LYING in September 2015 and sent my first query in January 2016.

Q: How many drafts and revisions did you complete before querying?

KM: I queried with my fifth draft. The first couple I revised on my own. Then I shared with CPs, subject matter experts, and beta readers. That was the most extensive revision process I’d ever done, and it made a big difference.

Q: What made you know Rosemary Stimola was the agent for you?

KM: There were a lot of reasons. Rosemary represents several authors I admire, including Suzanne Collins, who’s one of my biggest YA inspirations. I wanted an agent who specialized in kidlit, and who regularly worked with imprints at the top of my publisher wish list. And when it came time to query, Rosemary’s website specifically mentioned an interest in YA mysteries. So it all just sort of came together.

Q: What was the call like? Did you prepare a list of questions?

Yes! I don’t think you can get through The Call without a list. Your mind would go blank. I’d already done a lot of research so my questions were mainly about Rosemary’s reactions to my book and how she likes to work with authors. She put me at ease and I could tell she had a real connection to the story.

Q: What did it feel like the day after you signed? Did Rosemary give you notes and ask for revisions before going out on submission? If so, how much time did she give you?

KM: The next day my CPs kept messaging “YOU HAVE AN AGENT!” which was good because I’m not sure I would have believed it otherwise. As a querying writer, you knock on so many doors and get used to them not opening. Once one does, you almost don’t know what to do with yourself. But it’s the best possible confusion.

Rosemary and her assistant, Allison, suggested a few editorial changes. I didn’t have a hard deadline, but I turned the revision around in a couple of weeks.

Q: What was the publisher submission process like?

KM: Going on submission is both thrilling and nerve-wracking. In my case, it happened very soon after signing with my agent, so there wasn’t any lull of “Whew, mission accomplished!” before moving on to even higher stakes. But the process itself was smooth, and I knew I was in good hands.

Q: How long did it take to sell your book? 

KM: Two weeks. This is not typical, so I was very fortunate.

Q: What were your first set of editorial notes like and did you faint when you saw them? How quick was the turnaround?

KM: My editorial notes were fantastic. I got a little emotional as I read through them because I knew my editor truly understood the book. She didn’t want to change elements that I considered the heart of the story, but she identified exactly which areas needed strengthening. There was a lot to consider, but she gave me great guidance along the way. I returned the first revision in around six weeks.

Q: If you could give yourself from two years ago advice what would it be? Would you be able to take it to heart then?

KM: I would tell myself to treat writing like a business, not a hobby. Learn everything you can about the industry. Study the market, the agents, and the imprints for your age category and genre. Define what success looks like to you, and find authors who’ve achieved it.

And no, two years ago I would have paid zero attention to 2016 Karen and all her spreadsheets. I just wanted to write stuff I liked.

Q: What inspired you to become a Pitch Wars mentor this year?  

KM: Discovering the Twitter writing community was a turning point for me. When I started querying my first book, no one outside my family had ever read it. I didn’t realize how many bad writing habits I had, and how much I didn’t know about plot, pacing, character arcs, etc. When I started connecting with other authors and sharing work, I was able to identify what was holding me back and improve. Lots of people helped me along the way and I wanted to pay it forward.

Q: I see you are open to a mentee that writes magical realism- how do you define magical realism? 

KM:To me it’s an undercurrent of magic in a real-world setting—everyday events fused with extraordinary happenings that aren’t necessarily explained. One of my favorite YA books this year, PLACES NO ONE KNOWS, features a popular girl who appears in a troubled boy’s house whenever she burns a candle. We don’t know why it happens, it just does, and it sets up an amazing love story.

Q: What book(s) do you keep on the shelf near you while you write?

KM: Strunk & White’s Elements of Style, to remind me to keep things simple. The Emotion Thesaurus as a go-to guide when I’m getting too adverb-y. And whatever I happen to be reading at the moment, because sometimes you just need to take a break and lose yourself in someone else’s words.

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Karen is a 2016 Pitch Wars mentor.

If you enjoyed Karen’s interview, you may also like to read my interviews with Tricia SkinnerSarah DaviesAlan GratzLisa Mantchev, Monica Hoffman, Betsy Thorpe and  Nicole Ayers.

 

Tricia Skinner, Associate Agent, Fuse Literary

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Associate Agent Tri­cia Skin­ner was raised in Detroit, Michigan. She obtained her undergraduate degree from the nationally acclaimed Journalism Institute for Media Diversity at Wayne State University and earned her graduate degree from Southern Methodist University.

Professionally, she began her writing career as a newspaper reporter and wrote for The Detroit NewsInvestor’s Business DailyMSN, and The Houston Chronicle. She’s covered small & minority business, personal finance, and technology.

Tricia has 20 years of experience working with the video game industry in various roles, including public relations, industry relations, and writing/editing. She is also a hybrid author of passionate urban fantasy (represented by Fuse co-founder Laurie McLean).

Diversity in genre fiction is dear to Tricia’s heart.  As an agent, Tricia wants to represent authors who reflect diversity and cultures in their work. The real world is not one nationality, ethnic group, or sexual orientation. She’s looking for talented writers who deeply understand that as well.

On the personal side, Tricia has a Tom Hiddleston obsession and she is definitely Team Vader. Her fam­ily includes three Great Danes (so far).

Q: Who reads queries in your agency?

Each agent receives and reads their own queries, especially if they’re still open to submissions. Most of us have assistants or interns who are invaluable for keeping our query boxes from exploding. My intern, Karly, has an uncanny ability to organize my vortex of an inbox into something manageable. That makes a huge difference as I try to find potential clients.

Q: Are you hungry to read any particular kind of story now?

While the market for paranormal romance and urban fantasy romance remains in a coma, I’m still hoping to discover a story with truly creative creatures and worlds. I adore PNR/UFR. I love the antiheroes, tortured heroes, broken but not beaten heroes. I still enjoy the darker stories, ones double-dipped in horror or other speculative elements.

Q: Have you fallen in love with any stories but passed because you know they are difficult sells? Have you ever represented a writer because the concept of the book was good even when the writing wasn’t? 

No to both questions. If I read something that’s phenomenal but it’s not “popular” right now, I don’t care. If the writer blows me away, I want to work with that writer. That may mean delaying a project until we can sell it, but I’d want to work with someone who is phenomenal. Plus, there are non-book markets to explore.

Q: How do diverse books impact your selection? How do you define diversity?

I look at diversity like this: the world is not one race, one color, one gender, one religion. People have choices – who they love, how they love, how they live, what they fight for, etc. If an author wants to catch my attention by pitching a diverse manuscript then that diversity had better be organic. The diverse elements should matter and reflect something of the real world. Done right means a blind lawyer is also a vigilante at night (Daredevil), or black men can help save the world as in Captain America: Civil War.

Q: What’s the most exciting thing about discovering a new writer?

There’s a pure energy that strikes when I’ve read a manuscript that’s unforgettable. I want everyone to read the book. I want the author to write the sequel. I turn into a fan girl and want to run in circles because I’ve found something special.

Q: What’s rewarding about a long-term relationship with an author?

I see it as a partnership that can develop two careers and help two people follow their dreams.

Q: If you could change anything about agenting-what would it be?

I’d want this industry to be more inclusive. For example, I look forward to a day when I’m not one of maybe two agents of color at a conference or sitting on a workshop panel.

Q: What is a rookie mistake you see too often in queries and first pages?

How much room do you have? How about:

* Querying me with the name of the previous agent you queried on the letter.

* Pitching genres I’ve clearly stated I don’t want.

* Writing a query about your life-long dream or background, and not about your book.

* Attaching anything.

* Sending a query that goes on and on about how rich your book will make us.

You’ll notice I didn’t say anything about the first pages because the examples above guarantee I’ll never get to the sample.

Q: Does the #MSWL work or are you now flooded with too much of what you asked for and nothing else?

Sadly, it’s difficult to answer this one. I am already flooded with manuscripts in genres I have never represented, have never requested, and would never read. So, if I post my wish list and I get queries that actually fit, I’m overjoyed. It’s all the other queries that make this process challenging.

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Regarding Submissions: (updated June 20, 2016) 

Tricia is interested in Romance (Adult/YA/NA) in the following subgenres and specialties:

  • speculative
  • science fiction (prefer space opera, Independence Day-type earth stories, and off world)
  • futuristic (modern setting with lots of advanced tech/changes to society)
  • modern fantasy
  • strong anti-heroes I can’t get out of my mind
  • villains so deliciously dreamy I want to redeem them at all costs
  • video games (think Ready Player One but with romance)
  • mythology-based (Native American/South American/Eastern Europe/Asian/African/Pacific Region)
  • military/special ops (especially blended forces and foreign agencies)
  • paranormal (extraordinary creatures/world building)
  • urban fantasy (extraordinary creatures/world building)
  • dark/edgy (noir-ish/touch of horror/spine tingling)
  • YA historical (not Regency era)

She is not looking for:

  • non-romance novels
  • romantic suspense/thriller/psychological thriller
  • science fiction/paranormal/fantasy erotica
  • contemporary/historical erotica
  • inspirational/religious/faith-based
  • recent historical (50s, 60s, 70s)
  • non-fiction anything
  • Women’s fiction
  • literary
  • short stories
  • screenplays or poems
  • accidental/hidden pregnancy as primary theme
  • amnesia as primary theme
  • fake engagements as primary theme
  • sports/athletes as primary story focus
  • rock stars/musicians as primary story focus

Diverse authors are strongly encouraged to query their work. Multicultural settings/topics and diverse characters are also strongly encouraged. Until further notice, Tricia is only soliciting new/unpublished/completed romance manuscripts. For all other genres, she is closed to new submissions unless requested after meeting the author at conferences or online events.

Please email your 300-word-or-less romance query letter followed by the first 10 pages of chapter one (no prologues) in the body of your email (no attachments) to querytricia@fuseliterary.com. Her response time is 2-4 months on average, but could be longer if she’s deluged.

If you enjoyed Tricia’s interview, you may also like to read my interviews with Sarah Davies, Alan Gratz, Lisa Mantchev, Nicole Ayers and Monica Hoffman.

Monica Hoffman, Author

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Monica Hoffman is a Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy author represented by Laurie McLean and Tricia Skinner of Fuse Literary. She is an active member of SCBWI and the writing community. She dislikes getting up early, but a good cup of coffee can usually motivate her. She enjoys any movie/book (particularly fantasy and Sci-fi) that can make her cry, laugh, or gets her blood pumping from an adrenaline rush. She’s a Trekkie, Dr. Who, and Star Wars fanatic, and a PC gamer when she’s not writing or reading. You can find her tweets about all things YA lit & entertaining GIFs on Twitter and Facebook. Oh and she’s a 2016 Pitch Wars mentor.

She and I became friends on Twitter during 2015 Pitch Wars. Her infectious joy and love for all things Star Trek, Halloween and GIF made her a fast friend. Then we realized we lived near one another and now I enjoy her company face to face.

I’m thrilled to share her  Pitch Wars success story.

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Q: What made you submit to Pitch Wars?

MMH:The success of the previous years drew me in. Pitch Wars is the contests of all contests created to help a writer advance in their skill level, gain knowledge about the publishing industry, and they get hands on guidance and the ability to work with a published/agented author or professional editor. Who wouldn’t want to attempt to get in? When I found out about Pitch Wars back in 2013, I wasn’t ready then. I had a broken manuscript that I couldn’t fix with the tools I had to my disposal at that time. But I kept my eye on the contest and started a new manuscript the following year. I knew if the timing was right, I would submit my new manuscript into the contest. There was so much to gain even if I didn’t get in!

Q: Was it your first time?

MMH: Yes, when I submitted The Atlantic Bond in the 2015 Pitch Wars, it was my first time. And I will say I had my expectation in check. Yeah, I was hopeful as any potential mentee is, but I knew the odds were not in my favor. And I was okay with that. I had met some wonderful people hanging out on the Pitch Wars feed and gained a few CPs. I had won already even if I didn’t get picked.

Q: How much did you stress out over your query and first pages?

MMH: I stressed a lot at first. But then I got help. I submitted my first page and pitch to a workshop called #YAYYA through Twitter where I critiqued 10 other writer’s first page and pitch. I received valuable feedback from them. Going in I didn’t know how solid my first page was. My first page was okay, but the feedback I got made it great!

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Q: How long was it between querying your agent and her asking for a full? And then how long after requesting the full were you offered representation?

MMH: Not long. I thank #DVpit for snagging my wonderful agents. When I threw in a half dozen pitches into #DVpit, a Twitter event created to showcase pitches about and especially by marginalized voices hosted by Beth Phelan with The Bent Agency, I didn’t allow myself to hope too much. I was at the end of my query journey and this was my last pitch party I was going to do with this particular book. I’m so glad I decided to. Among the dozen requests, Tricia Skinner with Fuse Literary was one of them. And a Laurie had my full manuscript. So between Tricia’s request from my pitch to the email requesting the call, maybe three days!

Q: Why Laurie and Tricia? What did they say that helped you decide they were the agents for you? Was it something they said? How they communicated? 

MMH: Fuse Literary has always been on the top of my list. They are forward thinkers in an industry that is pretty slow to change. I loved the fact they both are advocates for diversity not only for authors of color, but also diversity within my story as well. After my call, I knew I had found the perfect agents for me. And gushing over my book also helped a lot!

Q: After you had the call and were signed what was the first thing you did?

MMH: I did a happy jig around the house and then realized I had a lot of work ahead of me!

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Q: How long have you been the GIF queen of twitter?

MMH: HAHA! Not long to be honest. Since last year’s 2015 Pitch Wars. I think I can account my success to the Dancing Dean GIFs during the dance gif parties!

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Q: Okay, you signed with an agent. What happened next? Did you get notes? Did she ask you to revise? Did she have a particular topic, idea, or edits for you to make? How long did she give you to make them?

MMH: I got an edit letter from my agents and I had to plot out and write blurbs for books 2 and 3. Edits were light. I added a new chapters, increased the tension between my two main characters and general line edits to tighten and polish in some areas. I finished everything in just under two weeks.

Q: Was it easier to edit knowing you had an agents?

MMH: Yes! Their insight and vision for my manuscript was in line with mine so making the suggested changes was like taking direction from myself.

Q: How has your experience shaped how you plan to mentor during Pitch Wars this year? 

MMH: Going through revisions with a published author and then two fantastic agents, I’ve learned more than I can say in a few sentences. I now know how to spot plot holes, trash/filter words, words I tend to overuse, dig deeper emotionally, and increase tension to the point it will make your head burst. There is a lot more, but I plan on passing my knowledge to my potential mentee. I will spread the revision/editing love and I hope to continue guiding/assisting my mentee even after Pitch Wars is over!

See her wish list.

Follow her on twitter.

Pitch Wars 2016 submission window opens August 3, 2016!

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If you enjoyed this interview you may enjoy these, too: Literary Agent Sarah Davies, Author Alan Gratz  Author Lisa Mantchev, Editor Nicole AyersPitch Wars Thank You

Coming this week- interviews with:

Tricia Skinner, Associate Agent, Fuse Literary

Betsty Thorpe, Editor Author

Karen McManus, PitchWars Mentor and Author

 

Sarah Davies, Agent, Greenhouse Literary Agency

Sarah Davies was a publisher for 25 years before launching Greenhouse Literary in 2008. She’s open to all genres of fiction from chapter-book series through YA, but also sells picture books, non-fiction and even adult fiction by existing clients.  Among Greenhouse’s authors are NYT bestseller Brenna Yovanoff, Morris Award winner Blythe Woolston, and 2015 Kirkus Prize finalist Martha Brockenbrough. In YA she seeks quality writing complementing a unique premise. In MG she enjoys both adventurous storylines and classic-voiced fiction. More than anything she loves to see something she’s never seen before!  Sarah is a member of AAR. www.greenhouseliterary.com.  @SarahGreenhouse

Q: Who reads queries in your agency?

SD: I read queries from North American authors and my colleague Polly Nolan reads queries from authors writing in the English language who live elsewhere in the world (primarily UK/Commonwealth).

Q: Are you hungry to read any particular kind of story now?

SD: I’m always hungry to read MG and YA manuscripts that have a) a unique and hooky concept b) a voice that pulls me in and c) show a degree of finesse in the crafting. I’m less concerned about genre than that there should be something – whether perspective, structure, tone  – that sets the story and its writing apart from the many other queries and manuscripts (and books) that I’m seeing. I want to be surprised, I want to have that desire to read on and not put it down . . . . I’m a literary agent, but also a “regular reader”, and I want to feel the captivated interest and emotion that we all recognize in a good book. Everything else is less important than this because if I fall in love with a story, others will too.

Q: Have you fallen in love with any stories but passed because you knew they were difficult sells?

SD: I don’t think I have. I believe that an amazing story, really well written, will always find an audience – and even defy notions of what is “hot” at any particular time. But then, it is also not every day that I fall in love!

Q: How do diverse books impact your selection? How do you define diversity?

SD: For me, diversity is simply a story, a cast of characters, that captures and portrays the world as it really is. I like to see a range of characters who display in whatever way the rich mix of humanity, but this must always feel organic to the story and plot. I don’t take on a manuscript because it is “diverse”;  I take it on because it’s a great story, well told.

Q: What’s the most exciting thing about discovering a new writer?

SD: It is a great thrill to identify new talent, to bring that to the world, and in so doing hopefully help to make that new author’s life more fulfilled. As an agent, I’ve also discovered a love of teaching and mentoring. Sometimes that simply means speaking at conferences, but often it also means trying to gently nudge and lead a writer into producing the best work of which they are capable at that time. It delights me to see an author stretch and grow in their craft.

Q:  What’s rewarding about a long-term relationship with an author?

SD: Over the years, really wonderful relationships can grow between author and agent as we face the good times (deals, sales success, awards) and the challenges (manuscripts that sometimes need to be set aside, disappointing reviews, delays) together. Every career author rides a rollercoaster to some extent, and the yin and yang, the up and down, can be demanding. But we stick together, we work it through and find solutions – sometimes we even have a laugh! – and carry on down the road. I value and admire my authors hugely and I always try to put myself in their position. How would it feel to be doing what they do? That way I can try to be what they need.

Q: If you could change anything about agenting-what would it be?

SD: I would love to be able to make all books sell in the volume they deserve. I only take on authors I really believe in, I know how good they and their books are, but I can’t control how they ultimately perform in the marketplace. The market is a fickle and sometimes baffling thing, and writing is not always a career where you receive what you deserve. That being said, we try to collaborate with publishers as much as possible to get the word out.

Q: Are you an editorial agent? If so, have you ever taken on a client when the manuscript wasn’t ready because you loved the concept?

SD: Yes, I’m an editorial agent, and I’ve taken on many authors whose work wasn’t yet ready to go on submission. In fact, I’ve only very rarely taken on a debut manuscript and sent it straight out. In a few cases, after much discussion (usually before I’ve offered representation), the author has literally started again and re-written from scratch. This can often be so much better than a light revision, because then the author can reshape in quite significant ways rather than simply tweaking. I’ve seen some amazing results from an author’s “tough love” on their work during the revision process.

Q: Do all YA books need romance as a main plot point? Or is there room for stories that have romantic elements but focus on: family dynamics, place in the world, defining self and friendships? 

SD: I don’t think romance is mandatory, but I do think a great story will portray relationships (of whatever kind) that  evoke emotion and high stakes.  I wonder if it’s true to say that all good books are ultimately about love – but maybe  not always about romance.

Q: There’s a lot of buzz about magical realism- but the definition is not universal throughout the publishing community. How do you define magical realism and what about it is appealing?

SD: For me, magical realism is when magical or inexplicable events come into a story that is otherwise taking place in the real, everyday world. Hopefully that magic will enlarge, change or question our view of the real world. I represent one wonderful (middle-grade) book that I’d describe as magical realism: THE HOUR OF THE BEES by Lindsay Eagar, published by Candlewick.  It is quite a masterclass in how to write in this vein and pull it off (because it isn’t easy)!

Submission guidelines:If you would like to submit to Sarah, please look at the Greenhouse website to see whom we represent and for up-to-the-moment guidelines, which can be found here:  http://www.greenhouseliterary.com/index.php/site/how_to_submit.

*I met Sarah a few times at different SCBWI conferences. And I have to admit I have an agent crush on her. She’s direct, kind and smart. Any writer who has her as an agent is lucky.

Editor Author Betsy Thorpe

 

Betsy Thorpe has run Betsy Thorpe Literary Services since 2000, an independent editorial services company that helps people meet their publishing goals. She started her career working for many of the large trade publishers in New York, as an acquisitions and developmental editor. She is the author of many ghost-written books, as well as The Thin Place, a novel represented by The Prospect Agencywww.betsythorpe.com

We are lucky enough to tap into both sides of Betsy’s experience.

First as an editor:

Q: How do you know if you can work with a writer?

BT: Writers send me samples of their work, and I edit the first five pages. That way, they know what to expect in an edit from me, and I can see some of their strengths and weaknesses as a writer. If the book is in poor shape, I will send them to a writers’ group or a creative writing class – I don’t want them to waste their money on an extensive edit from me if they require basic lessons on how to write, but most people come to me with very polished work, so I’ve only had to turn away a few writers.

Q: What is your process?

BT: I approach the book as a reader, so I want to see the book unfold as a reader would. I edit as I read, and keep notes for my editorial letter. When I’m finished with a line edit, I write up my editorial letter, going through the book chapter by chapter, but also reflecting on the book as a whole: the plot, the characters, the pacing, the description, the dialogue. What does the writer need to work on, what can she do to make the book better besides the line edits I give. I also make many comments throughout the book – for instance, if I have specific questions, or if I think a piece of writing is gorgeous – I like to let people know.

Q: What should a writer ask an editor before working with her or him?

BT: I think a writer should feel comfortable with the amount of editing that they are about to encounter and be prepared for their feedback. Some people think that they only need a quick polish from a professional and then there are ready to submit to an agent or can self-publish. There are editors out there who will not challenge you too much and give you a solid, but not meaningful edit. But if you want to really improve your writing, be prepared to approach a strong editor. My goal is to make your work the best it can be, so that if you self-publish you can be proud when you let your friends, family, and co-workers know about your book, and if you are going to approach traditional publishers, you can be assured that you gave your work the best chance of success with agents and editors.

Q: If the story isn’t ready to submit- even after edits- do you tell the writer?

BT: Absolutely! I don’t want a writer to waste their chance at success when they still have issues they need to work on. One of the biggest problems I find writers encounter is that they rush to submit without consulting a professional editor first. Then they approach me after they’ve been rejected or ignored by thirty or even sixty agents. Their writing may be beautiful enough to attract an agent into reading their full manuscript, but if it’s not air-tight and consistent throughout the book, an agent will pass, and the writer may not know why. I can pinpoint reasons very quickly about why a book may have been rejected. I call this “forensic editing.”

Q: What are common mistakes writers make that they can learn to fix themselves.

BT: Over-writing. Many authors write books that are far too long for their genres. I’ve had books come into me that are 125,000 words and need to be under 100,000 to get considered, and we have to do a lot of cutting. It takes a lot of discipline to keep to a word count and tell your story within those word count constraints. Keep this in mind as you’re writing. I have a lot of issues with writer’s dialogue, and the balance between narration, dialogue, and descriptions. Too much back-story at the beginning (I was guilty of this in my first novel). Keep out unnecessary information – sometimes people spend a long time researching their books, and want to include every fact they find interesting, but it may not serve the story. There should be very few exclamation points in your book. Save them for when they’re really needed. And keep dialogue tags simple.

Q: What book do you wish you edited?

BT: Wow! I’ve never been asked that before! Good question. I guess there are two different ways to approach this. One is a book that was a really good idea but I was so upset by the way the author approached her book that I was put-off and never got past the first twenty or so pages. It was Amy Poehler’s, Yes, Please. I’m a huge fan of Amy from her work on Saturday Night Live, and Parks and Rec, and I was really hoping for another Bossypants (Tina Fey), which I thought was brilliant and insightful. Instead, the first part of the book was a litany of excuses about how she had no time to write the book with all her commitments, and what huge pressure she was under to write a good book. I know numerous authors who would kill for the chance and exposure she’d been given, and if she didn’t have the time, she should have written it another year when she was really ready instead of rushing it, and let another author who really wants to have their book be published get in the spotlight (or hundreds of authors probably could have split her seven figure advance). The rest of the book may have been truly wonderful, but I couldn’t read anymore after that introduction. If I were her editor, I would have cut that whole piece and gone straight to her content.

For pure delight, I would have loved to have edited Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple. I just loved the author’s voice, and thought she was so fresh and inventive.

Q: Any advice for writers struggling with being ready to submit when their manuscript is not?

BT: I know you’re anxious to submit, and feel like you’re not moving forward unless you hit “Send” to all the agents you want to query. But unless your manuscript is gorgeous and as flawless as it can be, you do not want to be competing against other people whose manuscripts have everything an agent is looking for. This is a very competitive business, and it takes a lot of drafts to make a great manuscript. Agents can’t make money unless they sell books – and if they take a look at your book and it still needs work, they aren’t going to want to represent you. Please be patient with your progress in writing. The analogy I think is best is that you can’t decide one day to take up the piano and expect to play Carnegie Hall ten months later. Just as a writer can’t decide that they want to write a novel and expect that just because they’ve finished a solid draft it’s ready for the spotlight. There’s a lot of practice and coaching that needs to happen before your book is ready to meet its public.

Q: What’s your opinion on writers’ critique groups and conferences?

BT: I highly recommend them. Writers’ groups can help propel you forward by having deliverables and set meetings. The hardest thing can be though, when you get multiple opinions and don’t know whose advice to follow. Writers’ conferences can be a great way to meet other writers, consult with editors, and meet agents. I’ve had people who work in real estate and in law and banking that they never get to talk to people who love writing and books unless they’re in situations like writers’ groups and conferences. It’s a wonderful feeling of camaraderie. And meeting agents at conferences is an invaluable way to make a face-to-face connection. An agent is far likelier to request a sample or full manuscript from you if they’ve met you at a conference.

Q: What do editorial notes look like?

BY: I edit the same way I did when I was an editor for many of the trade publishers in New York. My bosses taught me how to edit and how to be tough, and I learned from them. So if you get edited by me before you get a contract, you will know what to expect. However, having said that, some editors may not edit you as you need to be edited. I have seen many traditionally published books not edited as much as I’d like. Some editors are too overwhelmed that they don’t have time to edit, some write a few notes here and there and consider the editing process over – there are numerous reasons why this may happen. So again, it’s another good reason to make sure your book is properly edited before being submitted.

Q: Do you help writers understand what editorial notes look like from publishers?

BT: I’m always happy to interpret editorial notes from agents and editors, and also, fellow writers in critique groups. It can be overwhelming to know what to work on. Also, I hate to say that in traditional publishing we only give authors as little as two weeks from the time of them getting their editorial letter from their editor in order to meet the production schedule, so it can be a fraught and scary time.

Wow! Thank you Betsy. I can’t wait to read what you have to say about life on the other side of the page.

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Now as Betsy Thorpe, author:

Q: When did you first start writing?

BT: I’d been writing in diaries since the second grade, and had some very early validation in college when I wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times that got published. I’ve been ghost-writing for the last sixteen years, and I started my first novel as a therapy when I was going through divorce.

Q: How long did it take to write your first book?

BT: For the novel, I stopped and started it many times as I was a single parent of two little girls and building a business, so from first words on typed to finish it took eight years.

Q: Are you a panster or plotter?

I have a very rough plot in mind chapter by chapter, but it’s very fun to go by the seat of your pants and have characters say things and plot happen that you have no idea how you’re going to dig yourself out of. I find that intellectually exciting and fun.

Q: Do you have critique partners?

BT: Yes, I was blessed to work with Charla Muller and Judy Goldman on my first novel, who were invaluable to getting the book to where it is today, both thematically and physically finished. I have a retreat group now, but it doesn’t meet as consistently, and Judy, Charla and I are hoping to get the “band” back together.

Q: What books inspire you?

BT: Anything with a smart and innovative voice. I had to read so many hundreds or thousands of books in my career as an acquisitions editor (and now as an independent editor), that a fresh voice and innovative plotting gets me every time. I recently loved A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman and how he managed to get his reader to willingly follow the story of a grumpy and disagreeable old man, and then discover, slowly and precisely, the layers of his personality and how he got to be the character he was, and how and why he changes.

Q: Where do your ideas come from?

BT: My first novel was inspired by watching a PBS documentary on Windsor Castle – part of my book takes place there, but eventually the mystery that I was interested in there became a very minor part of the book. My current novel was inspired by an after-school class that my daughter took.

Q: Are you an introvert or extrovert?

BT: I’d say I’m an ambivert. I used to be very shy when I was growing up, but gregarious at times. When I became a professional, I had to make so many phone calls and meet people and network and socialize in order to survive that I quickly got over my hang-ups. I love getting together with friends and meeting new clients is fascinating, but walking into a party of people where I know only one person still fills me with dread. And I definitely need down-time to recharge my batteries.

Q: What is your writing routine?

BT: I have a full-time job and am a single parent, so I’m pretty exhausted by the end of the day. Many successful writers who have a full-time job will tell you they get up in some cruelly early hour of the morning, say three or four a.m., and write for three hours in order to meet their writing goals. I’m afraid I can’t do that – my body needs the sleep. I used to write on my every-other-weekend custody schedule with my ex, and he has since moved to another city, so I think I’ll just have to really block off times for my kids not to interrupt me. They’re teenagers now, so mornings on the weekends are usually very quiet here. We’ll have to see how I can work things out now.

Q: Do you have a favorite topic to write about?

BT: Dating after divorce. I’m afraid I’m horribly cynical about ever being in a serious relationship again, but that faint glimmer of foolish hope seems to never leave. I’m also very interested in manners and how they help soothe the rough-spots of our innate differences in personalities and viewpoints.

Q: How many drafts do you typically write before submitting to your critique partner, agent or publisher?

BT: For my critique partners they saw raw, new material, but before I submit to agents it felt like I wrote about three thousand drafts before I got my agent, but realistically it was probably four complete drafts.

Q: What word did you delete the most from the last draft you revised?

BT: “That”

Q: How do you keep self-motivated?

BT: I’ve been published many times and helped many authors meet their publishing goals, but to publish my own novel has long been a bucket-list dream of mine. My goal was to entertain other people who are going through a rough patch. I didn’t want to bring anybody down – just to give them a fun adventure to travel through to know that life doesn’t end when one part of our lives is over.

Q: How do you cope with rejection?

BT: Rejection is a part of the publishing business, and I’ve been rejecting many wonderful and talented writers (who weren’t right for either my boss or his/her list, or my list) since my very first day on the job many years ago.

Q: How do you cope with reviews?

I’m so self-critical that I always know I could have done better. As a co-author, it’s the tug and pull of what we can do as a team. So I’m proud of my work, but deadlines are deadlines. Art is a function of what you can do during a set period of time, whether it be a painting or composing a song, writing a book, or playing a piano concerto.

Q: What’s the last book you read?

BT: Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld. I highly recommend it as a modern day rewrite of Pride and Prejudice, set in Cincinnati.

Twitter and Editing Website

If you enjoyed Karen’s interview, you may also like to read my interviews with Tricia SkinnerSarah DaviesAlan GratzLisa Mantchev, Monica Hoffman and  Nicole Ayers.

Day 2: Editor Nicole Ayers

Have you wondered what it’s like to work with an editor? Have a few questions about how an editor may help your work? Nicole Ayers of Ayers Edits answers questions about the editorial process and what writers should consider before working with an editor.

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Q: How do you know if you can work with a writer?

NA: I communicate a lot with prospective clients. I share information about my process, offer sample edits, ask questions about their wants and experiences, and invite questions. I make myself available via email, phone, and/or Skype. And while part of all this is to give the person the information they need to know about working with me, the back-and-forth gives me insight about them. If someone’s not responsive or kind, then I know we won’t be a good fit. The sample edit also helps me decide if we can work together. Sometimes a manuscript includes content I prefer not to edit, or I see that the scope of work needed is very different than what the prospective client has requested. And I’ve learned to trust my gut. If the project doesn’t feel like a good fit for me, I politely pass.

Q: What is your process as you read through a clients work and do you read once through before making any edits?

NA: My process depends on the type of edit I’m performing. If it’s a developmental edit or manuscript evaluation, I read the entire manuscript and jot down first-impression notes when I finish. I let some time pass (usually several days at least) while ideas marinate, then I begin a close read of the manuscript, jotting down notes and ideas as I go. When working at the word level, I also make two passes, but I’m editing from the first word read.

Q:  What should a writer ask an editor before working with her or him?

NA: I wrote a blog post once that compared finding the right editor to a blind date. It’s important to ask lots of questions. Obvious ones include pricing, availability, and timelines. But other questions to consider asking include the editor’s prior experience with your genre, whether or not they use an agreement or contract, and how often they’ll communicate with you during the process. Ask what support is offered/available once edits are returned. I’ve also been asked why I’m an editor, what I like most and least about my job, and other questions that all attempt to show the writer if I can be trusted with their work.

Q: If the story isn’t ready to submit- even after edits- do you tell the writer?

NA: Yes, if. And that can be a big if because I don’t see the entire manuscript after the author makes revisions unless they hire me to complete a second-pass edit or we negotiate a review in our original agreement.

Q: What are common mistakes writers make that they can learn to fix themselves.

NA: Oh, there are lots. As a former teacher, I think writers can learn many self-editing tricks with the right instruction. Dialogue is a biggie—from a grammatical standpoint as well as a stylistic issue. Writers can learn appropriate formatting of dialogue, and they can learn how to make it sound authentic to their characters.

Q: Typically, how long does a writer have to wait to receive notes from you?

NA: That depends on several factors, including length of manuscript, type of edit, complexity of the edit, and my schedule. It can be as few as two weeks and as many as eight. Do keep in mind that the clock doesn’t start ticking until I actually start the manuscript. My calendar books out months in advance. Writers don’t usually look for an editor before their manuscript is ready. Then they have to wait for the editor they want to work with to have an opening, or they have to work with someone else whose schedule has more availability.

Q. Any advice for writers struggling with being ready to submit when their manuscript is not?

NA: Yoga. Meditation. Deep breathing. Really what they’re struggling with is patience and humility, which is so hard to practice. But if you can master patience in small ways, like holding a yoga pose, then you can transfer it to the bigger things in life.

An idea more specific to writing is to work on shorter pieces that can be submitted to contests or for publication in journals and the like. It gives the writer good practice with the submission process and feeds that need without putting the manuscript out there when it’s not ready.

Q:. What’s your opinion on writers critique groups and conferences?

NA: Those are two different animals. I’ll start with conferences. If the conference is well organized, it can be a great experience. You can attend workshops and panels with valuable take-aways. You can network with all sorts of people. And you can gain exposure for yourself if you present or find some other way to participate. So I say yes to conferences. Just be sure to do your research before you choose one.

My feelings about writing critique groups are mixed. If you’re with the “right” group, then you can grow tremendously as a writer. The problem comes when you’re not in the right group. And finding the “right” group can be tough. Look for writers in your genre, the more specific the better. Also, try to find writers that are better than you. You’ll learn a lot from them. If you’re the strongest writer, it will be a lot harder for you to grow. And beware the nitpickers (unless, of course, you’ve asked for that sort of feedback).

Also, think about your purpose for joining the group. If it’s to spend time with other writers, learn new skills, practice craft, and/or learn how to handle constructive criticism, go for it. If you’re trying to ready a specific manuscript for publication, think twice. Rarely will you share your entire manuscript at once—usually you share a couple of chapters at a time—and the process can take months. There are other issues with continuity and pacing that come up when revising like this as well. If your goal is to get a particular manuscript ready without hiring an editor, think about finding one partner that you trust to trade manuscripts with or consider beta readers.

Q: What do editorial notes look like?

NA: Again it depends on the type of edit. For line and copyedits, I use Track Changes to mark all edits. I also use the Comments feature to make queries or explain my editing suggestions. I also provide a style sheet that tracks spellings, treatment of proper nouns and numbers, as well as “rules” followed. For developmental edits, I use the Comments feature in the manuscript, and I write a multi-page editorial summary broken into the following sections: characters, point of view, setting, timeline, story arc (including ideas for revisions, elaborations, and deletions), pacing, tone, and my favorite things.

Follow Nicole on Twitter @AyersEdits.

Alan Gratz interview

Day 3 of my author, agent, editor and a librarian interview series continues.

Today’s guest is author Alan Gratz.                                          Alan_Gratz_2013-150x150

Alan was born and raised in Knoxville, Tennessee, home of the 1982 World’s Fair. After a carefree but humid childhood, Alan attended the University of Tennessee, where he earned a College Scholars degree with a specialization in creative writing, and, later, a Master’s degree in English education. He now lives with his wife Wendi and his daughter Jo in the high country of Western North Carolina, where he enjoys playing games, eating pizza, and, perhaps not too surprisingly, reading books.

Q: When did you first start writing?

AG: I began writing when I was very young. I was already writing stories in 1st and 2nd grades, and I wrote my first “book,” a non-fiction guide called “Real Kids Don’t Eat Spinach” when I was in the fifth grade. I continued to write creatively in middles school, then focused on journalism in high school, and went back to creative writing in college, where I earned a specialized degree in creative writing from the University of Tennessee. I’ve been writing kids books professionally since my first sale in 2003.

Q: How long did it take to write your first book?

AG: Samurai Shortstop took about nine months for me to write before it was in shape to submit it. After that, I spent another year editing it before it was in shape to be published! So all told, a year and nine months.

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Q: How has success affected your writing?

Well, it has helped and hurt. I no longer have the luxury to take as much time as I want to finish a project. But the flip-side is that I have publishers eager to get new books from me and excited about promoting them! And with greater excitement comes greater expectations, which as a creative person can sometimes be debilitating.

Q: What do you enjoy most about Trivia night?

AG: Ha. Yes, my wife and I run our local trivia night at the Pizza Shop in Spruce Pine, NC. We used to do it once a week, but we both became too busy with our personal and business lives to keep that up! So now we have a trivia night once a month. We write up a total of 70 questions each week, spread across five rounds. My favorite thing by far is hosting–I love getting up in front of a crowd and laughing and playing games. If I weren’t a writer, I think I would most like to be a game show host.:-)

Q: Do you get nervous at school visits?

AG: I used to. I used to be so nervous before the first presentation of the day that I would forget to breathe, and about five minutes in I would literally run out of breath, and have to stop and take deep breaths to resume. Which was awkward. But now I don’t get nervous like that. Part of it is confidence and repetition. I know what I’m doing, and I’m sure now that I’m going to be a hit if I just relax and do what I know. Another part of it–and this is kind of silly–is that I later purposefully built into my talk a place where I tell a story that has someone stop and take a deep breath. Which I do as a part of telling the story. So even if I’ve reverted to being nervous, I know I have a non-awkward place in my talk to stop, take a deep breath, and then continue.:-)

Q: Where do your ideas come from?

AG: All over the place, really. I read a lot of books, watch a lot of TV and movies, and read comics and magazines. Every time I read or see a story, I tend to think, “What would I have done with that idea?” Usually that takes me to a very different place–often unrecognizable from the original–and those ideas are really useful. I find that idea generation comes naturally if you’re naturally curious about lots of things. I’m learning something new every day–Seriously. I know that’s a cliche, but it’s true in my case–and I can almost always see a way to spin what I’ve learned into a story. It’s figuring out which of those ideas is most worth pursuing that is the real challenge, not coming up with ideas. I have a few lifetimes’ worth of ideas, but only one lifetime to write.

Q: What a rookie mistake did you make that makes you cringe when you see other aspiring authors do the same thing?

AG: When I first got The Call–that is, when an editor first called me to say she wanted to buy my book–I said yes right there on the phone. Why wouldn’t I? It’s what I had been working so hard and so long for! But then when it came time to look for an agent (I sold my first book unagented, through the slush pile) all the agents said, “Did you say yes on the phone?” and I had to confess that I had. By saying yes, I had handcuffed any potential agent from negotiating on the advance and the royalty terms (the things my editor offered on the phone) because she knew I would settle for those. Lesson learned–but unfortunately it’s a lesson you only need to use once! Saying yes to a pretty low advance started me low on the totem pole, and it’s taken me a long time to climb higher. Think of it like any other job–whatever your salary is, that’s where your raises begin when it comes time to re-up your contract. If I had started higher, I would be earning more per contract by now. Most people get agents first these days, and I would recommend that. Thirteen years ago, there weren’t nearly so many kids book agents as there are now. Times have changed a lot. But it’s still a good lesson to just say to any offer, “I’m very excited about the offer. Let me take a few days to think about it and I’ll get back to you.” Then you go in the bathroom and throw up because you didn’t say yes to the thing you’ve always wanted. But seriously, to make you an offer, an editor has gone through other readers, her senior editors, her publisher, sales and marketing–this is not an offer made lightly. She will wait for you to get back to her. Nothing happens fast in publishing anyway.

Q: What is your writing routine? Do you feel guilty if you stray from the routine?

I don’t have a set routine for writing, like getting X number of words written every day. When I’m in the research phase, I spend my days reading books and taking notes. When I’m in the outling phase, I take as long as I need in a given day to get the story beats right. When I’m in first draft mode, I like to write at least a chapter every day, but some days in there I don’t write at all. It’s good to take a mental health day every once in a while. I do feel bad when I’m not working on a book period–no research, outlining, writing, editing, etc. Like, I get cranky and angry and I don’t sleep well and I start to feel physically bad. I *need* to be working on something all the time, I think, which certainly helps motivate me. When you’re your own boss, you have to be the carrot, the stick, AND the mule.

Q: Will you see Star Trek Beyond opening weekend? Will you carry a spork into the theater?

AG: Yes! My family are planning on seeing Star Trek Beyond on the Friday of opening weekend! I’m a fan of all the incarnations of Star Trek, and I like a lot of what they have done with the reboot films. I didn’t love Into Darkness, but it was better than some of the other misses in the franchise. No, I will not carry a spork into the theater, and no, I will not be in costume–I grew out of my TNG uniform tunic many years ago. That reminds me–I should make a new one! I’ve actually thought about cosplaying as the evil Spock from “Mirror, Mirror.” That or a Ghostbusters costume or an MST3K jumpsuit may be my next cosplay project…

Q: How many drafts do you typically write before submitting to your critique partner, agent or publisher?

Now that I have a few books under my belt with my editors and agent, I generally write a first draft, have my wife read it and give me notes, and then I reread it and address her notes and my own notes I wrote myself as I did the first draft. If I see something I should have done in a first draft, I don’t go back and fix it–I always want to be moving forward in a draft, not looking back. Each new day is new writing, not reworking old words. That comes later. My first job is to finish the first draft. After I’ve reworked the book, I’m usually ready to send it to my agent, if it’s unsold, or to my editor if it’s a project I sold on proposal, which I’m doing more of now. I write very clean first drafts though–I outline for a month before writing, so I have the story beats down cold. I don’t write to find the story, as some do, so my plotting is already pretty tight the first time around.

Q: What word did you delete the most from the last draft you revised?

AG: “Then” can often go, in favor of splitting up longer sentences into two. I always try to get rid of “suddenly” as much as I can too, and just make the event happen suddenly on the page without having to say it.

Q: How do you keep self-motivated?

AG: I like to eat pizza and buy books, which cost money, so that helps push me.:-) I’m only half-kidding–writing is now my job, my career, and I don’t get paid unless I write. So I write. But I chose this career because I love to tell stories. And I want to tell as many of them as I can. I have never been a one-idea/one-book guy. I knew if I ever got my foot in the door I could keep going as long as people kept buying things from me, and that’s what I’ve done. I also have a healthy fear of death (call it the ultimate FOMO), and I think part of my drive to write a book (or two!) a year is my desperation to get as much work out there as possible before I’m gone to preserve my legacy.

Q: Do you ever write long hand?

I *love* to write long hand, but it’s slow–and hurts when I write all day long. I have to type most everything now, from research notes to drafts. But I do like to outline by hand, on note cards that I post on my big wall in my office. That’s how I get my writing by hand fix.:-)

Q: How do you cope with reviews?

Oof. Well, reviews can be really debilitating when they’re bad. And I fixate on the bad ones. Code of Honor has a bunch of four and five star reviews on Amazon right now, but I’ve read the single one-star review over and over again. Poor reviews on Amazon and Goodreads aren’t near as bad as bad professional reviews though. Those really burn, because someone was paid to set you on fire, AND those reviews get pride of place in professional journals and online retailers. And there’s nothing you can do about a bad review–nothing you SHOULD do, anyway. You should definitely NOT respond to any bad review with a defense of your book, or worse, an attack on the reviewer. You just have to let them go. But when I see them, I read them. I don’t know how I could not.

Q: What kind of relationship do you have with your agent?

I’m represented by Holly Root of Waxman Leavell, and I’m very happy with her. She not only works to sell and support my current projects, but helps me think about my future career path as well. Ultimately, all you can ask is that an agent be your second biggest advocate in the world (after yourself) and she’s definitely that. Well, perhaps my third biggest advocate, after my wife.:-)

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  • total side note: I saw Star Trek opening day and it is FANTASTIC! -HRH