Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Today, I'm grateful I survived my turn teaching preschool:)

The long weekend was wonderful, Thanksgiving dinner tasted great, and my favorite team almost, ALMOST beat their rival. We decided to head home on Saturday since a big storm was supposed to hit on Sunday, and on the drive, Honey Bear and I talked about all our blessings and how thankful we were for them. A perfect end to a perfect trip home.

Somewhere around Cedar City, though, the wind really picked up, and we were suddenly flying down an eighty-mile-per-hour freeway with forty-mile-per-hour storm gusts slamming into our car every couple of seconds. It bugged me because we’d been making such good time up until that point, but then I wondered: How often had the wind been blowing directly behind us, silently pushing us along, and we hadn’t even noticed?

Life is a lot like that, I think. The turbulent times stand out because they’re so, well, turbulent, but the seasons of calm--even the seasons of plenty--sometimes slip past us before we even notice them. How easy it is to forget the true source of our blessings when the blessings are flowing past us on every side.

I need to do better at this. I need to be more thankful. Because I’ve lived a lot of my life in a tailwind.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Few Housekeeping Notes

Today, I’m thankful for my health, which I only seem to notice after I get sick.

First off, I won’t be posting an agent interview this week, just so we can all enjoy the holiday, but I’m very excited about next week’s interview, which will feature Kathleen Ortiz of Lowenstein Associates. December’s a crazy month, so the interview won’t be interactive, but Ms. Ortiz came up with some wonderful answers to the usual questions.

Also, I’ve been playing around with Blogger’s pages, mostly because “Interview with an Agent” has been unnecessarily elongating my sidebar, so the link to those interview archives is now just below the title header. Maybe someday, when I’m feeling in the mood for a little self-torture, I’ll add genre listings and a bunch of other cool stuff to that “Interview with an Agent” page. For now, though, it’s just the same old list.

And just so the “Interview with an Agent” tab isn’t up there all alone, I also added a “More About Me” page (as if you didn’t already know way more than you wanted to just by reading this blog) and a “WHOSE TEETH ARE AS SWORDS” page, which features Bob’s query and first chapter.

I think that’s it. Unless anyone knows how to fix that silly-looking border around the tabs. (If I can’t figure it out, I may have to relocate them to the sidebar, because I really can’t stand that border…)

Oh, and if I don’t get a chance to say it later in the week, happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Interview with an Agent: Jennifer Unter

Today, I’m thankful for PBS’s Super Why. I’m pretty sure it’s the reason my three-year-old knows all his letters (and has since he was two), and you know, it’s actually kind of engaging. Not that I watch it. Too much… :)

Morning, all! Today, I give you Jennifer Unter of The Unter Agency. (Warning: She’s pretty fabulous, so if you don't want to add another agent to your list, you should probably stop reading now.) Enjoy!

KV: How long have you been agenting, and how did you get into it?

JU: I have been agenting for ten years. I initially started in publishing at Henry Holt as an editorial assistant, and while I loved editing books and working with writers, I found myself more excited about the idea of coming up with projects and making deals.

KV: How would you summarize your personal agenting philosophy? What do you expect from an agent-author relationship?

JU: My philosophy, if I have one, is to have an open, honest relationship with my authors. I expect to be able to tell them when things aren’t working or need tweaking, and I expect them to be able to come to me with any problems they are having at the publishing house. I am always available to my authors and expect the relationship to be one of mutual trust and respect.

KV: What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew you to those writers and/or projects?

JU: A few things that are coming out (or have just come out):

- THE SECRET OF KA and THIRST 3 by Christopher Pike. Christopher’s work is fluid and exciting and it draws you right into the story. I love YA fantasy/adventure because the authors can really be imaginative and teens are drawn to that.

- LIVING SKINNY IN FAT GENES by Felicia Stoler. This is a great diet book because it is not “faddish” or fleeting--it’s real, healthy advice and America needs help in this area.

- THE VIRGIN WIDOW by Anne O’Brien. This is great historical fiction that takes you into the War of the Roses. It’s escapist, sexy and she’s a wonderful writer.

- THE SEA OF BATH by Bob Logan. This is a very imaginative picture book about a captain on a boat in a bathtub. My three-year-old son loves it and gets a kick out of all the great illustrations.

KV: What genres do you represent? What genres do you definitely NOT represent?

JU: I do a lot of food/cookbooks/food issue books (Nina Planck, Nicolette Niman, Aaron Sanchez) and children’s books (Barbara Bottner, Sue Fliess). I also have a number of women’s fiction titles (Katharine Fisher Britton, Jill Mansell), memoir (Maria Finn), mystery (Esri Allbritten) among others. I also like to do history, biography and environmental titles.

I don’t do a lot of genre fiction.

KV: What query pet peeves and/or pitfalls should writers avoid when querying you?

JU: A pet peeve is when writers call me Sir, or have no idea what kinds of books I do. When someone mentions a book I do or the kinds of books I do, I am always more likely to read their query.

KV: What are you looking for in a manuscript right now? What are you tired of seeing at the moment?

JU: I’m really not looking for anything in particular--just good writing, a good story or a good idea. I know a lot of publishers are looking for middle-grade boy adventure novels, so I’m looking for those, too!

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

JU: Via e-mail.

KV: How do you feel about a writer's including a few sample pages at the bottom of the query? Do you find that more assertive or obnoxious?

JU: I don’t really love it, but sometimes I do read it. So, sometimes it works out for the writer! And, sometimes I just don’t read them anyway. Sorry for the non-answer, but that’s how I feel!

Thanks again for these answers, Ms. Unter. I always love it when I recognize one of the authors in an agent’s list, but interestingly, the name I recognized this time isn’t a full-time writer. Aaron Sanchez is also a chef and a sometimes judge on the Food Network’s Chopped! How cool!

Anyway, good luck to all you queriers. (I may be joining you shortly…) And have a fantastic weekend!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

In Which I Defend the Form Rejection

Today, I'm thankful for indoor plumbing. And water heaters.

When it comes to rejection, there’s definitely a hierarchy. At the tip-tip-top of the list is the “Well, I think I’m gonna pass, but I loved your characters, and that climax had me going, and your voice is really witty, and while we’re on the subject, I think you’re a great writer, and…wait, why am I passing? I’m offering you representation!” rejection. (Okay, so I kind of made that one up.) Below that is the request for revisions, and below that is the invitation to submit future work. And just below that is the form rejection.

Which isn’t the bottom of the list, I might add. I think we’d all agree that the no-response-means-no rejection is something we could live without, but I submit that, more often than not, we could probably do without those personalized rejections as well.

Let me say that again, just so we’re clear: We could probably do without those personalized rejections as well.

Personalized rejections aren’t always bad. It’s nice to get a “While your plot sounds intriguing, I’m afraid I didn’t quite connect with the pages” rejection, and I don’t even complain when I get one of those “Dear [Insert Writer’s Name Here], thank you for submitting [INSERT BOOK TITLE HERE], but it’s not what I’m looking for right now” (which is really more of a gussied-up form rejection, anyway). But most of the time, when agents send personalized rejections, they sound more like “I’m rejecting this because your concept isn't commercial enough,” or “I’m rejecting this because I don’t like your voice.”

They’re trying to be helpful. They don’t have time to tell you all the things you did right, so they focus instead on the stuff you did wrong. But when all you’re hearing is one-and-a-half lines of “You’re not good,” “You can’t hack it,” “Your idea is utter dreck,” it’s easy to get discouraged.

Most agents figured this out a while ago. They’re not out to hurt everyone’s feelings, so they use form rejections (which happen to cut down on response times, too). An agent is only one person, after all, and his or her opinion is no more or less valid than any other one person’s opinion. (Okay, so maybe an agent’s opinion is a little more valid than, say, my aunt Mabel’s (if I even had an aunt Mabel, that is), but you get the idea.)

So huzzah for form rejections! (Although, agents, if you’re reading this, feel free to just request more material. We’re okay with that, too.)

Friday, November 12, 2010

Interview with an Agent: Mary Beth Chappell

Today, I’m thankful for Honey Bear, who is my alpha reader, my beta reader, and my everything-in-between reader. (Yes, I’m trying to make up for forgetting to mention him in my last (work-in-) progress report.) Oh, and the guy who keeps me from going crazy, either with too much or too little confidence:)

Today’s interview features Mary Beth Chappell of Zachary Shuster Harmsworth, who strikes me as a straightforward, no-nonsense sort of agent. I’m sure a lot of you will relate.

KV: How long have you been agenting, and how did you get into it?

MC: About six years...complete serendipity.

KV: How would you summarize your personal agenting philosophy? What do you expect from an agent-author relationship?

MC: It's a chemistry thing...I expect hard work, enthusiasm and a strong desire to produce really great work.

KV: What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew you to those writers and/or projects?

MC: My client Melanie Dickerson's YA medieval romance, THE HEALER’S APPRENTICE, was recently published. I thought she did a great job of creating a warm, relatable character.

KV: What genres do you represent? What genres do you definitely NOT represent?

MC: No poetry. Fiction and nonfiction, cookbooks.

KV: What query pet peeves and/or pitfalls should writers avoid when querying you?

MC: "I have written a fiction novel." Basically, it needs to grab me.

KV: What are you looking for in a manuscript right now? What are you tired of seeing at the moment?

MC: Quality. Same as always.

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

MC: E-mail only.

KV: How do you feel about a writer’s including a few sample pages at the bottom of the query? Do you find that more assertive or obnoxious?

MC: Completely neutral. If my interest was caught by the pitch it's helpful. If not, I don't really care:-)

Thanks again, Ms. Chappell, for these answers. Like I said, simple, straightforward. Also, you queriers might be interested in knowing that she responded lightning-fast to every one of my e-mails. Best of luck.

Have a great weekend, all!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Query Update

Today, I'm thankful for a good night's sleep.

Ah, Bob’s first query update. At last. I’m doing the numbers a little differently with this manuscript, but in any case, here they are:

Total queries: 24
Pending queries: 15
Minimum response time: 0 days
Median response time: 1 day
Maximum response time: 6 days

I’ve really only been querying since November 1, and I didn’t expect to have so many queries out so soon. But I got a partial request last Tuesday that turned into a full request literally overnight, and at that time, I only had eight queries out. So I panicked--and probably went a little overboard:) Far and away, this is the most queries I’ve ever sent out at once. I intended to send them out in batches of five to ten every week or so, and I’ll probably go back to that now that the excitement of a partial-turned-full request isn’t (quite) so potent.

The response times are skewed, obviously, since I’ve only been querying for a little more than a week. Still, nine responses within six days is pretty good. Way to go, agents!

The only other thing I’ve noticed so far is that the rejections have all been very kind, complimenting something about the concept or the sample pages and then pointing out that, on the whole, they just didn’t fall in love with it. Even when they don’t spell that out specifically, agents probably think it most of the time. We’re the same way. I mean, I read dozens of books every year, and yet I only recommend a handful of them. Because even though I find good things in nearly every book I read, I have to really fall in love with the story if I’m going to recommend it. And agents have to fall in love with both the concept and the writing if they’re going to represent it.

Well, that’s it from me. Anyone else querying right now? If so, how’s it going?

Monday, November 8, 2010

On the Origin of "Interview"

Today, I’m thankful for sixty-degree weather (at least when I'm trying to run--I'd much rather it were in the high seventies/low eighties most of the time:) ).

Recently, several people have asked how “Interview with an Agent” started. They wonder if I know these agents personally and, if not, how I got them to agree to do the interview.

Answers to questions two and three first: I’ve never met any of the agents I’ve interviewed face-to-face, but rest assured, I haven’t threatened their firstborn children, either. No, the short answer for how the series started is simply this: I asked, and they said yes.

Not terribly exciting, I know, so here’s the (slightly) more enthralling version: The idea first came to me back in January of this year. At that time, I’d been blogging for about five months, and I was trying to think of ways to boost my readership. Bailey, a blogging friend, had just started doing author interviews on her blog (one of which was with the amazingly amazing Lisa McMann), and I asked her the same question several people have asked me: “How did you get these authors to do the interview? Do you know them in real life?”

She cyber-snorted (I assume) and said something like, “Uh, no. I just e-mailed them or their publicists and asked if they wanted to do an interview.”

Huh. That didn't sound so hard. I decided to try the same thing, except with agents.

I put together a brief interview query, e-mailed it to several agents I wanted to know more about (including a few who had requested material from me in the past), and waited. I didn’t hear back from most of them, but then I did hear back from one, Marissa Walsh, who said something like, “YES!”

The whole thing kind of snowballed from there. At first, I focused on agents who didn’t have as much Internet presence, since I figured querying writers needed more information about them. Then one agent suggested I contact one of her colleagues, Mary Kole, who also happened to be a blogging agent. Ms. Kole was gracious enough to agree, so I decided to contact more blogging agents (although I didn’t develop my blogging agent interview for another couple of months). And the rest, as they say, is right there in my sidebar. (Okay, so maybe no one says that, but maybe someone should.)

The main thing I’ve learned from all of this is that, by and large, agents aren’t these snarling three-headed beasts who guard the gates to Publication. (Kind of makes Publication sound like Hades, doesn’t it? Any published authors care to comment on that comparison? :) Because something tells me it’s not as peachy-keen as those of us unpublisheds would like to think it is…) The truth is, they’re just people, with grocery lists and doctor’s bills and maybe a kid or two. Some of them like to do interviews, and some of them don’t. Some of them have time to chat with me, and some of them don’t. (That last sentence kind of makes it sound like I do the interviews over the phone. I don’t--I handle everything through e-mail.) Most of them are polite and personable (including all the ones I’ve interviewed), and they love--they LOVE--to find the diamonds in the slush.

So the real story’s actually pretty boring. Hopefully, it answered a few questions, though. If anyone has any others, feel free to ask them in the comments.

Friday, November 5, 2010

(Work-in-) Progress Report: Bob

Today, I'm thankful for sunrises, which always bring light back to a darkened world.

Word count (to the nearest thousand): 73,000
Status: FINIS
Attitude: Crazy relieved

I’m crazy relieved because I’m finally done, and I’m just plain, old crazy because I started querying a few days ago and it’s already got me all tied up in knots. But this (work-in-) progress report isn’t about the querying, it’s about the Bobbing, and the Bob (yeah, he’s so cool he needs an article now) is finished. HE’S FINISHED!

(Okay, so I was just kidding about that whole article thing. I mean, I think he’s pretty cool, but as little Sheryl Yoast said in REMEMBER THE TITANS, now ain’t the time to be proud.)

Another huge thank-you to my awesome betas, Amy, Jeni, Jess (who just landed herself an agent on Tuesday!), Liesl, Mandy, and Myrna (double thank-you to Myrna, since she read Bob twice), and to everyone else who has given me feedback on this blog and over at Nathan Bransford’s forums (yeah, that means you, Holly). I’ll quit there, I guess, since this is starting to sound like the Acknowledgments page at the back of a book, and that would be putting the cart way, way, way, way, way out in front of the horse.

Anyway, I can honestly say Bob is the best book I’ve written so far. I’ve grown so much as a writer as I've worked on him this year. I realize that sounds cliché, but it’s true, so I’m sticking to it.

And one more for good measure: BOB’S FINISHED! (At least until the agent feedback starts rolling in…)

What about you? Where are you at with your works-in-progress, and how are they going? (NaNoers, feel free to chime in--unless you'd rather not give away the fact that you're here and not writing:) )

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Interactive Interview with an Agent: Danielle Chiotti

Today, I'm thankful for e-mail. Do you remember going to that strange place called the post office every time you wanted to send someone a letter?

Oh, we’ve got another good one. Today’s interactive installment of “Interview with an Agent” features Danielle Chiotti of Upstart Crow Literary. Ms. Chiotti’s a regular contributor to Upstart Crow’s blog, so I asked her the blogging agent questions. As always, details on the interactive part are at the bottom. Happy reading!

KV: How often does a query intrigue you enough to look at the included pages? And how often do those pages intrigue you enough to request the manuscript?

DC: I just went through a huge pile of queries yesterday, so it's a good day to answer that question. To be honest, even if I'm not crazy about the query letter, I'll always glance at a few sample pages, because a query letter isn't always indicative of how good (or bad) a project will be. The only time I don't read at least a few pages is if the project is outside of the genres I represent.

And now onto the tough question: How often do sample pages interest me enough to request a full manuscript? Let's see: Yesterday, I read 75 queries. I requested one manuscript. And I'd say that's generally how it goes for me.

KV: What are you looking for in a requested manuscript?

DC: A strong voice that immediately sweeps me away, a strong sense of character, and simple, beautiful writing.

KV: What are some of the most common problems you see in the manuscripts you request?

DC: I see a lot of pacing problems, meaning the story is either too fast or too slow--most often too slow.

I also see a lot of point of view problems. It seems like a lot of writers try to write in a first person present point of view, but in order to pull that off successfully, there's got to be a really strong voice to help carry it off. Without the strong voice, it's probably better off in the third person.

Finally, I see a lot of "copycat" problems. Oftentimes, an author sort of writes herself into a corner and then relies on a tired trick plucked from a perennial bestseller (TWILIGHT, THE HUNGER GAMES, you name it) to try and get herself out of it. So what had potential as an original concept becomes unoriginal, and thus disappointing.

KV: When you come across a manuscript you really like/love, how do you decide whether to request revisions or offer representation?

DC: I don't sign manuscripts I like, I only sign manuscripts I love! For me to offer representation right away, it truly has to be a stayed-up-all-night-reading-it, love at first sight kind of situation.

When I fall in love with a project, the first thing I do is have a phone conversation with the writer to see if we click and to bounce around my ideas for revision. If we seem to "get" each other right away, I'll usually make an offer of representation, and then we'll begin work on revisions together.

If I have a manuscript that I like, but that I think needs more work, I'll usually have a phone conversation with the writer and share some notes for revisions with them, and ask them to resubmit. That gives me a chance to see if the revisions can push me over the edge from "big crush" to "true love."

KV: When you do make that Call, you’re probably going to ask the writer if she has any questions. What sorts of questions should she ask?

DC: That's a great question! She should ask what the editorial process between us will look like and how long I think it will take. She should ask how often we'll be in touch during the submission process and how the submission process works. She should ask about Upstart Crow so I can tell her all of the many wonderful things we offer to our clients. She should ask me about what books I've read recently that I love. And most importantly, she should ask me if I prefer cookies or cake (I prefer cookies).

KV: And now for a few quick questions from the normal interview. What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew you to those writers and/or projects?

DC: There are several books coming out soon that I'm particularly excited about. One is currently titled FRENENQER (but this will most likely change), and it will be out from Dial Books for Young Readers in 2012. It's a gorgeously written young adult love story. The author is quite young--she was 18 when I signed her and sold her book--but immensely talented. I was drawn to the project because of the delicious writing and fantastic characterization. I remember writing the author an e-mail when I was only 50 pages into the story. It was so good that I was literally tingling with excitement. So I wrote to her and told her: I'm not that far into the manuscript yet, but if I love it as much at the end as I do right now, I'm going to offer you representation. We signed contracts a few days later.

Another is called LOVE AND LEFTOVERS, which will be out from HarperCollins in 2011. It's an absolutely charming novel in verse full of quirky characters and adorable turns of phrase. I remember that I started reading it on my Kindle very late one night, and I just couldn't put it down. I kept elbowing my husband awake and saying: "Listen to this line! Isn't that fantastic?"

And last but not least, there is SHUCKED: MY YEAR IN OYSTERS, which is a memoir about the author's year spent on an oyster farm in Duxbury, MA. It's a fantastic blend of personal memoir, informational narrative, and good foodie facts. St. Martin's is publishing it in 2011. The author came to me by referral, and we worked for months shaping the proposal to get the tone and content just right. It was such an enjoyable process, I was almost sad when the proposal was ready to go out to publishers!

KV: Is there something you haven’t been seeing lately in the slush pile that you wish you were?

DC: I'd love to see more high-concept YA fiction that's realistic rather than paranormal or dystopian/post-apocalyptic. I'd also love to see more foodie-centric nonfiction projects.

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

DC: The best way to query me is via our submissions guidelines, which can be viewed at www.upstartcrowliterary.com/submit.

Told you this was a good one:) Thanks again, Ms. Chiotti, for these responses. As for your question about cake or cookies, I say, “Both!”

And now on to the really fun part. Leave a question in the comments before 5:00 p.m. EDT (that’s 2:00 p.m. PDT), then find an answer down there later. It’s as easy as cake or cookies pie.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Vote, Vote, Vote!

During the month of November, I’ll start every post with something I’m thankful for. Today, I’m thankful to live in a country that gives every citizen a vote, a country in which I don’t have to worry about being shot on my way to the polls.

Just a friendly reminder to get out and vote today. And try to find out something about the not-so-high-profile races in your state. Those positions matter, too. In fact, in many ways, those local leaders have a bigger impact on our day-to-day lives than the national ones.

Happy Election Day!