Wednesday, October 31, 2012

On Life Well Lived

So many things remind me of writing (I’m sure you understand), so when I heard this talk from President Dieter F. Uchtdorf a few weeks ago, I knew I had to blog about it:) The talk was religious in nature, but I thought so many of his ideas were applicable across a broad range of life experiences. Here are a few of my favorites:

“I think of our Lord and Exemplar, Jesus Christ, and His short life among the people of Galilee and Jerusalem. I have tried to imagine Him bustling between meetings or multitasking to get a list of urgent things accomplished.

“I can’t see it.

“Instead I see the compassionate and caring Son of God purposefully living each day. When He interacted with those around him, they felt important and loved. He knew the infinite value of the people He met. He blessed them, ministered to them. He lifted them up, healed them. He gave them the precious gift of His time.”

He then went on to caution us about overusing technology, which is one of those perpetual balancing acts in my life. With so many good things to do with our time, we have to make sure we’re doing what’s best. When everything’s said and done, I want to be able to say I “purposefully [lived] each day.”

“Doesn’t it seem foolish to spoil sweet and joyful experiences because we are constantly anticipating the moment when they will end? …

“We shouldn’t wait to be happy until we reach some future point, only to discover that happiness was already available--all the time! Life is not meant to be appreciated only in retrospect.”

I’ve thought about this a lot lately, about choosing to be happy no matter what, and something I’ve learned is that we can choose to be happy even when our experiences are less than sweet and joyful. For most of us, querying and submitting amount to long months of waiting (seasoned occasionally with heart-stopping spurts of rejection), but we don’t have to let the waiting or even the rejection define us. Those months can be just as happy so long as we fill them with the things that matter most.

Feel free to check out the whole transcript if you feel so inclined. Or you can watch the talk in its entirety below. In another life, President Uchtdorf was the senior vice president of flight operations at Lufthansa Airlines, and I’ve always thought he looked very captain-like. I would have felt very confident after climbing onto a plane and shaking his hand:)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Buy a Book, Save a Baby

A lot of authors are turning to digital platforms to publish their books, but Natalie Bahm is the only author I know who’s donating all the proceeds to charity.

You can find out the details on, but suffice it to say that one of her critique partners’ grandsons was born in Christchurch, New Zealand, in February of 2011, just before an earthquake devastated large parts of the city. To further complicate matters, Jayden was born with a host of other problems, including a severe case of Hirschsprung’s disease, which makes it difficult for him to gain weight. Because he’s been in and out of the hospital his whole life--and because his family has had to relocate to Australia as part of his treatment--his parents have been shouldering a massive financial burden.

And that’s where Ms. Bahm comes in. She’s donating one hundred percent of the proceeds from her debut, an MG contemporary mystery called THE SECRET UNDERGROUND, to help offset the cost of Jayden’s care. That’s why I bought this book (and why I think you should, too).

The book itself is one part mystery, two parts adventure, and three parts friendship. It did take me a few chapters to get into, but I thought the combination of underground adventure and friendship struggles made for an exciting, true-to-life reading experience. I would have loved digging a network of tunnels under my neighborhood when I was a kid--although I could have done without the band of bank robbers hot on my tail:)

Buy the paperback
Buy the e-book for your Kindle or Nook
Buy the audiobook

There are several other purchasing options available, too, so if one of these methods doesn’t float your boat, be sure to check those out.

Last but not least, my very best wishes to Jayden and his family. I hope the road gets easier from here on out. And good luck to Ms. Bahm and her agent, Sara Megibow of Nelson Literary Agency, too. May you sell many, many more books.

Friday, October 19, 2012

In Defense of the Less Editorial Agent

First off, an apology: Due to unforeseen circumstances, I’m cancelling this month’s round of “An Agent’s Inbox.” And because of the general contest weariness I’ve noticed around the blogosphere/Twitterverse of late, I’m holding off on scheduling another until after New Year’s. I’m so sorry to anyone who was counting on entering a round this year!

The online writing community has always seemed a little preoccupied with the Editorial Agent. Someone asks about an agent's editorial-ness in almost every interactive interview I host, and it’s one of the criteria Casey McCormick regularly highlights on Literary Rambles.

I understand the preoccupation. We writers are an insecure bunch. When people tell us we’re crap, we tend to believe them, but when they praise our writing, we tend to get suspicious and make excuses for their opinions. (“They don’t really think that, do they? They’re just saying that to be nice. Or maybe they just have no idea what they’re talking about. I mean, last time I checked, this manuscript was pretty lame.”)

This attitude can be especially destructive when we start receiving offers on those “pretty lame” manuscripts. We want to sign with someone who’s going to rip our stories apart, make them swifter, better, stronger, so we might shy away from those who think our manuscripts are already good to go simply because we suspect they’re joking or stupid or both.

But just because an agent thinks our manuscripts are pretty good--or even great--as-is doesn’t make her wrong. She may just be a less editorial agent. And she may know exactly what she’s talking about. Here’s why:

1. I’ve noticed less editorial agents often have more clients, more sales, and more experience than their more editorial counterparts. This doesn’t hold true for everyone, of course. Some agents, no matter how long they’ve been in business, want to work with their clients on fine-tuning their manuscripts, and even some newer agents are better negotiators than editors. But usually, newer agents have more time for everything, including client revisions, so their interest in revising is more of a reflection of where they’re at in their careers than the condition of our manuscripts.

2. Because less editorial agents usually have more experience, their instincts are often right. Amazingly enough, agents who’ve sold a lot of manuscripts tend to know what sells. So we shouldn’t discount their opinions just because we’ve conditioned ourselves to discount anyone who says our writing’s good. We should take those opinions as compliments.

3. Sometimes, revision doesn’t make a manuscript better, just different. Every agent, every editor, and every reader is going to have a different vision for our stories. Some visions are better than others (“Oh, wait, you think I should cut the wizard out of my YA contemporary?”), but some are just different. So editorial agents may have a million and one ideas for tweaking our manuscripts, but that doesn’t mean those ideas are necessarily an improvement over what’s already there.

I really don’t dislike editorial agents; in fact, I suspect that if I were an agent, I’d be an editorial one. And when you’ve got offers on the table, you should always weigh your options rationally and go with your gut. But don’t let whether an agent is more or less editorial hold undue sway. Remember, an agent’s job isn’t really to edit your manuscript--it’s to sell your manuscript to someone who will.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Next Big Thing

Adam Heine tagged me a few weeks ago, so here's my take on "The Next Big Thing." The WIP in question? Clyde!

What is your working title of your book?

This would be the first question, wouldn't it? See below*

Where did the idea come from for the book?

Last spring, Sarah LaPolla tweeted about how she'd love to see a contemporary retelling of a biblical story. (Or maybe it was any kind of retelling of a biblical story, so long as it didn't have religious elements.) I'd been mulling over the idea of writing about a middle school election, and when she mentioned the biblical element, something just clicked. Middle school election. David and Goliath. Done.

What genre does your book fall under?

MG contemporary.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Couldn't say, since the kids who'd act in a future movie rendition would be, like, six right now. But if we suspend age requirements for a moment, I could totally see Elle Fanning as Grizelda, the Goliath character in my manuscript.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

I'm feeling a little lazy, so I'll stick with the boring, "It's a contemporary MG retelling of David and Goliath." :)

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Represented by an agency (assuming Kate thinks the manuscript is solid enough). I really don't think self-publishing is a viable option in the MG market. I think a self-published author would have a tough time reaching MG readers, and it's really hard to fake a professional-looking MG cover, since they're often illustrated.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

About two months, although it would have been a bit faster if I hadn't been managing this little contest called "The Writer's Voice" while I was writing the first draft:)

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Several of my critique partners have thought the tone reminds them of Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, but I haven't read any of those yet, so I couldn't say for sure. *dodges tomato*

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Isn't this kind of the same question as number two? Cross-apply my previous point. (High-five to any fellow policy debaters in the blogosphere!)

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

I'm not a fan of playlists, but this manuscript ended up with one by virtue of the fact that so many gorgeous pieces figure prominently in the plot, including Louiguy and Edith Piaf's "La Vie en rose" and Frederic Chopin's "Nocturne in E Flat Major." Oh, and there are paintball guns. Did I mention there were paintball guns?

*Now that you've heard a little more about the manuscript, I need your input on the title. I've come up with three options so far. There are pros and cons to all of them, so I want to know which one you like best (or which ones you hate). And if you have another idea, feel free to suggest it!


Last but not least, I'm tagging the following bloggers:

Ben Spendlove
Jenilyn Collings, whose blog is undergoing renovations at the moment
Monica B.W.
Myrna Foster
You! (Feel free to include a link in the comments of this post once you answer the questions!)


Message for the tagged authors and interested others:

Rules of The Next Big Thing:

*Use this format for your post.
*Answer the ten questions about your current WIP (work-in-progress).
*Tag five other writers/bloggers and add their links so we can hop over and meet them.

Ten Interview Questions for The Next Big Thing:

What is your working title of your book?
Where did the idea come from for the book?
What genre does your book fall under?
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? May we see an intro?
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

Include the link of who tagged you and this explanation for the people you have tagged.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Agent-Author Chat: Andrea Somberg and Melodie Wright

Man, it’s Friday again?! I apologize for my blogging absence. I finally wrapped up my latest project (for the time being, anyway), so hopefully, I should be able to get back to my normal routine next week.

In the meantime, check out this latest installment of “Agent-Author Chat” with agent Andrea Somberg of Harvey Klinger, Inc., who’s been around the blog before, and one of her newest clients, Melodie Wright.

Ms. Wright’s query and responses will appear in orange, Ms. Somberg’s in blue. Happy reading!

Ms. Wright’s Query I'm excited to query you for THE TALISMAN, a 99,000-word thriller/adventure set in Israel.

Rachel Marr's Hollywood life is put on hold when her father's death coincides with her own chemical meltdown on the set of her latest movie. Rachel's impulse to flee is helped along by her late father's bequests: a letter sharing his suspicions about his latest archaeological dig in Israel, and a mysterious Islamic coin. Both suggest he was on the treasure hunt of his life before it ended.

With the encouragement of her late father's protege, Abraham Goldhirsch, Rachel travels to Israel. Her goals are to fund the dig until Abraham can rustle up some sponsors, and to tie up her father's affairs. When Abe discovers the mosaic floor at the Byzantine church they're uncovering is actually a treasure map of ancient Jerusalem, and the coin Rachel inherited holds the key to the map, neither can resist chasing the mystery. Their hunt takes them deep into the heart of Jerusalem, where they realize they're on the cusp of uncovering a sacred relic of Judaism. But others are following the same path, others so committed to making sure the past stays hidden, Rachel and Abe are soon in their cross hairs. If the pair aren't careful, they'll find themselves buried with the treasure they seek.

Told in the alternating POVs of Rachel and Abe, THE TALISMAN is National Treasure meets The Sign by Raymond Khoury. I've been to Israel several times as a kibbutz volunteer and archaeology student. The setting in this MS is based on a newly discovered site in Israel.

Thanks for reading and I hope to hear from you soon.

KV: Ms. Wright, how did you first come up with the idea for THE TALISMAN?

MW: After having visited Israel years ago, I've always wanted to write a novel set there. I saw an article about a stunning find at a dig near Jerusalem with really cool historical connections. The idea grew from there.

KV: Tell us a little bit about your query-writing process. Did you work on it here and there as you were writing the manuscript, or before, or after? How many times did you revise it? And how did you decide what order to put things in?

MW: I wrote a blurb for my blog when the MS was finished and used that as the main idea of my query. (This is the last MS I've done in this order--for every other MS, I write the blurb for first. If I'm having trouble blurbing it, chances are the idea isn't viable.) I didn't really revise this much, just went with what sounded intriguing and hooky. I kept my info limited to the first third of the MS.

KV: What was the hardest thing about writing your query? What was the easiest?

MW: Hardest thing: keeping to the first third of the novel.

Easiest thing: writing it so it sounded like something I'd want to read. A great query starts with a great premise...which I shamelessly robbed from real life! ;)

KV: Ms. Somberg, when you first read Ms. Wright’s query, what caught your attention?

AS: I've been looking for a strong romantic thriller for a long time, so Melodie's query immediately caught my eye. But it was really her writing and the narrative voice that had me hooked!

KV: Obviously, the manuscript met--or exceeded--your expectations. What did you love about TALISMAN?

AS: I fell in love with the two protagonists, Rachel and Abe. The manuscript switches between their points of view--and both characters are unique and compelling in their own right. I also really loved the setting and the premise of the novel. Both are ambitious--but Melodie pulls it off!

KV: How quickly did you read Ms. Wright’s manuscript? Is that pretty typical of your response times on requested material, or do those vary?

AS: I received it on a Monday, but I didn't start reading it until the following Wednesday evening. I woke up early the next morning to finish. Incidentally, it was my birthday--I couldn't have wished for a better birthday present! My response times vary, but usually it's within one to three weeks…

KV: Ms. Wright, what tips do you have for fellow writers as they work on their queries?

MW: My best advice is to write the blurb before you even start on your rough draft. The blurb reveals the main character, his/her motivations and the stakes. If you don't know what those are going into drafting, chances are you'll be stuck trying to write a query...not to mention finishing your WIP.

KV: Ms. Somberg, what query-writing suggestions do you have?

AS: Short and straightforward is the best way to go. Don't try to be cute or use gimmicks--simply state what your book is about, the word count, and any relevant biographical information. I also really like when authors include some sample pages--it's so hard to get a sense of a book from a query letter alone! But I know that other agents have different thoughts on this…

KV: Any last words of advice or encouragement you’d like to share with us?

MW: It's the old cliché--READ. Read everything you can get your hands on. And take notes. An author acquaintance keeps a notebook beside her when she's reading a favorite author. In it she notes characterizations, plot devices, cool phrases or scene starters...anything that catches her eye or draws her into that world. Writing all that down tends to make the techniques sink into your brain the next time you start writing. Bottom line: it doesn't matter how great your query is if your MS is a mess.

AS: There are a lot of great agents out there! Don't give up hope just because a few have passed. On the other hand, if you start getting consistent feedback about why a project isn't going to sell, it's important to pay attention and reassess.

Thanks, ladies, for these great responses! THE TALISMAN sounds like an exciting read.

Have a great weekend!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Interview with an Agent: Kerry Sparks

As promised, here’s my interview with Kerry Sparks of Levine Greenberg Literary Agency. Enjoy!

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

KS: I’ve been at Levine Greenberg Literary Agency since 2008 and actively selling books since the end of 2009. When I was a senior at California State University, Los Angeles, I worked as an intern with an agent who used to be at Levine Greenberg and who was based in L.A. She would send me three or four manuscripts a week to review and that’s when I really fell in love with YA.

I worked in film for a few years after college but really wanted to get into publishing and when I met the Levine Greenberg Team on an impromptu New York trip, we just clicked. My husband and I moved east a month later and have been here ever since.

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

KS: I’m a big believer in communication and honesty in the agent-author relationship. I do a lot of editorial work with my authors before sending their books out into the world and find that having a relationship where I can be kind but honest with my writers is essential.

I am very aware of the lonely pursuit of being a writer and I do my best to always respond quickly to my writers--even if I’m unable to get back to someone on a question or problem right away, I always confirm that I am working on it and do my best to make authors feel secure that I haven’t forgotten about them. I expect the same level of communication, honesty, and respect from my clients, and of course also enjoy a certain amount of patience on their end as well!

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

KS: Oh gosh, I have so many projects I’m really excited about! As with most of my projects, it’s really the voice and the characters that drew me to these books.

This past spring was marked the publication of two of my debut authors--Jenny Lundquist’s Middle Grade novel Seeing Cinderella was published by Aladdin/Simon & Schuster and Jenny Torres Sanchez’s YA debut The Downside of Being Charlie was published by Running Press Teen. Both authors have second novels coming out with the same editors and they will publish in the spring of 2013. Jenny Lundquist’s lovely second Middle Grade is called Plastic Polly and Jenny Torres Sanchez’s fantastic YA is perfectly titled Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia.

In October of this year I have another debut author, Carrie Arcos, whose YA novel will be published by Simon Pulse. It’s called Out of Reach and it follows a teen girl in search of her missing meth-addicted brother.

As for 2013, it will be an exciting year as well. In the spring, my very talented author/illustrator Mark Pett’s wordless picture book, The Boy and the Airplane will be published by Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers; two great YA novels by my author Jennifer Salvato Doktorski will publish--her romantic road-trip novel, How My Summer Went Up in Flames will come out in May with Simon Pulse and her book about a teen obit writer, Dead Lines, will publish in the fall with Henry Holt; and the hilarious Jennifer Mann’s first Middle Grade in a series about Beezus & Ramona-like sisters will come out in the fall and is titled Sunny Sweet is Going To Be So Sorry.

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

KS: I focus on Young Adult Fiction, Middle Grade Fiction, and Children’s Picture Books but I am open to other genres. I do a little bit of Adult Nonfiction (Business, Parenting, Lifestyle) and also represent several Adult Fiction authors (YA Crossover, Commercial, Literary).

There isn’t any one genre that I would completely turn down. If there is a great voice, solid writing, and it’s a page-turner, I’ll consider it.

KV: Are you interested in picture book writers who AREN'T illustrators?

KS: I am open to writers who aren’t illustrators, but very sparingly.

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

KS: I think the biggest mistake is not getting right to the point in your query letter. Being overly formal, too wordy, using odd/different fonts are all sort of annoying when you are reading hundreds of query letters. Let me know who you are, what type of book you wrote, and then grab my attention with a great synopsis.

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

KS: I’m really on the hunt for a great YA or Middle Grade thriller with series potential. I’ve been on the lookout for one of these for a long time but haven’t fallen in love with any yet.

I’m tired of seeing rhyming picture books with sassy talking animals. And I’m really worn out on novels revolving around the Irish Potato Famine--believe it or not we get two or three every month in our online submissions inbox!

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

KS: Going through our website is a great way to submit. Click on How To Submit and it’ll prompt you with questions and the option to send along the first 50 pages.

Writers are also welcome to e-mail me directly at and attach the first 50 pages. A short e-mail query letter with your information and synopsis of the book is perfect.

Unfortunately, due to the high volume of submissions we receive, we are unable to respond to every query, but if I’m interested, I will e-mail you directly.

Thanks, Ms. Sparks, for these responses. Sounds like you’ve got an awesome list. I hope this interview helps you find another great title to add to it:)

Have a great weekend, all!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

In the Pipeline

Just popping in to say I've had very little time to blog over the last few weeks, as I've been hiding out in my revision cave. But lest you think I've blown off the blog entirely, here's what's in the pipeline for October:

A new installment of "Interview with an Agent" with Kerry Sparks of Levine Greenberg Literary Agency

Another informative "Agent-Author Chat" with Andrea Somberg of Harvey Klinger, Inc. and one of her newest clients, Melodie Wright

October's round of "An Agent's Inbox"

I'm also working on my answers to "The Next Big Thing," which will include a few tidbits on Clyde, and I'm sure I'll end up working on a few unexpected posts along the way. You never know when the blogging bug will strike...

In the meantime, what have I missed around the blogosphere? Feel free to leave a shout-out to a must-read post in the comments!