Monday, September 30, 2013

It's Cover Reveal Day for Tara Dairman and ALL FOUR STARS!

Two years ago, I hosted one of the first rounds of "An Agent's Inbox," and a writer I'd never heard of happened to enter. She was querying a manuscript about an eleven-year-old foodie who inadvertently lands a job as a freelance food critic with a major newspaper. I fell in love with the character--in the very first page, Gladys manages to set her parents' curtains on fire when her creme brulee goes awry--and immediately started stalking following the writer around the Internet. I was thrilled but not at all surprised when Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary Agency signed her, then sold her manuscript a few months later.

And now it's time to reveal the cover.

The writer, of course, is my good friend Tara, and the manuscript in question is ALL FOUR STARS. The official reveal is over on the Emu's Debuts blog, but Tara was kind enough to answer a few of my questions. So check out the cover, then hop back over here to check out Tara's answers. (Or check out Tara's answers, then hop over to Emu's Debuts to check out the cover. I'm not picky:) )

KV: What do you love about your cover?

TD: Well, the easy answer would be "everything"--the artist (the fabulous Kelly Murphyand the Penguin design team did such a great job working important details from the story (the food, the New York setting, the writing element)!

But if I had to choose one favorite thing, I'd pick Gladys herself, hands down. She really looks exactly the way I've been picturing her for years--it's like Kelly just crawled right into my brain to draw her. :) And with Gladys's seated stance and her book, I feel like she also kind of recalls Quentin Blake's illustration of Matilda. (I might just be projecting that connection, though, since Matilda was my favorite book as a kid.)

KV: Did your publisher consult with you about the cover's design?

TD: Yes--my editor asked me to share some other covers I really liked, so I put together a little PowerPoint file with five or six examples. (I also shared a few on my blog here: Several of them had city skylines in them...and hey, look, now my cover does, too! So I guess that worked. :)

KV: Putnam offered on your manuscript back in the spring of 2012, and now it's fall of 2013, less than a year until the book's release. What journey has your story taken in the intervening months?

TD: Well, it's been through two big rounds of edits, plus line edits, copyedits, and first pass pages; and it's gotten a title, a cover, and a blurb from the incredible Jennifer A. Nielsen (this still blows my mind). But through all of that, the story itself hasn't changed all that much. It's gotten a bit longer, and is much better-written now thanks to the promptings of our uber-talented editor, Shauna Rossano. 

KV: We're in good hands, aren't we, Tara? :) But I digress...

What still has to happen before the book comes out?

TD: Well, soon there will be bound galleys (also known as ARCs, or Advance Reading Copies), which I guess means that reviewers and kidlit bloggers and other people who are not related to me will finally get to read Gladys's story. I find this both terribly exciting and a bit nerve-wracking. I'm definitely eager for the book to find its way into kids' hands when it's finally published next summer. 

KV: Last but not least, Putnam recently bought a sequel to ALL FOUR STARS. (Woohoo!) Any juicy tidbits you can share with us? :)

TD: I'm so thrilled that there's going to be a sequel! I've had it in my head for a long time, and recently finished writing the first draft. I don't want to give away too much, since no one's read the first book yet, but I'll just say that Gladys's culinary adventures will continue at summer camp, where she takes on some new kitchen challenges and encounters some new nemeses. It should come out in the summer of 2015.  

Thanks for having me, Krista!

And thanks for stopping by, Tara. Can't wait for 2014!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

There Is No Secret Ingredient

You know that scene in Kung Fu Panda when Po's talking to his dad just before he fights Tai Lung? Po's freaking out about the fact that the legendary Dragon Scroll was blank, that he has to figure out how to defeat the vengeful Tai Lung on his own. In this moment of fear and indecision, his dad finally reveals the secret ingredient in their family's secret ingredient soup.

There isn't one.

Two or three years ago, when I was still slugging it out in the query trenches, I poured over every kidlit book I could get my hands on, determined to ferret out the secret of its success. I eagerly anticipated the release of books from bloggers I admired, certain that their words would reveal the mysterious X factor that mine were so obviously lacking. But the more I searched, the more discouraged I became. I honestly couldn't figure out what their stories had that mine did not.

But that's because there really is no secret ingredient. If you've been trying to get published for a while; if you've had multiple agents praise your work and tell you it's not you, it's them; if you know what to do with feedback and no longer fear revision, then YOU'VE ALREADY ARRIVED. The only difference between your stories and mine--and all the others on the market--is that my stories have been fortunate enough to land their big breaks. I simply queried the right manuscript at the right time to the right agent, who then managed to submit it at the right time to the right editor.

You'll notice how much of that process had nothing to do with me. Of course, if you're the sort of person who likes to be the master of his or her own fate, that may be hard to hear. But on the other hand, the good news is that it really has nothing to do with you. You're already there. You're good enough. Now you just have to wait for lightning to strike...

Tuesday, September 24, 2013


Thanks for entering my giveaway and sharing my good news. Your tweets, posts, and status updates were so kind, and I genuinely enjoyed reading through the descriptions of your projects. You guys are working on such cool stuff!

In numerical order, the winners are:

Martha Mayberry and GONE WILD
Virginia Pierce and SAVANNAH'S GRACE

Congratulations, ladies! Please send the first 30 pages of your manuscripts as Word attachments to kvandolzer(at)gmail(dot)com. (You're welcome to send up to 35 pages if that will get you to the end of a chapter.) I look forward to reading your work!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Interview with an Agent: Shannon Hassan

I'm pleased to welcome Shannon Hassan of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency to the blog. She's one of the newer agents at Marsal Lyon, so you might not have heard of her. I hope this interview serves as a worthy introduction. Enjoy!

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

SH: I am a relatively new agent but have worked in publishing and law for more than a decade.  Having served as both an acquisitions editor and a corporate/licensing attorney in New York, becoming an agent was a natural progression and a great combination of my skills and passion.  I am so pleased to have joined Marsal Lyon and couldn’t be happier with the agency and its approach to helping writers achieve their publishing goals.

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

SH: I believe the author/agent relationship should be a true collaboration with open lines of communication.  With respect to edits, I am pretty direct and will let an author know if I feel that something isn’t working in the manuscript and help brainstorm ways to improve it.  With respect to submissions, I feel it is important to keep authors very much in the loop with where the manuscript is and how editors are reacting.  In general I see it as a long-term relationship that goes both ways.

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

SH: I was drawn to Kita Murdock’s middle grade novel, FUTURE FLASH (Skyhorse, June 2014), due to its charming characters, vivid prose, and fast-moving storyline.  I took an instant liking to both the project and its lovely author, but knew I had a winner when I gave the manuscript to my nine-year-old daughter and she read it one sitting!

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

SH: I represent authors of literary and commercial fiction, young adult fiction, and select nonfiction.  With respect to fiction: I am drawn to fresh voices, compelling characters, and crisp prose.

For nonfiction: I am interested in memoirists with exceptional stories to tell, as well as authors with a strong platform in current affairs, history, education, or law.
KV: What query pet peeves and/or pitfalls should writers avoid when querying you?

SH: Pitches that contain too much puffery, or are too vague about an author’s credentials, sometimes put me off.  I enjoy working with both debut and experienced authors.

KV: Your agency's website specifies that writers should only include a query letter in their initial electronic submission, but several respected industry sites have advised writers to include a few sample pages at the bottom of every query, whether the agent asked for them or not.  So if a writer goes ahead and adds those pages, do you find that more assertive or obnoxious?

SH: It wouldn’t really bother me, but as a general policy, I think it makes sense to try to follow each agency’s preferences if possible.  I’ll also note that if we have requested pages from an author, we do try to give a more personalized response, and there isn’t time to do that with every initial query.

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

SH: Superb writing in the genres I described in question #4!!

I do have one niche interest due to living in Boulder, Colorado: I am eager to hear from authors with a unique perspective on the New West.

And while I have not grown tired of anything in particular, it is obvious to me when someone is writing to fit a trend instead of writing from the heart.

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

SH: I look forward to receiving queries at:

Thanks very much for the interview, Krista!

And thank you, Shannon, for answering my questions. I hope your next client is reading this interview right...NOW! :)

Have a great weekend, guys! *dives back into revisions*

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Clyde Sold! Want a Critique?

I apologize for the silence last week. I'm in the process of wrapping up Steve's latest round of revisions, and then Clyde's waiting in the wings. But I should have a few days between manuscripts next week, so it seems like the perfect time to offer some critiques!

There are three 30-page critiques up for grabs to celebrate Clyde's sale. If you're interested in entering, please follow these steps:

1. TWEET, BLOG, OR FACEBOOK ABOUT THE GIVEAWAY WITH A LINK BACK TO THIS POST. Please note that you only have to do one of these things, so don't feel like you have to bombard your friends and family with Krista spam.



Your manuscript doesn't have to be finished, and I'll read any category, any genre (provided the first thirty pages are no worse than PG-13-rated), so everyone is welcome to enter. But I do want everyone to have an equal shot at this, so PLEASE ONLY ENTER ONCE (even if you're working on more than one project).

I'll pick two winners based on their descriptions (totally subjective, I know, but if an entry catches my eye, I want to be able to read it!), then a third randomly from the remaining entries. The giveaway will remain open until next Monday, September 23, at 11:59 p.m. EDT (or 8:59 p.m. PDT). I'll announce the winners on the blog the following Tuesday.

Thanks for sharing my good news!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Agent-Author Chat: Rebecca Podos and Mackenzi Lee

I've got a great interview for you today with Rebecca Podos of Rees Literary Agency and one of her newest clients, Team Krista alum Mackenzi Lee. As you'll recall, Ms. Lee's entry garnered the most votes of any entry on any team and was a major contributor to Team Krista's success this year. When I found out she'd signed with Ms. Podos, I was beyond delighted but not at all surprised.

Ms. Lee's query and answers will appear in orange, Ms. Podos's in blue. Enjoy!

Ms. Lee's Query I am seeking representation for my 67,000 word YA historical fantasy, DEATH AND THE GLASSMAKER'S DAUGHTER. After reading in your agency bio that you enjoy character driven fiction as well as historical fiction and fantasy, I thought the manuscript might appeal to you.

As the son of Death, Moriarty was raised believing in the beauty of ending a life. Then he takes over his father’s work and finds that ripping souls from mortal bodies is nothing like the stories that populated his childhood. It’s violent and bloody, and with imperialism, labor strikes, and people's revolutions leaving corpses around the world, Moriarty can’t find anything to love in his new work.

Until he meets his next victim: Rocsanne Vetrario, the bold, bohemian daughter of Venetian glaziers. Instead of ending her life, Moriarty accidentally saves it, thus kindling a friendship that tumbles into love amid the canals of 1890s Venice.

But their summer together shatters when Moriarty learns that Rocsanne’s stepmother Lavinia is on a crusade to recover the lost secrets of Venetian glass and its power to bestow immortality. When Lavinia discovers her daughter’s romance with the soul collector himself, she threatens to kill Rocsanne unless Moriarty helps her retrieve a piece of the legendary glass.

Surrendering the glass will give Lavinia control over Moriarty and his work, but if Rocsanne dies, he’ll lose her forever to the afterlife. With Lavinia holding Rocsanne hostage on the cemetery island of San Michele, Moriarty has to choose between his own freedom and the only girl who ever loved Death.

The manuscript is a stand alone with series potential, and I believe it will appeal to fans of Libba Bray's Gemma Doyle trilogy and Grave Mercy by R.L. LaFevers. I am currently a graduate student at Simmons College, earning my MFA in writing for children and young adults. I have had short pieces published in Talkin’ Blues, Pandora’s Box, The Friend, and The Newport Review.

Below are the first three chapters of the manuscript. Thank you for your time and consideration.

KV: Ms. Lee, how did you first come up with the idea for DEATH AND THE GLASSMAKER'S DAUGHTER?

ML: I have been obsessed with Venice (the setting of the novel) since I read The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke at age 10. When I finally went there during a year abroad, it was as beautiful and magical as Scipio and the gang promised it would be, and by the time I left, I had a hard-core crush on Venice. While there, I became fascinated with Venetian glass blowing. I learned a lot of random facts about glass blowing on that trip (and did a fair amount of salivating over the finished products and wishing I was not poor), then tucked it all away in my brain for later use (I thought probably in Trivial Pursuit, or in the off chance I ever made it on Jeopardy and the category was “Ancient Italian Arts”).

After my year abroad ended, I spent a summer working a miserable retail job that involved a lot of mindless folding and wishing I were back in Europe. Writing was how I warded off the dreariness. I started getting into some online writing communities, and I remember seeing a prompt somewhere--”Death’s last confession” (if you are the person/website who posted this, I owe you so much!!!! Please tell me so I can send cookies and cash!!!). That phrase got stuck in my head like a song--I thought about it for days!--and somewhere along the way, it morphed into “Death falls in love.” Which sent my brain into overdrive. I have a very clear memory of hanging up shirt after shirt after shirt (they had to be sorted by color--ugh) and repeating that phrase to myself. That plot bug eventually fused with my previously useless knowledge of Venetian glass blowing, and that became the idea that sparked my manuscript.

So long story short: It is a child of useless trivia and shelving shirts. Because writing is glamorous.

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?

ML: I didn’t work on the query until I was almost done with the manuscript, because writing queries is too painful if you aren’t going to finish, and for a long time, I didn’t know if I would. When I finally did write my query, I revised it more times than I can count. There were at least five times I deleted it all and started over, and there were also a few drafts that were mostly expletives. However, I was very lucky to be working on my query while doing my first year of my MFA, so I had a lot of creative and smart people around me who helped me with the structure, wording, and what to include. 

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

ML: The hardest thing about writing the query was writing the query.

The second hardest part was not throwing up every time I emailed it to an agent.

The third hardest thing was wrestling my constant and pure-bred anxiety into submission and accepting the fact that eventually I was going to have to step back and let it live. In the end, moving around commas in the query letter was just an excuse for putting off the actual querying.  

The easiest part of the whole process was saying yes to Rebecca’s offer--as soon as we talked, I knew I had found the right fit for me and my manuscript!

KV: Ms. Podos, when you first read Ms. Lee’s query, what caught your attention?
RP: I was drawn in by the balance of high-concept ideas and specific details in her query. Ms. Lee mentioned at the start that her book was historical fantasy, that it featured the son of Death and the art of collecting souls. Right away I was intrigued by that exploration of art and death, and how the connection between the two would be investigated in a YA story.

Then in the very next paragraph, she spoke about the imperialism, labor strikes and people’s revolutions of the 1890s weighing down on her main character.  That gave me an idea how the bigger themes of the book would translate into the finer points of storytelling. It sounds morbid, but the idea of the 1890s as this big, bloody sandbox for Ms. Lee’s story to play in really made me want to read.
She went on to summarize the plot very capably, and I saw that it was a kind of Romeo and Juliet story between the son of Death and the daughter of a family chasing immortality. So in the space of three hundred or so words, I knew the book had a beautiful overarching idea, a fascinating use of time and place, and an intriguing high-stakes plot. What more could I ask for from a query?
KV: Obviously, the manuscript met--or exceeded--your expectations. What did you love about DEATH AND THE GLASSMAKER'S DAUGHTER?
RP: The same things I loved in the query! DEATH AND THE GLASSMAKER’S DAUGHER (or DATGT, as Ms. Lee and I have abbreviated for convenience) had a perfect balance of high-concept idea, compelling plot, and nitty-gritty storytelling, all conveyed through beautiful prose.

The big ideas of Love and Death and Art and Language were explored not just as big ideas, but in the world-building details of the story. How great is it that the scars on Death’s hands were memories--a physical manifestation of what memories mean to mortals? How perfect that Moriarty, Death’s son, posed in the mortal world as an art collector?
The book was funny, too--there was, for example, some excellent cravat-based humor, reason enough alone to sign DATGD.
And of course, most of all, there were the characters. Moriarty was so human in so many ways, in all the wonderful ways that matter. And Rocsanne was no damsel in distress, but she wasn’t the stereotypical feisty love interest. She was s smart, talented and brave and trapped; she could be scared and strong and in love and in pain all at once.  
DATGD was the complete package.
KV: How quickly did you read Ms. Lee's manuscript? Is that pretty typical of your response times on requested material, or do those vary?
RP: Looking back through my e-mails, it seems I asked Mackenzie to send the full manuscript on a Tuesday, and called her to offer representation on Wednesday. I would have to say that a one-day turnaround is not typical. But if I really fall in love with a book from the start, if I’m so excited and eager to edit it instead of wary about the work a book will need, I do try to respond within a week or two.

If I see great potential in a book, but also that there are somewhat substantial edits necessary, it takes me a little longer to weigh my love for the book against the work I’d be asking the author to do. I might read it a second time, more analytically. And sometimes I’m just swamped with reading--redrafts from my clients, books I promised I’d look at for fellow agents, submissions I requested first. So that can definitely slow things down.

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

ML: It’s important to have other people read your query, but be selective about who those people are. When I first started, I posted my query on a few online forums. I got a lot of feedback. So much feedback that I became paralyzed by it. I couldn’t sort out what was worth applying and what wasn’t.

It also battered my self esteem a bit; with so many people picking apart my query (and the plot of my manuscript!), pretty soon there was nothing about it that someone hadn’t said they hated. When you’re querying you have to keep your confidence in reserve, because it is so fragile and hard to come by. You can’t waste it on random people online who may or may not know what they’re talking about.

Ask people whose opinion you value to read your query and give you advice. It’s also handy to ask people who haven’t read your manuscript to read the query. If they can understand your plot, then you’re in business. 

KV: Same question to you, Ms. Podos. What query-writing suggestions do you have?
RP: Focus on your story. Not an anecdote about the idea for the novel occurring to you in a greasy spoon diner on a cross-country road trip. Not how much your friends and family loved the manuscript when they read it. Not how nervous you are about the querying process. Just like the back cover of a book has a limited space to convince you to pick it up and take it to the register, you have a few paragraphs at most to convince an agent you can tell a story with great ideas, with a compelling plot and with beautiful details. Choose the right details, do justice to your characters and show us your voice.

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

ML: Like most writers, I have major self-confidence issues. I am miserable at talking about my own writing and I’m usually pretty shy about even admitting that I write. But when you’re first starting out, you are your only advocate. So be confident in yourself and your work. If you are querying, you’ve already made it further than a lot of people do. You have finished a novel, which by itself is a sort of miracle. Be proud of that! 

Also, as soon as you start to query, you should also start working on your next project. Rejection is easier to take when you have something else to be in love with.

RP: It only takes one person, the right person, to say yes to you and your book. When the right person says yes, the ten or twenty or forty no’s will cease to matter.  Read everything you can, write the best book you can, do as much research as you can before submitting, write the best query you can, use what criticism you can, and leave the no’s behind you (as best you can.)

Excellent advice, Ms. Lee and Ms. Podos. Thank you for these thoughts and for sharing this small part of your journey together with us. I cannot WAIT to see DEATH AND THE GLASSMAKER'S DAUGHTER on the shelves:)

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Clyde Sells to Sourcebooks!

It's been a while since I mentioned Clyde. I guess that's just what happens when a manuscript is on submission and you're waiting, waiting, waiting. Then this happened:

From Publishers WeeklySteve Geck at Sourcebooks has acquired Krista Van Dolzer's contemporary MG novel Duel/Duet, a David and Goliath story set around a middle-school class election and a musical recital. Van Dolzer writes the Mother. Write. (Repeat.) blog, and is author of The Regenerated Man, which Putnam will publish in winter 2015. Publication of Duel/Duet is set for fall 2015; Kate Schafer Testerman of kt literary did the two-book deal for North American rights.

Actually, this started several months ago. At the beginning of June, Kate sent me an e-mail late on a Friday afternoon. She'd just spoken to Steve Geck at Sourcebooks. He loved DUEL/DUET (the manuscript also known as Clyde) and wanted to take it to acquisitions the following week.

Of course, few things rarely happen as quickly as you want them to in this business, especially in the summer, so it took a few more weeks for Steve's interest to turn into an offer. (Oh, I see you've noticed I now have an editor and a manuscript named Steve. This is going to be all kinds of exciting:) ) By the time Kate called that afternoon, I was convinced he'd turned it down.

Instead, he bought two books.

So that's how Clyde sold. In hindsight, this roller coaster ride wasn't nearly as wild as my last one, but it still felt like it. I think that's just how it goes.

If you'd like to learn more about Clyde, I've changed "My Book" to "My Books" and added an actual summary, so feel free to check that out. And while you're up there, don't forget about Steve. 2015 is shaping up to be one exciting year...