Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Book Recommendation: STEERING TOWARD NORMAL by Rebecca Petruck

I know what you're thinking: since Ms. Petruck and I have the same agent, this post must be part of a setup. But I can assure you that it's not. I've read a bunch of Kate's clients' books, and while I've enjoyed almost all of them--her existing client list was one of the main reasons I signed with her--I've never officially recommended one.

Until now, that is.

Diggy Lawson is resilient. When his mom dumped him on his dad's porch, then rode out of town on a tractor, baby Diggy didn't flinch. After thirteen years together, he and Pop have fallen into a rhythm, one that isn't easily upset by the pranks they're always pulling on each other or even the recently weaned steers that Diggy buys and raises for the state fair. So when one of Diggy's classmates, a kid from town named Wayne, shows up on their doorstep with a shiner and an old suitcase, Diggy doesn't panic--until he discovers that Pop is Wayne's dad, too. 

I loved so many things about this book, but the thing I loved best was Diggy. His character felt so authentic, and the things he grappled with were the same things I grappled with when I was a young kid coming to terms with my adoption. I also loved raising Diggy's steer with him--that's something this suburbanite couldn't have even imagined before picking up this book--and the scenes at the state fair were about as perfect as they could be.

Diggy's story is chock full of humor, honesty, and wisdom (not to mention loads of cow poop). Kate is giving away an ARC of STEERING TOWARD NORMAL on her blog, so skedaddle over there and get your name into that drawing. (And while you're over there, you can also enter to win an ARC of THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING!) You have a few more days to enter, so don't dilly-dally!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

We Have Winners!

Without any ado, the winners of the signed copies of AN UNCOMMON BLUE:

Jeff Krebs
Carla Luna Cullen

Congratulations, all! Please e-mail me at kvandolzer(at)gmail(dot)com with your mailing addresses so I can pass them on to R.C.

And for those of you who didn't win, AN UNCOMMON BLUE is available from all the usual suspects, so if you're still looking for that last-minute gift (or, you know, if you just want one yourself), you can still nab a copy.

Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Happy Kwanzaa!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

From "The Writer's Voice" to Publication

One of the best parts of organizing online writing contests is watching new writers' journeys unfold. R.C. Hancock, who was on my team for the inaugural round of "The Writer's Voice" back in 2012, is one of those writers (and if you want to check out his entry, you can find it here). AN UNCOMMON BLUE went on to sell to Cedar Fort and officially comes out today. I invited R.C. to come back to the blog and tell us the story of how AN UNCOMMON BLUE came to be, and he graciously agreed. Three signed copies of AN UNCOMMON BLUE are also up for grabs, so don't miss those details at the bottom of the post!

I started writing after finishing Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. My first novel was a 200K-word mess about a fat girl. I dumped all my insecurities into her and it read like a diary: disjointed and whiny.

After a couple years of trying to lure an agent with this “tasty” bait, my wife suggested I turn one of my short stories into a novel. The one she liked, I had written for Cricket. (They didn’t buy it.)

The seed of the idea for glowing colored palms had come to me when I was doing a writing exercise from one of my craft books. I did some research about light mixing (i.e., what do orange and green light make?) which inspired a 2K-word story with a surprise ending. (Which later inspired me to give up on my overweight baby and take Blue to new heights.)

So I did. It took about a year to write, and several years to revise and find someone who wanted to publish it.

Here are five reasons I think my second novel was more successful.

1. I’d had years of writing practice.

2. I’d read more books on the craft and learned to apply them

3. I finally connected online and received feedback and support from awesome people like Krista. (Contests rock!)

4. I realized no one wanted to represent or publish a 200K-word debut novel. (Which is why I actually had to split Blue into two different books. I still haven’t learned how to stop at a manageable length.)

5. I learned the value of beta readers. (Thanks, guys!)

As Krista can attest to, transitioning from Writer to Author is a fun change, but also bittersweet. I miss the days when I could spend my time writing whatever I wanted and not have to worry about marketing, or whether I’m hitting social media hard enough. It’s still a lot of fun, and seeing people walking around clutching your book protectively is better than heroin, but a little of the magic is gone when you’re trying to meet a deadline. (This is one reason I was happy to go with a smaller publisher: They’re much less scary when it comes to deadlines and sales numbers.)

I just have to say THANK YOU to Krista, both for picking my story out of the contest slush, helping make my query and first page better, and for pairing me with Carrie Harris, who read the whole thing in two days so I could use her endorsement on my cover. (Discovering her as an author was the best perk. She’s hilarious.)

Carrie Harris IS hilarious. Just saying.

Thank you, R.C., for sharing your story with us (and for furnishing three signed copies for our giveaway!). If YOU (not R.C.) would like to enter, just tell us in the comments that you want to win. Contest is open to U.S. and Canadian residents and closes in one week, on Monday, December 15, at 11:59 p.m. EST. I'll announce the winner the next day, so if you need a last-minute gift--or, if you're like me, a perfectly on-time gift--for the YA book lover in your life, we've got your back.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Interview with an Agent: Madeleine Clark

I'm pleased to welcome Madeleine Clark of Sterling Lord Literistic to the blog to round out the year's additions to my "Interview with an Agent" series. Happy reading!

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

MC: I’ve been at Sterling Lord Literistic for the last three and half years and before that I was working at a publishing house in North Carolina: Algonquin Books to be precise. Like a lot of people in publishing, I was an English major and avid reader who wanted my life to be about books in some form. A classmate pointed me in the direction of the editorial internship at Algonquin and I realized there was a whole world of enthusiastic, intelligent book nerds out there who were churning out the things I was rabidly reading. I was hooked.

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

MC: As an agent, I want to fulfill a lot of roles for my clients and I think different points in the relationship require me to tap into different strengths. From the outset, I’m an editor and collaborator while we get a project where it needs to be. During the submission process, an author needs both a spokesperson to editors and a cheerleader on the sidelines when nerves take hold. When negotiating contracts or establishing marketing/publicity plans, the author needs an advocate and someone that can take the brunt of any uncomfortable conversations so that they can maintain a good relationship with their editor. Basically I want to streamline things so that the author can do what they do best: write! I think mutual respect and trust is huge both during the creative process and for the life of the agent-author relationship.

KV: What do you love about Sterling Lord Literistic? Are there any soon-to-be-released agency titles that you want to give a shout-out to?

MC: There is something very special about working for an agency that has been around for over half a century. Our backlist is full of seminal titles I read or studied or fell in love with before ever knowing about the publishing world (On the Road, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, A Prayer for Owen Meany, etc) and because we are a fairly large boutique agency we have a really varied front list to look forward to every season. In particular, I’m so excited about the paperback release of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin (a beautiful story about family, books, and small town charm) as well as Jami Attenberg’s next book, SAINT MAZIE, inspired by a real life woman in Depression-era New York who opened her heart and famed movie theater to neighbors in need. Both of the covers are absolutely gorgeous, by the way. 

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

MC: I’m looking for several different genres right now: realistic YA, literary thrillers, literary fiction with something geographically or culturally unique about it, fiction with a bit of magic, narrative nonfiction that tackles something new and specific, and humor or lifestyle especially in the blog to book space. I am definitely not looking for hardcore fantasy or sci-fi, commercial horror or crime, erotica, romance, diet books, or cookbooks. 

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

MC: I definitely understand the desire to stand out in an agency slush pile but sometimes I think people take that motive too far. Gifts, life-sized scrolls, bright font colors, etc are more distracting than enticing. I also think an author should do his or her best to just be concise, professional, and informative in the cover letter rather than jokey or aggressive or promising the moon in large sweeping statements. If the summary is interesting and clear then I am certainly going to read your pages so don’t feel like the quality of your writing will be judged on the letter alone; your manuscript is where your voice will shine. Also, if we have a genuine connection, please let me know (same university, mutual friend, common interest or hometown--I love it when the world feels small)! The most important thing? Make sure the agent you are querying is looking for the genre you have to offer! 

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

MC: I really want a manuscript I can’t put down. Lately I’ve been reading a lot of submissions from talented writers who haven’t quite worked out a compelling plot. Over vacation I started the Dublin Murder Squad series from Tana French and I’m so obsessed with her ability to toe the line between deeply profound character study and your classic whodunit. Each installment of the series is this sprawling crowd pleaser of a book and I would love to find something that can straddle literary and plot-driven with such aplomb.

On the flip side of that, this isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned my love of literary thrillers and sometimes people take that to mean the more commercial hardboiled detective novels, police procedurals, and CIA-centered conspiracy theory stories. I’m less inclined to be on board for those, dystopian worlds, or YA that sticks too close to familiar territory without a hook. 

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

MC: I’m happy to receive queries by e-mail (madeleine [at] sll [dot] com). For all submissions I prefer a cover letter with a synopsis in the body of the email. For fiction, attach three chapters of the material or for nonfiction attach the proposal. Word documents please!

Thank you, Ms. Clark, for these smart, thoughtful responses. I'm sure I'm not the only one who found these answers impressive.

That's it from me!