Friday, April 29, 2016

From Submission to Offer with Alyson Heller

Super excited to share my interview with Alyson Heller, the editor at Aladdin who worked on Dee Romito's THE BFF BUCKET LIST. Ms. Romito's debut is set to drop next Tuesday, so it felt like the right time to get a behind-the-scenes peek into the acquisition process. Enjoy!

KV: First off, tell us a bit about THE BFF BUCKET LIST. What is it about, and what did you love about it?

AH: Skyler and Ella have been best friends since kindergarten, but lately, Ella feels like they are drifting apart. The solution? Ella comes up with The BFF Bucket List, and the girls must complete all the tasks together. As new friends, epic opportunities and super-cute boys enter the picture, the challenges on the list aren’t the only ones they face.

What I loved about The BFF Bucket list is that it speaks to the universal experience of the angst and struggles with friendship, particularly during these tween years. In this story, the girls are about to go off to high school, and the separation in interests and other friend groups starts to become more and more apparent. We’ve all been there, and Dee Romito does a wonderful job of showing this experience.

KV: Once you decided to take THE BFF BUCKET LIST to your acquisitions meeting/editorial board, did you inform Ms. Romito’s agent of your interest in the manuscript? Do you typically keep in contact with the agent throughout the process, or do you prefer to have a final decision in hand before you reach out?

AH: Yes, once we got in the pages from Dee, I shared with our immediate Aladdin editorial team, who read and loved, and we let Dee’s agent, Dr. Uwe Stender, know that we would be taking the manuscript to our acquisitions meeting. I usually let the agents know that I am taking something to acquisitions, just in case the status on their end has changed. Happily, our acquisitions board also loved the pages we presented, and I was able to make an official offer, which is always so exciting!

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

AH: In some cases, I have seen a previous submission that hasn’t quite worked for my list or Aladdin’s list overall, but loved the voice and writing of the author--and there are a few instances where I have then signed them up for something down the line, whether it’s a new project they come back with, or a project we approached them for. That is a long way of saying don’t be discouraged if the first submission your agent goes out with doesn’t quite stick--we certainly keep note of those authors who we would love to work with someday on the right project if the opportunity comes along!

Wonderful advice, Ms. Heller. Thanks again for taking the time to answer my questions!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Buy a Book, Get a Critique!

As I've watched the price of DON'T VOTE FOR ME keep going down and down on a popular retail site, I've wondered how I can encourage people to buy it without just coming out and saying, "Hey, buy my cheap book!" Today, the answer came to me: give them a critique with their purchase!

To that end, I'll critique the first 10 pages of your manuscript if you purchase either DON'T VOTE FOR ME or THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING from a bookseller of your choice. (I promise it won't be hard to find the price I mentioned above. As of the time and date of this post, it's $4.10.) To submit, please send your first 10 pages and your proof of purchase (like a screenshot or an order confirmation) to kvandolzer(at)gmail(dot)com WITHIN THE NEXT WEEK (by noon EDT on Tuesday, May 3). And for those of you who've already bought the book(s), I'll still critique your first 10 pages if you post a review on your favorite retail site. Just send me a link in addition to your first 10 pages!

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Writer's Voice: Where Is Noelle Henry Now?

One of the very first entries I read during TWV 2012 was for FACE THE MUSIC, a YA contemporary romance about a deaf cellist who gets paired up with a boy who's the opposite of her type in a coveted scholarship competition. I knew I wanted it right away, so it didn't surprise me when it and its author, Noelle Henry, got snatched up by a Writers House agent several months after the contest. What DID surprise me was when the project didn't sell. And when Noelle's next project didn't sell. And when--well, I guess I'll let Noelle tell her own story. Inspiration ahead:

When Krista first announced she was bringing the old Writer’s Voice gang back together for a special feature on her blog, I was thrilled to take part. But then reality set in. To update everyone on what has been going on with me since The Writer’s Voice contest was to essentially admit I’d been standing still for four years. And that...made this blog all the more difficult to write.

I signed with an amazing agent in 2012, not long after The Writer’s Voice contest, and I guess I sort of thought that meant success was right around the corner. I know, I know, I hear you all groaning at my naivete, but I’d written other books that had gone nowhere. I honestly felt Face the Music was the one. I’d been told over and over again how good books will always find a home. I’d written a good book. I believed in it. My agent believed in it. Wasn’t that enough?

Most of us have dealt with our fair share of rejection, so when the passes started rolling in on that book, I told myself it was no big deal. I wrote another book and another one. I poured my heart and soul into them, believed in them with everything I had. And still, at the end of the day, they went nowhere. I understood all about the subjective nature of this business, I got that publishing was just as much timing and luck as it was perseverance, but with each new rejection, every close call that fell through, my self-confidence broke more and more.

I’d tied all of my self-worth into getting that elusive book deal, and without it, I felt like a failure. Regardless of the fact that I’d written several great books I’d once been so proud of, I had nothing. I was nothing. Writing wasn’t fun anymore. It was torture. I’d let all my disappointments rob me of the joy of doing what I’d once loved best. Every time I sat at the computer, I was paralyzed by anxiety and doubt. Was this sentence strong enough? Were my characters interesting enough? Was I just wasting my time on another book that wouldn’t sell? 

Now, I hope you’re rolling your eyes at me saying you don’t relate to this. I hope you’ve taken every moment of your writing journey in stride and are still putting one foot in front of the other. But just in case you are like me, and you’re finding that belt of disappointment getting so heavy around your waist you can’t take another step, take some time to remember why you started writing in the first place--way before the idea of selling a book was ever on your radar. Write it down if you can.

Next, remember that writing is what you do, not who you are. I’m betting all of you have other creative pursuits in your life. Whether that’s music, art, gardening, decorating, or maybe something completely different, the point is, we are all so much more. So why do so many of us tie our happiness and fulfillment into whether or not our book sells?

Lastly, step away if you need to. If writing has just become too frustrating and stressful, don’t feel guilty about taking a break. It’s okay. No one will think badly of you. The world will not end if you don’t write. Your writer friends will not disown you. Your agent won’t decide you’re too much of a burden and cut you loose. Shift your focus onto living an amazing life. Fill your days with everything you love, and I guarantee your love of words will come back to you when you’re ready.

In many ways, your words could be my words, Noelle. Thank you so much for sharing them with us.

Friday, April 8, 2016

The Writer's Voice: Where Is Lisa A. Koosis Now?

I have a special treat for you today, a guest post from Lisa A. Koosis, a TWV 2012 and TWV 2013 alum (though she was on Mónica's team the second year). Lisa's traveled a long road, so I'm especially happy to report that her debut, RESURRECTING SUNSHINE, will be available from Albert Whitman & Company later this fall. Enjoy!

When Krista and I first decided on perseverance as the topic of my guest post, I thought: surely I can come up with something clever to say about that. After all, it’s something I know a thing or two about. But then somehow, “clever” didn’t seem exactly right for the subject matter. Because perseverance by its very nature implies struggle, right? It implies time passing and roadblocks and setbacks and frustration. Yup, lots of frustration. So instead of being clever, I’d like to tell you the story of my journey, which if nothing else, is one of perseverance.

Back in 2012 when I first entered The Writer’s Voice, it wasn’t--as that old cliché goes--my first rodeo. I’d been querying since 2007. In fact, The Road of the Dead, my TWV entry that year, was the third manuscript I’d queried (and the fifth book I’d written). 

The first manuscript I’d queried, a mainstream drama called Children of the Moon, wasn’t the first book I’d written either. It was the third. The first two have never amounted to anything beyond being virtual dust collectors on my hard drive. In September 2007 I heard about The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) for the first time, and knew I had to enter. I’d been revising Children of the Moon for probably two years, even as I’d been learning about queries and synopses and the etiquette of agent submissions. 

Truthfully, I think I’d also been dragging my feet on submitting, though looking back, I’m not sure why. I wasn’t afraid of rejection. I’d been navigating the short story markets for the better part of a decade by then, and had done fairly well for myself. In the process, I’d also received countless rejections, none of which had killed, maimed or otherwise injured me. (And I’ll tell you this… Agent rejections are nothing. Short story editors can be brutal!)

So I entered ABNA’s first competition…and flopped, not even making the first cut. Worse, they didn’t even advance the full amount of entries they’d slotted for that second round, which was a huge slap in the face. I’d heard the message--not good enough--loud and clear, but I let it fuel me, so I revised some more before embarking on a more traditional querying process. Eventually, after making the rounds, COTM got shelved.

A different manuscript made it to ABNA’s semifinals in Year 2. It also, subsequently, made it to Number 2 in another contest, one which was, unfortunately a first-place-or-nothing affair. That one got queried, too…and rejected and rejected and rejected and ultimately shelved.

By the time 2012 brought me to The Writers Voice for the first time, I’d entered ABNA every year. I’d even hit the semifinals with three different manuscripts. I’d been querying for five years straight, and though I can’t give you an exact count of my rejections at that point, I’ll say this: it was a whole lot. So when Krista posted “I want you” on my contest entry I was thrilled, but didn’t expect anything.

That turned out to be a good thing, because I didn’t get a single agent request from TWV that year…not a single one. And it confirmed what I might have known all along. That it was time to file away yet another manuscript.

My next project was a young adult manuscript that I’d been working on. I’d found my way to YA through another contest, one that I’d actually won, the Family Circle Short Fiction Contest. One of the prizes was a Mediabistro class. I’d wanted to learn from either an editor or an agent, so even though I considered myself an author of adult fiction, I chose the YA class, taught by the amazing Kendra Levin of Viking. The book I started for that class crashed and burned, but still, I came out of it with fresh inspiration, a newfound love for YA and an amazing critique partner.

This was the one, I thought. I was sure of it. But the YA manuscript only netted me more rejections.

I’d read time and again that if you were getting personal rejections you were getting close. Except I’d been getting personal rejections for years. Encouraging ones (You write beautifully and have an authentic voice. You’ll get there). Complimentary ones (Your world-building skills are amazing). Sometimes even perplexing ones (I think this could really be commercially successful but I’m going to have to pass. I loved this and couldn’t stop turning pages but I’m afraid I’ll have to pass). But rejections nonetheless. My significant other even made up a crazy, head-banging song about getting all these compliments and then the ultimate “no” that came at the end. He would sing it to make me laugh.

Conceptually, the idea of perseverance is great. But in practice, it’s hard to persevere. At least it was for me. There were times when I just flat-out quit (at least three times that I can think of), when I was sure I just didn’t have the heart to keep going. There were times I didn’t like who I was becoming, the frustration and jealousy getting the better of me as I watched other writers fly past me, securing agents, landing book deals, when they’d only been at it for a year or two. There were times when I felt hopeless. I couldn’t understand what I was doing wrong, or even worse, what other writers were doing right. I was the almost girl. I had been the almost girl for years. I was always going to be the almost girl.

And yet I kept coming back to it, like a compulsion. I nicknamed my YA manuscript “the book that would not die.” I had (and still have) an amazing critique partner who wouldn’t let it die, who believed in it even when I couldn’t.

And the bottom line was this. No matter what I told myself, what I wanted more than anything in the world was to publish a book.

At one point, when I was picking away half-heartedly at yet another round of revisions, my significant other bribed me. “Finish that new first chapter by the registration deadline,” he told me, “and I’ll pay for you to attend that conference you want to go to.” So I did. And not only did he keep his word; he even paid for a critique for that chapter. And at that critique, I met an editor who loved the first chapter. I pretty much got no critique, just a lovely conversation and an invitation to submit the full manuscript.

It was a no (no’s never surprised me by then), but she asked me about my idea for additional revisions and then confirmed that she thought I was on the right track. She even said she’d like to see the manuscript again when I was finished revising.

…which brings me to The Writer’s Voice Part 2 and Team Monica. I was dragging through revisions when I saw the announcement for TWV 2014. I perked up. Maybe it was just the deadline I needed to get myself motivated and moving. Plus, it might be the ideal place to test out those new revisions before I sent it along to that editor again. So I entered. And on my entry, Monica wrote “I want you.”

Of course, me being me, I didn’t expect anything.

But this time, a funny thing happened. Nine agents requested. A few days later, I got an email from an amazing agent asking to talk, a call that ended with an offer of representation. And it wasn’t my only one that week.

I went through another two rounds of revisions under my agent’s guidance, and then we went on submission. Approximately six months after that, I had two offers on “the book that wouldn’t die.”

It’s continued to be a rocky road for me. Without going into details, I’ll say that the publisher I’m with now isn’t the publisher whose offer I accepted that day back in April of last year. Weird things happen, sometimes, things that are beyond our control. But I will say that the publisher I’m with now feels like the one I’m supposed to be with. It feels right. And the “book that would not die, also known as Resurrecting Sunshine, will be out in Fall 2016 from the amazing folks at Albert Whitman & Co.

It’s funny. A few years ago when I was at my most discouraged, my significant other and I attended Book Expo America (BEA) in NYC. It was amazing and overwhelming and inspiring. And it also made me a little sad as I saw author after author signing their books? Was I never going to get where I wanted to be? Would I never join that elite club?

A few days ago I got an email from my publishing house. The subject line said: Invitation to BEA. Of course, I accepted it.

In less than two months I will be there, amid the beautiful chaos of BEA (in Chicago this year), doing an in-booth signing.

Sometimes, looking back, I think I’ve heard the word “no” more than anyone else on the planet. I know it’s not true, but it feels that way sometimes. But now, I’ve also heard the word “yes,” which somehow manages to surpass every single “no” put together. For me, that’s the exact beauty of perseverance.

Krista, thank you so much for inviting me to be a part of your blog, and thank you for all you and everyone at The Writer’s Voice have done for me.

My pleasure, Lisa. My pleasure.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

YA Recommendations for In-between Readers

Ally Carter recently tweeted about the dearth of YA books for in-between readers, or readers who have mentally and emotionally phased out of MG but aren't ready for or interested in the grittier, edgier stuff that takes up most of the space on YA shelves these days. As a reader who continues to be less interested in the grittier, edgier stuff, I thought I'd pull together a few of my favorite titles that fall into that in-between world.

Anything by Ally Carter

This topic was probably on Ally Carter's brain because she happens to write for those in-between readers, and she's long been one of the authors I'll pick up on the spot, no questions asked. She tends to write action-packed stories with a heap of quirky characters and snappy one-liners. My personal favorites are the books in her Heist Society series. I even recommended HEIST SOCIETY and UNCOMMON CRIMINALS a while back.

Anything by Lindsey Leavitt

Lindsey Leavitt is another of my go-to authors for fun--and funny--YA. Whereas Ms. Carter writes thrillers, Ms. Leavitt gravitates toward straight-up contemporary fiction. I honestly couldn't decide which of her books is my favorite, so I'll just say that SEAN GRISWOLD'S HEAD is the sweetest, GOING VINTAGE has the cleverest concept, and THE CHAPEL WARS is the most poignant. Take your pick!

Bloomsbury's "If Only" Series

In a YA market that skews older, this series specifically targets those in-between readers. As publishing director Cindy Loh puts it, "Every novel in the series provides a different ‘what-if ’ situation and fills in the blank. A hallmark of the line will be humor, which isn’t to say that every book will be a comedy, but there will be light moments in each novel. And every novel will be aspirational and ‘clean teen’--suitable for readers as young as twelve.” I've read several of these books, and my favorite is the one I just finished, Kristin Rae's WHAT YOU ALWAYS WANTED. Her main character loves old movies even more than I do, so it felt like this book was written especially for me.


I'm cheating a little with this pick, since Rebecca Petruck's STEERING TOWARD NORMAL is technically MG, but it's upper MG, so I'm going to include it:) I posted an official recommendation after I first read it several years ago, so I'll let you check that out. Suffice it to say that I love this book now every bit as much as I did then!


I wanted to include a fantasy or sci-fi on this list, and Diana Peterfreund's FOR DARKNESS SHOWS THE STARS has been on my mind again lately. Though the themes are deep enough to appeal to older readers, I'm sure my thirteen-year-old self would have loved this book. Since I posted an official recommendation for this one, too, I'll let those words speak for themselves.

I could go on and on, but I'll leave it there for now. What are some of your favorite YA books for in-between readers?

Friday, April 1, 2016

The Writer's Voice: Where Is Erin Petti Now?

One of the last entries I read during TWV 2012 was for an MG adventure then called THELMA BEE. The voice immediately hooked me (and it hooked three agents, too!), and now that I've had a chance to read the whole thing, I can say that the book, which comes out from Mighty Media Press this September, is just as charming and creepy in whole as it was in part. For more behind-the-scenes tidbits from author Erin Petti, read on!

KV: Congratulations on the upcoming release of THE PECULIAR HAUNTING OF THELMA BEE! What inspired you to write it?

EP: Thank you so much, Krista!

I think I wrote the kind of book that I love to read! I had a feeling that a big, fun, creepy, New England-y adventure was inside me and really wanted to get out. I lived by a river when I started writing Thelma and the natural scenery was so inspiring.

KV: After THELMA was featured in TWV 2012, it went on to land an agent and, ultimately, a book deal. Can you tell us about that process?

EP: When I entered Thelma into TWV in 2012, she was very early on in her development. I had the heart of the story, but it was through beta feedback that I was able to push the story and the characters further, and to create something that was ready for editor eyes.

I found my wonderful agent Laura through #MSWL on Twitter and she submitted our manuscript to Mighty Media Press. My editor, Lauren, has been instrumental in making the book what it is today. I’m really lucky that her vision meshes so well with my own. She’s got fantastic insights and I’m incredibly lucky to work with the MMP team!

KV: I remember loving Thelma, and she hasn't lost any of her shine. Where did her character come from? Is she based on a real person?

EP: Not in a specific way. I guess everyone we write, in some way, has the DNA of people we’ve met. I knew I didn’t want her to be hung up on the Middle School stuff that gets most kids down. I wanted her to take off from an unencumbered place. That’s VERY different than the way I was when I was her age. Maybe I wrote my 6th grade opposite!

KV: One of my favorite elements was the Riverfish Valley Paranormal Society. Have you ever been on a ghost hunt?

EP: Oh, I am DYING TO--no pun intended!!! I’ve been on ghost tours, and I watch every paranormal show I can get my hands on (Note: When Ryan Buell from Paranormal State gave Thelma a blurb, I was over the moon for a week straight). Additionally, I totally lived in a haunted dorm in college. But I’ve never been on an honest-to-goodness investigation and it’s a major life goal of mine.

KV: The book's setting--New England in the fall--felt especially appropriate for this story. Is Riverfish Valley a real place, and either way, how did you develop it as a character in and of itself?

EP: Riverfish Valley is not a real place in Massachusetts, but Maynard is. I lived right by the Assabet River when writing the book. The Assabet turned into the Beaverbottom River in Thelma’s backyard. In fact, Thelma’s house is based directly on the house I lived in in Maynard, and Riverfish itself takes a huge amount of inspiration from the quirky river town that I love--right down to the Clock Tower!

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

EP: Just a crazy-big thank you! Krista, you were one of Thelma’s very first cheerleaders, and I can not tell you how grateful I am for your support. Please consider yourself an honorary member of RVPS!

I will! Thanks for coming back and catching us up to speed, Erin, and good, good luck with THELMA!