NOTE: I don't post to this blog super-duper often anymore, because I'm busy writing, well, books. (Read more about that here.) For more up-to-date, day-to-day ramblings, visit my Facebook page.

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Easiest Way to Lose an Agent

Friday seems like the wrong day for a lecture, right?


Yesterday I enjoyed reading agent Sara Megibow's always entertaining mini-chat on Twitter, #10Queriesin10Tweets. It's just what you'd expect: Sara pulls 10 queries from her slush pile and responds to them on Twitter. (No, she doesn't use anyone's name, and yes, she's quite kind.) What struck me?

Out of 10 queries addressed, two of them were immediately rejected because Sara's agency doesn't represent those submissions' genres. That's 20 percent, people.

I don't write a whole ton about the agent-seeking process, but this part is a no-brainer:


At times, this seems like a tough task. An agent might write in her blog, "Oh, I just love vampire novels!" and then three months later say in another interview, "I've really had my fill of vampire novels." Okay, you might miss the boat there. But when an agency says they don't represent nonfiction--ever--then don't send them nonfiction. That's basic. Some agents represent only juvenile fiction. Some only represent adult fiction. Some stick to nonfiction. These are broad genres. Don't waste your time, and theirs, submitting something outside the guidelines because you think your work is different.

It's not.

Don't make it easy for an agent to reject you!

To read my brief but presumably helpful tip sheet on submitting your ms., click here.

photo: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / Andrey Popov

Thursday, November 29, 2012

What Does a Proofreader Do?

So you've heard of acquisition editors, line editors, and copy editors. Where does the proofreader come in?

My proofreading stage for The Key & the Flame is over and done, but I thought I'd write this because I hadn't explained this part of the journey.

In this post, I described the copy editor's job. (Go take a peek if you never read it and/or forgot and/or didn't really care. I'll never know.) After the copy editor and the author and the editor have wrangled over the serial commas and quirky spellings that some (ahem) authors get up to, the manuscript disappears into a big vat of goo and pages emerge.

Okay, not exactly, but I'm murky about this bit. Back in the Cretaceous Period, when I worked in publishing, a copyedited manuscript actually went out of house to a typesetter. But these days, it wanders down the hall to the design department, where it's fed through a desktop publishing program like Quark for Macintosh. Otherwise known as vat of goo. (Chime in here, design people, if I've got this wrong.)

Still, it comes to the same thing: Pages emerge. They're often called galleys. Once (Cretaceous Period), galleys were overlong sheets without proper breaks and page numbers, but that isn't the case now, so they really are more like first-pass pages or page proofs. They look like photocopies of book pages, set in a nice typeface (font), with headers and/or footers. But for all their spiffy appearance, they're still first-pass pages and will be tinkered with. The proofreader, often a freelancer who works at home in a Vermont farmhouse far from the rigors and floods of New York City life, reads through the pages, comparing every word to the copyedited manuscript. The more heavily edited the manuscript was, the more likely it is that errors were introduced when the pages were created. So the proofreader's job is painstaking. And on top of that, she'll likely have questions of her own, just like the copy editor did. Hers is yet another pair of eyes to catch anything that no one else did, and she's likely to scribble a note in the margin like:
I'm pretty sure the protag's husband's name is Horatio, not Claude. Whaaaa??
Except more polite than that.

The author then has her own proofreading to do and may find--ahem again--that an entire paragraph needs to be transposed with another, because that's what she meant to do in the first place and how is it that no one in New York is a mind reader, anyway? She may also notice that a boy "trails his fingers in the bathwater" before the tub has a drop in it. Whoops.

But all such sins are (I guess) forgiven, the corrections are sent back to the design department, and final pages issue forth, bright and shiny and mostly okay. Luckily, someone reads them yet again to make sure, and the editor may email the author at the eleventh hour with yet another query before the pages are set in stone--or glue.

And now ... the long, long wait for books!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Britain Comes to Kansas

Yes, even here in the humble American Midwest, we remember fondly our British roots. It wasn't until this year that I realized that the Daughters of the British Empire host a British fair every year just a couple of miles from my own house. We had jugglers, jesters, a royal court, and of course a fine cream tea. Thanks much to Queen's Pantry of Leavenworth, Kansas, and Brits of Lawrence for bringing so many yummy treats for us to buy.

The dancer above is from the Clanna Eireann Celtic dance troupe. Note how the Queen and Prince William watch from a respectful distance.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Blog-Hopping Day

Today you'll find me over at Corsets, Cutlasses & Candlesticks talking about how writers can bridge the gap between 21st-century readers and characters from, say, the 1400s. Can the youth of today possibly relate to people who lived without text messaging and indoor toilets? Go find out. You'll need to click. It won't hurt.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Books I'm Thankful For

Amazon has just compiled their Best Middle-Grade Books of 2012 list. I certainly have my issues with Amazon--no need to go into them here, maybe later--but I do love book lists. My problem is that I spend so much time playing catch-up--that is, reading books I should've read years ago and didn't--that I'm always a bit behind the cutting edge.

But to get back to the theme, I am so very thankful to all the writers who penned the great books I read in 2012. So here's my list of the Top 5 MG Books I Read This Year. Some are old, some are new.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver

The Apothecary by Maile Meloy

Greenwitch by Susan Cooper

Liar & Spy  by Rebecca Stead

What about you? Tell me the best books you read this year.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Weird & Wonderful World of English

Just a quickie post today to alert you to a fun link from Mental Floss about our beloved language and how 11 of our words got to be spelled the way they are. As a sometime copy editor and proofreader, I'm often asked, "But why do we spell it this way? That's dumb." Of course it is, but that's what makes our language such an infuriating, prickly, silly little mistress. But she's just so darned pretty, we forgive her again and again.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Like a Froggy

Yes, I'm blog-hopping again today. Over at The Lucky 13s, I talk about that awkward moment when you have to admit that, yes, you're a writer. And no, you don't get to have lunch with J.K. Rowling, ever, and you don't make her income. Not even half. (Wouldn't half be fabulous?)

Go take a peek. It's one click.

image of my close personal friend writing idol:

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Wowza Palooza Website Launch Giveaway!


Notice anything different? Okay, if you've never been here before, you won't realize that the blog has been completely redesigned and spiffed up by the talented Denise Biondo of Biondo Studio. But more than that, Denise has designed a unique, fun, gorgeous-looking website for me over at ...


also to be found at

There you'll find info about my books and the latest news, as well as a fun page full of cool photos and facts about castles and knights. That's actually my favorite page, because I'll get to update it with quizzes and games as time goes on.

And what would a Wowza Palooza Website Launch be without a giveaway?

One lucky winner will win:
a $20 Amazon gift card 
2 premium The Key & the Flame bookmarks 
(premium because they're duded up with ribbons and key charms and my own illegible signature)

So enter below and get in on the prizes!

And if you don't win, don't sweat it. On December 2 I'll be launching my Countdown to Pub Date Party, which will feature giveaways on the first Tuesday of every month leading up to April 2, 2013--including swag and copies of some of the best new kidlit out there. Stay tuned!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, November 12, 2012

Weird Facts from the Research Files

In writing The Key & the Flame, I've unearthed facts from the Cretaceous Period to the modern British school system. Today I'm sharing a few fun things I've learned over at the Corsets, Cutlasses, & Candlesticks blog. Go take a peek. I dare ya. Meanwhile, enjoy my attempts at cartooning. Since I'm not a pro, I got nothin' to lose ...

Monday, November 5, 2012

Why You Should Write First, Query Later

Today I read a great excerpt over on GalleyCat from a letter Kurt Vonnegut wrote to his son about book deals. You can read the whole thing yourself, but here's the gist of it:
"If you are within a few months of having a finished, edited manuscript, I advise you to carry on without an advance, without that false feeling of completion, without that bit of good news to announce to a lot of people before the job is really done."
Now Vonnegut was talking about securing an advance--i.e., a book deal--before the book is finished, something that he called "hard to get." In the present day, I'd have to say that for a first-time novelist, a book deal without a finished manuscript is only as "hard to get" as, say, a reservation at the Lunar Hilton. But I think a lot of you know this. I rarely hear people asking about how to secure that $100k advance from Random House before their book is even finished.


I do hear people tearing their hair out about the agent search, the publisher search, the marketing ploys, how to best use Facebook, etc., before they've finished their book. Occasionally someone will ask if it's a good idea to submit a partially finished manuscript. (It isn't.) Or: Isn't it okay to submit your really well polished first few chapters and then continue editing the rest while you wait for an answer? (No.)

Publishing is a two-headed beast. Head #1 is the Writing. Head #2 is the Marketing. If you're going to feed Head #2--which includes querying, researching agents, Facebooking, blogging (ahem), etc.--then Head #1 may well starve. That happens to people who already have finished their mauscripts. People who haven't might as well just buy a plot and stone for poor Head #1.

Head #1 drives the whole game. Without nourishment, it dies. Without attention, it dies. Give your book your all. If you happen to run across the name of an agent who sounds perfect for you, great. Write down the name. Keep a running list. But don't waste your energy crafting queries and synopses. That's creative energy that needs to go to the Writing. Stay buried in your fictional world, and then, when you've written the best book you can, put your energy into researching, querying, and all the rest. Your writing and publishing careers both will be better for it.

image: The Muppets' version of a two-headed monster. Link here.