March 2014 Archives

The protagonist ...cannot be

The protagonist ...cannot be a perfect person. If he were, he could not improve.
Maxwell Anderson

Deliciously Funny - Monsters Eat Whiny Children

MonstersAlong similar lines as the last book I recommended, Monsters Eat Whiny Children (Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2010) by Bruce Eric Kaplan is funny with an edge of scariness. In this two whiny children are told by their father that monster's eat whiny children. Of course, they didn't believe him. But one day a monster came and stole them away. The story just makes me smile every time I think about it.

If you like this book, you'll want to check out another of Bruce's titles: Cousin Irv from Mars.

Bruce is a cartoonist, a television writer and producer and an adult author as well. Read more about him here on the Simon and Schuster site, and here on IMDb (Internet Movie Database).

Hilariously Creepy - Creepy Carrots

CCarrots.jpgCreepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Peter Brown is one of those fun books where the images and words are telling different stories...or are they? I love the idea of the story--Jasper Rabbit can't get enough carrots...until they start following him. This 2013 Caldecott honor book was published by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers in 2012. (Thanks to editor Dani Young for introducing me to this book last fall!)

Looking at author Aaron Reynold's website, I see I need to read more of his books. Just by reading the titles, it's obvious that his sense of humor extends beyond one title.

Illustrator Peter Brown has a vimeo on how he created the art. Visit his website at I was first introduced to Peter's fabulously fun art with the book Chowder (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2007).

On either the illustrator or author website, you can see listings of the many awards and lists where this book is included.

Raise the stakes, honey!

men hanging from ladder.jpgimage by kfjmiller on

Raise the stakes, honey!

Guest post by Kathi Appelt

I have been a writer my whole life long, beginning with writing on walls as a toddler to writing professionally as an adult. In that life-long career, I have written articles, picture books, non-fiction, poetry, essays, short stories, a memoir, and even a song or two.

But for years and years the novel was a form that absolutely eluded me.


For a long time, I told myself that I didn't need to write a novel. After all, I had plenty of published work to stand on, and I had plenty of ideas for new works.

But I was kidding myself, because in my heart of hearts, it was a novel that I wanted to write. So, I took courses, I bought how-to books, I went to workshops. I did all of the required groundwork. Why couldn't I crack this genre?

In the meantime, I had drawer after drawer, boxes stacked upon boxes, of half-finished novels that were just that: half-finished.

It seemed like I could create wonderful characters, interesting landscapes, and great, colorful details. My characters, despite their goals, just didn't seem to make much progress. I'd get about half way through and then my story would lose steam and whimper into oblivion.

It wasn't until I took an on-line course with master teacher Dennis Foley that I realized that the essential element missing from my work was tension.


Now, plots are plots. I knew how to create plots. They involve a character who is moving toward a goal. And as Dennis so aptly puts it: "a goal is nothing more than whatever your character is trying to achieve, overcome or acquire." Easy peasy.

Yeah, right!

How could it be that I could have a character, in search of a goal, with all of the other elements in place, but still come up short?

As it turns out, in order for a reader to care about your story, the stakes have to be raised. You can have a character overcome incredible odds and obstacles, but if there's nothing at stake, then there's no reason to pull for that same character.

Let's consider an example. Say we have a great guy named Phillip who is a cross-country racer and whose goal is to win the regional track meet. We'll put Phillip at the starting line and pull the trigger on the starting pistol. Kapow! Off he goes.

If we use a basic plot, with three obstacles of increasing difficulty, we can first have Phillip develop an annoying blister on his heel. But because Phillip is tough, he runs through the pain. Next, it starts to snow. Now Phillip is having trouble seeing the track because of the snow, and his blister is getting worse, so the odds against his winning are increasing. Finally, he stumbles and turns his ankle. The entire pack is well ahead of him and Phillip is trailing badly.


We'll leave it there. Whether Phillip wins or not doesn't really matter. But what is missing from this story is the why of it. Why is it so important that Phillip win this race?

You see, there's nothing wrong with this plot, nothing wrong with the obstacles, nothing wrong with the character. But we have no idea what the stakes are and why it matters so much to Phillip to win that race. Is a college scholarship at stake? Is he racing to prove something to his family, something about honor, about perseverance, about stamina? Is he racing to win enough money to buy medicine for his little daughter?

What will be irrevocably lost if he doesn't win? Why is it so important to Phillip?

And that's the key word - important. The stakes have to be so important to the main character that if they don't achieve, acquire or overcome their goal, we the reader will care. If not, then it's just a race.

Winning or losing doesn't matter unless the stakes are high.

Raise 'em, honey. Otherwise, nobody will care.

This article appeared in Bruce Hale's January 2014 THE INSIDE STORY - used by permission. Go here to subscribe to his newsletter.

kathi-225x300.jpegKathi Appelt is a National Book Award finalist (for THE UNDERNEATH), and the author of over 20 books for kids and teens. Her tales have won numerous national and state awards, and she serves on the faculty of the Vermont College of Fine Arts' MFA in Children's Writing program. Catch up with her online at:

The pages are still

The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible.
Vladimir Nabakov

The more you read

The more you read, the better you will understand the art of writing.
Stacey O'Neale

One Size Does NOT Fit All

picture courtesy of Creative Commons License taken by Alisdair
almost fits.jpg

Recently, someone asked me "how do I submit to agents?" As I told them, each agency has their own submission guidelines. Not only do the guidelines say how they want you to submit, but what they want you to submit. And, of course, some agencies or agents are closed to submissions.

The only ways to know for sure what a particular agent wants are to visit the agency website, visit Publisher's Marketplace and search for a specific agent, or hear the agent speak at a conference or other writing event.

I personally am interested in contacting agents whom I've heard speak, met in some way, have read their tweets, have read their blogs or have read interviews with them. I like knowing a bit more about an agent, than what is said on the agency website or on Publisher's Marketplace.

The basic three "how to"s of agency submissions:

  • Via a form on their website

  • Via email, either with attachments, or pasted into the body of the email

  • Via postal mail

What agents want is more complex, but these are common variations:

  • Query only

  • Query with a certain number of pages or chapters for a novel

  • Query with synopsis and a certain number of pages or chapters for a novel

  • Full manuscript for picture book

  • Full manuscript for middle grade or YA novel


  • A full manuscript probably needs a cover letter

  • A few agents may want "exclusive submissions," but most do not

Samples of how and what:

Currently, EMLA's (Erin Murphy Literary Agency) website says: "EMLA is closed to unsolicited queries or submissions. We consider queries that come to us by referral from industry professionals we know, and individual agents are open to queries from attendees of conferences where they speak, except that Erin Murphy is entirely closed to queries and submissions in the first half of 2014. If you have met us at a conference or have a referral, please paste your query into the contact form on our contact page. Please note that we are no longer responding to queries or submissions from those who do not have a referral or have met us at a conference. Those sent in hard copy form via post or other means will receive no response, and those sent via email will receive a form rejection." So, the how is use the form on their website, the what is query and the extra important information is "by referral from industry professionals" and if you heard a specific agent speak at a conference.

Nancy Gallt Literary Agent accepts submissions via a form, in a step-by-step process. Or by postal mail.

"The Bent Agency ONLY accepts email queries. If you send your query by postal mail, it will be recycled and not returned to you."

Some guidelines will tell you what to put in the Subject line of your email.

Email Query Resources

How to Format an Email Query - Nathan Bransford

How to Format an Email Query for Literary Agents - Seven Tips from

BookStop Literary accepts via postal mail and has specific instructions by genre. Here's what they say for the younger readers:

Mail submissions: Please send the entire manuscript (but no more than 15 pages), a cover letter and a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE) to BookStop Literary Agency at the address on the left. In your cover letter, include your phone number, e-mail address, a short paragraph about your background, and a brief synopsis of your manuscript. Please do not submit more than two manuscripts at a time.

Please DO NOT send art, dummies, binders, or mock-ups unless you are a professional illustrator.

They also accept email submissions.

What Agents Are Looking For

What we haven't covered so far is the interests of the agents. Some agents look at the whole gamut from picture books to new adults. Others are boutique agencies who may focus on a specific audience or age range. Some agents tell you what they specifically want.

Here's a portion from Bree Ogden's want list (D4EO Literary):

*NOTE: I am actively seeking children's/YA nonfiction. NO memoir unless you have a gigantic platform (i.e., The Pregnancy Project). I would love something in the vein of The Letter Q, Dare to Dream!: 25 Extraordinary Lives, The Forbidden Schoolhouse, or a Starvation Heights type historical fiction.
~Highly artistic picture books (high brow art, think Varmints)
~Middle grade (generally horror)
~Young Adult
~New Adult (no erotica, please)
~Adult (very specific genres, see below)
~Graphic Novels (preferably artist/illustrator OGNs)
~Nonfiction (no heavy academic, rather pop culture and journalism or essays, think Kelley Williams Brown, David Sedaris, Chuck Klosterman. MUST have platform, no memoirs)
~Pop Culture
~Art books
~Unapologetically bizarre books
~Macabre literature for children

Response Times

How long an agent takes to get back to you varies by agency and by agent. I remember one writer friend getting a response from an agent the same day. Other writers told me one agent takes 8-9 months to respond. You may be able to learn this information on the agency website or perhaps on Publisher's Marketplace.


The Bent Agency: "It is our goal to respond to every query. If you don't receive a response within a month, please resend your query and indicate that you're sending it again."

More and more agents are not responding unless they are interested in your submission.


Wernick and Pratt Agency: "We receive hundreds of submissions each month, and while we would like to respond to every submission received, we unfortunately cannot reply to each one. Submissions will only be responded to if we are interested in them. If you do not hear from us within six (6) weeks of your submission, it should be considered declined. If you would like to request confirmation of receipt, please use the request-receipt function when e-mailing your initial submission to receive an automatically generated response confirming receipt. We will not confirm receipt of submissions unless we have requested additional material."

Can I Submit to More Than One Agent at an Agency?

Most agencies consider a submission to one agent at the agency as the only submission allowed. In other words, you can not submit to another agent at the same agency. This information will probably be in their submission guidelines. It never hurts to ask at a conference what the agency's policy is on this.

The misconception about children's

The misconception about children's fiction is that it's lightweight or fluffy. It's about really big and important things. It's adults who like light and fluffy. Everything is big and important to a child, so their stories are about big and important events.
Steven Moffat