July 2015 Archives

MS Wish List

photo courtesy of morguefile.com
wishing.jpgIf you're on twitter, you've probably seen the hashtag #MSWL. If you've read the SCBWI Insight, you're aware of it, too. Maybe you're still wondering though how useful it is. Or maybe you have no idea what I'm talking about. In either case, keep reading.

On the webpage itself you can find a collection of wish lists from a specific agent or editor. For example, here's a sampling from editor Cheryl Klein who has recently gotten involved with #MSWL.

Cheryl Klein
@chavelaque (her twitter handle)
After long thought and much perplexity, to be very brief was all that she could determine on with any confidence of safety. All tweets here my own. (her twitter bio)
Brooklyn, NY

She's interested in MG, YA, Nonfiction, Women, Diverse, Picture Books.

July 29th: I also want more MG/YA narrative nonfiction in history & science. Again: stakes, characters, good writing. Women & diversity a plus. #MSWL

July 29th: But the idea has to unfold thru v. real characters & a story w/ stakes, action & smarts. Ex OPENLY STRAIGHT, MARCELO IN THE REAL WORLD #mswl

July 29th: I always want Big Idea books -- PB/MG/YA whose story shows the character exploring a philosophical/political/personal idea or problem #MSWL

Interesting quick look at Cheryl and what she wants to see, right?

As of today, July 30th, there are 255 agent profiles listed on this website. There are also 130 editor profiles, 44 editorial assistants, and a number of other categories. Go here to see who they are. Once you have clicked on the type of person you are interested in, you can use the sort for categories such as Children, MG, Humor, etc. Editors, Agents, etc. are listed alphabetically by first name or by Agency name.

Does a listing on this site mean you can submit to that agent or editor? If you have something that fits their wish list, by all means. But if not, don't. Look at this query tip:

aba Sulaiman @agentsaba · 21h
"Although this isn't what you asked for, I hope y--" Stopstopstop. Pointing out that your book isn't on my wishlist won't help you. #querytip

Which reminds me, you can also click on Pub Tips, which will give you publication tips, including the query tip above.

There's also a Queries tab, which lets you get a look at some query responses such as these:

Eric W. Ruben, Esq. @EricRubenLawyer · 2d
Q1 YA: Dark subject matter and gritty MC. Not my style but might be good for someone else. Pass. #tenqueries

Laura Zats @LZats · 2d
Q456:C MG. Too introspective and not enough of a romp for me. #500queries #everyquery
There's also an Ask Agent tab. Here are a few samples:

Linda Epstein @LindaEpstein · 1d
@CharleyPearson Only resend a "completely revised" ms if it's "COMPLETELY revised." Otherwise it's just annoying. #askagent

Peter Knapp @petejknapp · 2d
Someone asked: Can you help explain the difference between YA & adult fiction w/ a teenage protag? http://t.co/aJTRg9F0DV #askagent

Do you have to be on twitter to use this site? Yes, and no. If you want to see more tweets related to a specific tweet, yes, you'll be directed to twitter. Do you have to have your own twitter account to read tweets? No. Do you have to have your own twitter account to read this website? No.

If you have more questions about the #MSWL hashtag, feel free to ask.

Criticism like rain should be

Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man's growth without destroying his roots.
Frank A. Clark

I shall live badly if

I shall live badly if I do not write, and I shall write badly if I do not live.
Francoise Sagan

Moonpenny Island

moonpennyisland.jpgMoonpenny Island (Balzer and Bray, 2015) by Tricia Springstubb is a story about change and offers encouragement that we can do more than simply survive.

Eleven-year-olds, Flor and Sylvie, are inseparable, so what is Flor going to do when Sylvie has to leave the island to go to school on the mainland? If that's not bad enough, Flor's mother leaves to take care of grandmother and Flor is afraid she might not come back. Her older sister has a secret too that has Flor worried.

I love what the author says on her website in her FAQ in answer to this question:
Did you always want to be a writer?
"The first thing I wanted to be was a dog. When I realized the odds of that, I switched to a cowgirl. Then an archeologist. I also wanted to be a mom. (Hooray! That came true.) I didn't decide to be a writer till I was grown-up."

Read all about her other books here. Tricia is also a member of the "From the Mixed-Up Files...of Middle Grade Authors," where members talk about books.

Waiting for Unicorns

waitingforunicorns.jpgWaiting for Unicorns (Philomel, 2015) by Beth Hautala is a story of loss, loneliness and hope. (We may not all have a wish jar as the main character does, but we all know what wishing is like!)

When twelve-year-old Talia McQuinn moves north with her father she talks about leaving as "Watching things slip away from you until your insides ache and everything feels backward." But it's not just a simple move to a new town for Talia and her father. Instead, she's going from one culture to another. And she'll have to face it alone since her father will be out hunting whales, and her mother is dead.

This was author Beth Hautala's first book.

She has recently sold her second book The Ostrich and Other Lost Things also to Philomel for publication in 2017. Read more on her website.

If there is no possibility

If there is no possibility for change in a character, we have no interest in him.
Flannery O'Connor

This Girl Is Different

different.jpgEvie in This Girl Is Different (Peachtree Publishers, 2011) by JJ Johnson is not your stereotypical homeschooled girl. She's the more realistic version--confident, smart and independent. And, she's bucking her mom's wishes by going to the local High School for her Senior Year. Evie isn't one to stay in the background and how she stands up for others ends up coming back to bite her.

On this page you can read the story behind the story!

The book came out in Korean in 2012.

In French in 2014.

And in German in 2015.




Quite a variety of covers, eh?

On her website, author JJ Johnson has the quotes that are epigraphs in This Girl Is Different.

An Ember in the Ashes

anemberintheashes.png An Ember in the Ashes (Razorbill Books, 2015) by Sabaa Tahir is a compelling story told in two viewpoints where the characters' lives eventually collide. Laia is from the oppressed Scholars; Elias from the Martial Empire. She has run to the Resistance after her brother is taken captive and her grandparents are killed. Elias is in training to be a Mask, but has plans to run away after graduation. The Resistance offers a trade to Laia--spy for us at the Martials' training school and we'll get you out. Only thoughts of her brother give her enough courage to face becoming a slave. Elias wants freedom for himself, but an Augur tells him he must stay to gain that freedom. So both must sacrifice the now for the future.

You can find out more about this New York Times Bestselling book at the book site or on the author's site. Check out how many countries where this book is being sold--it's incredible. And this is Sabaa Tahir's first book!

There's going to be a sequel and a movie (2017)! Woo Hoo to both!

How to Stand Out

image courtesy of tcatcarson on morguefile.comstandout.jpg

Last year I was asked to be a judge for an SCBWI region's conference grants. They sent me submissions and I got right to work. It's always interesting seeing what others are writing. And I love it when I get to the end of a first page and wish there was more. But I thought it also might be helpful to share common problems I found when going through the grant submissions.

The first I noticed was category labeling*. In the children's book world, we usually expect picture book, chapter book, middle grade novel, YA novel, etc., which actually refers to the audience. Sometimes you'll see an additional genre label such as fantasy, magical realism, science fiction, contemporary, historical, etc. Some submissions did not indicate audience or genre. Others, more interestingly, had additional labels, but the first page of text didn't fit the description. In other words, it shouldn't require a label to know I'm reading fantasy--it should feel like fantasy. If it doesn't, then perhaps the writer needs to look at the first page again.

Editors and agents don't expect perfect in a manuscript, but mechanical errors on the first page are indications of less care elsewhere. Punctuation and grammatical errors I found included: run-on sentences, missing commas and misplaced modifying clauses.

Other mechanical errors related to formatting. One manuscript didn't have indented paragraphs, making it harder to read. The more common was extra spacing after paragraphs. Probably agents and editors don't care so much about this as I do, but it does mean writers aren't getting as many lines for a full page. It probably means these writers aren't aware of the nasty trick that Word uses as a default: adding 10 pts after a paragraph. This makes it look like a triple space after a paragraph versus a double. (Directions to fix it below.)

My critique group teases me about being the "as" Nazi. I admit it--the overuse of "as" drives me crazy, but I learned it from Deborah Halverson also known as Dear Editor (www.deareditor.com). And, yes, some submissions overused "as." "As" is a word we often use to show things happening simultaneously. Yes, in real life they do often happen at once. However, in writing it's easier to just think of things happening one at a time since we read them that way. Sometimes you can take "as" out and break the sentence into two sentences. Other times you might want to use another preposition, e.g. when, while, or reorder the sentence so it isn't necessary. Often when people use "as" they don't keep the events in chronological order. When it is used with a "said" and an action, simply take out the dialogue attribution and use the action. You can't not use "as," you just don't want to overuse it.

I also found in a number of submissions that the description of the book was more interesting than the first page itself. In some cases, the first page made me want to read on; in others, not. In some, I think the writer needed to get into the action or tension quicker. Or maybe it was to make me care more about the character. These are tough to accomplish in 250 words, I know.

Several submissions were in rhyme. There was near rhyme, which some editors are okay with, but others aren't. Sometimes the text was forced to make a line rhyme. The rhythm needs to be spot on, too.

Feedback is hard. So is not winning a contest or scholarship. But maybe one or two of these suggestions will improve your manuscript so it will stand out!

Removing the Word default of 10 pts after a paragraph

1. First, changing the default for all new documents...
- Open a blank document
- Go to Paragraph on your menu bar
>>in some versions you'll click on the word Paragraph
>>in others, you'll click on the arrow
- In the pop-up box, find Spacing
- Go to After: and change 10 pts to 0 pts
- Click on the Default box and now all new documents won't have these extra spaces

2. Second, fixing it on existing documents...
- Open the document
- Select the entire body of text
>>Depending on your version this can be done by:
........clicking Edit on the menu bar and choosing Select All
........Or by highlighting the text with your mouse and cursor
- Go to Paragraph on your menu bar
- In the pop-up box, find Spacing
- Go to After: and change 10 pts to 0 pts

* Thanks to Carol Riggs for noting that I used the word genre when I should have used category, which I have now corrected.