Thursday, February 11, 2016

THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING Is an Association of Mormon Letters Awards Finalist!

The title pretty much says it all, but I don't always remember to celebrate the good news, so I wanted to make sure that I mentioned it here. Don't forget to check out the other finalists, including fellow Fearless Fifteeners Christine Hayes (MOTHMAN'S CURSE) and Jen White (SURVIVAL STRATEGIES OF THE ALMOST BRAVE). The YA finalists also include three Fearless Fifteeners--Courtney Alameda (SHUTTER), Valynne E. Maetani (INK AND ASHES), and Becky Wallace (THE STORYSPINNER)--so I think it's safe to say the debuts are representing!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Change

It's okay, you don't have to pay
I've got all the change
--Ben Folds, "Still Fighting It"

I don't do change well. I don't think many people do, but since it's becoming clear that change is going to be the theme of our 2016, I've decided to embrace it.

But it's still sort of terrifying.

It started at the end of last year, actually. I'd been feeling like I needed to blaze a new trail, but change is hard, so I resisted. Then, just before Christmas, I realized that the time was right. All of the little loose ends were (finally) getting tied up, so I did the thing I'd been dreading for a while: I parted ways with Kate and wrote a new query for the first time in four years.

I sent my first real batch of queries on the first Saturday in January. Seven minutes later, I had my first request. The next day, the agent e-mailed me with several questions about the manuscript, and the next day, I e-mailed him with my answers. I also told him about a proposal I'd been working on, and he asked to read that, too. Later that same day, he asked to set up a phone call, and during that phone call the next day, he offered to represent me.

I did my due diligence and had some great conversations with two other agents. They ended up offering, too, but I just couldn't get the first agent's enthusiasm out of my head. I was also impressed with his initiative and drive. He didn't have to tell me he'd get the job done because he'd already shown me (and we're all about showing, not telling, in this business).

So now I'm represented by Brent Taylor of Triada US Literary Agency. (If you want to see my query, check out this interview.) He is as fierce as Beyonce and as capable as any agent I've ever met or heard of, and I'm extremely grateful to have him in my corner. As the cogs of another big part of my life start to whir and buzz around me, I can honestly say that I hope these other changes go as smoothly as this one did. To new years and fresh starts!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

A New Way to Build a Query List

I've blogged about querying a lot. It's one of those topics fellow writers always want to read about, and if I'm being completely honest, I have more experience than most:) A while back, I covered who to query. Today, I want to talk about who to query when.

Coming up with a list of names is the (relatively) easy part. You can research their track records, their client lists, and their agencies and decide which agents you think you might be interested in working with. But how do you decide which order to query them in? I've heard of people making A lists, B lists, and C lists based on some instinctive measure of how good an agent is, but that's kind of subjective, and no one can decide whether you should query your A-listers before your C-listers, or your C-listers before your B-listers, or some mysterious combination of the three. I'd rather focus on responsiveness, which is a quality I value and can calculate:

overall average response time
response rate

Yes, I said calculate, so settle in and buckle up for your math lesson for the day. I call this happy formula the responsiveness quotient (RQ) because that's what it is--and because calling it that makes it sound cool and scientific. The best place to find the numbers you need to calculate it is on QueryTracker. You can capture the overall average response time in several ways, but the most straightforward one is simply to look at the "Query Response Times" report. This report gives you the agent's average response times broken into two categories, positive and negative, so to calculate the overall average response time, you have to average these averages:

(average positive response time * positive responses) + (average negative response time * negative responses)
positive responses + negative responses

That calculation looks scary, but it's really not. Let's look at an example. Suppose Agent Awesome has an average positive response time of 2 days, an average negative response time of 33 days, 36 positive responses, and 185 negative responses. Then her overall average response time would be

(2 * 36) + (33 * 185)
36 + 185

or 27.95 days.

Now for the response rate. Thankfully, QueryTracker calculates that figure for us. You can find it directly under an agent's contact information on his or her profile page. (For instance, if you look up Kristin Nelson, you'll see her response rate is 89.9%, which is .899 in decimal terms.) So if Agent Awesome's response rate is 77.9%, her RQ would be 27.95/.779, or 35.88.

So what does this number mean? The best way to think of it is in terms of days. It's essentially a weighted average response time, or an expected response time: since Agent Awesome generally responds 27.95 days after she receives a query 77.9% of the time, you should expect to hear back from her in approximately 35.88 days. If she responded to every query, her response rate would be 100%, and her RQ would be the same as her overall average response time. On the flip side, if she never responded to queries, her response rate would be 0%, and her RQ would be infinitely large (which is the mathematical way of saying you shouldn't expect to hear back).

If you're still with me, way to go! But if you started skimming a few paragraphs ago, I don't blame you this is where you'll want to start reading again. Once you've calculated the RQs for all the agents on your list (which really won't take too long once you get the hang of it, especially if you're using a spreadsheet), you can use these rankings to help you decide which order to query them in.

Now, I'm not suggesting that you start with the agent with the lowest RQ and just march straight down your list. Responsiveness may be an important factor, but it's not the only factor, and established agents are often slower to respond to queries because they're selling manuscripts and taking care of their existing clients. That said, I do think it's not a bad idea to query agents with lower RQs, especially at first. If they respond quickly to queries, they'll almost certainly respond quickly to clients, and when you're shopping a new manuscript, you need to figure out how effective your query and first pages are.

Class dismissed!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Highs

If I'm being completely honest, 2015 didn't exactly go as planned. There were bad reviews and cancelled contracts (among other things), so the title of this post was originally going to be "Highs and Lows." But in an attempt to be more optimistic than I naturally am, I'm going to focus on the highs and try to put the lows behind me. I mean, it's not every year that you become a published author.

So without further ado, the highs of 2015!

THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING got a blurb from Tricia Springstubb. Actually, THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING got a blurb from Tricia Springstubb back in 2014, but since it took me several months to appreciate how cool that was, I figured I could get away with mentioning it here:)


There's nothing quite like holding your book for the first time. And there's nothing quite like building a ginormous tower out of them.


Book signings are my favorite. One of the best things about being a published author is having an excuse to hunker down in a bookstore and talk books with fellow readers. I even like passing out bookmarks and accosting innocent bystanders. What can I say? I'm a Mormon;)


School visits are great, too. Especially when they make you awesome signs like this one. (Thanks again, Mr. Scovill and Sunrise Ridge Intermediate School!) Now, I'll admit that schools visits are also kind of scary, but it's a good kind of scary. Where else can you meet so many of the people that we write these books for?

I had two books come out this year. Sometimes I forget it isn't normal to have two books come out in the same year. I'm not going to lie--that was pretty awesome.

And I can't wait to see what 2016 has in store.


Friday, December 4, 2015

And the Winners Are...

THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING goes to Robin, and DON'T VOTE FOR ME goes to Amelia Loken! Please e-mail me at kvandolzer(at)gmail(dot)com so I can get your signed copies in the mail.

And for those of you who didn't win (and even for those of you who did), you still have a little time to enter the Goodreads giveaway for DON'T VOTE FOR ME. May the odds be ever in your favor:)

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Lady's Laughables

Kids are funny. Lady*, my six-year-old, is downright hilarious. Her outlook on life is, shall we say, unique, and she has this growly voice that makes everything she says doubly amusing. Below are some of her best lines (and some of I-gots's and Monster's, too):

Lady: "Those two cars are faster than a massive sandwich."

Lady: "Daddy, your hair looks like a grandma."

Monster (my three-year-old, after Lady jostled him, quoting Hercules): "Hey, I'm walking here!"

Lady: "This is my first time to finish a real, live piece of cake." (It wasn't.)

Lady (on the verge of tears, after breaking her three-dollar fairy wand): "Will I never cast another spell?"

Me: "You need to clean those toys up sometime between now and dinner."
Lady: "Okay, I'll do it later."
Me (a little later): "Lady, did you clean up those toys?"
Lady (rolling her eyes, quoting The Princess and the Frog): "Mom, when a woman says later, she really means never."

Lady: "Um, Daddy? Monster read my mind. I was just thinking, 'Let's play catch,' and then he said that!"

I-gots (my eight-year-old): "Did you know your heart actually looks gross? They don't look like the hearts we draw on Valentine's Day. If I ever saw a real heart, I think I would barf."

Lady (eyeing Honey Bear's nose hairs): "Daddy, is that a spider in your nose?"

I-gots: "I love Thanksgiving. For dessert, we get to eat pumpkin pie! I don't really remember what it tastes like, but all pies are delicious."
Lady: "It tastes like pumpkin."
I-gots: "No, it doesn't. That would be disgusting."

Happy Thanksgiving!

*Not her real name. Not any of their real names, as a matter of fact, but I'm sure you figured that out:)

Friday, November 13, 2015

Enter to Win Signed Copies of THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING and DON'T VOTE FOR ME!

To complement the Goodreads giveaway still going on for DON'T VOTE FOR ME, I'm giving away one signed copy of THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING and one signed copy of DON'T VOTE FOR ME right here on the blog. To enter, leave a comment below and tell me if you want to win THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING, DON'T VOTE FOR ME, or both. (I'll do two separate drawings, but you can enter both if you want to, which means it will be possible for one person to win both books.) Since I'll have to mail two of the copies currently sitting on my dresser, this contest is open to U.S. residents only (sorry!) and closes in three weeks, on Thursday, December 3, at 11:59 p.m. EST (or 8:59 p.m. PST). I'll announce the winners the next day!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Operation Every Child

The teen blogger over at Bookish Serendipity recently alerted me to a fundraiser she's started that I wanted to share with you. Operation Every Child plans to give each kid at a Toronto women's shelter two new books for Christmas. All proceeds will benefit the shelter, and teen blogger Jessica has organized the entire thing, making it not just a great cause but a great extracurricular activity. I wish I'd had such great ideas when I was fourteen.

(Fellow children's authors, if you're interested in donating books directly, feel free to get in touch with Jessica at contact(at)bookishserendipity(dot)com!)

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Giveaways Galore

Sourcebooks has been great about sponsoring giveaways for DON'T VOTE FOR ME, and when I spied their latest effort, a twenty-book extravaganza over on Goodreads, I knew I had to join in. While their giveaway plays out over the never couple of months, I'll be sponsoring several smaller giveaways for THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING, and the first one just went up. It's also on Goodreads, so definitely hop over there and get your name into both giveaways. (The one for DON'T VOTE FOR ME is only open in North America, but the one for THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING is open internationally.)

The second giveaway for THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING will be right here on the blog, and the third will follow on Twitter, so keep an eye on both spaces to maximize your chances to win!


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Bad Mom

I'm not the best mom (or the best blogger, clearly, but that's another post). I yell sometimes. I don't always serve vegetables. I avoid combing Lady's hair because I'm tired of the screaming. On the good days, I shake my head and tell myself that I'll do better, and on the bad days, I dissolve into a puddle of self-loathing who has to convince herself that she's still worth something.

I'll be the first to admit that motherhood doesn't come naturally to me. Well, some things come naturally--I dare you to hold a screaming baby that just got pulled out of your stomach and not fall instantly in love--but before I-gots was born, I'd never changed a diaper, fawned over a newborn, or read a book to a toddler. And I'd never wanted to. I babysat as a teenager because that was what teenagers in my neighborhood did, but the one and only time I had to babysit a baby, my mom had to come over and bail me out halfway through.

Now that I have kids of my own, infants don't intimidate me--but I still won't volunteer to hold them. And even though I have kids of my own, I sometimes wonder what I was thinking. Why I prayed so hard for kids I'm so bad at taking care of. Mothers are gentle, patient creatures who always put their children's needs above their own. They're not chemically unbalanced women who occasionally wish that they could trade their children in.

And yet they are because I am.

Being a mom is the hardest thing I've ever done. Every time I turn around, someone's peeing/yelling/fighting. There are no sick days, no vacations. Even if I manage to sneak away for a few days, I spend the whole time worrying that my mom won't know how to wrestle them into the bathtub or make their sandwiches just right. But being a mom is also the most gratifying. There is no amount of money/freedom/peace and quiet that can ever compensate for two sticky hands squeezing your cheeks and a slobbery mouth whispering in your ear, "I love you, Mom."

I've never met a mom who thought she was a good mom, but then, I've never met a kid with a hard-working mom who thought she was a bad one.