Thursday, April 29, 2010

Interview with an Agent: Naomi Hackenberg

Get ready, all you YA writers. I think you’re going to like this one:) Today’s installment of “Interview with an Agent” features Naomi Hackenberg of Elaine English Literary Agency. Enjoy!

KV: How did you get into agenting?

NH: By the time I went to grad school, I had already had some non-publishing-type jobs, and I knew that I wanted to move into the publishing industry when I finished. While I was in grad school, I had an internship at a literary agency, and it struck me as the ultimate intersection of everything that I liked about publishing--working with both authors and editors; having the opportunity to spot and nurture talent and to help find an audience for that talent; and, of course, reading! When I graduated, I became a literary assistant at the Elaine English Literary Agency where I began by selling foreign rights and have since moved into representing my own projects as well.

KV: How would you summarize your personal agenting philosophy? What do you expect from an agent-author relationship?

NH: I believe in tenacity and building good relationships. When it comes to working with authors on maximizing the potential of their manuscripts, I’m pretty hands-on (when the manuscript is completed, that is--I stay out of the way unless requested otherwise during the initial writing process). I expect the agent-author relationship to be one that’s honest and built on mutual respect for the varied talents we both bring to the table.

KV: What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew you to those writers and/or projects?

NH: I’m a very new agent, so I don’t have client work coming out soon. I’m currently shopping some paranormal projects with unique hooks and high (emotional, active, etc.) stakes. (Those vague descriptors wouldn’t stand in a query or pitch letter, but I’m being coy for now--they’re exciting projects.)

KV: What genres do you represent? What genres do you definitely NOT represent?

NH: I represent young adult fiction exclusively, but almost all genres within that category; I especially like paranormals/urban fantasies, dystopias, contemporary, literary, funny, etc.

I don’t represent picture books, and my middle grade interest is limited.

KV: What query pet peeves and/or pitfalls should writers avoid when querying you?

NH: My main pet peeve is receiving queries in which the author has obviously done no research on who I am and/or what I represent. I don’t require or encourage exclusives, but I appreciate queries in which the author makes it clear that they are interested in querying me and having me represent their project.

KV: You only want to see the query letter in a writer’s initial contact, but several respected industry sites have advised writers to include a few sample pages at the bottom of every query, whether the agent asked for them or not. So if a writer goes ahead and adds those pages, do you find that more assertive or obnoxious?

NH: I don’t hold it against an author if they include a few sample pages at the bottom of the query; however, I typically don’t read the pages. If the query doesn’t grab me, I’m not going to read more.

KV: What are you looking for in a manuscript right now?

NH: I’m looking for manuscripts with emotional depth and big stakes. I’d love to see some manuscripts in which the protagonist doesn’t have special powers and is put in a situation with supernatural/paranormal/fantastic elements and threats.

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

NH: Query me at with a query letter in the body of the email--no attachments, please.

Thanks again, Ms. Hackenberg, for these responses. And for those of you thinking about querying her (or for anyone looking for some great writing and/or publishing advice), check out her agency’s blog. Ms. Hackenberg is a regular contributor, and the other bloggers at her agency have wonderful information to dispense as well.

Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

(Work-in-) Progress Report: Bob

Word count (to the nearest thousand): 63,000
Status: Working through chapter-by-chapter edits
Attitude: Totally psyched

Which means I’m STILL totally psyched about this project, and that (sort of) surprises me. I’ve been working on this book for seven months now (eight, if you count the month I spent on the outline), which is about how long I worked on both of my previous manuscripts, outline to query. (Yeah, I haven’t used beta readers in the past. I know. How silly of me.) But I can honestly say Bob is still months away, MONTHS away, from being query-ready. And I’m okay with that.

As for what I’ve been doing since my last (work-in-) progress report, I can sum that up pretty easily: Writing a revision outline. Panicking. Adding a new chapter and some extra scenes. Starting on these chapter-by-chapter edits.

I fully intended to apply the Natalie Whipple Approach to Revising, which involves making the biggest changes first (usually the plot changes), and then the next biggest, and then the next, until you’re down to line-editing the prose. And I sort of did. But then I realized I was using the Approach as an excuse to avoid digging down into the edits and decided to improvise:)

I just work better sequentially, I guess. So I made the biggest changes, and now I’m taking care of everything else on a chapter-by-chapter basis. Tweaking the characterization, adding details, smoothing out the awkwardness. I’m 13,000 words through this pass, and then I plan to give it one last read-through before I send it off to beta readers. (Probably an out-loud read-through--I hope my two-year-old doesn’t think I’ve gone insane…) But I’m getting through it. And I’m totally psyched.

Well, that’s where I am. So where are you?

P.S. Check out Adam Heine’s contest. To celebrate the publication of his short story, “Pawn’s Gambit,” he’s giving away a book. My favorite part? You don’t have to be a follower to enter. The contest closes on May 6, so you have about a week. See you over there!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

LDS Writer Blogfest: Temples

These, as you may have guessed, are a few of my wedding pictures. Honey Bear and I will celebrate our sixth anniversary in about a week, on May 7. I remember a lot of things about that day--how heavy my dress felt, and how my cheeks hurt from smiling so much, and how deliriously happy I was--but the thing I want to talk about is that big building in the background, the Salt Lake Temple, and a few other details about my faith.

The Mormon Writer Blogfest is a one-day-only event (I promise), and includes several other Mormon writers around the blogosphere. If you’ve ever had a question about the Mormon Church, today’s your day to get an answer:)

First, a few points of clarification. The Mormon Church, as it is often called, is actually something of a misnomer. Its actual name is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (sort of a mouthful, I know). The nickname comes from our belief in the Book of Mormon, but I digress.

There are currently 130 temples in operation around the world, including the Manhattan New York, London England, and Sydney Australia Temples. Twenty-two more are under construction or have been announced. (Here’s the complete list.)

To enter a temple, you must be a faithful member of the Church (although anyone may tour a temple during its open house). Within a temple, members perform five ordinances, all of which are associated with specific covenants, or promises with God: baptism and confirmation, initiatory and endowment, and sealing. The first time you go to the temple, you perform these ordinances for yourself. On every subsequent visit, you perform these ordinances on behalf of a deceased ancestor (which is why Mormons are so interested in family history).

Baptism and confirmation Actually, a person may be baptized in any body of water deep enough to fully immerse him or her, so the baptisms and confirmations we perform in the temple are all on behalf of deceased relatives. Members as young as twelve may participate in these ordinances.

Initiatory and endowment I’m not going to say much about these ordinances, because much of what they entail is too sacred to discuss anywhere but in the temple. Boyd K. Packer, current president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (one of the Church’s governing bodies), described it this way: “The temple is a great school. It is a house of learning. In the temples the atmosphere is maintained so that it is ideal for instruction on matters that are deeply spiritual.”

Sealing The sealing power, which seals husbands to wives and parents to children, both on earth and in heaven, is the same power that the Savior gave to Peter in Matthew 16:19. When we talk about eternal marriage, or being married for time and all eternity, this is what we mean. Children born within such a marriage are automatically sealed to their parents, but children born before their parents’ sealing, or children adopted by an already-sealed couple, can be sealed to their parents after the fact. (And the same is true for deceased people.)

For instance. My parents were married in the Salt Lake Temple in December of 1973. A little more than ten years later, they adopted me as an infant. Once the adoption was finalized, I was sealed to them (in the same temple, coincidentally). And four years after that, after my sister was born and her adoption finalized, she was sealed to us as well.

Well, I think that about covers the basics. If you’d like more information, either about temples or any other Church-related topic, check out the Church’s official websites:, which is geared more toward people of other faiths, and, which is more member-oriented. And don’t miss the other Mormon Writer Blogfest posts:

The Book of Mormon and missionary work with Kayeleen Hamblin
Faith in Jesus Christ with Myrna Foster
Families with Charity Bradford
Family history with Laura D
Joseph Smith with Annette Lyon
Restoration of Jesus Christ’s church with Kelly Bryson
Stories from the Book of Mormon with Kathi Oram Peterson

Finally, if you have a specific question, feel free to leave it in the comments. I can’t answer every question (one, because I’m not that smart, and two, because some things are too sacred to discuss outside the temple, as I mentioned before), but if I can, I’d love to.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Interview with an Agent: Brandi Bowles

Morning, all (unless, of course, you’re reading this in the afternoon (or evening), in which case it would be, “Afternoon (or evening), all”). Today’s interview features Brandi Bowles of Foundry Literary + Media. Happy reading.

KV: How did you get into agenting?

BB: I was fourteen when I read THE GIRL’S GUIDE TO HUNTING AND FISHING, which includes a male character who’s a literary agent. I’d never heard of it before, but decided then and there that that was what I wanted to do. When I graduated college I moved to New York and landed an internship at a lit agency, which I quickly finagled into a job at Random House. Though I wanted to be an agent, Random House is not a company you turn down; especially when it means you can quit your other three jobs. I stayed there nearly three years, until I felt I was ready to make the somewhat scary leap into agenting. It’s a much more entrepreneurial world, as you know, and you have to have a lot of hustle to really be a success. That can be very exciting as well!

KV: How would you summarize your personal agenting philosophy? What do you expect from an agent-author relationship?

BB: Right now, I’m really focused on bringing in books with strong platforms, meaning the writer has invested a lot of time into honing his or her writing (as evident by their acceptance in major newspapers, magazines, lit journals) or, for nonfiction, in building his or her personal brand. I put a lot of work into editing, developing, and selling my clients’ projects, and only want to work with people who are just as committed. Beyond that, I consider everything a team effort. I’m very transparent about my side of the business.

KV: What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew you to those writers and/or projects?

BB: Right now my list is heavily nonfiction. I have two books coming out in June: THE BURLESQUE HANDBOOK, by Jo Weldon, and a dating advice book called EVERY ROSE HAS ITS THORN, by Erin Bradley. These are projects I pitched to the writers--both had the perfect platform to translate a unique idea and make it their own.

This fall Harper will publish THE WORD MADE FLESH: LITERARY TATTOOS FROM BOOKWORMS WORLDWIDE. This came to me through an acquaintance, and the idea resonated with me immediately. Literary tattoos are a really interesting phenomenon--they turn a medium that’s historically been considered low-class, a bit rough and tumble around the edges, into a platform for publicizing a love for literature and highbrow philosophy. Of course, all of these are a bit counter-cultural, as you can see. I love working on projects that would make my grandmother blush.

Next spring will bring AMERICAN GYPSY (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux), a wonderful outsider memoir from a debut writer, Oksana Marafiote. Oksana’s a Romani immigrant--her grandparents were the founders of a famous Gypsy troupe in which she performed for most of her childhood, until her parents moved her to Los Angeles when she was fifteen. I met her when she pitched me an urban fantasy novel at a writer’s conference, but when we got to chatting and I learned of her background, I insisted she write this book instead. It just sounded so fascinating, and I couldn’t recall having seen a Gypsy memoir on shelves.

KV: What genres do you represent? What genres do you definitely NOT represent?

BB: I’ll consider almost anything in the nonfiction realm, with the exception of trauma memoir, political narrative, history, or current events. My tastes really span the gamut otherwise--I enjoy books on sociology, business, fitness and health, sex and relationships. I love narrative nonfiction, pop-culture, humor, and music books too. Memoir is fun to work on, although the author must have that winning combo of truly unique story combined with fantastic writing to knock it out-of-the-park.

My fiction tastes are more limited. I’m looking for really gripping literary fiction, women’s fiction (but nothing that might be called Chick Lit), urban fantasy, and YA. I’ll consider middle grade novels as well, but no picture books.

KV: What query pet peeves and/or pitfalls should writers avoid when querying you?

BB: All I ask is that authors query me with a patient and kind attitude. Please don’t reject my rejection, and don’t ask me for an update unless I’ve had your material longer than two months. It’s rare that I get so behind, but it happens sometimes. I do read all of my query letters, even if I can’t write personal responses to all of them.

KV: What are you looking for in a manuscript right now?

BB: I’ve always been a big fan of apocalyptic and dystopian fiction, a la Cormac McCarthy and Margaret Atwood. I love books that sit on that fence between literary fiction and science fiction, though you’ll notice I don’t list it in my bios because it’s so hard to find (weird agent psychology, I know). I’d love to find something really refreshing in the Urban Fantasy realm; another tough request. And lastly, I’m a huge Ian McEwan fan, and would love to see more meaty, gripping literary fiction, maybe something dark that really delves into the psychology of its characters.

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

BB: I only read e-mail queries, and prefer it when writers attach the first three chapters. If I have to request the chapters, it’s just another step for both of us and creates more delay. With rare exception, I usually answer these in the order they are received. It helps if you can capture my attention with a great platform right up front!

Thanks again, Ms. Bowles, for these answers. And doesn’t she sound like a great agent, everyone? I LOVE that that’s what she wanted to be when she grew up:) If you’re shopping a manuscript in a genre she represents, definitely fire off that query. You even get to include a partial with your initial contact.

Well, that's it from me for the week. Have a great (early) weekend, everyone!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Silver Lining Award

Thank you, Kayeleen and Stina, for this cheery award. We all need a pick-me-up every now and then, don’t we? (My pick-me-up of choice is chocolate milk--or anything chocolate, really.) And this blog is definitely that for me.

I’m passing this award on to the following five bloggers, who are even sunnier than I am:

A.L. Sonnichsen of The Green Bathtub
Charity Bradford of My Writing Journey
ChristaCarol of ChristaCarol Jones
JustineDell of Justine Dell
Myrna Foster of Night Writer

Give them a look-see. I’m sure they’ll make you smile.

(P.S. And just so you know, I won’t be around much for the next little while. I am fired up--and I mean, FIRED UP--about the revisions I’ve been working on, so all I want to do is write, write, write. I’ll still drop an interview on you every now and then, and a few other posts I have rolling around in my brain, but I will definitely be blogging, and commenting on other people’s blogs, less frequently.)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Interview with an Agent: Amy Tipton

Today’s interview is with Amy Tipton of Signature Literary Agency. I actually discovered Ms. Tipton through one of her clients, fellow blogger Tahereh. So check out the interview, then check out Tahereh’s blog.

KV: How did you get into agenting?

AT: I joined Signature Literary Agency in 2009. I became an agent after working as a literary assistant and office manager at several literary agencies including JCA Literary Agency, Diana Finch Literary Agency, Gina Maccoby Literary Agency, and Liza Dawson Associates. I also worked as a book scout for Aram Fox, Inc. dealing with foreign rights. So, I worked hard and paid my dues! But, really, it was working with Peter Rubie that I got to be an agent. One day, he just asked me if I wanted to be an agent and I said yes.

KV: How would you summarize your personal agenting philosophy? What do you expect from an agent-author relationship?

AT: I am a writer so, as an agent, I also edit. I'm very hands-on. I read and revise and read and revise. I enjoy bouncing ideas back and forth. I want the author to be as committed to the work as I am.

KV: What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew you to those writers and/or projects?

AT: I have several projects coming out and I'm excited about them all! Amy Reed and Courtney Summers have new books coming out. Debut author Victoria Schwab's NEAR WITCH is coming out--a paranormal YA (I normally don't do anything in the paranormal/fantasy/Sci Fi genre). And BIKE NYC by Marci Blackman, Ed Glazar, and Mike Green--an Adult nonfiction tour guide by bicycle (but it's so much more than a tour guide). I love all my projects. What drew me to these ones is their voice--each of these books has a distinctive voice.

KV: What genres do you represent? What genres do you definitely NOT represent?

AT: I like YA and MG; I also rep quirky Adult fiction and nonfiction (if you can't classify it, it's probably for me). I don't rep screenplays, poetry, picture books, or Sci Fi/fantasy.

KV: Say a writer has a YA Sci Fi/fantasy, like Victoria Schwab's NEAR WITCH--should they query you or not?

AT: It's hard to say, but probably not. No. Victoria didn't query me either.

KV: What query pet peeves and/or pitfalls should writers avoid when querying you?

AT: Misspelling is a problem for me--you have spell check on the computer. I also dislike when people don't address me properly--that's rude.

KV: What are you looking for in a manuscript right now?

AT: It's hard to pinpoint what I'm looking for; good writing, a good story. I once heard an agent say, "I want to fall in love!" Yeah. I want to fall in love.

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

AT: E-mail.

Thanks, Ms. Tipton, for these answers. Honestly, if you’re looking for an on-the-ball agent who responds promptly--and I mean, promptly--to clients and non-clients alike, look no further. Ms. Tipton wins the prize in that category, hands down.

Good luck, queriers! And everybody else, thanks for stopping by!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Queries, Darn Queries, and Statistics

I majored in Mathematics Education and Economics in college, so I spent a lot of time with numbers. And as much as it pains me to admit it, some of my favorite classes--please don’t think less of me when I write this--were statistics classes. Honestly, there is nothing more satisfying than doing a little research, running a regression, and seeing those coefficients, with their respective p-values, pop up on the screen. I swear, it’s almost magic. Something very much like finishing that final FINAL draft:)

No regression analysis here today (I wouldn’t want to scare too many of you away), but I do have a lot of good, old-fashioned graphs and charts. Not the graphs and charts I’d like to have, mind you--Excel isn’t quite as robust as it ought to be--but they’ll work well enough. I just hope none of my old professors happen to drop in.

First, a disclaimer (in case any of you happen to be closet statisticians): My bar graphs should be dot plots. I know, I know, I know. But Excel doesn’t do dot plots, so bar graphs it is. And Mr. Gates was too busy, apparently, to program Excel with an actual calendar, so all my calculations assume 12 uniform, 30-day months instead of 12 28- to 31-day months. AND Excel insists on starting at one day instead of zero days (yeah, some agents are THAT fast), so everything is one day off. But everything was already a little off, thanks to those 30-day months, so…yeah.

You should also know that I sent every query by e-mail (or online form). And when I say query, I mean my initial contact with the agent. It doesn’t matter if that initial contact involved a one-page letter, or a one-page letter, five-page synopsis, and first three chapters--I consider all of those to be queries. (Actually, one of the agents I queried wanted to see the entire manuscript in the initial contact.)

All right, here’s the first graph, Response Times (Rejections). This graph depicts the frequency of query response times (how many agents responded in zero days, how many agents responded in one day, and so on), but only for those agents who responded via rejection.

I realize it's a little fuzzy, but the shape of the graph is more important than the numbers themselves, anyway. Encouraging, isn’t it? For the most part, agents respond to e-mail queries rather quickly, especially with rejections:) I cut the graph off at 90 days, as I officially catalog it as a non-response after three months. But I do go back and fill in dates if a rejection comes in after the fact, so there are a few outliers not included in this graph: at 116 days, 122 days, 239 days, and, the big winner, 263 days. Wowsers.

Now for the positive responses, the partial and full requests. This graph, Response Times (Requests), depicts the frequency of query response times for the agents who requested more material.

Now, obviously, there are a lot less data points, but the overall shape remains the same. Again, most agents respond to e-mail queries within a couple of weeks or, at most, a month.

To get an even clearer idea of what’s going on, check out this chart. Here, I’ve broken the data into quartiles. The minimums and maximums are exactly what they sound like--the lowest and highest data points, respectively. The median is the data point in the very middle of the data; 50 percent of the data points are below it, and the other 50 percent above. The quartile Q1 divides the data between the minimum and median in half, and the quartile Q3 does the same thing for the median and maximum.

So how should you interpret this? Well, if you look in the Combined column, you see that the median is 13. So 50 percent of all 59 agents who responded to my query got back to me within 13 days. In that same column, the third quartile, Q3, is 34. That means three-quarters of the agents who responded to my query, or 75 percent of them, responded within 34 days. That really isn’t that long. And it shows that the outliers really are outliers; only once in a very long while will an agent leave you hanging for 263 days.

I’m sure some of you are interested in how long I waited to hear back on my requested partials and fulls. I didn’t create a graph because the data points are much more spread out--hearing back on requested material follows a much less predictable pattern, apparently. Also, I didn’t break it down into partial requests and full requests because that would really involve very few data points. So here’s this chart.

I bet that’s not as bad as you thought it would be. The longest, absolute longest, turnaround time on requested material was (only) four months. And since Q3 is 62, I heard back on 75 percent of my partials and fulls within 62 days, or just over two months.

A few more notes about this project, since I feel like sharing them. Its title is SEE THE SAMELINGS (have I mentioned that before?), and it’s a young adult urban fantasy. Its main character is Eva George (she’s a cabbie), and it’s set in pretty much the only place a book about a cabbie could be set: the quintessential NYC.

Wow. Writing this post has been really…cathartic. Or maybe just nostalgic. Or maybe a little of both. And hopefully it’s been informative for you.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Query Update

It’s been a while since I posted one of these, but I’ve been waiting for the last of the responses to come in so I could do sort of a query wrap-up. Well, the last response came in (another request for revisions!), so you can think of this as the last hurrah for this round of querying.

Total queries: 76
Pending queries: 0 (phew!)
Full requests: 4 (2 requests for revisions)
Partial requests: 10 (1 non-response)
Rejections: 45
Non-responses: 17

I’m planning to dump a whole slew of statistics on you later in the week, so I won’t say much about numbers in this post. I will say that these ones satisfy me (for now), as they far exceeded the bar I set for myself after my first foray into Queryland. That first foray involved a query that broke about every rule of query writing, a second query that wasn’t much better, and exactly one full request (which, to my delight, was an upgrade from a fifty-page partial included in the initial query). It seemed like a miracle to me at the time, and, after looking back on those queries and that word-bloated manuscript, still does:)

What this round of querying has taught me, then, is that partial and full requests--and even offers of representation--aren’t just pots of gold at the ends of rainbows. It really is possible to crawl out of the slush pile and onto an agent’s list. Writers do it all the time (in fact, I can’t think of many writers who did it any other way), and they’ll--we’ll--do it again. So let’s stay positive, keep working hard, and for heaven’s sake, keep writing. We’re only going to get better, right? So why quit now?

And with that, I gracefully hop off of the query-go-round. I do plan to revise this manuscript, just as soon as I get Bob into the inboxes of some betas, but for now, I think I’ll enjoy the view from here. That query-go-round is pretty dizzy-fying:)

Friday, April 9, 2010

Interview with an Agent: Kate Epstein

And here’s another agent interview to finish off Recommendation Week. (If you haven’t already noticed, I recommend every agent I interview, or ever will interview. The way I see it, if they say yes to the interview, they must be fabulous!) This one features Kate Epstein of The Epstein Literary Agency. See you on the other side.

KV: How did you get into agenting?

KE: I hung out my shingle! I was an editor for some years and I decided I needed a change. It’s been great.

KV: How would you summarize your personal agenting philosophy? What do you expect from an agent-author relationship?

KE: I expect to provide advice and advocacy. I expect clients to listen to my advice even if they don’t follow it. Most of my agent/author relationships are both warm and professional--but professional alone will do, if that’s what’s best for the author. I expect a long term relationship, but I expect that to come from my doing a good job (and the author’s ongoing need--there’s nothing wrong with only having one book in you). I’d rather have too much information about how things are going than not enough. I expect my clients to be awesome--and I expect to enjoy telling them that they are.

KV: What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew you to those writers and/or projects?

KE: HOME STAGING THAT WORKS by Starr Osborne (Amacom) is a recent release. Starr is professional who sees the book as an enhancement to her business, and she’s putting every ounce of herself into promoting the book. It doesn’t hurt, either, that home staging is a fascinating phenomenon--speaking as it does as to how we live and how we want to imagine we live.

AN EAGLE NAMED FREEDOM by Jeffery Guidry (William Morrow) releases in May. It’s a striking and inspirational story of a man and an eagle. It has a beautiful message and it’s the kind of book you can buy for just about anybody in your life. (Unless she has a bird phobia.)

KV: What genres do you represent? What genres do you definitely NOT represent?

KE: I represent fiction for young adults and nonfiction for adults and for young adults. I don’t do any other fiction, and I don’t do poetry or screenplays.

KV: What query pet peeves and/or pitfalls should writers avoid when querying you?

KE: The biggest thing is not reading the directions on my website. I can overlook most things that aren’t listed there.

KV: What are you looking for in a manuscript right now?

KE: You know it when you see it! For fiction I want something that’s both fresh and fantastic--a good concept but also terrific execution. For nonfiction I’ve been having a fair amount of luck with craft books lately. What I’d really like to do that I see virtually none of is nonfiction books that explore a topic or make an argument that are based primarily on research or investigative journalism. Such books have to be accessible to interest me, but I do read a lot of them.

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

KE: E-mail. If you’re querying via snail mail, there really should be a very good reason--such as you’re in prison. Writers need a certain level of technical proficiency; it’s just a part of the job.

Thanks, Ms. Epstein, for these responses. And for those of you who decide to query, don’t forget to check out her submission guidelines. Nothing too unexpected there, but I figure if you’re reading this interview, you want your query to be as perfect as it can be.

Have a jolly weekend, all!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Recipe Recommendation: Garlic and Citrus Chicken by Giada De Laurentiis

Dead or alive, whole chickens scare me. There’s something about the mob mentality of a pack of live chickens that is positively terrifying. Dead chickens, on the other hand, are exactly the opposite--they look so sad and vulnerable that I’m afraid I’ll ruin them. Which is why I’ve always shied away from roasting whole chickens.

But then I saw Giada roast one on the Food Network (I’ve tried so many of her recipes that we’re on a first-name basis now), and I thought, “That doesn’t look so hard.” So we tried it, and let me tell you, that whole chicken was delicious:)

Here’s the original recipe from Giada (De Laurentiis). And here’s my version, which is virtually identical:

Garlic and Citrus Chicken

1 (5- to 6-pound) whole chicken, neck and giblets discarded
Salt and pepper
1 orange, quartered
1 lemon, quartered
1 head of garlic, halved crosswise, plus 3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 or 2 (14-ounce) cans of chicken broth
1/4 cup frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed (no water added)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano (or 1/2 tablespoon dried oregano)
Kitchen string or butcher twine

Sprinkle salt and pepper into the cavity of the bird, then stuff it with the orange and lemon quarters and the halved head of garlic. Tie up the legs, just to make sure everything stays put, then salt and pepper the bird’s exterior. Place the chicken in a roasting pan and roast in the center of a 400-degree Fahrenheit oven for one hour, basting occasionally with chicken broth.

While the chicken’s roasting, prepare the juice mixture by combining the orange juice, lemon juice, olive oil, oregano, and the remaining (chopped) garlic. At the one-hour mark, baste the bird with about one-third of the juice mixture, then continue roasting for approximately another 45 minutes, basting occasionally with the remaining juice mixture.

Once the bird’s temperature reaches 170 degrees Fahrenheit at the seam between the thigh and the torso (which will happen in about another 45 minutes), remove the chicken from the roasting pan and cover it with foil to hold in its heat. Then prepare the sauce by simmering the remaining juices over medium heat until they have reduced to about one cup’s worth of sauce. Strain into a two-cup measuring cup, discard any chunks, and spoon off the fat before serving.

The only real difference between my version and Giada’s is that she seems to think you only need to add chicken broth if the drippings start to burn, whereas we found there was nothing to baste with if we didn’t add broth. Or maybe our chickens were just not as oozy as hers.

I realize it’s getting too warm to be roasting whole chickens, so maybe you’ll have to wait until fall to give this one a try. But this recipe’s a keeper for sure. I could slather that sauce on just about anything:)

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Book Recommendation: OUTLIERS: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

I’d seen OUTLIERS around, and although that title caught my eye (I’m the only person I know who actually likes statistics), it wasn’t until I saw Liesl’s recommendation that I finally said, “Okay, I’ll read it.” And a good thing I did.

OUTLIERS is precisely what it purports to be: the story of success. But that story is probably not the one you think it is. According to Mr. Gladwell, success is a function not of a person’s intelligence or talent, but of his or her opportunities and legacy. He finds evidence for this claim in all of the expected places--the Canadian Hockey League, for instance, and Bill Gates’s life story--but also in a few less expected ones. Like the rice paddies of southern China. And the cockpits of Korean Air jetliners (back when they had a bad habit of crashing planes).

As someone who’s enjoyed a fair amount of success in life, I should probably find this book insulting:) (What’s that, Mr. Gladwell? I’m not really smarter/swifter/stronger than everybody else?) But I don’t. Because I think he’s right. My own life only confirms his theory. In terms of opportunity and legacy, I have been richly blessed.

OUTLIERS was a fascinating read. If you’re looking for a book to share with that eclectic reader in your life, this could definitely be the one. And if you’re that eclectic reader, definitely give this one a read.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Book Recommendation: THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

I know exactly two Myrnas (one of which you know, too), and they both recommended this delightful book to me. Actually, Myrna Number One recommended it, and then I couldn’t remember the title (it is a little cumbersome), and then Myrna Number Two recommended it on her blog, and I was like, “Oh, right, that’s the book Myrna Number One told me I should read a few months back.” So I read it--and loved it:)

THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY is an epistolary novel (wow, how often do you get to use that word in real life?), meaning the story unfolds through a series of letters. Our main letter writer is Juliet Ashton, a British newspaperwoman whose collection of wartime articles was just published in a single volume. With the war over (the Second World War, that is), Juliet casts about for a new book idea, finally settling on the tale of a small group of Britons, the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, who took up reading as a means of resisting the German occupation of their tiny island in the English Channel.

In addition to educating me on a piece of World War Two history I didn’t already know, GUERNSEY thoroughly drew me into its pastoral world and made me lament the lost art of letter writing. I exchanged letters, real, actual letters, with Honey Bear for two years before he was my husband, and those letters are now a prized possession. I ought to stick them in page protectors and organize them chronologically in a three-ring binder. It’ll be like having my very own GUERNSEY.

Definitely give this book a read. (Did I mention it includes an adorable romance?) And go write someone a letter, a real, fold-it-up-and-slap-a-stamp-on-it letter. You just might make that person’s day.

Monday, April 5, 2010

It's Recommendation Week

It’s Recommendation Week here on the blog. I recently finished two great books, and Honey Bear and I discovered a new recipe that is definitely worth sharing. But we'll kick everything off with some links.

For blog surfers I’ve stumbled across a blog or two of late that I wanted to share with you. Here they are, in alphabetical order:

My Bloggish Blog Thing with Josin L. McQuein The first thing I noticed about Josin was her interesting name; the second thing I noticed was that she was winning all of the writing contests I was entering around the blogosphere:) So give her blog a look-see.

Somewhere Between Fact & Fiction with Shannon McMahon If you like my blog, you’ll probably like Shannon’s, as we share a lot of the same interests (writing, cooking, blogging--I guess that one goes without saying). Check it out.

For queriers Have you heard of Absolute Write? It’s a fantastic website, with forums on practically every topic a writer might find interesting. I especially like their Bewares and Background Checks, which allow writers to share statistics and anecdotes relating to specific agents. Want to know how long Agent A has been taking to respond to queries lately? Wondering if you’re the only one waiting to hear back from Agent B on a manuscript request? Absolute Write probably knows.

And don’t forget to register for QueryTracker. It is, in my opinion, the best online database for finding and researching agents.

For moms This past weekend, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held its annual General Conference. In addition to hearing several beautiful messages about the atonement and resurrection of Jesus Christ, I also heard this poignant message about motherhood. Enjoy:)

Friday, April 2, 2010

Interview with an Agent: Elizabeth Evans

I decided to hold this interview for a day, just so you wouldn’t think it was a joke:) So today I give you the one-hundred-percent authentic Elizabeth Evans of Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency. See you on the other side.

KV: How did you get into agenting?

EE: I discovered agenting through my MFA program at the University of San Francisco. My first workshop instructor was good friends with a local agent, and she suggested that I should work for her friend as an intern. I started interning for Kimberley Cameron at Kimberley Cameron & Associates for three hours a week, and by the time I graduated I was a full time agent. I felt very lucky to have found a great publishing job on the West Coast.

KV: How would you summarize your personal agenting philosophy? What do you expect from an agent-author relationship?

EE: Three words: never give up! The publishing business is so much about perseverance. We are all told no, we all receive rejections, agents and authors alike. It's important that I feel passionate about the projects I take on, because I want to work with writers for several books over the course of their careers. When I truly believe in a writer's talent, it motivates me to keep going. Publishers can tell me no, but they can't tell me I'm wrong!

From the agent-author relationship, I expect respect and honesty. Clear communication is important.

KV: What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew you to those writers and/or projects?

EE: This will be a fun year for me--I have a very diverse list of books coming out! Rebecca Cantrell's second mystery novel in the Hannah Vogel series, A NIGHT OF LONG KNIVES, comes out in early June. In my opinion, it is even better than her first novel, A TRACE OF SMOKE. It is set in 1933 Berlin, and the suspense kicks in on the first page. If you like historical fiction, I highly recommend it.

I also have a YA cell phone novel (the text is delivered in a series of text messages, tweets, web links, photos, and video) called iDRAKULA from my client Bekka Black. It's a retelling of Bram Stoker's Dracula, and the digital rollout is so cool. Kids can subscribe to get it on their cell phones, and the print version will follow in October.

Also in October, my client Liza Campbell's debut literary novel, THE DISSEMBLERS, comes out. I can't tell you how much I love this book. The writing is painfully beautiful, and I am so, so proud of it. I get shivers just thinking about it.

KV: What genres do you represent? What genres do you definitely NOT represent?

EE: These days I am most interested in narrative nonfiction, especially memoir, travel and adventure writing, current affairs, journalism and pop science.

I definitely do not represent fantasy, poetry, and children's picture books. I'm also backing off from fiction, although that's subject to change. You can always find a detailed description of what I'm seeking on our company website:

KV: What query pet peeves and/or pitfalls should writers avoid when querying you?

EE: I prefer a polite, concise query letter. If you address it to me and mention why you're querying me/how you found me, briefly describe your novel and its themes, and then tell me a little about yourself--you can't go wrong!

KV: What are you looking for in a manuscript right now?

EE: What I would most love to find right now is an adventure memoir or narrative nonfiction along the lines of THE LOST CITY OF Z, THREE CUPS OF TEA, or DON'T LETS GO TO THE DOGS TONIGHT. I'm looking for unusual and memorable stories. I recently discovered and fell in love with the American Museum of Natural History in New York. So, I suppose narrative nonfiction that incorporates fascinating aspects of nature, travel, wilderness, gems, whale skeletons or dinosaur bones would be very appealing right now.

KV: What's the best way to query you?

EE: According to the guidelines on our website at I prefer to receive a polite query letter with a full proposal attached to the e-mail.

Thanks again, Ms. Evans, for these responses. And I hope some of you readers have a manuscript, or are working on one, that she might enjoy. I wish I did. That one line--“Publishers can tell me no, but they can’t tell me I’m wrong!”--really resonated with me, as that’s how I feel about my own books, especially Bob. And wouldn’t it be fascinating to write something about whale skeletons or dinosaur bones? (All right, all right, you got me--I had something of an obsession with dinosaurs as a kid.)

Queries away, suggestions below!