Thursday, March 31, 2011

Interactive Interview with an Agent: Victoria Marini

I have another interactive installment of “Interview with an Agent” for you! Today’s gracious subject is Victoria Marini of Gelfman Schneider Literary Agents, Inc. She blogs at Rapid-Progressive, so check out the interview, then check out her blog, then come back here and ask your questions! (Details on the interactive part are at the bottom of the post.)

KV: How often does a query intrigue you enough to look at the included pages? And how often do those pages intrigue you enough to request the manuscript?

VM: Barring any sort of aggression or total incoherence, I’ll always read sample pages. I ask for them because every so often, someone will have an excellent manuscript sample, but a query letter that could still use a little work. As for how often does that turn into a manuscript request…it’s hard to say. Lately, I feel like the quality of work I’ve been seeing has improved. I find I’m requesting more and more. Sometimes three or more manuscripts in a week!

KV: What are you looking for in a requested manuscript?

VM: I’m looking for a polished, spectacular, don’t-want-it-to-end kind of book. My interests are fairly diverse, so the genre and plot matter less to me than the character and voice. I’m looking for authentic relationships and characters and compelling storytelling.

KV: What are some of the most common problems you see in the manuscripts you request?

VM: There’s no pattern, really. Occasionally, I’ll see manuscripts where the pacing is off; the book won’t really get going until halfway through. I often see world-building that isn’t quite there, dialogue or relationships that feel forced or stilted.

I’ve found manuscripts where I simply can’t suspend my disbelief (often, this happens when the author wants to hint that something is amiss and does so by briefly highlighting a concern that the protagonist then dismisses as a trick of the light, an overactive imagination, too much caffeine, etc.).

I see too much telling rather than showing.

KV: When you come across a manuscript you really like/love, how do you decide whether to request revisions or offer representation?

VM: Confidence and time. If I have enough of both, I’ll offer representation. If I feel like revisions are too extensive or require editorial skill that’s beyond me, I’ll offer as much advice and encouragement as I can, and hope the author queries me again.

KV: When you do make that Call, you’re probably going to ask the writer if she has any questions. What sorts of questions should she ask?

VM: I’d encourage authors to first ask themselves what they are looking for out of a professional relationship with an agent and then try to get a sense of how that agent meets their criteria.

Generally speaking, I’d always encourage you to ask questions about communication with your agent, the submission process, the agency agreement, rights exploitation (does your agent work with co-agents for film, foreign rights, etc?). I’m a big question asker. Anything you feel you want to understand better: ask away!

KV: And now for a few quick questions from the normal interview. What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew you to those writers and/or projects?

VM: Coming out soon?! I wish! I’ve only been an associate agent for a little less than a year and it takes about two years for books to go from inception to publication. As soon as I get some more release dates, I’ll let you know.

One of my clients, Hannah Sternberg, has a searingly beautiful novel called THE QUEENS OF ALL THE EARTH coming out from Bancroft Press in June. That book's a very lyrical, stunning retelling of E.M. Forster’s A ROOM WITH A VIEW.

KV: Is there something you haven’t been seeing lately in the slush pile that you wish you were? What are you tired of seeing at the moment?

VM: I haven’t been seeing too many gothic novels and I’ve been longing for some suspenseful contemporary YA in the vein of Alfred Hitchcock. I’m tired of seeing sci-fi/fantasy/paranormal that relies so heavily on the basic supernatural conceit that the voice and world-building suffer.

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

VM: I have an e-mail account at Gmail specifically set up for queries. It’s and I love a letter and a sample.

Thank you, Ms. Marini, for these helpful responses. I especially liked what you had to say about determining what we want out of an agent-author relationship, then asking our questions accordingly. We all know that not every writer is right for every agent, but we sometimes forget that not every agent is right for every writer. We’re so focused on finding AN agent, any agent, that we stop looking for the best one, the right one.

And now for the interactive element of this interactive interview! If you have a question for Ms. Marini, feel free to leave it in the comments section below. Ms. Marini will pop in here a few times today and leave her answers down there as well. You have until 4:00 p.m. EDT (or 1:00 p.m. PDT), so you’d best get cracking!

Friday, March 25, 2011

An Announcement and a First Page

No interview today (spring must be a busy time in the publishing world, as agents have been taking a little longer to get back to me), but I did want to let you know about next week's interactive interview with Victoria Marini of Gelfman Schneider Literary Agents, Inc. Ms. Marini will be here to take your questions next Thursday, March 31, and we'd love to have you here, too.

Also, I thought I'd share a bit of the new, new Bob with you. This rewrite has been consuming me, and I'm happy to report that I'm just as excited about it now as I was when I first started. So without further ado, here's the new, new first page (so far):

Wynn High School had to be the snappiest-looking hellhole in the country’s entire public school system, but then, what did they expect from a high school that had started out as the snappiest-looking casino on the Strip? Everything was decades old, from the leaky roof to the even leakier plumbing, but thirty years ago, so they said, it had all been really nice. The desks were leftover nightstands from the tower suites upstairs, and the golden details in the frescoes had supposedly been painted with actual solid gold.

Of course, the frescoes were all so pockmarked they were completely unrecognizable, and Adair was pretty sure actual solid gold wasn’t actually paint-able. Still, she liked the idea that Wynn was sort of a metaphor for her life. Once upon a time, it had all been pretty posh, but now everything about it pretty much sucked.

Adair sank into her threadbare seat in what had once been called Encore Theater but was now known as Plunkett Auditorium, so named because Mr. Plunkett was the first principal who’d been brave enough to use it since the Last Recession. The others had been too afraid of creating a Toothless mob, but that, of course, had been before her time.

The mood in the auditorium was trippy, all nervous anticipation and pent-up energy. The teachers, transplanted sharks from the southeast and northwest quadrants, probably thought they were excited to find out who would have the chance to hang out with all the rich people at Old Man Hermes’s annual Symposium for Kids and Old People on Biomedia, Nirvana, and Discovering Just How Screwed You Are Because You Don’t Have a Wingtooth (or something like that).

Little did they know that Adair wanted to do a whole lot more than hang out with Old Man Hermes and his brainless sharks.

I'm still smoothing things out, of course, and I'm not entirely convinced that this is the absolute best place to start, but I do like the imagery in these lines and this first taste of Adair's voice. If you have any thoughts, I'd love to hear them. And if you'd like to share a snippet of whatever you've been working on, I'd love to hear that, too.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Book Recommendation: WORDS IN THE DUST by Trent Reedy

I first heard about WORDS IN THE DUST while I was researching Mr. Reedy’s agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette, and then I rediscovered it a few months ago, when his editor, Cheryl Klein, wrote a blog post about the day the manuscript landed on her desk (or rather, on her e-reader). I’m glad Ms. Klein reminded me.

Mr. Reedy’s debut novel relates the tale of Zulaikha, a young girl from Afghanistan who was born with a cleft palate. The boys in her village call her Donkey Face, and when her younger brother takes to calling her the same, Zulaikha loses hope for a normal life. But her fortunes take an unexpected turn when a convoy of American soldiers see her face and offer to fly her to a nearby military base for surgery--and when a wise old woman in her village helps her see that she has worth for who she is, not for what she looks like.

Mr. Reedy served a twelve-month tour of duty in Afghanistan as part of his service with the National Guard, and while living and working in a small village in western Afghanistan, he discovered a young girl named Zulaikha with a cleft palate. The setup of WORDS IN THE DUST, then, is almost autobiographical, but Mr. Reedy filled in the details with a rich, intricately woven tapestry of characters and story.

I saw the movie adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s THE KITE RUNNER and then read A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS not long after, and I must say, as powerful as I thought those stories were (especially THE KITE RUNNER), the grittiness of the subject matter was, at times, truly gut-wrenching--too gut-wrenching for me to recommend in good faith. For that reason, I appreciated Mr. Reedy’s child’s-eye view of Afghanistan, which painted a picture of the country--its beauty, its ugliness, its normal everydayness--in softer strokes.

If you’re looking for a good read with memorable but realistic characters and a culture both similar to and different from our own, definitely give this one a try. And if you’d like to learn more about Mr. Reedy and his experiences writing this book, check out his website at

P.S. This has nothing to do with WORDS IN THE DUST (except that it's also about exciting new books), but if you'd like to win a preorder for one of three wonderful new books coming out this year, check out Myrna's contest. You have until tomorrow to enter!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Interactive Interview with an Agent: Bernadette Baker-Baughman

This special weekend edition of “Interactive Interview with an Agent” features Bernadette Baker-Baughman of Victoria Sanders & Associates. Details on the interactive part are at the bottom. Enjoy Ms. Baker-Baughman’s answers to the normal questions, and then I’ll meet you down there!

KV: How long have you been agenting, and how did you get into it?

BB: I started agenting in 2005. I finished my master’s degree and was the Marketing Manager for a publisher, when the right opportunity to move over to agenting presented itself.

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

BB: My personal philosophy is that publishing is a business of patience and longevity. If you have both, you will go a long way. I want my relationships with my authors to be mutually beneficial, trusting, and always passion filled.

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

BB: STEALING MONA LISA by Carson Morton and ZAHRA’S PARADISE by Amir and Khalil are both coming out this fall.

STEALING MONA LISA is a fun piece of historical fiction that I was drawn to because it had everything I love in a good story: mystery, love, betrayal, danger, and comedy. I also found the true facts, like the actual theft of the Mona Lisa, to be infinitely intriguing. (St. Martin’s Minotaur, August 2011)

ZAHRA’S PARASIDE is a serious graphic novel about a young protestor who went missing after the botched Iranian election in 2009, and his family’s struggle to find him. It is poignant, beautifully illustrated, and delivers a timely human rights message. (First Second, August 2011)

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

BB: I’ll answer more on the “not represent” side, as that is a bit easier to pin down. I don’t represent Westerns, High Fantasy, Poetry, traditional Romance, or children’s picture books (except when I do).

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

BB: I really like concise, to the point queries, along with two to three chapters of the work pasted into the body of an e-mail. My pet peeve is when an author sends a query as an attachment with nothing in the body of the e-mail. I always suggest authors try to make it as easy as possible for agents.

KV: What are you looking for in a manuscript right now? What are you tired of seeing at the moment?

BB: Right now I am looking for very emotionally driven work. Make me laugh out loud or cry and I’m sold. I am a bit tired of seeing paranormal, though now I can really easily spot good paranormal when it crosses my desk.

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

BB: Send a query to my attention at The query should be in the body of the e-mail, along with two to three chapters pasted below the query. We respond to every query that comes in, so if you don’t hear from me please resend your query. Also, learn more about Victoria Sanders & Associates on our website:

Thanks again, Ms. Baker-Baughman, for these responses! I always love a little mystery, love, betrayal, danger, and comedy as well, so STEALING MONA LISA sounds like a fun read.

Now for the exciting part. If you have a question for Ms. Baker-Baughman, feel free to leave it in the comments section below. She’ll drop in a few times today and leave her answers down there for you. We’ll wrap everything up at 3:00 p.m. EDT (which is 12:00 noon PDT). Until then, ask away!

(P.S. I’m going to a wedding, so I won’t be around very much today. I’d just ask that you respect the cutoff time and not leave questions after that.)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Blog Bling

I recently received this blog bling from three lovely bloggers, Cambria Dillon, Kristine Asselin, and Katrina DeLallo. Thanks, ladies, for thinking of me and for maintaining such awesome blogs yourselves!

To claim them, I have to tell you seven things about myself. After blogging for a year and a half, I sometimes feel like I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel when it comes to sharing new and interesting tidbits, but I’ll do my best.

1. I was adopted, which you probably already knew, but what you might not have known is that, biologically speaking, I’m White (mostly White), Filipino, and Hawaiian, and that my adopted grandfather is one-hundred-percent Filipino. How cool is that?

2. I lost the fourth grade spelling bee on the word autopsy (which, now that I think about it, was kind of a morbid word for a fourth grade spelling bee). I left out the P. How in heaven’s name did I leave out the P?

3. I remember a lot of my elementary school years by the activity that defined recess. Third grade was the year of the jump rope. Fifth grade was the year of two-hand touch-football. Sixth grade was the year of sitting-around-with-my-friends-and-daydreaming-about-junior-high:)

4. I type pretty fast. During my heyday, I usually typed at around 120 words a minute.

5. I’m a huge BYU football fan--like, colossal. Unfortunately, the BYU football program has had exactly three losing seasons in the last thirty-seven years, and I was a student there for all three of them. Sigh.

6. I was a teaching assistant in the economics department at BYU for about a year and a half. I loved that job. When I had to quit so I could student-teach for my Math Ed degree, I almost cried.

7. I was in labor for twenty-five hours with my first baby and for zero hours with my second. (I ended up having a C-section after those twenty-five hours with I-gots, and we scheduled a C-section with Lady.)

I’m passing these awards on to the following five bloggers:

Ben Spendlove of Imaginary Friends, whose YA urban fantasy I just finished and quite enjoyed

Kelly Bryson of Book Readress, who has been my querying buddy for the last couple of months

Mindy McGinnis of Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire, who comments regularly under the pseudonym bigblackcat97 and recently signed with agent Adriann Ranta

Myrna Foster of Night Writer, who, by the time I finish this revision, will have read Bob almost as many times as I have:)

Pam Harris of Y(A)? Cuz We Write, who, even though she now has an uber-wonderful agent, still comments on just about every agent interview with a thank-you and a smile

Friday, March 11, 2011

Interview with an Agent: John Rudolph

Welcome back to “Interview with an Agent”! (Feels like we’ve been gone for a while, though it’s only been an extra week…) Today’s interview features John Rudolph of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. John is a regular contributor to his agency’s award-winning blog, so I asked him the blogging-agent questions. Enjoy!

KV: How often does a query intrigue you enough to look at the included pages? And how often do those pages intrigue you enough to request the manuscript?

JR: I almost always look at the included pages on a query. While I do think it’s important to write a strong cover letter/query, at the end of the day it’s the work that matters. That said, I’ve found that a weak query usually leads to a sub-par MS, so I’m more likely to skim the sample if the query doesn’t grab me. From the queries I probably request about 1 full manuscript in 20, though sometimes less--a lot less when I got bombarded with queries around the holidays last year.

KV: What are you looking for in a requested manuscript?

JR: I want a manuscript to grab me from page one and not let go until the very, very end. I know, that’s not very specific, but it’s amazing how passive so many manuscripts are--even the ones that open strong often lose steam at an alarming rate. I’m not just talking about loud, flashy plot-driven thrillers--a truly emotional inner-directed story can be just as compelling, if not more so.

KV: What are some of the most common problems you see in the manuscripts you request?

JR: Besides passivity and lost momentum? Well, I’m really getting tired of the vague prologue that drops hints that something dangerous or mysterious is going to happen but doesn’t really give you any clue what the book is about. Starting with a dream is a close second--skip the fireworks and just tell us the story! And I wish writers would make better use of their chapter breaks for cliffhangers and drama.

KV: When you come across a manuscript you really like/love, how do you decide whether to request revisions or offer representation?

JR: Generally, I don’t ask for revisions before taking someone on, though I do try to warn them if revisions might be necessary.

KV: When you do make that Call, you’re probably going to ask the writer if he or she has any questions. What sorts of questions should he or she ask?

JR: It’s always important to confirm the commission rate, and it’s usually a good idea to ask about the scope of representation--for example, we work on a book-by-book agreement, not a lifetime deal. And it’s not a bad idea to ask where the agent sees the book selling, just so the author can feel confident the agent knows the market.

KV: And now for a few quick questions from the normal interview. What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew you to those writers and/or projects?

JR: Being relatively new on the agent side, I don’t have anything coming out anytime soon. But I’ll give a quick shout-out to THE UNFORGETTABLE SEASON by Phil Bildner, illustrated by S.D. Schindler, and ISLAND’S END by Padma Venkatraman, both of which I edited at Putnam and will be on sale soon.

KV: Is there something you haven’t been seeing lately in the slush pile that you wish you were?

JR: True middle-grade fiction. There’s a HUGE hole in the market right now for a middle-grade adventure series, yet most of the middle-grade titles I see skew young and focus on school stories. Where are the Percy Jacksons and Harry Potters?

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

JR: E-mail at But be sure to check our submission guidelines at first!

Thanks again, Mr. Rudolph, for these informative responses. Don't we all love an agent who has an editorial background? Good luck to all you queriers! Mr. Rudolph is a great agent at a great agency.

Have a great weekend, all!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Query Update

First, a few rudimentary and not terribly interesting numbers. (Sorry. Someday, I’ll do a big statistical breakdown of all the data I’ve collected in the last couple of months, but that day is not today.)

Total queries: 56
Pending queries: 4
Non-responses: 1

I don’t really expect to hear back on those four pending queries, though I’ll wait to mark them down as non-responses until they hit the three-month mark. I’m still waiting to hear back on several fulls and partials, but you never know when you might hear back on those, so I’m not holding my breath or anything. Instead, I’m focusing my energy on another agent-requested revision.

About three weeks ago, I received a reply on one of my requested fulls. It was a long e-mail--the longest e-mail I’ve received from an agent about a manuscript, in fact--so I knew right away it wasn’t going to be an offer of representation. But it was a revise-and-resubmit.

The agent went into some detail about the problem spots she’d noticed in the manuscript. It was a lot to think about. In fact, it was so much to think about that I started to despair (with much hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing). But one of my fantastic beta readers picked me up and smacked my cheeks and splashed some cold water on my face--metaphorically speaking, of course, since she lives on the other side of the country--and basically told me to get to work.

It was exactly what I needed to hear.

I started thinking about the agent’s ideas not from a how-am-I-ever-going-to-pull-this-off perspective but from a let’s-get-cracking point-of-view. And almost right away, I realized I could resolve almost all of the agent’s concerns if I just flip-flopped Seth and Adair’s POV responsibilities. Just.

It’s a pretty big revision, so big I’m just calling it a rewrite, but from the moment I started working on the new, new chapter one, I could barely contain my enthusiasm. It’s like I’m falling in love with Bob all over again, even after spending the past eighteen months with him. The. Past. Eighteen. Months.

So I’m busily working on this revision, and another e-mail pops up in my inbox. It’s from another agent who has my manuscript--and she’s requesting revisions, too. Her feedback matches up with Agent A’s feedback, so I give myself a little fist-pump. Now two agents want to see the revision. That’s good, good, good for me.

A few days later, Agent C gets back to me. She really loves the concept and thinks the writing is pretty clean, but she sees a few things that need fixing. Might I maybe, possibly, think about revising? Don’t have to ask me twice:) I send Agent C a summary of the things I’m planning to change, and she asks to see the new, new Bob as well.

A few days after that, Agent D gets back to me. She agonized over what to do with Bob. (Well, she didn’t call him Bob, of course, but she probably would have if she’d known about his nickname.) She even asked her colleagues to read the manuscript and give her their opinions. In the end, she isn’t quite ready to sign it, but if I ever do revise, she’d LOVE--her capitalization, not mine--to take another look.

So now I have four agents all interested in this revision, and I am super, super psyched about it. (Why don't we use that word anymore? Is "psyched" one of those decade-specific words that signals I grew up in the nineties?) Bob’s current draft, the one still making the rounds through several agents’ inboxes, is the very best Seth version of the story that I could write, but I think I’m (finally) realizing that maybe this story was Adair’s story all along. That maybe this will be the best possible version of the manuscript. That maybe this is the story I’ve been trying to tell from day one.

Monday, March 7, 2011

(Work-in-) Progress Report: Steve

Word count (to the nearest thousand): 15,000
Status: On hold for the moment
Attitude: In love!

You’ll notice a couple of curious things about this introduction. First, Steve isn’t Judy. (Sorry, Judy.) Judy was great while she lasted, but I’m all about Steve now, my new MG historical with a dash of science fiction. The idea--actually, just a first line--popped into my head as I was falling asleep one night: “Mama said it was plum foolishness to keep Robby’s dog tags like that, with his blood still stuck between the tiny grooves and ridges of his name.” I wondered what kind of story would start with that kind of line, and Steve was born.

Second, even though I’m totally in love with this one (heck, I wrote those 15,000 words in about eight days), the project is on hold for now. Some things have come up with Bob (no, I don’t have an agent or even an offer of representation, but I do have some promising new leads), and they have to take priority. But I had to make a note of Steve, because he’s the book I’m coming back to after I rewrite Bob. (I’m rewriting Bob? What? WHAT? (More about that later this week…))

So what have you been working on?

Friday, March 4, 2011

You Might Be a Writer If...

1. The letters on your keyboard have worn off. (I’m completely missing E, R, T, S, D, and H and parts of U, A, G, K, L, C, V, B, N, and M.)

2. You know what a query letter is.

3. You spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about fake people.

4. You think Suzanne Collins is a rock star.

5. You cried when Nathan Bransford announced he was leaving agenting.

6. You know a lot of people on the Internet you don’t know in real life.

7. You hate synopses.

8. You REALLY hate synopses.

9. You don’t scratch your head and wonder when someone reports a word count instead of a number of pages. (“Oh, that book was 50,000 words.” “Only 50,000? That’s practically a novella!”)

10. You correct other people’s grammar, especially in the stuff they write.

Sorry about the hiccup in our “Interview with an Agent” schedule! Hopefully, you’ll find this post a happy diversion. What would you add to the list?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Good News

Lots of good news to share with you. To start, several frequent commenters have landed agents in the last month. Cambria Dillon signed with Vickie Motter of Andrea Hurst Literary Management. Here’s her announcement post.

Also, Chantele Sedgwick signed with Uwe Stender of TriadaUS Literary Agency. I especially loved Chantele’s story because her query to Mr. Stender was also her last. She was planning to shelve the project for a while and focus on other things, but she sent out one more query, anyway. Sometimes, the last query you send is the one that sticks.

Finally, Kristine Asselin also signed with Vickie Motter of Andrea Hurst Literary Management just yesterday. I like to butt my head into other people’s business, so I actually found out about Kris’s news last week. It's nice to have it out, since I don't like keeping secrets:) Keep an eye on her blog for more news about the offer and her path to representation.

Congratulations, ladies! That’s wonderful, wonderful news! (And especially encouraging for us, because it only goes to show this whole querying thing really does work out.)

Also, if you’re at all interested in March Madness, you might want to keep on eye on my alma mater. [Insert shameless plug for BYU Cougars here] While I’m a diehard BYU football fan (and I can say that, because I attended EVERY SINGLE HOME GAME during the abominable Gary Crowton era), I’m much more of a fair-weather BYU basketball fan. Fortunately for me, this has been a particularly fair-weather season. They’re currently ranked third in both of the major polls and poised to snatch a top seed in the NCAA tournament coming up later this month (so long as they win out, of course).

What’s made this team so great? For one, head coach Dave Rose has spent the last couple of years putting together an impressive roster. Every single one of these guys can shoot the ball from just about anywhere on the floor. Oh, and they have this guy:

No matter what your field is, you know you’ve arrived when they turn your name into a verb:)

Any other good news you’d like to share with the rest of us?