Tuesday, July 31, 2012

"Can You Hook a Teen?" Contest

Today, I'm hosting Kate Coursey of Teen Eyes Editorial for the second annual installment of “Can You Hook a Teen?” You may enter anytime between now and 11:59 p.m. EDT (or 8:59 p.m. PDT).

The Rules

1. To enter for a chance to win Kate’s critique here on my blog, your manuscript must be a YA or new adult fantasy or contemporary or anything MG. (Please note that your manuscript DOESN'T HAVE TO BE COMPLETE!)

2. Your entry must include A ONE-SENTENCE PITCH and THE FIRST 250 WORDS of your manuscript. If the 250th word falls in the middle of a sentence, please include the rest of that sentence in your entry.

3. You must post your entry IN THE COMMENTS OF THIS POST. Your comment should look like this:

Name: [Your name]
Genre: [Your manuscript’s genre]

[A one-sentence pitch]

[The first 250 words of your manuscript]

The Prize Kate will pick one winner from the entries posted in these comments, and that winner will receive a 20,000-word in-depth critique.

The really great part is that you can also enter for a chance to win the prize from the other two editors of Teen Eyes Editorial!

For a chance to win Taryn Albright’s $100 gift certificate to use toward any of Taryn’s editorial services, check out Miss Snark’s First Victim. (You’ll need to have a query to enter the contest on that blog.)

For a chance to win Brent Taylor’s 20,000-word in-depth critique, check out Brenda Drake Writes…under the influence of coffee. (You’ll need to have a 35-word pitch to enter the contest on that blog.)

We’ll announce the winners sometime within the next week or so. Good luck!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Interview with an Agent: Danielle Svetcov

“Interview with an Agent” makes a comeback with Danielle Svetcov of Levine Greenberg Literary Agency! Settle in for a good one…

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

DS: It’s such a long, twisty story, but here goes: I graduated from college in 1995 with a journalism degree; for about six years I worked as a freelance writer for magazines and newspapers; I got tired of selling (without an agent); and I wanted to become a better writer. So, I got an MFA in fiction, which turned me into the sort of writer who didn’t want to sell anything of my own and who preferred to sit in a dark room and write short stories that only I could enjoy.

But I didn’t want to become irrelevant, and I was still a news junkie, and I had (and continue to have) a streak of “must fix that problem now” which needed regular exercising. And so, on a whim, I replied to a help-wanted ad on Craiglist in 2001 or 2002; an agent with Levine Greenberg Literary was seeking a part-time assistant; the agent’s name was Arielle Eckstut; she’d moved out to California to establish the agency’s West Coast office. She hired me while we were sitting in her kitchen looking at her cookbook collection, drinking Constant Comment tea. I remember thinking: I like the way her life looks. She worked alongside her husband, a client turned spouse. Each book was a new adventure. So I joined up.

I started off drafting letters, reading manuscripts, and book doctoring. First it was five hours a week; then ten, then twenty. Then I began doing the same for the agents in the NY office. I was still writing my fiction; I was even working at an improv theatre part time, because I was so unsure of where to commit myself. I knew I wanted to be around creatives; I knew I knew more about media than most; I felt I could make writers into better writers. But could I make myself a better writer?

I remained on the fence for some time.  The agency urged me to start selling books. “But I’m not in NY,” I argued. “But I don’t know if I’m cut for this.” They ignored my arguments and kept egging me on. They are tremendous cheerleaders. It’s in their DNA and it’s part of a successful agent’s working model. So, I began. Hesitantly. My second sale was a hilarious book called Skymaul: Happy Crap You Can Buy From a Plane, a parody of Skymall magazine. I met the authors, Kasper Hauser Comedy Troupe, while working at the improv. I thought, “If I get to laugh this hard and get paid, I should do this.” I also get to cheer writers on, steer their careers, talk about books all day, and exercise that “fix it” muscle, daily.  The job is actually good for my health.

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

DS: This is a good question; I don’t think I’ve ever addressed it in writing before…or in my head, in this fashion. Here goes: when I like a person or believe they’re talented, I immediately begin thinking of ways to assist that goodness or talent. This isn’t just publishing related. I am that meddling lady who fixes friends and clients up on blind dates, sends them want-ads for jobs I believe they’d be great at, cuts articles out of the paper they must read, finds them better apartments to live in. This instinct is genetic, I think, and I’m so lucky and pleased to have found a career that’s allowed it to flourish (legally).

Also at play in everything I do: my Midwest journalism training (“if your mother says she loves you, check it out”) and my political stance toward the world (“if we all lived a little smaller, there’d be a lot more stuff to go around”). Said another way, I ask lots of questions, I’m a word economist, and I’m constantly questioning “the norm.” When I take on new clients, one of the first questions I ask is: “Why do you want to write and sell a book?” Another is, “What do you know about the publishing process?” And another, “What are your expectations of this experience? Money, fame, pain?”

I don’t feel good about taking on a client until I’ve asked these questions and heard answers that make it sufficiently clear to me that the author knows what he/she is getting into and is really in it for the right reasons and the long-haul. I want to know that they’ve done their research or plan to, PDQ. If I get a whiff of fly-by-night-ism, I’m out the back door. Books are just too hard to make and sell. And life is too short and crazy.

Rereading this, I fear I sound a little cuckoo. I’m not. I’m just passionately rational and expect the same from my authors.

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

DS: I have a few humorous political projects coming out in time for the election; one is called 365 Wrongs from the Right: A Conservative Delusion-a-Day Calendar; the other is called Don’t Let the Republican Drive the Bus, a parody of Mo Willem’s Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. I love funny authors. I love anyone who wants to take the piss out of dogma. And I particularly like it when an author wants to take the piss out of the dogma they find themselves wrapped up in. I call these my irreverent reverents, i.e. the authors of Yoga Bitch, Bike Snob, etc.

I’m also very excited about a book called It’s Not You, It’s Brie, by a cheese obsessive named Kirstin Jackson. I have a lot of food and cookbook clients. I know my way around a roux.

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

DS: I represent mostly nonfiction (minus self-help, spirituality and diet); I am particularly fond of narrative nonfiction, those true stories that operate like novels--i.e. dramatic tension, great character development, an arc; all built on the back of research and the reportage that’s woven out of it. Amazing.

I also rep fiction, though not much right now. I want to rep more. I’m giving myself time. Lots of time. I want to build the right fiction list, not just any fiction list. When it’s done (twenty to a hundred years from now), it’ll have quirky but grave mysteries set in England, Roman à clefs by Midwestern farmer-poets, and modern day’s Laurie Colwin.

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

DS: Oh, I dunno. Don’t follow too closely a manual’s instructions on how to query. Be human. That’ll serve you the best. Know something about who you’re querying. Engage me in conversation.

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

DS: I’m looking for the author to be an expert at whatever is being discussed, to know the subject and the marketplace, and to know how to sell whatever he/she is hoping to write. Don’t come knocking ‘til you’ve figured out how to bring your idea to market, even fiction. I may have an idea or two, but you should have a dozen.

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

DS: By e-mail. Phone messages disappear. E-mail does not: dsvetcov@levinegreenberg.com

Thank you, Ms. Svetcov, for these thoughtful responses. And good luck to everyone who decides to query. If you know your way around a roux, you should give her a try:)

P.S. If you’re looking for feedback on your MG, YA, or new adult manuscript and missed yesterday’s post about next week’s contest with Teen Eyes Editorial, definitely check that out!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Upcoming Contest with Teen Eyes Editorial


Have you ever wondered if your young adult, new adult, or middle grade manuscript would hook a teen reader? We all have. So what better way to find out than through a contest with the talented teens of TEEN EYES EDITORIAL!

First, a bit about the editors:

Kate Coursey has completed nine novels to date. Her fifth novel, tentatively titled LIKE CLOCKWORK, won the 2010 PUSH Novel Contest. It is currently undergoing revisions with Jody Corbett at Scholastic Press. She is represented by Edward Necarsulmer IV of McIntosh & Otis, Inc. In addition to having extensive experience as a freelance editor, Kate worked as an intern at Scholastic Press where she read many (agented and unagented) submissions. She received the prestigious Sterling Scholar Grant in 2011 based on an extensive creative writing sample. Later that year, Kate underwent a comprehensive evaluation of her editorial skills (both technical and content-related), beating out dozens of post-grad students for an editorial internship at a mid-sized publisher, where she worked during the fall. She is nineteen years old and lives in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Kate loves all things fantasy, contemporary, and middle grade. To learn more about her, visit her website or follow her on Twitter.

Taryn Albright is a nineteen-year-old author whose choice to write instead of do homework led to a Creative Writing major. When she isn't being a college student, swimmer, or writer, she is an intern with Movable Type Literary Management. She is also the personal assistant to the amazing Genn Albin (CREWEL, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, October 2012). Her YA fiction is represented by Vickie Motter of Andrea Hurst Literary Management.

Taryn is particularly interested in contemporaries, mysteries, thrillers, sci-fi, and dystopians, but she also loves fantasy and historical fiction. She's probably not right for your paranormal, but pleasant surprises happen. She loves strong heroines, myth and fairy-tale retellings, and stories about sports. Some of her favorite authors include Suzanne Collins, Stephanie Perkins, Rae Carson, Kirsten Hubbard, Kendare Blake, Veronica Roth, Ilsa Bick, and Ransom Riggs.

To learn more about Taryn, visit her blog or follow her on Twitter.

Brent Taylor lives in Louisville, Kentucky. He’s an ex-gymnast turned blogger, and has been a children’s and YA specialist intern at a New York-based literary agency for a little over a year. His articles have appeared in School Library Journal and VOYA, and he is a contributing writer at Lambda Literary.

Brent was raised in middle grade fantasy, hung out with YA contemporary for years, and is now enjoying every stolen moment on his porch swing with nice literary and not-so-literary fiction. He loves narrators that take him on wild rides to worlds and situations he’s never experienced before and fresh plotlines.

You can visit his blog, or--and this is if you’re feeling particularly adventurous--follow him on Twitter.

THE EDITORS WILL ONLY CONSIDER ENTRIES IN THE GENRES THAT MEET THEIR TASTES, so please read those guidelines carefully to determine which editor or editors will fit your manuscript. Then check out whichever blogs will host the editors you pick.

Mother. Write. (Repeat.)

I will host Kate Coursey, who will judge ONE-SENTENCE PITCHES and THE FIRST 250 WORDS of completed manuscripts. The winner will receive a 20,000-word in-depth critique.

Miss Snark's First Victim

Authoress will host Taryn Albright, who will judge QUERY LETTERS. The winner will receive a $100 gift certificate to use toward any of Taryn's editorial services.

Brenda Drake Writes...under the influence of coffee

Brenda Drake will host Brent Taylor, who will judge 35-WORD PITCHES. The winner will receive a 20,000-word in-depth critique.

The submission posts on all three blogs will go live on Tuesday, July 31, at 8:00 a.m. EDT (or 5:00 a.m. PDT). And here's the really great part: You can enter on one, two, or all three blogs (though everyone will only be eligible to win one prize).

You don't have to follow us or spread the word to win, but we'd love it if you did. All you have to do is come back and enter on the submission post next Tuesday, July 31!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Cover Reveal! RUMP by Liesl Shurtliff

Just popping in to redirect you to Liesl Shurtliff's blog so you can check out the cover reveal for her MG debut RUMP (Knopf/Random House 2013). I'd post the cover myself, but then you might not check out her post, and you need to check out her post, because she's giving away an ARC. An ARC of the very first book one of my critique partners has published! It's the next best thing to seeing an ARC of my own:)

I'll be giving an ARC away as well sometime within the next few weeks, so if you don't win Liesl's copy, make sure you come back here for a chance to win mine. Until then, enjoy the view over at Liesl's blog! Her cover artist, the uber-talented Zdenko Basic, really hit a home run with this one...

Friday, July 20, 2012

The List of Qualities My Future Writing Career Will Have

When I was a teenager, I had this List of Qualities My Future Husband Will Have. I can’t remember if I ever wrote it down (I really, really hope I didn’t), but I can remember the entries well enough. Here's a representative sample:

1. He had to be tall, at least six feet (never mind that I’m five-three).

4. He had to have served a mission.

29. He couldn’t be, you know, stupid.

Now some of those entries weren't negotiable (no way was I going to spend eternity tethered to a meathead who couldn’t talk about really important things like the underlying axioms of microeconomics and, you know, college football), and some of them were (I really lucked out on the height requirement; Honey Bear is exactly eleven inches taller than I am), but they were all on the list, for better or for worse (pun intended).

The other day, I realized I’ve had another list brewing in my head for quite some time, the List of Qualities My Future Writing Career Will Have*, and since this one isn’t quite so embarrassing, I thought I’d share it with you.

The Really, Really Important Stuff

1. My books have to be published by reputable, well-respected publishers. “Reputable” and “well-respected” are kind of vague terms, I know, but I prefer them that way. And notice that I DIDN’T say my books have to be published by one of the Big Six. Pretty much every publisher that falls under that umbrella is reputable and well-respected, but there are plenty of reputable, well-respected publishers that don’t, and I would be perfectly happy--no, perfectly ecstatic--to be published by one of them.

2. My books have to appear in print, at least in the current market. Maybe in ten years, the whole market will be e-only, but for now, I can’t imagine feeling as if I’ve done what I set out to do if I can’t hold my books in my hands.

The Somewhat Important Stuff

1. I want to be able to walk into a bookstore and/or library and see my books on the shelf.

2. I want to hold a book signing or go on a school visit someday.

Now your list may look quite different; in fact, I’m pretty sure it will. No two writers are alike, so no two lists should look alike, either. And I’m sure my list will grow and change over time, too, but for now, it is what it is. (I’m actually really glad it’s kind of short.)

So what are some of the entries on your List of Qualities My Future Writing Career Will Have?

*This is, of course, assuming that I even have a future writing career, which, at the moment, is kind of a big assumption, but one you’ll have to grant me:)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Book Recommendation: THREE TIMES LUCKY by Sheila Turnage

Some books have such pitch-perfect voice that you would follow the characters over a cliff--or in this case, into a hurricane--and not even bat an eye. THREE TIMES LUCKY by Sheila Turnage is one of those.

I first heard about THREE TIMES LUCKY several months ago, when I read Myrna's "Marvelous Middle Grade Monday" review. The premise piqued my interest, but since Myrna had read it as an ARC and I couldn't check it out right then, I promptly forgot about it. Thank goodness I remembered when I saw it in The King's English several weeks ago.

THREE TIMES LUCKY tells the story of Moses "Mo" LoBeau, who blew into a small North Carolina town during a hurricane eleven years before. Mo's a natural-born detective, mostly because she's spent most of her life searching for her Upstream Mother and the other people she belongs to. So when one of her neighbors turns up dead and a real detective pulls into town looking for the killer, Mo isn't about to be upstaged. But she'd better hurry. Another hurricane's a-brewing, and the killer's closing in.

As I already mentioned, I loved, loved, loved the voice. I may be partial to precocious Southern girls, but I'm pretty sure Mo would win anybody over. And the rest of the cast is just as memorable, from her best friend Dale Earnhardt Johnson III, whose daddy believes in naming for the famous, to her adoptive mama Miss Lana, who has a fondness for wigs and French accents. THREE TIMES LUCKY doesn't want for larger-than-life personalities.

If you love middle grade, mysteries, or memorable characters who will stay with you long after you turn the final page, you're bound to love Ms. Turnage's MG debut. It is, in a word, delightful.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Hike

Adams Canyon is a popular hike in my hometown. The trailhead is only a few miles up the highway from my parents' house, so I've hiked it multiple times. Pretty much everyone in my hometown has hiked that canyon more than once.

Everyone, that is, except the moms.

See, Adams Canyon is also one of the most treacherous hikes I've ever been on. I'm pretty sure the only reason teenagers get to hike that canyon is because their moms have no idea just how dangerous it is. You cross a rocky creek bed several times, once on a rickety, old bridge that was rickety and old ten years ago, and you also scamper across a forty-five-degree cliff face that will dump you fifteen feet into that rocky creek bed if you lose your grip. Like I said, treacherous.

So why is it so popular? I'm sure some people hike that canyon for the thrill, but most of us hike it for the waterfall. After curving around a final cliff, the trail up Adams Canyon dead-ends in an unbroken forty-foot waterfall that you'd never expect to find five minutes from the burbs. It really is breathtaking and one of the best thoughtful spots I've ever found.

But here's the thing: About a quarter of a mile down the trail from that unbroken forty-foot waterfall is another much wimpier one. I suppose it still qualifies as a waterfall, but the drop is only around ten feet, and it slips and spills over a bunch of rocks and broken logs. As you admire this wimpier waterfall, you can look up the trail and actually see the final cliff around which the real waterfall waits.

But the first time I hiked Adams Canyon, I made the mistake of stopping at Waterfall Wimpy.

In my defense, I'd never hiked it before, so I didn't know what I should have been shooting for, and neither, apparently, did the other people I was with. We'd heard there was an awesome waterfall at the end of the trail and mistakenly assumed that Waterfall Wimpy was it. The trail widens out at the end (to be honest, it's not very well-defined to begin with), and we assumed that that final cliff was the end. That there was nothing more to see.

How wrong we were.

I'm not going to spell out the metaphor, mostly because I think this post will mean different things to different people, but as I drove past Adams Canyon the other day, I knew I had to blog about it. I'd be interested to hear what the metaphor means to you, though. And of course, if you're ever in Davis County, Utah, and want to hike a fairly treacherous but fairly awesome canyon, I'll happily give you directions:)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

(Work-in-) Progress Report: Clyde

Word count (to the nearest thousand): 43,000
Status: Almost finished with the second draft
Attitude: Antsy

I'm antsy because I want to finish, finish, finish! I think I'm only a week or two away from sending Clyde off to his first round of beta readers, and I just want to send him. But I promise not to do it until I complete my revision process, so don't panic, Ben and Myrna! I'll do my best to make it (mostly) comprehensible:)

As for how this last month and a few weeks have gone, I'll be the first to admit that it's been a little dicey. Almost three-quarters of the way through the first draft, I realized that I'd written myself into a place I didn't want to be in, and it took me a few days to decide how to get myself out of it. Thank goodness for good friends who talked me down from the ledge and helped me find a way out of the rut that I was trapped in. I was literally two clicks away from chucking the whole thing out the window, but they managed to keep me from doing something they knew I'd regret. I don't remember everyone I e-mailed in a panic, but I do remember that Liesl was the one who gave me the idea that kept me going, so thank you, thank you, thank you, Liesl (and everybody else who wouldn't let me quit).

Has that ever happened to you? Have you ever written yourself into a corner, then convinced yourself that there was no way out? I can honestly say that that's the first time anything like that has happened to me. I've had my rough patches, sure, but I've never been tempted to just delete a draft and walk away.

Now that I'm here, on the verge of finishing another draft and shipping it out for feedback, I'm so glad I didn't do that...

Monday, July 9, 2012

Thoughts for a Monday Morning

Querying and submitting aren't exactly alike--the biggest difference, of course, is that you have an agent in your corner when you're on submission, someone whose expertise you get to borrow, someone who believes in you--but they're enough alike that I've been reflecting on both experiences lately. It's nice not to be on the front lines anymore, but because I'm not, I have a lot more time to ponder. Here are a few of the thoughts I've had:

As it turns out, Twitter was right--the waiting never ends. No matter where we are on the path to publication, we will have to wait (and wait and wait and wait, in all likelihood). I've blogged about waiting before, but it seems to be one of those perpetual issues in this industry:) And the waiting doesn't get easier, which means there's no time like the present to learn how to master it. (I'm still learning, by the way...)

No matter where we are on the path to publication, we're always in the middle. A recent article by Dieter F. Uchtdorf totally changed my perspective on the path to publication. If we're always in the middle, then we'll never be too inexperienced--or even too seasoned--to take the next step. I especially liked how he wrapped things up:

"Being always in the middle means that the game is never over, hope is never lost, defeat is never final. For no matter where we are or what our circumstances, an eternity of beginnings and an eternity of endings stretch out before us."

How's that for boundless optimism? :)

Real success takes time. I heard an awesome gardening analogy yesterday that totally made me think of writing. The speaker mentioned that her dad was an expert gardener and had been from the time that she was a little girl. When she was young, her favorite things to grow were radishes because they matured so quickly. At twenty-one days from planting to harvest, they are the garden-plot equivalent of instant gratification.

Then there's the watermelon. You wait weeks to see the seedlings sprout, then baby the young plants along through the heat of summer, then hope and pray the fruit reaches maturity before the first frost hits. In other words, they're much more labor-intensive and require months and months of effort. But they also taste a heck of a lot better than radishes.

Now I don't know what your watermelon-like success looks like, and I'm certainly not saying that all of us should be shooting for the same thing. What I am saying is that, whatever our watermelon is, that's what we should be shooting for. I mean, who wants to settle for radishes when there are watermelons on the table?

And with that, I think I'll go and find a snack...