Mapping it out

This should be a post on how to map out a novel. But it’s not.

(If you need that kind of article, may I suggest here ? Or for those with serious need to outline, here (Writer’s Digest) or here (Writer’s Bureau)? Or to turn your plot line into a subway style map, here?)

Earlier this week I found myself fascinated by this article from Book Riot: Emma Nichols’ map of ALL the NYC Bookstores.

Pretty cool, right? I’ve been to many, but not nearly enough. Guess I’ll be spending at least part of this rainy weekend tracking down some new places to feed the reading habit. 🙂

But how will I resist my favorites? Three Lives & Company, Books of Wonder, Book Culture, 192 Books, McNally Jackson, Bank Street Books… not to mention the Strand and Argosy and Book Court and the Corner Bookstore and the late lamented Rizzoli and Partners in Crime. Hmm. Maybe I’ll just go to The Mysterious Bookshop and treat myself to a few new mysteries…


Books For Readers – & more

SCBWI proudly announced its initiative, Books for Readers, earlier this week. BFR aims to collect books from SCBWI members to distribute around the world to worthy causes. Obviously, if you’re a published member, participation is easy: donate a signed copy or copies of your book to the SCBWI HQ starting July 12, 2017.

Other ways you can participate include nominating a cause , collecting ARCS, overstocks, and soon-to-be out of print titles from your publishers, or celebrating. Yes, SCBWI is planning a couple of gala celebrations!

I’d add publicizing. While the books to be collected must come from SCBWI members, if you know of an author who’d like to donate, encourage them to join SCBWI! Give your PAL friends a nudge to send in their books. 🙂

This venture seems like a win-win for all concerned. SCBWI members get their books in front of readers. SCBWI promotes its work and mission, and MOST importantly, young readers without books get books.

The worthy causes are intended to be local, so fill out that nomination form!

Want to help in other ways? Book Riot and HuffingtonPost and Bustle all have had articles listing bookish charities for children.



The Library Way

One of the cool things about NYC is that there’s always something fun, funky, or fantastic that you never noticed before.

Last weekend I was walking from the East Side over to NYPL – hoping to see their exhibition “Love in Venice,” but alas! I forgot nearly all NYPL branches are closed on Sundays, including the glorious main library – and I looked down to this:


How had I never once noticed that on both sides of 41st Street have bronze plates inset into the sidewalks, each with a wonderful design and quotation?

(Maybe because I always take the subway and exit at Bryant Park on the west side.)

It’s the Library Way.

NYPL is right – approaching from the east, with the light falling on the magnificent building is best. But, really, it’s like a bibliophile version of hopscotch. A few of my favorites:

Just a hint from a New Yorker: wait till there’s no foot traffic before stopping and staring at the sculptures below your feet and/or snapping photos. Otherwise, you’re getting mowed down by folks on their way to work. Or lunch.

I’ll leave you with a thought from Yeats:


May you have many moments of glad grace this coming week.

NYC notes

Three quick New York notes:

  1. Some look for treasure in the city’s bank vaults, museum vitrines, or auction houses. But the Municipal Archives are the city’s true treasure house, according to The New York Times. Definitely a vast resource for writers and researchers!
  2. But the best treasure might be a writer’s workspace that isn’t the local coffee shop. (And their patrons will thank you for leaving them your seat.)
  3. Love the smell of antique books? Libraries? Historic spaces? This project at the Morgan Library aims to recreate the 1906 aroma.

With my upstairs neighbors’ apartment undergoing renovation, I might have to take advantage of that workspace. Or finally join the New York Society Library, as I’ve been meaning to for some time now. Or take a chair in the recently renovated Rose Reading Room

Anyone have a recommendation for noise-cancelling headphones? 🙂

Just a taste

Looking for a quick read before bed? Need a short story for a read-aloud for the end of Black History Month? Want a literary palate cleanser after the news of the day?

Look no further.


This YA compilation of short stories is quite a treat. All are historical fiction or historical fantasy – some written by big names in YA (for example, Marie Lu, Marissa Meyer, Elizabeth Wein) and some by names that should be bigger than they are (likewise, J. Anderson Coats, Leslye Walton, Lindsay Smith).

The author’s notes at the end of each story -explaining their choice of historical era ranging from pirates to Black Panthers- are a wonderful feature of the anthology. Chock-full of diverse and delightful heroines, the book can be gobbled or savored as you choose.

While many reviewers on Goodreads lamented the shortness of the stories, I thought they were just the right size. Like a great piece of chocolate – wonderful, but leaving you wanting just a little more.

Might just have to buy this one for my shelves so I can re-read my favorites!

One Book!

One Book is a popular library program that I’ve enjoyed as a librarian and a reader in multiple places. But I never thought it would happen here in NYC!

One Book seeks to get all members of a community reading the same book to foster conversation on themes and issues important to that community. I’ve participated in One Book programs using books from A Tale of Two Cities to Witness to Mountains Beyond Mountains. Here in NYC, we have a chance to influence that choice:

  • Americanah
  • Between the World and Me
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
  • Sellout
  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Hard choices, y’all.

Vote for one of these fine books by February 28th!

Because of the sheer size of New York, NYPL won’t be giving copies of the chosen book away like I’ve seen elsewhere. But publishers of the finalists will be giving 4,000 copies of their books to over 200 branches. Which means you should be able to get a copy pretty soon. Or you could do your part by buying a copy and sharing it with folks. Win-win! 😉

Now for the hard part – which book to vote for? They’re all so good!

Just a little tip

Reading thousands of queries is giving me quite the education. I thought I knew what made a good query before I became a literary assistant – thanks to Query Shark and Molli Nickell and Mary Kole on Writers Digest and the many other helpful folks giving advice.

My query letters weren’t always sparkling, but they got the job done. But now? Now I know SO much more.

Here’s a little tip:

If you have to explain your story, your query isn’t ready.

(If your story can’t be understood without explanation, that’s a whole ‘nother problem.) 😉

Don’t introduce yourself, the characters, or the setting. Just tell me what the story is.

I wish I could show you a real live example from the query mailbox – we had a STELLAR one the other day. But I can’t. Would you want your query posted on someone’s blog? Didn’t think so.

I’ll do my best to give you the idea:

Dear (insert agent name here),

I wish to submit my (INSERT GENRE HERE) manuscript to your agency for consideration.
(INSERT TITLE HERE) tells the story of (WHO, WHAT, WHERE)*.
This particular manuscript has won AWARD, and a judge described it as COMP TITLE meets COMP TITLE.**
I have previously published PRIOR PUBLICATIONS IN RELEVANT GENRE and I also have a great interest in RELEVANT FIELD OR HOBBY.*** I have a RELEVANT DEGREE from University A of BCD, and I work as a RELEVANT JOB.****
If you’re interested, I would greatly welcome the opportunity to send you the synopsis and/or the first few chapters of TITLE.*****
I look forward to hearing from you.
Kind regards,
YOUR NAME HERE  (full name, not a nickname or pseudonym, please!)
  1. * WHO are your characters? We don’t need specifics and/or names necessarily. But who’s the story about? WHAT are those characters doing? WHAT’s the conflict? WHERE is the story set? Give me a few basic details. Place, time, real or fantastic.
  2. **Haven’t won an award or workshopped the story with a well-known writer or editor? That’s okay! Just give me the comparable titles and/or authors for your story. If you can’t tell me that, you need to read more. And for the love of heaven, do NOT describe yourself as the next INSERT FAMOUS BEST-SELLING AUTHOR OR BOOK here. It’s one thing to say your culinary wizard school novel is Harry Potter meets The Truth About Twinkie Pie. It’s something else to say you’re the next J.K.Rowling and some lucky agent is going to make millions of dollars on your book. And not a good something else.
  3. ***Relevant is the key word here. If you haven’t published anything, that’s okay. No need to highlight that fact. If you are published in, say, a professional journal, that’s not relevant. I don’t tell agents I’ve been published in the special libraries association journal. They don’t care. I do tell them that I’ve been published in an online children’s magazine. Same thing goes for interests. If your MG novel is about the chess club and how they solve mysteries, by all means mention that you’re a former state chess champion. If your main hobby is raising ducks for their feathers and making pillows, I don’t need to know that. (Unless your book is a picture book about ducks…)
  4. ****Again, relevant is the key word. Do you have an MFA or other such degree? From where? Have you studied with a well-known author or been mentored by one? Do you belong to any writers’ associations or attend conferences? I don’t mention that I have an MLS – but I do say that I’m a former children’s librarian. That lets agents know I know my audience. Well. And that I read lots of children’s books.
  5. *****This shows confidence, and it’s professional. But please, please, PLEASE follow the directions from the agency’s website. If they ask for a five page sample, include five pages. If they ask for the first chapter, send that. If they do not ask for any sort of sample, do NOT send anything.
Finally, just remember. KISS.
Keep It Simple, Sweetheart.
Good advice for queries and good advice for life. 🙂