All good things

All good things must come to an end. And my blog is one of them.

My original intent was to create a space where I could make the habit of writing regularly – a five-finger exercise intended to get me writing something, anything.

That rather quickly changed into using this space to share information I was learning about being a writer, about books I loved, and my writing friends’ successes.  It changed again when I started incorporating my perspective as a children’s librarian and literacy advocate.

And it changed a third time as I changed my career from librarian to literary agent. My posts become focused on advice about querying or networking or highlighting others’ advice. More and more, I found it hard to have something to say that hadn’t been already said – often said better by someone else.

At the same time, the demands on my writing time and energy have increased. My writing habit is fully a part of my routine. Even though I don’t write every day, I write as much as I need to, if not always as much as I want to. Helping my clients and writing friends get the best from their writing is beginning to require a larger share of my time and energy – as it should be.

Changes in social media have taken their share too – I spend more time on Twitter than I ever expected. It’s a fascinating and immediate way of connecting with other bookish folks. I also realized that my author page on Facebook was languishing – and that much of what I post here, I could post there. Instead of using that page as an amplifier of my blog, I could use it as a channel for my blog.

(Without the pressure of posting weekly – I never did achieve posting twice a week.)

After my hiatus in November, I promised myself I would re-energize my blog – but as I brainstormed ways to make it more appealing and satisfying to you and to myself, I realized that a bigger change was needed.

Thank you for taking your time and energy to read “L is for Literary.” Whether you’ve been with me since it started as “Rear in Gear,” joined me during “Z is for Zampetti” phase, or have only just found me, thank you.

I hope you’ll follow me on Twitter (@leslie_zampetti) or on Facebook (@WriterLeslieZampetti). If you’re already there with me, thank you! If not, please join me. All the good things about this blog will be there. Just one less click to enjoy them!




The golden rule

I can’t believe I even have to say this, but…


When you query an agent or editor, be polite.

Use their name, spelled correctly.

Do NOT tell them how you’re going to make them rich or that you have written the best book since [INSERT BESTSELLER HERE].

And more than anything –

Above all else –


Do NOT respond to a form rejection with vulgarities, foul language, and the sentiment that the agent is a loser or an idiot or a jerk. (To put it politely.)

Be grateful that you received a rejection in these uncommunicative days – and if you can’t appreciate that, then tell yourself that the agent is missing out.

We just might be.

But not if you send a Howler (thanks, J.K. Rowling!) in reply. Then we know our instinct to reject your manuscript was correct, because who wants to work with someone so unprofessional, hot-tempered, and rude?

Rejection hurts. We get it – after all agents and editors get rejected too as we try to sell your book.  No agent worth their salt expects a courteous reply to a form rejection. Silence is more than adequate.

But how can anyone in their right mind think that sending a nastygram via email is going to have a positive effect?

Just follow the golden rule:

Treat others as you wish to be treated. Keep calm and keep querying.

Thank you!

Happy holidays

What with writing, work, and some family health issues, L is for Literary had an unexpected hiatus. Hopefully 2017 will bring more regular posts and more bookish goodness to this page!

Here’s wishing you and yours a very happy holiday season, followed by a terrific 2017!

May the new year bring you productivity, prosperity, health, and happiness – and most of all, a slew of good books to read. 🙂

Interested in catching up with the best of 2016? Here’s a few lists to help you out:

Best Books 2016 Goodreads Choice Awards

The 10 Best Books of 2016 – The New York Times

100 Notable Books of 2016 – The New York Times

Best Books 2016 – Publishers Weekly

2016 Kirkus Prize Finalists

Booklist Best Books of 2016 (by category)

Notable Children’s Books -2016 – Association of Library Service to Children


Labelling books

Eileen & Jerry Spinelli wrote a wonderful book titled  Today I Will: a Year of Quotes, Notes, and Promises to Myself. I bought it in Chautauqua during a Highlights Foundations Children’s Writers Workshop. I don’t look into it every day, but when I do it never fails to surprise me with a great piece of advice – usually, but not always, from a kids’ book. Today’s passage was even more thought-provoking than usual:

“October 26

To me, the labels that people gave each other – or themselves – were like invisible name tags. Once you started to ‘wear’ one, everyone was free to make assumptions about who you are.

More than a Label: Why What You Wear or Who You’re With Doesn’t Define Who You Are 

by Aisha Muharrar

So why do it? Why costume yourself like a this or a that and thereby invite everyone to assume you’re so much less than you really are?

I am not a label.

I am not a label.

I am not a label.”

Published in 2002, Muharrar’s book looks at the role of labels & cliques for teens, based on a survey that then teen-aged Muharrar performed while a member of “Teen People News.” It’s still relevant – perhaps even more so – today, given what’s happening in publishing and kidlit. #WNDB isn’t just a hashtag. (Thank goodness! 🙂 )

But it’s also relevant in our libraries: classroom, school, public, and even personal.

I’ve always been a little annoyed by the constant narrowing down of divisions in kid lit. PB, MG, YA… easy read or chapter book? … fiction vs. nonfiction … shelving series separately or with other fiction. Don’t get me started on shelving biography separately from Dewey call number 920.

Volunteers always want to pull out books. Make a shelf for princess books. Make a shelf for holiday books – no, not 394, that’s nonfiction, we want holiday picture books. Why are graphic novels shelved with nonfiction?

Sheesh. Sometimes separating books is a good thing. (Hello, Dewey subject headings and call numbers?) But more often, it creates a morass of shelving minutia that’s hard for new volunteers and new students to understand. That’s the surprise and delight of browsing: finding something you didn’t even know you wanted just because it happened to be by an author whose last name started with K when you were about to re-read one of Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid books.

And separating books by reader age? Picture books are for everyone, but too many people regard them as only for very young children. Where does that leave the many “picture storybooks” of the past? There’s a clear line between most easy readers or beginning chapter books and middle grade books or YA, but what about the morass that faces the middle school reader or advanced MG reader? Please don’t tell me that now there’s upper MG. And forget about NA.

What happened to integrating all the fiction – assuming shelf heights and space allow – and letting kids discover books for themselves? Did libraries start following a bookstore model, or was it the other way ’round? Was it an outgrowth from the classroom and the now constant leveling of readers? (Stick to the five-finger rule, my friends! Works for all ages, not just kids.)

We make assumptions about books based on the labels they “wear,” just like we make assumptions about people. “That’s too hard for me.” “I don’t like fantasy.” “I want a princess book.” (You try giving a determined kindergartener a ‘real” fairy tale instead of name-your-Disney-Princess-here. Fun!)

I see it in the queries I read for the slush pile all the time. Yes, it’s important to know your audience. It’s important to know your genre. As a literary assistant, it’s very helpful – unless I read your pages and realize that you really don’t know what YA is.

As a writer, I don’t want labels to limit the audience for my book. As a lapsed librarian, I know some labels are necessary so readers can find the books they want. Maybe the folks who shelve their own books by color instead of by genre or alpha by author are on to something. I’m not that brave with my own bookshelves.

As a person, I agree with today’s passage. I am not a label. It’s the sum of the many labels I have worn and do wear that make me who I am.

Instead of dividing books or people – as labels do – let’s start adding.

A good book?

One thing I won’t miss from my school library is the perpetual battle over what makes a good book. I do wish I’d had Adam Gidwitz’s recent New Yorker article to hand to parents and administrators, however. Gidwitz’s article is a beautiful examination of what, exactly, makes a children’s book good.

Using R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series as an example, Gidwitz makes the excellent point that selling over 350 million copies – please read that number in a Dr. Evil voice, ok? – just isn’t possible unless children themselves love and adore the books, devouring them like popcorn. He says no marketing push or movie tie-in can give a book those numbers, and he’s right.

I believe him because I’ve watched students descend upon that section of library shelves like a horde of locusts, class after class, year after year.

I’ve also had to convince concerned parents and faculty that reading those books – or Diary of a Wimpy Kid or graphic novels or the Rainbow Fairies or name your child’s favorite popular title – is OKAY.

Sigh. They’re reading, folks! All reading is good reading. (Great reading, now that’s another story.)

The article continues with an examination of the difference between a good book and lit-ra-cha. (Thank you, Laura Amy Schlitz, for that. Loved Splendors and Glooms!)

My personal opinion is that children should be reading. I don’t care if it’s a cereal box. If they’re reading something, it is SO much easier to get them to read other things. While I’m no longer a librarian, that philosophy guides my writing as well.

Like Adam Gidwitz, I just want to write something that some child somewhere will “clutch to their chest and say, ‘I love this book!’ “

The shape of a book

I just finished reading Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston.

Exit is a short book with a fresh and thought-provoking take on surviving rape. Her heroine Hermione Winters (named for Harry’s friend or possibly out of Greek mythology) is the golden girl, captain of the cheerleading squad, with a popular boyfriend. When Hermione is slipped a roofie on the last night of cheer camp, raped, and left in the lake, her life changes. She’s going to become “that girl.” Or will she?

Hermione’s search for herself while remembering nothing of what happened that night is wrenching and uplifting, in a stout and wry voice that we wish had belonged to us as teens.

Not only was it an excellent read, Johnston’s acknowledgements had a phrase that really made me think.

She thanks her friends and colleagues for helping her turn a “book shaped idea into a book.”

Think about that for a moment – a “book shaped idea.”

When does a story become a book?

Is it when it’s published – with cover art and an ISBN? That would be simplest.

Is it when it’s a complete manuscript, proof-read and copyedited, just waiting to be published? After all, nothing is really going to change at that point.

Is it when a first draft has been critiqued and polished and revised into a submission for agents and editors? A manuscript is more than a story.

Or is it when a vignette or a scene or two have become a full draft,  with a beginning, middle, and end?

I love Johnston’s concept of a book shaped idea. I love thinking of her original thoughts, her story, morphing and changing into the book I held in my hands, allowing me the pleasure of reading it.





What I read this summer

As I wrote way back in June, I’m not headed back to school this year. While I miss seeing my students and setting up displays of new books to share, I don’t miss being on the school schedule. (7:30 AM bus, anyone?)

It was a luxurious summer of settling into my new job and starting to shovel out the slush pile. Which was not only educational, but enjoyable. (Yes, I’m *that* crazy about reading.)

What else did I read? I caught up on some grown-up reading, enjoyed several new mysteries, and of course, treated myself to some kid lit.

  • The Porcupine Year by Louise Erdrich
  • Girl Parts by John Cusick
  • Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
  • First and Then by Emma Mills  – Emma’s newest is almost out ! Watch for This Adventure Ends!
  • Falling into Place by Amy Zhang
  • Damage Done by Amanda Panitch
  • Forget-Me-Not Summer by Leila Howland
  • The Perfect Place by Teresa E. Harris

Kate DiCamillo’s Raymie Nightingale is waiting on my bedside table for the perfect moment, and Betsy Bird’s Wild Things! has moved from the bookshelf to my bedside, too.

I’m thinking I need to read all of Erdrich’s Birchbark stories and dive into the pile of Candlewick advance copies I was so generously given. I meant to read so much more this summer, but much of my time was spent writing my second novel, which is finished and awaiting critique at Kathy Temean’s Avalon retreat.

Too many books, too little time. I never did get around to pruning my Goodreads to-read list. But that’s a good problem to have.

What did you love reading this summer?