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.

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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. 🙂

 

 

Winner and whoops

 

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Yep, I did it. 30 ideas in 30 days. 30 NOVEL ideas in 30 days, mind you. Will any of them turn into books? I don’t know. But at least I’ve fired up my imagination and learned sometimes a little whirlwind is good for the creative brain.

Now if I could just get this revision done! I keep wrestling with it. Keep going round and round.

Am I starting in the right place?

Am I addressing the issues pointed out by my critiquers and beta readers?

Am I just spinning my wheels?

It might just be time for a new process. Not just an outline. Not just a daily word count. The other day at work, I saw a work-in-progress from a client. It was amazing!

Several pages of character analysis, followed by a meandering sort-of-synopsis, followed by three vignettes. Will they all make it in the book? I don’t know. I doubt it.

But what I do know is that that author has a great start and she obviously knows where she’s going. With room for surprises.

That’s what I want. Not a Google maps, Siri telling me to take this turn here, “you will reach your destination in one half mile” process.

More like the Triptiks AAA used to give out. There was a highlighted road map that showed you exactly how to get to your destination, but there were also notes of rest stops, points of interest, and places to eat or stay along the way. Plus you could ignore those (and the highlighted way) completely and just use the map as a way to explore, often finding new cafes or sights that had popped up since the map was created.

I need me a Triptik for my book. It’s all in my head, and it just needs to reach the page.

Oh, and that whoops? Well, I’ve learned that rushing for the bus and the broken up pavement of NYC streets don’t mix. So I’m a little less mobile  and a lot more careful while my sprained right ankle and banged-up left knee heal.

So I’m just going to take my time, let January’s 30 ideas mellow a little, and focus on letting the book in my head out onto the page. Word count be damned!

Creativity, like water, will always find its way.

 

Now what?

I’m hard at work revising a novel, so I couldn’t resist giving a shout-out to NaNoWriMo’s “Now What? Months.”

If you need to revise that draft you wrote during November, or just need a boost during January and February, the NaNoWriMo folks have got your back. Goal trackers, events, revision and publishing resources, even a way to find critique partners.

If you’ve participated in NaNoWriMo before, just log in to get started. New to NaNo? Just register under the “Create New Account” tab.

I already got my word count in for today, so if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a pile of library books and a cup of tea calling my name…

 

 

 

 

Some photos – and some stories

Inspiration is a funny thing. Whether you find it in the newspaper, your day job, or just on a long walk around your neighborhood, you need to catch it when it strikes. But you also need to encourage it.

Nobody ever wrote a book by sitting around and waiting for inspiration.

I’m a big fan of snapping photos with my phone of odd or quirky things around the city as I walk around. They might not inspire a story, but they get me imagining.

What’s up with the lost unicorn?

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Who built the little house that reminds of the New York Botanical Gardens holiday train show?

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How long has that balloon been stuck in the tree?

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Recently a friend posted a link on Facebook that told the story of a man who took a Polaroid photo each day for many years. Sadly, he died young, but his friends created a website to display his photos and keep his memory alive.

That site is Jamie Livingston: some photos of that day.

I love it.

You can look at the photos chronologically, search by a specific date, read other people’s stories about the photos and what they meant to them. Not only is this a wonderful tribute to Livingston’s art, but it’s a great source of inspiration.

And yes, I know about Pinterest and Instagram. I just can’t seem to get on board with yet another technological rabbit hole. I think I’ll keep my mini magnetic board and my collections of postcards, bookmarks, etc.

And now a photo of that day. Of elephants.

What she said

As part of Storystorm, I joined the Facebook group too. And lo and behold, Tara Lazar posted a link that blew my mind. (Thank goodness I didn’t see it while reading queries yesterday, or my emphatic shrieks of solidarity would have echoed all over Lower Manhattan. 🙂 )

Why don’t agents explain their rejections?

Simple question, right? Wrong. But there are several simple answers, and Rachelle Gardner of Books & Such Literary Management does a neat job of explaining them. At least the Top 5. (Go read them. Now.)

The down and dirty upshot is this:

We get hundreds of queries, sometimes thousands, each week. Time is precious. My job as an assistant exists in large part because of the time it takes to respond to those many, many queries that we reject at the agency for which I work.

Still, as a writer myself, I wince just a tiny bit with each rejection I send. I know it hurts. I know you want to know why your book isn’t right for our list. I’ve gotten those letters myself.

Reasons 3 and 4 from Rachelle’s article neatly sum up the conversation I had with my boss about why we can’t personalize rejections. Our reasons might hurt more than help, and frankly, they might be wrong.

The next-to-last line of every rejection letter I send is “I may well be wrong, and you should certainly get other agents’ opinions.”

Bingo!

To be frank, for a lot of queries, we’re not. But for every abysmal query with worse sample pages we get, there are lots of good queries with good sample pages that just don’t appeal to us. Maybe we think we can’t market the story effectively, maybe another client has something similar in hand. Maybe we just can’t see reading that story over and over as we get it ready and submit it to editors. Maybe our understanding of what we asked for on #MSWL is different from yours.

And sometimes we just don’t get your work.

Plenty of folks rejected Rowling’s Harry Potter before she sold it. The lesson here isn’t that they were wrong to do so. It’s that Rowling was persistent and patient enough to keep going until she found the agent that got her story.

Do me a favor. Read Rachelle’s post. And the next time you get a rejection, file it away and send the next query out. After researching why that agent is a good fit as best you can, okay?

Wishing you the best of luck! Now if you’ll excuse me, I have come up with today’s idea for Storystorm. 🙂