Posts Tagged ‘Publishing’

Air horse illustration

We’ve all read or written in first-person (I) and third-person (he/she), but where is the elusive second-person (you) novel?

Second-person seems to be exclusively the realm of the choose-your-own-adventure novels (which had their heyday in the 80’s), Internet fan fiction, and instruction manuals.  There is one notable literary exception: Jay McInerney‘s Bright Lights, Big City. In this novel the narrator is actually talking about himself from a distance to separate himself from his own trauma.  Whereas in the choose-your-own-adventure books and most fan-fiction, the “you” in the story is the reader, who steps into the role of the hero.

So, there are specific examples, but they are so specific and far-between (and non-commercial), that writing in second-person has become kind of a trick, a gimmick, a badge of being different for difference’s sake.  And yet….

As a children’s author, the notion of writing an adventure (in which I will do the choosing, ahem) has much appeal.  As readers, children are much more forgiving and willing to experiment than are most adults.  Children expect the unexpected, and are drawn to books that are unique in their own way, be that in the setting or characters, the shape of the book itself, or in how the story is presented on the page.  My gut tells me that an adventure story featuring a young person solving puzzles, getting into wild scrapes, and being heroic would be a natural fit for second-person narration.  Particularly if written in such a way as to allow readers to immerse themselves in the story even further than traditional stories allow.

Consider the following (rough) opening paragraph, for example:

The young pearl-diver gulped another great lungful of early-morning air then scrambled again for the bottom of the ocean.  The mermaid has to be here, he told himself.  He had seen her!  He kicked and swam his way down toward the sunken hull of the ancient ship, the pressure in his lungs burning.  The pouch at his hip slapped his thigh with every stroke, reminding him of the wicked gull woman and her terrible price.  But now he had the enchanted ring, and soon … even his very dreams.

Now in first-person:

I gulped another great lungful of early-morning air then scrambled again for the bottom of the ocean.  The mermaid has to be here, I told myself.  I had seen her!  I kicked and swam my way down toward the sunken hull of the ancient ship, the pressure in my lungs burning.  The pouch at my hip slapped my thigh with every stroke, reminding me of the wicked gull woman and her terrible price.  But now I had the enchanted ring, and soon … even my very dreams.

More intimate, right?  You feel like you’re more inside the diver’s head, as opposed to just a distant observer.  But second-person goes even further.  And by putting it in present tense instead of past tense, the story becomes immediate:

You gulp another great lungful of early-morning air then scrambled again for the bottom of the ocean.  The mermaid has to be here, you tell yourself.  You saw her!  You kick and swim your way down toward the sunken hull of the ancient ship, the pressure in your lungs burning.  The pouch at your hip slaps your thigh with every stroke, reminding you of the wicked gull woman and her terrible price.  But now you have the enchanted ring, and soon … even your very dreams.

Did you find yourself holding your breath?  Do you think a child might?  I said my gut tells me such a story written in second-person present tense would be a natural fit for a kid’s book.  Unfortunately, agents and editors are all adults, and while many of them represent (and adore) children’s books, they are only willing to represent something they believe will sell.  And there is no historical market trend for such a book.  It’s a risk — as much for me as for a prospective agent and any subsequent publisher.  Plus, it screams “gimmick.”  Is it enough simply to write a book in an almost entirely unique style, or is there some reason this particular book must be written in that style?  Jay McInerney found such a reason, but that reason isn’t going to work a second time, and it isn’t going to work in a book for 10-year-old readers.

So this particular unicorn eludes me.  But I haven’t given up the hunt.  I may find an approach that makes second-person irresistible and absolutely necessary.  And when I do, I’ll be willing to risk it.


AUTHOR’S NOTE: After posting this I received many comments pointing out several ways this piece undercuts the point was clumsily trying to make (It’s OK to create art using material from other cultures, as long as the results do no harm). I learned that am guilty of tone policing, straw man arguments, centering white authors, and conflating critique with censorship.  I encourage you to please read my follow-up piece, which is an effort to correct these mistakes.  Thank you.


Svetlana Mintcheva nailed this topic in Salon on Monday.  In case you missed it, the current conversation around the writers’ water cooler is about Lionel Shriver’s address at the Brisbane Writers Festival, about “cultural appropriation” on September 8.  And in case you missed that, here’s some of what she said:

The author of Who Owns Culture? Appropriation and Authenticity in American Law, Susan Scafidi, a law professor at Fordham University who for the record is white, defines cultural appropriation as “taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else’s culture without permission. This can include unauthorized use of another culture’s dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, traditional medicine, religious symbols, etc.”

What strikes me about that definition is that “without permission” bit. However are we fiction writers to seek “permission” to use a character from another race or culture, or to employ the vernacular of a group to which we don’t belong? Do we set up a stand on the corner and approach passers-by with a clipboard, getting signatures that grant limited rights to employ an Indonesian character in Chapter Twelve, the way political volunteers get a candidate on the ballot?

I am hopeful that the concept of “cultural appropriation” is a passing fad: people with different backgrounds rubbing up against each other and exchanging ideas and practices is self-evidently one of the most productive, fascinating aspects of modern urban life.

But this latest and little absurd no-no is part of a larger climate of super-sensitivity, giving rise to proliferating prohibitions supposedly in the interest of social justice that constrain fiction writers and prospectively makes our work impossible.

Lionel Shriver spoke at length.  She cited a case at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, where, during a private tequila party in a dorm room, some of the party-goers wore miniature sombreros.  When photos from the party circulated on social media campus-wide outrage ensued, the party-goers were placed on probation, and the party’s hosts were ejected from their dorm and impeached from the student government.  The hats were labeled “cultural appropriation” because people of color, especially those of Mexican heritage, felt their use created an environment where they did not feel safe.

Shriver talked about how this attitude has spread to every minority or disadvantaged group to the point where nobody else is allowed to touch any tradition, experience, costume or way of doing or saying anything — look but don’t touch.  The majority of her talk was about cultural appropriation in fiction.  She said:

The moral of the sombrero scandals is clear: you’re not supposed to try on other people’s hats. Yet that’s what we’re paid to do, isn’t it? Step into other people’s shoes, and try on their hats.

Look, there’s cultural appropriation and their’s cultural misappropriation.  One is insensitive, hurtful, unethical, and unfair, and the other is speculative fiction.  In this time when “We Need Diverse Books” is a huge movement, how are writers supposed to write about diverse characters if we can’t touch anything that might fall under the definition of “diverse”?  This begs a vision of the future when books must be written by committee, and when memoirs can only contain a single character.  Because what if a brunette is offended by a dark-haired character written by a blonde author?  The entire children’s market will evaporate until children learn to write novels.  And historical fiction will go the way of the dodo.

I understand why individuals and even entire swaths of society are offended by Amos and Andy or Sambo’s Restaurant or any of the thousands of other cases of cultural insensitivity created for the sole purpose of making a buck.  And I understand that when books misrepresent the details of a culture, it can perpetuate stereotypes.  I have great respect and high hopes for the “Own Voices” movement; share your culture with us so that we can learn the truth about it and have a proper perspective.  But….

There are a few voices out there who loudly oppose Shriver’s view.  As always, the backlash is not representative of the whole and those that lash out in anger often do so because they are truly, legitimately angry, fighting to be understood every day of their lives.  But like waves in a pool after a cannonball dive, one backlash leads to another in the opposite direction.  The conversations I am hearing now are non-marginalized writers asserting their right to write what they want. Kaitlyn Greenidge wrote eloquently about this.  True or not, some writers feel they are being told they should not color outside the box — not write about cultures or events outside their personal experience, because doing so is cultural appropriation.  And maybe it is, but my point here is that cultural appropriation is part of the whole fiction deal.  Yes, Virginia, a white writer can write about the Asian experience, because research.  But if it is done in an exploitative or hurtful or inaccurate way, then it becomes misappropriation.  I think there is a difference.

Suppressing writers — of any culture — is never a solution.  The notion that minority characters should only be written by minorities is a dangerous dead-end.  There are plenty of white writers who stereotype white people in their books.  Read pulp, read romance, read men’s adventure.  Who’s to say that when only black people are allowed to write about black people the stereotypes would stop?  I’m gonna go out on a limb and suggest they wouldn’t.  Silencing writers won’t solve that problem.  Because who do you silence next?

I think a lot of the legitimate anger in the diversity movement stems from one very real fact: most of the time, a book about a cultural minority written by a white author will outsell a book written by a member of that culture.  It has happened time and time again.  If I was one of those authors I would be furious , too.  But the answer is not to suppress the white authors.  Most of the time when those white authors write a popular book about a minority group or specific cultural event, awareness and interest goes up which increases sales of other books on that subject – by any author.  No, instead I think real change in the industry must come from the publishers.  Awareness is growing slowly, but it could grow faster.  Publishers see marginalized voices as a risk, but I think it is a risk that could pay off.  The publishing industry is white-dominated, but if more people of color became part of the publishing industry, that would help, too.

I’m a write writer.  Not a damn thing I can do about that.  But I can take the time to see both sides of an issue — even if I will never quite have the perspective of the other side. I can try on the glass slipper, but it will never fit.  I won’t go into the issue of white privilege, other than to say unlearning is hard.  Maybe having that attitude is white privilege, too.

The primary and overarching message behind the diversity movement is clear: write what you want, but write it in a respectful and accurate way; in other words, do it well.  There are far more voices in the diversity conversation that are respectfully educating the writing community than those who shout their anger.  If you are yourself from a marginalized community, share it with us, raise awareness, be heard.  Feed the popularity.  If you are not, you can play, too. But remember — people from other cultures are gonna read your stuff, and if you misrepresent — misappropriate — the soul of their communities, they have every right and every reason to point it out.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: After posting this I received many comments pointing out several ways this piece undercuts the point was clumsily trying to make (It’s OK to create art using material from other cultures, as long as the results do no harm). I learned that am guilty of tone policing, straw man arguments, centering white authors, and conflating critique with censorship.  I encourage you to please read my follow-up piece, which is an effort to correct these mistakes.  Thank you.



There’s been a be it of a debate over at my critique group.  This isn’t the first time this has happened.  Our long-standing debate has been a kind of a glass-half full/glass half-empty philosophical conundrum for as long as I have been a member (three years).

The feature in question is the Hook Queue, in which members can enter the first 1,000 words of their story and get feedback.  This sounds great on paper, and in practice many, many members like it.  I don’t happen to be one of them.

See, here’s the thing.  The whole critique group is based on a credit system; you have to critique the work of others to earn the credits you need to spend in order to submit your own work.  It creates motivation and an atmosphere where giving critiques is as valuable or more valuable than receiving them.  Which is actually true.

The Hook Queue is a little different.  Entering into the Hook Queue costs you 3 credits, but you can earn them back by critting 10 other hook submissions.  Here’s how the queue is described:

This queue is a little bit special. Here the critter is playing the role of an underpaid editor searching for that special perfect snowflake of a manuscript amongst a pile of hopefuls.

Anyone can post into this queue but you must have extremely thick skin. The queue is meant to give you an indication of how good your hook is and where editors might stop reading, and more importantly, why.

The theory is that you should run though these quickly (you are timed) and when you feel like stopping, make a short note explaining why at that spot.  It is quite a contrast to the regular story queues we use for chapters, in which additional points are awarded to critters for making more verbose critiques.

The Hook Queue is only open one week per month.  And after each one the debates roll out anew.  Some people (myself included) want more detailed comments on these all-important opening pages of our story, not a cold brush-off.  We want to know what is working so we can make more of that.  But the entire concept of the Hook Queue is that members are asked to pretend they are editors or agents, when mostly likely none of them actually are.  Critters are only guessing at what an editor is looking for.  These people are writers themselves — an entirely different breed.

The people in favor of this method like to point out (according to everything they “know” to be true about slush readers) that they are all just looking for reasons to reject your manuscript.  One member went so far as to suggest they already have all the clients they need and the slush pile is their lowest priority, so in order to get home to their families they slam through it — just like the Hook Queue is designed.

I’m here to tell you it just ain’t so.

The editors, agents, and slush readers I’ve spoken to (quite a few) express their love of their work.  They can’t wait to find the next great book that takes their breath away, and they invite anybody with an Internet machine to send them their manuscript. But don’t take my word for it.  The other day I ran across an AMA (“Ask Me Anything”) on Reddit, being conducted by a slush reader for a New York literary agent.  He answered questions for hours revealing, among other things, that he does it for no pay because he simply loves books, and would rather read a good story than watch television.  Here are a few of his comments/answers:

Most agents will read nearly 100% of all queries and probably something close to that in full requests. What the readers like me are doing is helping to level them out. We’re making sure that good stuff gets noticed quick, because the agent is racing to find new talent before someone else scoops them up. And we’re leveling the agent out when they fall in love with a book that may have some serious flaws. Trust me when I say this – Agents and readers alike want desperately to be in love with your writing and your story. We live for it. Look at it less as gate-keeping and more as trying to find the gold nuggets in the sifting pan faster because there’s only one giant pan and a thousand gold-hungry sharks swimming in it. More eyes is better than less.


A good slush reader has to be aligned with the agents interests. The agent wants to find great writing and great/talented authors to sign. Slush readers that are just looking for reasons to hate things last about as long as critique partners who like to tell you how horrible you are at writing (maybe a week?). Now, we sure may get a bad rep for pointing out things that we feel are flaws (especially when the writer doesn’t agree) but I can tell you that what we present is opinion and sometimes Agents ignore their slush readers completely and go with their gut and sign authors they simply love.


Anytime a [slush] reader likes a work, it’s good for the author and the agent alike. A reader helps the agent have a pulse on what the “average joe” reads and likes. It gives the agent a more rounded opinion of the work. It can help the agent overcome a gut reaction or objection, and it can point out a flaw that the agent didn’t see.

So, if you are in the query trenches right now, desparing because you think the keepers of the keys to your publishing kingdom only have eyes for your mistakes, buck up.  The people you’re querying want to love your book.  As this slush reader said, “There are exactly 1000 things pulling the attention of an agent at any one moment. If you can keep them from caring about anything but reading the next sentence, you’ll have an agent by tomorrow morning.”

Now, I just need to wade back into the debate and convince everyone that our Hook Queue has got it’s head on backwards.


This is the big one, kids.  The gold standard of pitch contests, and one of the longest-running. There are something like 130 mentor teams participating this year, broken into four age categories: Middle Grade, Young Adult, New Adult and Adult. The contest runs from today through November 9.

But what is it?

Oh! I didn’t see you there, under that rock.  Okay.  PitchWars is a contest for writers with complete manuscripts and a polished query letter. You choose four mentors or mentor teams (a lot of those this year) and submit your first chapter, query, and contact info. Over the course of the next three weeks, those mentors will review all of their entries and request additional materials from those writers whose manuscripts they like. And by “like” I mean they feel like they can connect to the story and the author, and can offer concrete advice for revising the entire manuscript to agent readiness. These are experienced people — slush readers, professional editors, published authors. Many of them are past PitchWars winners.

Then, for the next two months, the chosen mentees will be in constant communication with their mentors, frantically revising their manuscripts and query letters according to their mentors’ advice.  Then, during the first week of November, these revised pitches and manuscripts will be showcased for participating agents.  There are over 60 of those, this year.  The goal, of course, is for an agent to sign you.  That happened to over 50 people last year, and over 200 in the 4-year history of PitchWars.

Do you have a manuscript you are ready to query?  If so, and you want to enter, the details are here.  When you are ready, the entry form is here.

Good luck!


You’ve either gotten them or you are working hard to be able to get them.  Rejections.  From agents, from publishers, from contest judges.

But there is a huge stigma attached to the word “rejection” out in the world.  I mean, sure, rejection actually means that you have been rejected, y’know, the opposite of accepted.  But it is nowhere near that cut-and-dried in the publishing world.

Rejection doesn’t mean “Failure.”  At worst it just means “No.”  It might also mean “Not for me,” “Not quite,” or “Not yet.”

We’ve received quite a few rejection letters, my daughter and I.  A good portion of them were form letters.  Usually those form letters included an apology for sending a form letter.  I get it; reading and evaluating hundreds of queries a week is hard.  Time-consuming.  Emotionally draining.  An agent can’t be expected to give back as much heart and soul as each hopeful writer has poured into their query (not to mention novel).  And nearly all of these form rejections include some version of the same comment: “This is not a reflection of your writing … this business is very subjective … we hope you continue querying.”  Those are all positive, comforting, friendly sentiments.  And they are all true.  They mean it every single time.

Okay, fine, agents undoubtedly receive and reject abysmal writing samples they wouldn’t wish on any fellow agent, let alone future reader.  Maybe in those cases some agents eschew the form rejection and say it like it is.  But I bet even then, the agent advises those writers to dig in, improve their craft, and try again.

Here’s my point.  These aren’t failures.  These aren’t the end.  They are more like when a door-to-door salesman goes to the next door.  Each time you knock on a door is an opportunity to hone your schpiel and greet the next prospective customer with a slightly better pitch.

Most of the time its a “No.”  Some people don’t even want to hear how great your cookies are.  But that’s no reflection on the cookies, is it?  There’s a sweet tooth on every street, but you have to knock on a lot of doors to find it.  So it is with querying.  For sure, if an agent takes the time to advise you in their rejection on how to improve your presentation, you should consider that advice.  If you do and you steadily improve, and you keep trying, there is every reason to believe you will eventually find a home for your manuscript.  You certainly have a better chance than if you don’t.



Last week I posted a short piece describing my daughter’s and my reaction to receiving a “pass” from our dream agent, in our quest to publish our middle grade novel, THE LAST PRINCESS.

At first, the comments were mostly sympathetic and encouraging. These were nice; we love the online writing community, and like it or not, our confidence is often reliant on the camaraderie of others. This may be why I blogged this news in the first place; our experience may not have much educational value for you, the reader, but it is certainly cathartic to talk about it.

But then the comments took a turn. The topic of discussion become a series of bitter laments by others who had tried finding an agent but failed, and then testimonials by those who proudly bypassed the process altogether and encourage others to do so, too. Here’s an example:

I don’t wait for the approval of agents any longer. They have wasted enough of my time. For people who are not creative themselves and who cash in on writers’ creativity, agents are far too impressed with themselves. They have some contacts in the publishing industry and when they pass your manuscript around (if they judge it worthy) and run out of contacts, you get a rapid rejection. Invest in a good editor, copy editor, proofreader, book designer, etc. and publish yourself. The days of needing the approval of an agent or publisher to publish your book are over.

There are two problems with this, for my daughter and I personally. And perhaps for many of you, as well:

1) Our book is middle grade. The audience for this book is children from age 9 to 11, primarily girls. How many 9-year-old girls shop for books on Amazon? How many will have the means to purchase a book they discover there, or convince their parents to buy it based on only a couple of reviews (which we can’t control) and a cover image (which we must pay for)? How many children have their own e-readers and an open account with which to purchase new books? Whatever that number may be, it is not high enough to justify the expense of self-publishing and the career of self-promoting. Besides, the traditional market for young adult and children’s books is surging. I still maintain that children buy books they can touch, which means to find them, they need to be in bookstores. Self-publishing is not the way to get there.

2) We’re not quitters. I had a similar response here to this kind of “advice” before.

This “solution” to our setback reminds me of certain advice about dating and relationships. Suppose you have a pal who has gone on a number of blind dates over the last nine months. Several of these were very encouraging, and the most recent led to a second and third date, but ultimately no connection. Would you advise your friend to give up on dating and love altogether and buy a cat, because they don’t judge and who needs the approval of a life-partner anyway? Sure there are expensive vet bills and constantly having to buy cat food and cat litter and cat toys and air freshener, and clipping their nails, and keeping them off the furniture, and getting the cat hair off your clothes. But at least you won’t have to deal with rejection ever again. Because people suck, am I right?

Thanks but no thanks. Nothing good ever came from giving up. There were a thousand points along the path to our current manuscript, and we could have thrown in the towel at any one of those points. But we didn’t. So why should we give up now? Every successful author was once an amateur with a manuscript, struggling to break in to the market. We’re in good company.

We encourage you to join us.



I haven’t really posted much about actual writing lately because I have spent the last month or so in query hell, and the last two weeks in the twitterverse. And I THINK it is going to have been uber-productive for me. I wrote a couple of blog posts* about it, but there’s a new thing I wanted to share with my brother and sister writers. This is HUGE.

Fellow writer Samantha Fountain started #AgentMatch, which is a twitter contest (like many others) where writers with complete manuscripts can submit a pitch and the top 50 orso are selected by a team of editors and writers and posted online by genre or category, and agents can then look at these vetted pitches and request partials or full manuscripts from the authors. Many writers have gotten representation this way.

When I started looking into the writer/query community on Twitter, I had missed this by like two days.

But Samantha was just getting started. Her latest project (which officially launches on March 2) is called, and it is essentially a website directory of writers and their pitches (for completed manuscripts), where agents can shop for manuscripts that match their needs/likes/wants/wishes. You’ve seen Writer’s Market and the Guide to Literary Agents; imagine a directory of writers with manuscripts seeking representation – a directory for agents to find writers. The last two weeks has been a series of daily contests on Twitter to get into the launch of this site on March 2. After the launch authors can join at any time, but I got caught up in the excitement and managed, against long odds, to get into the select group of authors to be included in the launch. I’m very excited about this.

Now, you should have no illusions — these various agent/writer “dating services” don’t make it more likely for a book that’s not ready or a bad pitch to be accepted by an agent. What it does do it speed up the process and get your book in front of more eager agents sooner. The normal process is to send out your query to an agent unsolicited, hopefully including some tidbit from your research that suggests your book is what they have been looking for, and then you wait until your submissions crawls its way to the top of the slush pile and hope this happens on a good day. And you do this over and over again. Potentially lots of hit-or-miss. But with these contests, the agents are actively seeking the books. And when you get a nibble, you can then send your full query to these agents AS A RESPONSE TO A DIRECT INVITATION. This puts you on the top of the pile on day one.

So I’m stoked.


The website will work like this: For writers, you will have your own author page which you can customize with contact/social info, a blog, your bio, and as many pitches as you have manuscripts. The sit will periodically provide questions you can answer (or not) to help fill out your profile. Agents will be able to locate you (your manuscripts) by category and genre, and with a single click can read the first 250 words of your book (only registered agents can do this). With another click they can request a partial or full of your manuscript with a personalized e-mail. You can likewise search through the registered agents, get their contact/social info, and see their wish list (called Agent Cravings). Agent pages will be similar to writer pages in that they are customizable and offer useful information to querying writers.

The site’s homepage will feature the authors/pitches that have been shared the most by agents via social media, as well as the agents who’s profiles have been shared by writers the most via social media, both updated daily.

If you are ready and interested, here are the details from Samantha Fountain’s blog. Also, here are the Twitter and Facebook pages for WriterPitch.

I hope to see lots of writers on there! And I hope this inspires even more of you to finish and polish your book.


*Successful Writers Have a Special Kind of Madness — It’s Called Pitch Madness, and It’s a Thing
The Madness Continues — More Writerly Twitter Things


Last week I talked about Pitch Madness, and the Twitter version, #PitMad – two “contests” where writers can submit pitches of their finished manuscripts to groups of agents on the lookout. Turns out Twitter is a lot like an iceberg; once you start digging you find out there’s quite a lot gong on. It’s those hashtags again.

The genius of Twitter is that entire universes exist inside the cloud of tweets flitting through the ether. You just need to know the secret password to enter each of them. Last week I mentioned a few of those passwords: #QueryTips and #MSWL. If you spend any time in either of those universes, you can pick up the passwords to other related universes. There are a ton of writer-specific hashtags.


Plus you can find conversations about just your genre:


And because these opportunities are going on all the time, you can find plenty of people who offer advice and actual critiques on your pitches. I responded to two different offers and got prompt and helpful advice in both cases, and neither one cost me anything other than to agree to follow them on Twitter. Oh, yeah, besides these hashtag universes, you can also follow individuals on Twitter. For example, you could follow me at @John_Berkowitz.

The universe I have been spending the most time in lately is a very special place called #AgentMatch. Like Pitch Madness, Agent Match is a specific “contest” or opportunity for writers with ready-to-go manuscripts to hook up with agents looking for new clients. I just missed Agent Match by a few days when I discovered this hashtag. People who had submitted and had been vetted by the team had their pitches posted by category (picture books, middle grade, young adult, new adult, adult and memoirs). There the huge stable of participating agents could see them and request partials or full manuscripts from those they liked. But even though that event is over, the #AgentMatch universe is still very lively, because the creator and organizer of this even has something big up her sleeve, which will be revealed in the coming weeks. In her own words:

The overwhelmingly positive responses from Agent Match spawned a love child 🙂

As I developed Agent Match I started to realize how equally important it is to agents and writers alike to find their right match.

I’m beyond excited to announce AWESOMENESS in the making that will connect agents and writers in a fashion like never before. The big launch is roughly 2-4 weeks out. Right now under the hashtag #AgentMatch I’m running contests for writers to get their manuscript pitches into the launch. I’m taking six profile and pitch entries a day and they will be plugged into the LAUNCH for the day we go live. After that writers are free to sign up and create their own profiles for agents to search and be able to search for agents.

This is going on NOW. Get details here and watch #AgentMatch on Twitter for your chance to get in on the ground floor. And even if your don’t get in now you can get in later, and the experience of being tuned in to the #AgentMatch universe will likely unlock new passwords to other universes that will interest you in your quest for publication.

For example, I learned there is another Twitter context very much like #PitMad going on this Friday, hosted by Jolly Fish Press, called #JFPitch. Same idea as #PitMad – 140 character pitch (including #JFPitch and your genre), up to twice per hour between 9am and 6pm Mountain Standard Time on February 20th. Get the details here.

There is another one, #PitchSlam, coming in April. Details here.

Monitoring and managing all of these opportunities takes a lot of time and dedication, and you still have to have your pitch and query and synopsis (not to mention manuscript) polished and ready-to-go. But it seems to me these are a much better way to get your work in front of an eager agent (or publisher) than leaping onto the slush pile.

I guess I’ll find out.


Tweet cropped

I never paid much attention to Twitter.  Because I never really had anything important to say and I didn’t feel like I needed to know the random thoughts of any of my friends.  I signed up a few years ago so I could follow NASA during a particular mission hoping for live updates, but it was rather intrusive.  Like being constantly tapped on the shoulder and handed notes while you’re in the middle of work, or dinner, or reading a book, or whatever.  I turned it off.

However now I am a writer with a finished and polished novel manuscript (mine and my daughter’s), and suddenly I am intensely interested in finding an agent.  This turns out to me more work than writing the novel.  And the stakes are much higher.  Why?  If you don’t already now, you’ll find out when it’s time.

So I have been scouring the Interwebs for any and all information/advice/lectures/tips/examples of how to write a successful query and get it into the hands of the best agent. I guess it was inevitable that I would find myself back on Twitter.

The key to making the whole Twitter thing work is hashtags.  These “#” things.  We used to call them “the pound sign.”  You know, back when “.” was called a period, not a “dot.”  Hashtags are like keywords for facilitating searches, only the hashtag has been adopted as the key to a universal keyword system — it works for almost all social media (all that I know of) — Twitter, Facebook, LinkeIn, Tumbler, YouTube, WordPress, the list is both endless and daunting.  I discovered the power of the hashtag when I started posting these blog posts on my Facebook page and in my LinkedIn groups.  You want to hear some advice on how to query your book?  Search #QueryTips.  This is a big one on Twitter; agents and writers post tidbits of advice and links to their sites with more information.  Then I discovered #MSWL, which stands for “Manuscript Wish List” — agents and publishers tweet a brief description of the kind of book they are looking for.  Keep an eye out on February 18th, this year.

MSWL tweetMSWL tweet 2

And that’s when I discovered Pitch Madness.  Pitch Madness (#PitMad) is an event held several times a year on Twitter, where on a given day for 12 hours authors post a pitch of their book — 140 characters, including the hashtag #PitMad and one indicating the genre (#YA for young adult, #SFF for science fiction & fantasy, #R for romance, etc.).  Then any agent who wishes to participate (a growing number) monitors Twitter through a filter for #PitMad and “favorites” the pitches they want to see.  Your tweet get a favorite from an agent, and that’s an invitation to send them your query (still according to their guidelines, but now you can mention that they requested your book during Pitch Madness).  The details are here, on Brenda Drake’s website (the agent who invented this contest, I believe).  The next #PitMad event is coming up on March 11, from 8am – 8pm New York time.

The advice from past events suggests you don’t post your pitch more than 2 times per hour (or you cross the line into spam territory), and that you craft your 140-word pitch in advance.  Some people suggest you put together multiple versions, for variety.

I came up with four, for my daughter’s and my book, The Last Princess:

A homeschooler who sees faeries among us must abandon her dreams to stop a changeling from using his magic to rule both worlds. #PitMad #MG

When a 12yo learns she’s descended from trolls she must choose between saving her friend & using a spell to forget her heritage #PitMad #MG

A 12yo discovers a secret world of faeries among us & may become the last princess, unless a goblin w/sinister powers stops her #PitMad #MG

A girl who dreams of being the Faerie Princess learns she’s a troll. Will she be the Troll Princess or use a spell & be neither? #PitMad #MG

At two tweets per hour and a 12-hour window, that means you can pitch 24 times.  And unless you have nothing else to do that day, I recommend finding one of the many websites or mobile apps that will let you pre-schedule your tweets.  I found the one I use on this helpful site.  My 24 tweets are written and scheduled, just in case I forget to wake up at 5am, here in California.

By the way, in case you are looking for more ways to get your query out there, check out the other pitch contests described on Brenda Drake’s site.  There is also a yearly non-twitter version of Pitch Madness:

Pitch Madness is a contest held every March, where writers enter for a chance to win requests from the participating agents. Writers submit a 35-word (max) pitch and the first 250 words of their completed manuscript on submission day. Then a team of readers choose the top sixty (60) entries to go onto the agent round. The agents play a game against the other agents to win requests for more pages of their favorite entries. The best played agent request wins either a partial or full manuscript read of the entry.  The game for Pitch Madness changes each event. We’ve played poker, paintball, darts, and Monopoly.

2015 Pitch Madness SORRY! Edition submission window is February 20, 2015 and the agent round is March 3-4, 2015.

There is also a contest called Pitch Wars:

What is Pitch Wars? Is it another contest? Oh, no, it’s so much better. Pitch Wars is a contest where published/agented authors, editors, or industry interns choose one writer each, read their entire manuscript, and offer suggestions to shine it up for agents. The mentors also critique the writer’s pitch to get it ready for the agent round. Mentors also pick one alternate each in case their writer drops out of the contest. Writers send applications (query and first chapter of manuscript) to the four mentors that best fit their work. The mentors then read all their applications and choose the writer they want to mentor for the next two months. Then we hold an agent round with over a dozen agents making requests. Look for my upcoming blog post for more information coming at the end of July, 2014.

2015 Pitch Wars submission window will open August 17. We’ll announce the mentors’ picks on September 2, and the agent round is November 3-4.

I feel like participation in these contests will give us a much better chance of getting our story in front of agents actively seeking exactly the kind of story we’ve written.  So wish us luck.  And we hope to see you there!*


*Oh, one important piece of etiquette: if you see a pitch from a friend during #PitMad, DON’T favorite it (unless you are an agent).  This will only confuse things and get your friend’s hopes up.  You CAN, however, re-tweet it.


I’m back, dear reader, with my (hopefully) improved query letter.  I’ve sought and received a lot of advice on what I had thought was the perfect query.  Then I did so again with what I was certain was an even perfecter query letter.  This one received even more criticism than the first, a veritable blood-bath of red.

So I took a few deep breaths and rewote it from scratch, addressing (I think) all of the vagueness and confusion of the latest version.

So here it is, my soul laid bare. Or something less dramatic. After all, it’s only a few hundred words. Even if they are possibly the hardest few hundred words I’ve had to write in connection with my novel. Comments most welcome.

Dear [Agent],

I’m writing to you because I read you are seeking middle grade fantasy novels with strong female characters [or other appropriate specifics depending on the agent].

Twelve-year-old Cat Brökkenwier is a daydreamer. She sees faerie-folk among people the way her friends see animals among the clouds. But life as a homeschooler in the suburbs is about as far from her dream of being a princess in a castle as you can get. Besides, her mom says there are no such things as faeries and ogres and pixies, and if she doesn’t buckle down and get serious about her schoolwork there will be “Consequences.” So Cat becomes a model student. For almost a whole week.

That’s when a mysterious, old lady at the fair tells Cat the fae were real but they’ve blended in until they’re almost human, and Cat can see them because she’s one of them. Oh, and because she has this “fae-dar” she might be the last princess of the fae. Now Cat must earn the crown before the goblin prince with his sinister magic beats her to it. Or worse, before her mother finds out. With the help of Mr. Goldschmidt, a dwarf clock-maker, Nanny Schumacher, a brownie housekeeper, Hunter Alfson, an elfin archery instructor, and many others she meets along the way, Cat learns what it means to be fae. Then the goblin reveals the devastating truth: Cat is descended from trolls, not faeries, and nobody wants a stupid troll for a princess. With her dreams and her world shattered, Cat must make a choice: fight the goblin and his army single-handed or use his magic to forget she’s a troll … and everything she’s learned about the fae.

Complete at 66,000 words, “The Last Princess” is a stand-alone book with series potential, and will appeal to fans of Emily Windsnap or The Sisters Grimm.

Thank you for your consideration.

What do you think?  Would you buy this book?