Thursday, August 20, 2015

Queries, Synopses, and Submissions, Oh My!

Once upon a time I wrote a YA contemporary novel. Into this novel I put equal measures of pain, love, angst, and joy. But none of those measures equaled the amount of each that I experienced as I wrote and rewrote and revised the query letter and synopsis and pitch!! Why, oh why is it harder to write synopses and queries than it is to write the whole damn book!? But then comes the hardest part of all, the part that requires the thickest skin available, the part that plays with your head in ways few other of life’s experiences can even approach.

Yes, my manuscript is out on submission. {That’s really scary music you hear playing!}

If you have never experienced this joy, here’s a little list of what you can expect when you send your book baby out into the world:

  1. First, you have to research, and research some more, the agents that might be a good fit for your book and YOU. Remember, you are hoping to have a long-term relationship with this person. Of course, they have to represent the genre/subgenre you’ve written. Weeks are spent digging through big, thick books of agents, websites of agents/agencies, blogs, tweets, interviews while you zero in on the best ones to query.
  2. You look over your list of possible agents and pick five to send your query letter to. You read, reread, and make notes to make sure you are following the agency’s requirements to a tee.
  3. You force your shaking hand to press SEND.
  4. You wait.
  5. You wait some more.
  6. You’re getting really good at waiting.
  7. You get an email from one of the agents!!
  8. It’s a rejection.
  9. You wait.
  10. You get an email from another agent!! She wants a partial!
  11. Even though you’ve rewritten your manuscript so many times you can recite all 75,000 words from memory, you go over the requested pages with a fine toothcomb one more time before preparing it to send off to the agent. Of course you read and reread her requirements for HOW it is to be sent, following them oh so carefully.
  12. You thought your hand was shaking when you sent the query?! HA! This time you’re lucky to get that cursor anywhere near the SEND button.
  13. You wait.
  14. You think that maybe you should send a few more queries out—after all someone liked it enough to make a request for pages.
  15. Go back to number one and repeat.
  16. Wait.

Of course, there’s hopefully a Happily Ever After ending to this tale, but I’m not to that part yet. I only write what I know, after all, and this is what I know so far.

It’s time for me to go do some waiting now. Oh, and work on the next novel! That’s the most important part. Keep writing while you wait!!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015


Whether you’re lying on a sandy beach, sitting by a mountain lake, or just hanging out on the lounge chair in the backyard, summer is made for the Two R’s: Relaxing and Reading. We’ve chosen our own TOP TEN favorite summer reads—some are old, some are newer, but all are perfect for lazy days in the sun. [Note: It is also permissible to read these indoors. The point is there should be no heavy lifting.]

Sarah’s Summer Picks:

1.  ANYTHING by Kasie West!!! All of her books are incredibly sweet and fun and perfect “by the pool” reads. And bonus, her new book THE FILL-IN BOYFRIEND just came out in May!

2.  CINDERS & SAPPHIRES by Leila Rasheed. This historic fiction book is the perfect read for anyone needing a Downton Abbey fix! Full of intrigue, romance and incredible characters! I was pleasantly surprised by this series and couldn’t put them down!

3.  THESE BROKEN STARS by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner. If you’re looking for an adventurous and romantic escape from reality, this is it! The stunning Sci-Fi world of Lilac and Tarver is one of my absolute favorites!

4.  THE ORPHAN QUEEN by Jodi Meadows. For something to get your pulse racing, check out this first book in an incredible new fantasy series. Plenty of twists and turns to keep the pages turning.

Heather’s Summer Picks:

1.  My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick. This was such a great book! Amazing characters and the story! Ugh! Love, love, love Samantha and Jase. This is perfect beach read! 

2.  Breathe, Annie, Breathe by Miranda Kenneally. This book is the perfect amount of romance, heartbreak and determination! The chemistry between Annie and Jeremiah is amazing and watching her grow and change so much as a person in this one book was unforgettable. I will read and re-read this book a million times and NEVER tire of Annie's story.

3.  Rook by Sharon Cameron. If you're looking for a book with a fearless heroine, prison breaks, tons of suspense all wrapped up in a secret identity. Then, look no further than this! This book will grab you, reel you in and never let you go!

Monica’s Summer Picks:

1. THE SUMMER I TURNED PRETTY by Jenny Han. Don’t let the ‘turned pretty’ turn you off—it isn’t about that, it’s about one particular, life-defining summer. There’s always something special about that summer when we are about sixteen or seventeen years old. It was special for Belly—for many reasons. Romantic, fun, and heartbreaking all rolled into one great book! Oh, and it happens at the BEACH!

2. JUST ONE DAY by Gayle Forman. Love this book! Love its sequel, Just One Year. It’s summer. You’re wrapping up a post high school graduation tour of Europe. One day you’re in Stratford-Upon-Avon and you meet a gorgeous, interesting guy. He takes you to Paris, for JUST ONE DAY. It’s the day that changes your whole life. Sigh…pass the sunscreen…

3. SHIVER by Maggie Stiefvater. The book that made me fall in love with all things Maggie Stiefvater. For Grace’s friend Sam, summer is very special—it is the only time he is human, because when the temperatures dip he becomes a wolf. So romantic. So heartbreaking. So beautiful. The first book in the Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy.

And, dang, my friends Sarah and Heather beat me to a couple of books I WAS going to recommend—the Kasie West books, and MY LIFE NEXT DOOR by Huntley Fitzpatrick. I want to add my shout-out for these books to theirs! So good! And, YES, ladies, I will be reading THE WINNER’S CURSE by Marie Rutkoski! In fact it is sitting right here next to me and my glass of iced tea…

Happy Summer Reading!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

QUERY LETTERS: Why Are They So Dang Hard To Write?


Why is this so hard?! I’ve done this before. I’ve successfully done this before so why am I practically in tears?

Query Letters.

There aren’t very many two-word combinations that strike so much terror to a writer’s heart.

I’m writing a query letter. And dang if query writing isn’t like some great mystery of the universe, some massive puzzle the solution to which is held by very few people in the world. ARGGHH!!

The reason for those arghs is that it seems each agent and editor has her/his own idea of what makes a good query letter. No two agents or editors like the same thing in the same way and in the same format. And from what I’ve recently seen, each agent has different ideas on different days of what makes a stellar query! One of my dream agents has several of her favorite query letters posted on a site, along with her comments on what made each great. I was so thrilled to find this Holy Grail, but then my hopes were completely dashed when I discovered that there was no consistency to what she liked. Argghhh…

My first ever query letter, the successful one, was to editors of small publishers, not agents. And to be perfectly honest that book and those query letters were for practice purposes. I was LEARNING how to write a novel and LEARNING how to write synopses and query letters. That my first effort was a success was surprising to say the least. All but one editor requested either a partial or a full, and all sent glowing rejections, except for the one who offered me a contract.

But agents are a different story, and they are making me very nervous. I believe an author’s chances of making it onto an NBA team are better than landing an agent.

Of course we all have our short list of dream agents, the ones we can only hope to one day have represent us. Which raises the next unanswerable question: Do I send queries to each of them in the first round, or spread it out a bit, mixing them into rounds with second and third tier choices? If the query fails, I want to know it and be able to rewrite it before I’ve sent it to all those first choice agents. Argghh…

Now do you see why those two words are so dreaded among writers?

If you want to further educate yourself (or confuse yourself depending on how you’re feeling about it) on query letter writing there are fortunately many good sources online. I just came across a fabulous post by dream agent Sarah Davies of the dream agency Greenhouse Literary. I like this post because she makes it clear and straightforward—there is little alchemy involved. At the end of this post I’ll give you links to Ms. Davies’ post as well as other useful sites.

Now I really need to get back to writing my query letter. And make sure it reflects the voice of my book. And make sure I include a blurb that makes the agent want to read more. And make sure I have enough biographical info but not too much. And, and, and. Sigh…

I highly recommend each of these sites for useful, helpful information on query writing:

Writer’s Digest—60 examples of successful query letters:

Query Shark:

Writer’s Digest’s Chuck Sambuchino on Query Letter Writing:

Good luck on your query letter!!

Friday, May 8, 2015

Book Review: THE SHADOW CABINET by Maureen Johnson

Things I think you might need to know about this particular review:
1.     Yes, I recently binge read FIVE Maureen Johnson books, and I have no problem admitting that!
2.     This review is for the third book in the Shades of London series, The Shadow Cabinet and while it isn’t my FAVORITE in the series, the series overall deserves a hearty I LOVE THESE BOOKS!
3.     Once again we have that dicey situation where I have to tell you about this book, and this series, without GIVING AWAY ANY SPOILERS! Dang, I hate that responsibility! So, I will skirt around that issue, while telling you in very GENERAL terms why these are fun books to read.

Here’s the official synopsis, from Goodreads:
Rory and her friends are reeling from a series of sudden and tragic events. While racked with grief, Rory tries to determine if she acted in time to save a member of the squad. If she did, how do you find a ghost? Also, Rory’s classmate Charlotte has been kidnapped by Jane and her nefarious organization. Evidence is uncovered of a forty-year-old cult, ten missing teenagers, and a likely mass murder. Everything indicates that Charlotte’s in danger, and it seems that something much bigger and much more terrible is coming.

Time is running out as Rory fights to find her friends and the ghost squad struggles to stop Jane from unleashing her spectral nightmare on the entire city. In the process, they'll discover the existence of an organization that underpins London itself—and Rory will learn that someone she trusts has been keeping a tremendous secret.

The Shades of London series is a fun paranormal with a historical twist. Because that’s what I like to write, it doesn’t get any better than that as far as I’m concerned! UNLESS IT IS MAUREEN JOHNSON WRITING IT!

She is so very funny in real life, and her humor shines through in these books. Plus, the character development is fantastic. The protagonist, Rory, is a smart, courageous, sometimes sassy girl—I LOVE that! She’s a ghost hunter—a member of a squad of ghost hunters—, and by this third book she has a special power that allows her to, uh, assist ghosts on their way to the next realm should that be necessary. As you read the books you come to feel like you know the rest of the cast of characters. And in this book there is a new character that I LOVE—an intelligent, kickass female who could have a series of books of her own, should Ms. Johnson ever decide to do that.

The second book in the series ended with a cliffhanger to end all cliffhangers and I don’t know how people who read Book Two, The Madness Underneath, when it first came out were able to wait for the third book. Seriously. Fortunately, before I started Book Two I read that there was a cliffhanger and I ran out and got this new book before I finished the second one. I STRONGLY suggest you do the same if you’re about to start reading this series from the beginning.

The first two books have a little romance in them, so some kissing, but there’s little or no kissing in this third book. I know some readers have been unhappy about that. But I didn’t say that there’s no romance or wishing to kiss, just no actual kissing.

VERY PERSONAL ADMISSION WARNING:  This is the first book that I’ve read that’s had ghosts in it for a couple of years. I’ve always loved ghost books, until I had a little ghost issue of my own, and I swore off them for a while. My resident ghost has been quiet for a few months so when I picked up the first book in the series, The Name of the Star, I was feeling comfortable enough to start reading something with a ghost. So glad I did—I loved the ghosts in these books, both the good and not-so-good.

Now go start reading Maureen Johnson’s The Shades of London series!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Just Do (it)...A Few Inspirational Quotes From Chuck Wendig


It comes in many forms. A radio interview, a song, the shower, random things you hear other people say while eavesdropping in the line at Starbucks and OTHER WRITERS. What you do with it is your choice. You might say…write a novel. Or, start to write a novel. But what do you do when the momentum slips away?

Last week Sarah gave me an AMAZING book that she happened to walk by at Barnes and Nobel and couldn’t leave without purchasing. The Kick-Ass Writer by Chuck Wendig.

Today it is my pleasure to share with you some of the passages that have lit a fire under me! Remember these are just my FAVORITES this whole book is jam-packed with amazing/funny/motivation tools that make you laugh (or cry) but also inspire you to sit your behind down, open your computer and put some letters on a page!

1.      Quit Quitting

It’s all too easy to start something and not finish it. Remember when I said you were a legion? It’s true, but if you want to be separated from 90 percent of other writes (or “writers” depending on how pedantic you choose to be) out there, then just finish the sh*% that you started. Stop abandoning your children. You wouldn’t call yourself a runner if you quit every race halfway through. Finishing is a good start. Stop looking for the escape hatch; pretend your work in progress just doesn’t have one.

This passage is by far my favorite and Mr. Wendig can’t say it any better!

2.      Go to Real Places, Look at Them, and Take Notes

Anywhere you go, note the details of the place. Like with fiction, note most of all those details out of place – from this not only will you get good descriptions for your work, but you might even nab a story idea or two out of it. Bonus: Hey, you get to travel!

I love this passage for many reasons but the main is that one of my favorite past-times is people/place watching. It gives me license to just stare at things, use them, and get inspired! 

3.      (Last but certainly not least): You Have 15,000 Chances to Screw It Up

But, you also have as many chances to make it sing. What I’m, saying is, the average novel is 15,000 sentences. Each on can’t be poetry. Find your own tricks to write a kick-ass sentence from the get-go – a sentence that sings, a sentence that bites. A sentence that conveys information clearly and without confusion and with a cadence beating in its heart.

This is a great nugget of advice because it helps you (the writer) break down your work into one tiny sentence at a time. It helps to take the BIG PICTURE and break it down into all the little tiny pixels and look at each one at a time. 

The Kick-Ass Writer is so full of amazing little nuggets and these three are just a taste of the amazingness in this book. If you need a kick-in-the-pants/a fire lit in your belly/or just to laugh-out-loud run don’t walk to your nearest book store and pick up this gem!

One last note to Mr. Wendig: Sarah and I have had so much fun reading this we decided that this book should be made into a daily calendar, what better way to start your day then with an insightful, funny, truthful and inspiring quote!

You should also check out Mr. Wendig's blog Terrible Minds! Here's the link:

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Book Review: THE STORYSPINNER by Becky Wallace

I usually keep a pretty close eye on what's coming up in YA, but somehow this one slipped right by me! Thankfully other authors and bloggers started spreading the word because THE STORYSPINNER by Becky Wallace is a YA fantasy NOT to be missed!

Here's the description from Goodreads:

Drama and danger abound in this fantasy realm where dukes play a game for the throne, magical warriors race to find the missing heir, and romance blossoms where it is least expected.

In a world where dukes plot their way to the throne, a Performer’s life can get tricky. And in Johanna Von Arlo’s case, it can be fatal. Expelled from her troupe after her father’s death, Johanna is forced to work for the handsome Lord Rafael DeSilva. Too bad they don’t get along. But while Johanna’s father’s death was deemed an accident, the Keepers aren’t so sure.

The Keepers, a race of people with magical abilities, are on a quest to find the princess—the same princess who is supposed to be dead and whose throne the dukes are fighting over. But they aren’t the only ones looking for her. And in the wake of their search, murdered girls keep turning up—girls who look exactly like the princess, and exactly like Johanna.

With dukes, Keepers, and a killer all after the princess, Johanna finds herself caught up in political machinations for the throne, threats on her life, and an unexpected romance that could change everything.

THE STORYSPINNER has everything that makes a book/series an instant favorite for me: fast-paced action, courtly intrigue, tension-filled romance, and a little magic! All set in a renaissance-style fantasy realm.
We meet main character, Johanna who is hard-working, feisty and complex and who I liked instantly. She loves her family more than anything and in the wake of her father’s death, everything she does is for them. Lord Rafael DeSilva – or Rafi – wants to do the right thing by his people even if at times he comes off as stubborn and arrogant, especially around Johanna. And their banter-filled chemistry was perfection. And on the other side of the wall (think Stardust!) is a whole other world full of magic and people known as the Keepers. We follow a group of four Keepers who cross the wall in search of a lost princess and find plenty of danger and mystery along the way.
This book has multiple POV’s from chapter to chapter which is usually a roadblock for me as it can be difficult to track at times and borderline annoying because ultimately there will be something happening with one character/storyline that is so much less interesting and you just want to skip it and get back to the good stuff. I was afraid of this happening in the beginning – jumping around from Johanna to Rafi to the Keepers, etc – but really, Wallace keeps the reader engaged and focused the whole time so that I knew exactly what was happening and I was fully sucked in no matter whose perspective. If you’re like me and multiple (like more than 2) POVs is not your thing, I would strongly nudge you to give it a shot with THE STORYSPINNER.
I don’t know what it is, but some books contain this thing, this element of magic you can’t quite put your finger on that causes you to fall in love with it. Not real magic necessarily, or maybe it is, who knows? But whatever that thing is, THE STORYSPINNER has it. I loved everything about it and when it was over I just wanted to pick it up and read it all over again. That’s when you know it’s a good one!
Check it out and if you love it, tell a friend. Or tell 50. Trust me, authors will thank you.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015


Last week we established the ugly truth that if you are an author, regardless of how you are published or by whom, you have to do all, or at least a good portion, of your own marketing and promotion. Everyone. No one is exempt.

Today I’ll share with you some of the things you should be doing to promote yourself and your books. Some of these suggestions work better than others. Some of these suggestions work for SOME authors better than for others.

Why not one size fits all? That can’t work because we are individuals with our own personalities and abilities. Authors in general tend to be more introverted. (THERE ARE MANY EXCEPTIONS TO THIS RULE—I’M SPEAKING IN VERY GENERAL TERMS.) We spend our days or our free time in front of a computer or at a typewriter or with pen and paper and write stories. We are alone, or if in a public place we are sitting by ourselves. Wherever we are, we are quietly weaving words into stories we hope people will want to read.

Because so many of us are introverts, the world of social media, where so much of our promotion takes place, can be a daunting, uncomfortable world. You don’t even have to be an introvert for it to be an unsettling place—you could be like me. No one who knows me would ever call me an introvert. BUT, I am a very private person. I hate putting my life out in public. Social media requires a level of intimacy I’m simply uncomfortable with. But I do it. And here’s the disclaimer: I could do it much, much better. So as we go through some of these things I must say, “Do as I say, NOT as I do.”

So, in no particular order, EXCEPT FOR NUMBER ONE, ten ways you can promote yourself and your work:

  1. WRITE THE NEXT BOOK. I’ve heard this so many times and from so many people that it must be true. When you think about it, it makes sense. The more you have out there, the more opportunity for readers to find you. Once they find you they will want to read everything you’ve written. A couple of caveats: they should be within the same genre and using the same author name. Most importantly of all, make sure it is a great book that is well written. If you are self-publishing you MUST pay for professional editing and an effective cover. Nothing turns off readers faster than a poorly edited book. And no, you can’t do it yourself. Your book deserves fresh eyes doing the editing. Ditto on cover art.

  1. NETWORK. Everything else on this list could come under this heading, because all social media is about networking. But here I’m talking more of the face-to-face type. Join writers groups. Attend workshops and conferences where you will not only meet other authors, but will have the opportunity to meet agents and editors. I haven’t done so well on some of the items on this list, but I feel like I’ve given this one a good effort. Best of all, it’s fun. You get to meet new people and make new friends. Win, Win.

  1. BLOG. This can be your own blog, or guest spots on other blogs, but you should be doing some kind of blogging. It is best if your blog is NOT about writing. My alter ego made that mistake. Yes, if you are an expert on the craft then by all means we would all love to read what you have to share with us. But if you are like my alter ego, just a fledgling writer, don’t write about your writing journey. Find something that you are an expert on, or that ties into your book genre. An excellent example is the romance writer Delilah Marvelle. She writes sexy historical romances. Her blog is well-researched, interesting posts on sex through history. If someone is interested in unusual historical sex facts they might also be interested in reading her books. It works, and it’s a fun blog to visit. You should google her after you finish reading this!

  1. FACEBOOK.  If you are a writer, you should have an author page on Facebook. It is a type of business page—you can’t friend people from it, but people can come to your page and LIKE you. You post things about your books, things related to your books, your tour stops if you’re on a physical or cyber tour, etc. Several months ago those people who liked your page would get an alert in their timeline any time you posted something new. Here’s the WARNING: Facebook no longer does that. They will send it to some people’s timelines, but if you want to go to all of the people who have liked you, then you have to pay a fee. This has made a lot of people grumpy.

  1. FACEBOOK GROUPS. Facebook has ‘groups’ where people can go to share information on a given topic. For example, I’m writing a book that takes place in my old hometown so I’ve joined a group for people who want to share memories of that city. There are also groups where authors can promote their books. Cool, huh? I’ve used this several times, and I think it has some limited effect on sales.

  1. TWITTER.  This is one that comes under the ‘take your choice of what works for you’ category. I find Twitter the easiest to use, and if I had more time to devote to it I think I would  a) have more fun using it, and b) be more effective using it. Everyone is on it to some extent—some WAY more than others. It’s very straightforward, but the thing authors need to remember is that this is an opportunity to network, not to just blast the world with pleas to buy your latest book. Networking is where I’d like to improve—but again that takes time and commitment, which have been in short supply lately. IF you use Twitter, make sure to make use of the hashtags, which help your post make its way to people who share a similar interest with you.

  1. TUMBLR, PINTEREST, INSTAGRAM etc.  These are more of the ‘take your choice of what works for you’ category. I don’t use these yet, though I’m investigating adding Tumblr to my list of things I’m not doing well. If you are a YA author you should be using Tumblr and maybe Instagram. YA readers are still on Twitter, but I’ve read that their numbers have decreased as other venues have caught their attention.

  1. WEBSITE.  If you are pre-published and don’t have a blog, then you should certainly have a website where readers can learn about what you’re working on, what interests you, your genre, etc. If you are published you must have a website, regardless of whether or not you have a blog. (The blog can be part of the website.) Make it clear, easily read, easily navigated, and keep it updated. Once your readers or potential readers find you at your .com they should have reasons to want to return.

  1. SEE NUMBER ONE.  This can’t be repeated often enough. Write. Write. Repeat. Write the next book. FINISH it! Get it to your agent or editor. If self-publishing, get that professional editing and cover art. Make it the best book it can be. Then REPEAT.

  1.  WHEN SHOULD I START DOING THESE THINGS YOU’VE OUTLINED, MONICA?  You should be building a presence for yourself the minute you think you might want to write a book. Or better yet, months before you even think to think about writing a book. In other words, the SOONER THE BETTER! Pick one or two things that feel comfortable for you and do them well. Network with other authors, potential readers, people from other countries, even people who you don’t think would ever have any interest in what you write because you never know. One fun thing I’ve enjoyed doing is starting conversations on Twitter with people who like a favorite TV show of mine, or a favorite actor. I use the hashtags for the show or actor and then conversations and cyber friendships get started. One day one of these cyber friends might want to buy your book!

These are just a handful of ideas for author self-promotion. I know there are hundreds of other ways authors promote themselves and their books. We would love to hear what works for you, so if you have a moment please leave a comment. You know, start a conversation and do some networking!!