Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The One About Querytracker and Searching for an Agent by Robert Lettrick

One of the most frequently asked questions a published author hears is: “How did you get an agent?” Before you actually acquire one, agents can seem as elusive as the Looney Toons Road Runner and as intimidating as, well, agents.

But if you've written a good book then you have a fair chance of finding representation, and fortunately there are tools online to make the search easier. 

Some of you may be in the process of finishing up your first book and aren’t sure what comes next. Or maybe you’re hesitant to start one, because the industry waters seem frightening and unnavigable. How exactly does one get an agent? Many of us started with a website called Querytracker. Mayhemer Chris Eboch mentioned the site on her list of valuable writer tools in a previous entry, but I think it deserves a little more time in the spotlight. After all, it’s where I started my search for an agent four years ago, a search that ended in representation. What is Querytracker? In my opinion, it’s the premier website for researching literary agents and familiarizing yourself with their personal tastes and quirks. It also makes for a wonderful base-camp during the query process. Let’s get started. 

1). When you arrive at, the first thing you’ll want to do is set up a free account. It’s an easy process and shouldn't take more than a few minutes. The site does offer premium membership features if you want to spend the money, but you can certainly accomplish a lot with the free services.

Okay, we’re in. let’s take a look around.
1). On the top menu bar you’ll see the option labeled “Agents”. Click on that and a sub-menu will appear. Choose “Search for literary agents”. This will take you to a page containing a comprehensive directory of reputable agents.  
2). The directory page offers a handy-dandy search engine you can use to narrow the list of agents. You'll want to query the ones who are currently representing work in your genre, and the engine lets you get pretty specific here. For example, if your book is about vampires, you can choose the “middle-grade fiction” and “horror” options. This way you can avoid sending “I Was a Middle-School Bloodsucker” to an agent who reps self-help books exclusively.
3). After you've narrowed down your list, you should be left with several agents who will theoretically be a terrific fit for your book. If you feel the list is too sparse, consider being less specific with your search parameters. 

Now that you've streamlined your list, you’re ready to research the remaining agents. The directory tells you a few things at a glance, such as which agents accept snail mail, email or both. Notice the orange word balloons? If you click on one you’ll find comments from other authors who have queried that particular agent. It’s a good way to gauge whether or not an agent has been diligent in responding to queries and if they’re regularly requesting additional material (partial or full manuscripts). 
Clicking on an agent’s name will take you to their designated page which is chock-full of great information, such as:
1). The agent’s email address
2). The agent’s agency website url
3). The agent’s Twitter page url (Following agents on Twitter will help you gauge which ones may be a good fit for you personality-wise)
4). On the agent’s menu bar, you’ll find additional gems, like the genres they represent, a list of their clients, and a statistics report generator. On the right side of the page is a list of external links which may lead you to informative interviews. Again, it helps to familiarize yourself with an agent’s personality. After all, your agent will be an important person in your life, maybe for years to come.

Once you’ve mentally laminated your list of agents to query, you’ll want to follow the external urls to their agency websites. It’s imperative that you read and follow their submission guidelines when querying. Agents can be sticklers, and you don’t want to give them any reason to reject you before they read your pages. Here are a few examples of mistakes to avoid: Writing your query in the voice of your main character, claiming your book is better than anything written by Insert Name of Bestselling Author Here, misspelling the agent’s name, submitting a full manuscript if the guidelines ask for a specific number of sample pages. It's best to avoid any unsolicited silliness. Get to the point, be professional, and—I’ll say it again for emphasis—follow the guidelines. If you’re not sure how to write a query letter, I recommend searching the internet for successful examples.
External website

1). Querytracker lets you set up a project page for each manuscript so you can toggle between them and keep track of your babies as they travel through the void.
2). You can use the provided icons to note when a book has received a response. For example, a frowny face = a rejection, an envelope with a lightning bolt means the agent has requested sample pages and you've sent them on. The one emoticon we all want to apply to our progress chart is the smiley face wearing a pair of sunglasses. That happy guy means an agent has offered representation. Querytracker provides a fun way to visually measure your progress.

The site also lets you set up alerts so you'll know when it’s time to give an agent a gentle nudge or close out a query. This feature is indispensable if your book is out with multiple agents. Agents are busy people; it may be months before they read and reply to your query. It’s easy for an author to lose track of time, but the alert feature simplifies things. 

I've gone over many of Querytracker’s basic features, but play around with the site and see what works for you. It exists to maximize your chances of a smooth and successful query process. Take advantage of it. If you’re about to start your search for an agent or if you've been on the hunt for a while, I wish you the best of luck. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Must Read Mid-Grade for 2015: January Edition by Caroline Starr Rose

There are so many incredible middle-grade titles releasing this year, I decided to dedicate my posts these next months to sharing as many as I can with you. My list is not exclusive and is actually just the tip of the iceberg. I hope these glimpses get you excited enough to ask your library to purchase a copy or buy one yourself. All descriptions are taken from

Happy Reading!

The Way to Stay in Destiny — Augusta Scattergood (January 6)*

When Theo gets off a bus in Destiny, Florida, he's left behind the only life he's ever known. Now he's got to live with Uncle Raymond, a Vietnam War vet and a loner who wants nothing to do with this long-lost nephew. Thank goodness for Miss Sister Grandersole's Rooming House and Dance School. The piano that sits in Miss Sister's dance studio calls to Theo. He can't wait to play those ivory keys. When Anabel arrives things get even more enticing. This feisty girl, a baseball fanatic, invites Theo on her quest to uncover the town's connection to old-time ball players rumored to have lived there years before. A mystery, an adventure, and a musical exploration unfold as this town called Destiny lives up to its name. 

The Terrible Two — Jory John and Mac Barnett (January 13)**

Miles Murphy is not happy to be moving to Yawnee Valley, a sleepy town that’s famous for one thing and one thing only: cows. In his old school, everyone knew him as the town’s best prankster, but Miles quickly discovers that Yawnee Valley already has a prankster, and a great one. If Miles is going to take the title from this mystery kid, he is going to have to raise his game.

It’s prankster against prankster in an epic war of trickery, until the two finally decide to join forces and pull off the biggest prank ever seen: a prank so huge that it would make the members of the International Order of Disorder proud.

In The Terrible Two, bestselling authors and friends Mac Barnett and Jory John have created a series that has its roots in classic middle-grade literature yet feels fresh and new at the same time.

All the Answers — Kate Messner (January 27)

What if your pencil had all the answers? Would you ace every test? Would you know what your teachers were thinking? When Ava Anderson finds a scratched up pencil she doodles like she would with any other pencil. But when she writes a question in the margin of her math quiz, she hears a clear answer in a voice no one else seems to hear. 

With the help of her friend Sophie, Ava figures out that the pencil will answer factual questions only – those with definite right or wrong answers – but won't predict the future. Ava and Sophie discover all kinds of uses for the pencil, and Ava's confidence grows with each answer. But it's getting shorter with every sharpening, and when the pencil reveals a scary truth about Ava's family, she realizes that sometimes the bravest people are the ones who live without all the answers...

The Truth About Twinkie Pie — Kat Yeh (January 27)

Take two sisters making it on their own: brainy twelve-year-old GiGi (short for Galileo Galilei, a name she never says out loud) and junior-high-dropout-turned-hairstylist DiDi (short for Delta Dawn). Add a million dollars in prize money from a national cooking contest and a move from the trailer parks of South Carolina to the Gold Coast of New York. Mix in a fancy new school, new friends and enemies, a first crush, and a generous sprinkling of family secrets.

That's the recipe for The Truth About Twinkie Pie, a voice-driven middle grade debut about the true meaning of family and friendship.

Inquisitor’s Mark (Eighth Day #2) — Dianne Salerni (January 27) ***

After an all-out battle in Mexico, Jax, Riley, and Evangeline have gone into hiding. There are still rogue Transitioners and evil Kin lords on the hunt for Riley, a descendant of King Arthur, and Evangeline, a powerful wizard with bloodlines to Merlin, in order to gain control over the Eighth Day.

So when Finn Ambrose, a mysterious stranger, contacts Jax claiming to be his uncle, Jax's defenses go up—especially after Jax learns that he's holding Jax's best friend, Billy, hostage. To rescue Billy and keep Riley and Evangeline out of the fray, Jax sneaks off to New York City on his own. But once there, he discovers a surprising truth: Finn is his uncle and Jax comes from a long line of Dulacs—a notoriously corrupt and dangerous Transitioner clan who want Riley dead and Evangeline as their prisoner. And family or not, the Dulacs will stop at nothing to get what they want.

* Read it and loved it.

**My son read it and loved it.

***Project Mayhem author!

What January releases are you looking forward to?

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Attic of Sand and Secrets by Medeia Sharif

I totally enjoyed reading Media Sharif’s recently released middle grade novel, The Attic of Sand and Secrets. It’s an engaging multi-cultural mystery that draws awareness to the complexities of prejudice in our society but does so in a way that isn’t preachy. The culturally sensitive conflicts between people drive the story forward at a brisk pace.

From the Back cover:

Learning-disabled Lily desires to prove herself, although her mind freezes when presented with big problems - such as her mother's abduction. With a French father and Egyptian mother, Lily worries that her mother hid her ethnicity from her French in-laws. However, there's something deeper going on. Lily finds a way into an attic that's normally locked and encounters a mysterious, moonlit Egyptian night world. There she finds Khadijah, an ancient stranger who guides her to finding clues about her mother's whereabouts. Lily becomes a sleuth in both the real world and magical desert, endangering herself as she gets closer to the kidnapper.

Medeia Sharif was born in New York City and presently calls Miami her home. She received her master's degree in psychology from Florida Atlantic University. Published through various presses, she writes middle grade and young adult short stories and novels. In addition to being a writer, she's a public school teacher.

As a side note, I read and loved Media's first book, the well-reviewed, Bestest. Ramadan. Ever., when it first came out in 2011.

She is also the author of the young adult novels:

HOT PINK IN THE CITY, Prizm Books/Torquere Press, 2015
52 LIKESEvernight Teen, 2015
VITAMINS AND DEATH, Prizm Books/Torquere Press, 2014
SNIP, SNIP REVENGEEvernight Teen, 2014

You can visit Medeia at her website to learn more about her.

Thanks for stopping by!!!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Feeling Stuck Creatively? by: Marissa Burt

Chapa Traffic Jam in Maputa, by A Verdade
licensed for re-use at Creative Wikimedia commons
For me, the term writer's block is a synonym for perfectionism. I feel blocked when I'm waiting for the perfect thing: whether it's the perfect plot-point, a perfectly well-rounded character, or even the perfect writing environment (Hello, Person-in-the-comfy-chair-at-Starbucks: you are in my spot!)

I've learned to not freak out when I'm feeling stuck, and instead remind myself that every step, however small, is a step forward for my writing. So here are my favorite things to do when I'm feeling stuck:

1. Breathe in the story. I often do this when I'm brainstorming a new project. I will immerse myself in the story world. Sometimes that means checking out all the steampunk movies I can find from the library. Or cooking my character's favorite food. Or attending an event my character would be interested in. For my current work-in-progress, I've been channelling my inner Disney Channel and spent a whole afternoon re-watching THE PRINCESS DIARIES 1&2. I don't approach these activities looking for something specific to put in my story - I mainly want to be inspired by the atmosphere of my story.

2. Play with the setting. I like to re-visit kindergarten days and pull out old magazines, scissors, and paste to make collages. But nowadays, there's Pinterest, and it's super easy to accomplish this same goal by pinning images that inspire my setting.

3. Interview the characters. There are hundreds of templates online for character interviews. I always drag my feet on this one, because it seems so silly, but then when I actually do it: it's amazing! My characters go from flat and frenetic to motivated, well-rounded individuals.

4. Rework a specific scene. If the plot is stale or forced, I'll try re-writing the scene from a different angle, attempting a different character's point of view or 1st person instead of 3rd. I think like an actor that never performs a scene the same way twice and change setting or time of day or supporting characters to see where that takes the story. I'll ask What If? and Why? questions and recall Peter Jackson's advice in the special features on THE LORD OF THE RINGS DVDs (Yes, I've watched all however-many-hours-of-them. Twice). Is this scene moving the story forward? If not, it gets cut.

Beautiful. Isn't it?
5. Raise the stakes. I imagine the worst possible outcome would be for my main character at the moment, and then write that scene. Poor characters. I'm sorry. Here. You can have the cushy Starbucks chair.

6. Write or Die. Besides being an awesome bumper-sticker phrase, this is my go-to website on the days when I loathe my story and think every plot-point is boring, every character stale and carboard-y. I feel like no one will ever want to read my writing - I don't even want to read it. Then I click over to Write or Die (the freebie trial version is awesome), and let pressure do its thing. Some of my most unexpected plot twists have come from Dr. Wicked's Writing Lab.
And all these things may not add to my word count, but they do move my story forward. They are the  work of writing. So get rid of the perfectionism, and aim for perseverance instead. Every step, however small, is a step forward on your writing journey.

How about you, Mayhemers? What are your favorite go-to tips for getting un-stuck?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

On Blogger's Block by Joy McCullough-Carranza

(This is my brain in playwright mode.)
Since I joined Project Mayhem, I have had plenty of ideas for blog posts, usually a couple months ahead. This month was the first time it snuck up on me and I felt completely blank. Absolutely nothing to share. Blogger’s block, if you will. (I rather fervently don’t believe in writer’s block, mind you, but blogger’s block seems to be a thing, based on the philosophy that what I experience must be true, anyway.)

Part of this is because my mind is not on middle grade fiction these days. Honestly, I’m kind of peeved with middle grade fiction. (It’s not really the books themselves. I still love the books. But still.)

And part of it is because my playwright persona is in full swing, with a world premiere of the play of my heart opening in February. It turns out my playwright brain works very differently from my MG brain. In fact I thought I would have a first draft of a new novel by March 1st, but as it turns out, my brain is beginning work on a new play instead. Because it’s in playwright mode and it doesn’t shift easily.

So I’m in the awkward place of needing to blog about middle grade as a Project Mayhem team member, but not really having anything to say about it. In grappling with how to deal with that, I thought I’d just be honest. After all, it seems we’re mostly writers here. We’ve all had those days—or longer—when we’ve felt we really didn’t have much to say.

My personal belief about writer’s block is that there are certainly periods of time when what we write is utter garbage—sometimes extended periods of time—but that it is always possible to writing something. And so I have blogged something.

I hope by the time my next Project Mayhem slot rolls around, I will have found something more substantive and interesting to say. Thanks for hanging in there with me!

Do you believe in writer’s block? How about blogger’s block? What do you say when you don’t feel you have anything to say, or is it sometimes better to just be quiet for a while?