Monday, July 22, 2013

Success Story: Peggy Eddleman and her MG Novel SKY JUMPERS

Hello everyone!  This week I'm interviewing Peggy Eddleman, whose MG debut Sky Jumpers will be released on Sept 24 by Random House Books for Younger Readers!  I first encountered Peggy's success story when she appeared as a guest in Brandon Sanderson's 2012 lecture series (yes, I've raved about those often).  Peggy's savvy querying advice really helped me a lot in my own search for an agent, so I definitely owe her one! Here's the dish on her fabulous sounding novel and her writing journey.

Hi Peggy! Congrats on the upcoming release of SKY JUMPERS! What's the genre and one-sentence pitch?

Thanks so much, Maya! It’s a middle grade adventure about a girl living in a post-apocalyptic town where she can’t do the most important thing— invent, but when bandits invade, inventing won’t save them, but the daring and risk-taking that usually gets her into trouble just might.

What inspired the premise?

The setting. My family and I were flying home from Disney World on a cloudy day, and I kept staring out the window at the wrong side of the clouds, imagining how fun it would be to jump into them and have them slow my fall, like jumping into water. Then the Bomb’s Breath was born— a deadly band of air 15 feet thick (a side effect from the green bombs) that covers their crater-valley.

Was this the first novel you wrote, or did you drawer a few projects first?

I have a drawer full of four awesome-but-bad-in-their-own-special-way manuscripts. They got me where I am, so I’ll always love them in all their stinky glory. (In case you’re wondering— no, I didn’t query any of them.)

How did you initially pitch to your agent, Sara Crowe (contest, conference, query)?

I pitched to her at a writer’s conference (LDStorymakers). It was my first live pitch, and it was SO SCARY! My voice shook, my hands sweated, and a third of the words fell out of my head before they made it to my mouth. Luckily, agents understand where we are coming from when we pitch, and don’t hold those kinds of things against us. :) My manuscript was finished and heavily revised at that point, but it wasn’t 100%. I pitched to her in May, but didn’t send it to her until I started querying in September. Agents are incredibly patient when it comes to waiting for an ms after a conference pitch.

I completely agree.  Can you tell us a little bit about your querying strategy?

I didn’t start querying until I had a ton of critique partners read my ms and it was in the very best shape I could possibly make it. Then I spent 5 months writing my query. No joke. I worried that if it wasn’t as close to perfect as possible, I might lose a chance with the agent who would be perfect for me. I know lots of people like to “test the waters” to see if their query is working, but honestly, I knew I couldn’t make my query any better, so testing the waters was irrelevant. So I just went straight to the top. I signed up for Publisher’s Marketplace (which I think still might have a 5 day free membership), and had it show me the top dealmakers for middle grade. Not every uberly-incredible agent will be listed as a top dealmaker, but it’s a good place to start. Then I researched each one on Literary Rambles (LOVE that site!) until I had a list of my dream agents and was able to personalize each query. Then I took a deep breath and clicked send.

How did you feel when Ms. Crowe offered representation?

Peaceful. Ha! Not the answer you expected, huh? I had another offer of representation from an agent I had cold-queried. Both were in the top 3 on PM for my genre, and both had some major skills. It was a very difficult decision. Then my husband pointed out that when ever I talked to/about the other agent, I was stressed, felt inadequate, and was full of worry. Whenever I talked to/about Sara, I was happy, excited for the future, confident, and calm. So when I said yes to Sara, I felt peaceful. Like it was the most right decision ever.

How did the submission process for SKY JUMPERS go?

Fast. I had hunkered down for the long haul and pushed it out of my mind, because I already knew that those things take months. So I was completely caught by surprise when I got a call after six days.

What has surprised you the most with the publication process?

That the Insider Information doors aren’t opened, and all the info you ever needed to know doesn’t just flow to you. It takes a lot of figuring things out as you go. I am incredibly grateful to be a part of the Lucky 13s, because when you take the little bit of info we each know and add it all together, it makes for a much clearer picture of everything. (Plus, it’s a great support to be around people who are going through the same things!) I highly suggest becoming part of a group of other newbie authors when you get a book deal. It makes it feel like you’re not fumbling around in the dark.

What was the biggest challenge you faced after closing the deal?

Book 2. Book twos are beasts. Beasts that are hard to get just right, and that frequently have to be rewritten. It has taken a lot to tame that beast.

Did you have a web presence before signing with Random House?

Yes. I had a blog that I had invested a lot of time in before querying.

How did you build your web presence?

By writing consistent content with the blog reader in mind, and by visiting a LOT of other blogs. Not only did it help to build my web presence, but it made me feel a part of the writing world, and introduced me to some amazing writing friends, many of whom I’ve been able to meet in real life. I don’t think that blogging made a huge difference to my publisher, but it made a huge difference to me.

What are you most looking forward to post-release?

Oddly: school visits.

What's your current favorite MG book and why do you love it?

Gregor the Overlander. ‘cause it’s amazing... like my son Cory. (Haha! My son typed that while I wasn’t looking, and now I can’t bring myself to delete it.) I love Gregor because it was full of incredible conflict and interesting characters and a very unique setting. And because it completely captivated my kids. We tore through the entire series in record time. It’s one of the few series that my kids have asked me to re-read to them.

What advice do you have for other aspiring writers?

I truly believe that there is a perfect publishing path for everyone, whether it’s Big 5, a medium-sized publisher, a small press, self-publishing, or if it’s strictly for hobby and will forever stay hidden in the quiet corners of your hard drive. Each one has its own set of pros and cons. Figure out what your perfect path is, and then plow forward with that goal in mind. Don’t let anything stop you. Not fear of your own inadequateness, or jealousy over someone else’s path, or obstacles that stand in your way, or naysayers, or even the sheer difficultness of the task. Just remind yourself that THIS is the perfect path for you regardless of what’s perfect for anyone else, and that YOU CAN DO IT.

Fantastic answers, Peggy! Thanks so much for your time! And I can't wait to read SKY JUMPERS!

And thank you so much for having me, and for coming up with such great questions! I have loved being here.

To learn more about Peggy Eddleman, you can find her online at the links below:

Monday, July 15, 2013

Success Story: Krista Van Dolzer and THE REGENERATED MAN

Hello everyone! I'm delighted to continue our success story interviews with Krista Van Dolzer, MG author.  Her amazing blog is a must for aspiring writers: full of agent interviews, pitch opportunities, and more.  When I heard that Krista's novel THE REGENERATED MAN sold, I was so thrilled because she's done so much for the writing community, and also because it sounds awesome. Here's the scoop on her novel, her blog, and her writing journey!

Congrats on your recent sale of THE REGENERATED MAN to G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers! What's the genre and one-sentence pitch?

THE REGENERATED MAN is an MG historical with a dash of science fiction. As for a one-sentence pitch ... I never wrote one of those:) So I'll just refer you to the summary on my blog if you want to know more.

How did you get the idea to write about a regenerated Japanese WWII veteran?

The first line came to me as I was falling asleep one night: "Mama said it was plum foolishness to leave the dried blood on my cousin's dog tags." (It actually used to be worded a little less simply than that, but you get the idea.) I wondered what sort of book would start with that sort of first line, and THE REGENERATED MAN was born (though I usually just call him Steve).

I think the idea of making the regenerated man Japanese probably stemmed from two places: First, I wanted to make sure he looked different from all the other characters in the book, and second, I wanted to pay homage to my maternal grandparents. My grandfather was Filipino and served in the United States Army during World War II. After the war, he married my grandmother, a blond-haired, blue-eyed Utahn. I've always admired them for loving each other at a time when most people frowned on interracial marriages.

I've been a fan of your blog, for quite some time now. The agent interviews are incredibly useful, and the Agent Inbox is a unique and fun way to gain insight into how agents think. Did you always envision that it would concentrate on uniting agents and authors?

Not really. After I'd been blogging for a few months, I decided I wanted to do something to boost readership. I contacted a few agents about doing interviews, and lo and behold, a few of those few said yes:) Over the years, I've just tried to keep the blog's content fresh and useful. I imagine it will continue to evolve over time.

How quickly did your blog take off, after you began interviewing agents?

I distinctly remember I had twelve followers on the day I posted my first interview. (Thanks for saying yes, Joanna Volpe!) That was back in February of 2010, if I'm not mistaken. For the first year or so, I worked really hard to post a new interview every week, and it only took a few months for people to catch on. By the end of that year, I'd say I had somewhere around 200 followers, but that's a total guess.

Do you think your social media presence helped with attracting an agent, and eventually a publisher?

I don't think my social media presence in and of itself made my writing more attractive to agents, but the relationships I built definitely helped. By the time Kate offered, she and I had been e-mailing back and forth for years on interviews, blog contests, and requested manuscripts. I already felt like I knew her and what it would be like to work with her, which is one of the main reasons I accepted her offer.

How did you initially pitch to your agent, Kate Schafer Testerman (contest, conference, query)?

Cold query. As I said, we'd corresponded quite a bit in the past, but I still sent my query and first three pages to her query inbox, just like her submission guidelines specified.

How did you feel when Ms. Testerman offered representation?

Thrilled. Shocked. Mostly shocked. A few days before she offered, she started following me on Twitter, then sent me a tweet that made it clear she was reading. (Hint: If Kate starts following you on Twitter, that's a REALLY good sign.) I spent the rest of the week trying to convince myself to stay calm and not get my hopes up, and by the end of the week, I'd actually decided she was going to pass. When her e-mail popped up in my inbox, I literally burst into tears. But the news was much better than I'd anticipated:)

Did you have any previous projects that you either queried or went through the submission process before THE REGENERATED MAN that didn't sell? If so, what did you learn from the experience?

As I implied above, I queried three manuscripts that never snagged agents. The first time, I had no idea what I was doing, so the rejections didn't faze me. I sent around 50 queries and ended up with exactly one full request. The second time, I was much better informed and had much better results. I sent around 75 queries and ended up with around 15 requests, a mixture of partials and fulls, but still no offers.

I got serious with my third manuscript--found some critique partners and learned how to revise--and when I sent my first batch of queries, I genuinely felt that this would be the One. Early results only reinforced that idea. My first three queries garnered three partials requests, one of which morphed into a full request literally overnight. I figured I'd have an agent within another week or two, but that wasn't what happened. (And thank goodness it didn't!) After many months and five (count 'em, five!) requested revisions, I moved on to my next project, a little MG historical I'd taken to calling Steve.

Through all of this, I learned to just keep writing, just keep writing. If it wasn't going to be this manuscript, then it had to be the next one (or the next), and the only way I was going to get there was if I stuck my butt in that chair and churned out those words. That is the one thing all published authors have in common: They wrote their way through rejection.

What are you most looking forward to as you prepare for the release of THE REGENERATED MAN in 2015?

Holding the book in my hands and seeing my name on the cover. The truth is, that's all the payoff I'd ever need. (But don't tell anyone! The money's still nice:) )

What do you think will be the biggest challenge?

Promoting it, no question. A lot of a book's publicity rests on the author's shoulders these days, and I definitely want to do my part. I want to show my publisher I'm a smart, savvy author who knows how to create her own buzz.

What's your current favorite YA book and why do you love it?

How about three? I went back to see which YA books I've recommended recently, and they're all fantastic. THE COMEBACK SEASON by Jennifer E. Smith is poignant without being melodramatic and a great contemporary read. (I've read two of her other books, THE STATISTICAL PROBABILITY OF LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT and THIS IS WHAT HAPPY LOOKS LIKE, and they're also fun.) SERAPHINA by Rachel Hartman is a beautifully crafted high fantasy and a stunning debut. Finally, THE SCORPIO RACES by Maggie Stiefvater remains my favorite YA read from the last year or so. It's the perfect combination of myth and reality, and I loved watching Puck and Sean's relationship develop. (Puck is a girl, by the way.)

What authors have inspired you?

I don't know how Shannon Hale juggles a husband, four kids, and a prolific writing career, but she does. When I grow up, I want to be just like her. And I really appreciate Lauren Oliver's repertoire. Someday, I'd love to be able to move back and forth between MG and YA, the real and the imaginary, as seamlessly as she does.

What advice do you have for other aspiring writers?

Do whatever makes you happy. If armadillo-herding makes you happy, then herd armadillos. If writing makes you happy, then write. And if writing ever stops making you happy, then stop. There will always be tough days, of course, but you don't have to die for it. It's not quitting if you find something else that makes you happier. People change, goals change, and that's okay.

What an inspiring journey! Thanks so much, Krista, and good luck with the release of THE REGENERATED MAN.

If you'd like to learn more about Krista, check out her blog or follow her on Twitter @KristaVanDolzer

Monday, July 8, 2013

Interview: Literary Agent Katelyn Detweiler

Hi everyone! I've got a special treat for you: an interview with a fabulous agent, Katelyn Detweiler at Jill Grinberg Literary!  Find out what she's looking for, which authors excite her, and how best to catch her attention!

Hello, Katelyn! Thanks so much for taking time out from agenting for this interview! What was your background prior to joining Jill Grinberg Literary Management?

I was an English major in college, emphasis in creative writing, and had the vague notion from the end of freshmen year or so on that I wanted (needed, really, since no other career seemed fathomable to me) to be in publishing – though “publishing” to me at that time meant being an editor, because it was hard to really have a sense of the opportunities and roles much beyond that. 

I worked as an intern at Penn State University Press for two years, and then moved to New York City a few weeks after graduation for the Columbia Publishing Course, a fairly intensive 6 week program that throws you into the ins and outs of the book biz and leaves you, hopefully, with a real job at the end – or at the very least, a whole lot of acquaintances in the field. 

I threw my resume at all sorts of openings, and was lucky enough to get my first job shortly after the course ended, a marketing assistant position at Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, where I stayed for almost two years before moving on to Jill Grinberg Literary Management. Marketing was a really fabulous way to start out—there’s a lot of coordinating with publicity, editorial, sales, etc. that has given invaluable perspective to work here at the agency.

What drew you into becoming an agent?

I craved the close, personal relationship with the author, and the close, personal relationship with the writing. I wanted to work on projects that I felt strongly drawn to—projects that really spoke to me on an intimate level.

I was also attracted by the many hats an agent wears, especially at a small agency. Agents have so many roles on any given day, from working with an author on early edits to selling projects to foreign publishers to putting out little fires as they break out—a bad cover design, a late payment, an editorial letter with one too many requests. No day is predictable, no challenge is the same. There’s a real sense of reward that comes with even the smallest of accomplishments.

Since you've joined the Grinberg Agency, what is the most important thing you've learned?

Reading is so subjective—so completely, maddeningly, bafflingly subjective. I may love something—really, passionately love something—but that doesn’t mean that all of the editors we submit to will agree, let alone one or two of them. But no matter how many rejections come in, you have to keep believing—for yourself, and for the author—that the right editor will come along as long as you keep on trying to find them. The right editor will appreciate the work just as much as you do. You can’t give up on something you love, and something that you know deep down deserves to be out in the world.

What do you think is unique about the Grinberg Agency?

We’re small—boutique and hands on—but still quite diverse. Our authors are novelists, historians, scientists, memoirists, journalists, illustrators, musicians, cultural critics—the list goes on. But despite these differences, at the core our authors are all passionate about what they write, and they have strong, authentic voices, whether they are writing fiction or writing nonfiction.

Are you actively seeking new clients at this time?

Yes, definitely! I am actively looking to build my list at the moment, though I’m doing so gradually and carefully. I am much more concerned with quality than quantity, and above all else I want to make sure I can fully dedicate myself to new authors and new manuscripts. I have my hand in a lot of different projects around the agency, so I am focused on not spreading myself too thin—that’s simply not fair to the author or to their work. If I’m representing you, I am ready and prepared to be behind you 100%.

What genres/sub-genres do you represent?

I’m especially focused on finding YA and MG at the moment, but I would be open to considering anything that strikes a personal chord with me. It’s hard to know exactly what you’re looking for sometimes until it jumps at you straight off the page. But a strong voice and a strong sense of setting are a must. Whether it’s contemporary or fantasy, I want to really connect with the world the writer is creating—no matter how different it may be from our real world, the story needs to be grounded in its characters and emotional arc.

What are some of the typical mistakes you see writers make?

Sending a manuscript too soon in the process—before they’ve had time to really step back and take some time away to get a fresh perspective. There’s no rush. If it’s a good, solid story, it’ll be even better after some dedicated, focused revising.

Do you have any querying advice for aspiring writers?

Show an agent that you’ve researched them and their agency. While it’s perfectly acceptable (and advisable) to send multiple submissions, it’s still important to show that you’ve done your homework, and that there’s a reason you’re targeting this specific agent or agency. (And whatever you do, please don’t send a mass email with all of the agents you’ve selected cc’ed. And maybe also try not to misspell the agent’s name in the greeting—it happens more times than you’d believe.)

What general advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Write because you love your story, and because you feel deep down it needs to be told. Write because you enjoy the act of it, and because you can’t imagine not writing it. Don’t write with the intention of being a bestseller, or making lots of money, or being famous. Write because you want other people beyond yourself—whether it’s one reader or one million readers—to feel changed or inspired or better somehow because of what you wrote. Because of your words.

What client books do you have coming out in the near future, and what excites you about these projects?

The first project I sold directly—SPIN, by Jenn Marie Thorne—will be published by Dial / Penguin in Fall 2014, and I am incredibly (incredibly!) excited for that to be out in the world. SPIN is a fantastic contemporary by a fantastic new YA voice, and the whole process—from that first magic moment of finding Jenn’s voice in the slush, to submitting, to negotiating—was a thrill from start to finish.

Who are some of your favorite authors who are not clients?

Oh, the list is ridiculously long and winding and never-ending. There’s never enough space on my night stand or hours in the day for everything I want / need to be reading. But to name a few of the big ones: John Green, J.K. Rowling, Stephanie Perkins, Lauren Oliver, Gayle Foreman, David Levithan, Kate Morton (I do read adult books occasionally!), R.J. Palacio.

Many of my favorites too! Thanks again, Katelyn!

To learn more about Katelyn, follow her on Twitter @katedetweiler.  For submission guidelines and to learn more about the agency, check out their page on Publishers Marketplace.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Success Story: Jenn Marie Thorne and her Novel SPIN

Today I'm interviewing Jenn Marie Thorne, whose debut novel SPIN will be published by Dial/Penguin in fall 2014.

(Update: SPIN has been renamed to THE WRONG SIDE OF RIGHT)

Hi Jenn! Thanks so much for the interview. I'd love to hear more about your debut novel, SPIN! What's the genre and one-sentence pitch?

Thank you, Maya! SPIN is a YA Contemporary novel that deals with the fallout after a sixteen year old girl learns along with the rest of the country that the Republican nominee for President is her father.

What inspired the premise?

Well, we had a whole lot of political sex scandals in a row for a while there, didn't we? John Edwards, Mark Sanford, Anthony Weiner. But when the Schwarzenegger story broke, it seemed different. He had a child, old enough to really be impacted by the media attention and the scandal surrounding him. That got my "What If"s whirring: what if it were a girl, and what if she wanted the chance to get to know him, to be a real part of his family despite everything? And that became SPIN.

When did you first begin writing with a goal toward publication?

I'd been playing around with writing for years. In LA, I'd written a play, a full-length screenplay, several short stories and a web series. But it was about four years ago when I moved to Florida that I really decided to focus on novels as a career goal.

How many novels did you end up putting aside before SPIN?

There were a couple of false starts, then I wrote a middle grade fantasy that I'm still really fond of, though I now have enough perspective to see how derivative it was. I wrote a Western set in the future that first got my agent's attention, and while I was querying that one, I was also working on SPIN.

How did you initially pitch to your agent, Katelyn Detweiler (contest, conference, query)?

I sent my Western to her agency, not knowing that she was looking to take on clients. Thank goodness she was!

How did you feel when she offered representation, and how did you know that she was the right agent for you?

I was absolutely thrilled. First of all, Katelyn and I live in the same literary universe - the books I gravitate to are the ones she does as well. That's huge. I could also tell right away how passionate she was about publishing and working with writers to make their books as great as possible and to reach as many people as possible. On top of all that, she's a really fun, kind, lovely person - so I am a very lucky client!

How was your experience in the submission process for SPIN?

Submission was much less painless than I'd expected, to be honest. I'd scoured the internet for information on "submission hell," preparing myself for months upon months of dead ends and no-responses before finding the right house. But it was only a few weeks before we started getting traction and I began to have conversations with potential editors. Which was terrifying!

How thrilled were you when the deal closed?

I was beyond delirious. Just dizzy for days. I'd had one of those nail-biting, trying-to-sound-confident-while-trembling phone conversations with Jessica Garrison at Dial, and I'd kind of fallen in love. It was a bit like when I met my husband, that "Oh, there you are" feeling of compatibility. She completely got the book, and had such brilliant ideas off the bat for how to improve it. So when she came back with an offer, it was nice to see that the feeling was mutual! It was a dream.

I understand you recently had a baby. What are the challenges associated with writing between naps?

Oh man. It's tough. Honestly, I've enlisted childcare help, because my five-month-old's twenty minutes naps are not cutting it! What I find most helpful is to set really concrete, small goals for what you want to accomplish in a day. Like today's goals are to do a pacing edit for Chapter Fifteen of my current WIP and to start a world bible for a fantasy series I'm mulling.

What are you most looking forward to as you prepare for the release of SPIN?

So many things! The next big thrill will be seeing cover art. I think it'll really sink in at that point that this little speck of an idea I had has become an actual physical thing that exists separately from me. And then, of course, for better or worse, I cannot wait to find out what people think of it. I know I should remain aloof and avoid reviews, etc., and I probably will, but I really hope people like the book!

What do you think will be the biggest challenge?

Probably what I just mentioned. I understand rationally that you can't please every reader and that every author is going to get more than their fair share of nasty Goodreads reviews. But I know myself, and I'm probably going to sneak peeks at Goodreads and then regret it. And then do it again.

What's your current favorite YA book and why do you love it?

This is a tough question. There are so many amazing books out there. In terms of contemporaries, I really loved Ask the Passengers and, of course, The Fault in Our Stars. Right now, I'm really obsessed with Leigh Bardugo's Grisha series. Like, I get confused that it's not real. And The Scorpio Races and Graceling are two of my favorite books of all time.

What authors have inspired you?

I love the diversity and zap of Margaret Atwood's work. Ditto for Libba Bray - and I love her candor in how she talks about her own process. I'm inspired every time I read a great book, actually. It's what brings me back to the writing chair again and again.

What advice do you have for other aspiring writers?

Write another book! Craft your book as finely as you know how, and hone that query to a fine sheen, but while you're doing that, write the next book. If you're Harper Lee, that's one thing. But if you want to write books (plural) as a profession, treat it as a profession right now. Eventually, the universe will agree with you.

Thanks so much, Jenn, and I can't wait to read SPIN!

If you'd like to learn more about Jenn Marie Thorne, you can follow her on Twitter @juniperjenny or on facebook.