The Call with Julie Artz

Hi, Julie. I’m so excited that you’ve signed with Jennie Dunham of Dunham Lit and are on your way to publishing success! I think The Call is one of the most desired/feared/nerve-wracking/exciting/elusive steps a writer works toward. You’ve nailed your query and finally garnered some interest, but now what?

Photo credit: Gail Werner
Photo credit: Gail Werner   


She sent me an email. I had received a similar email from her in the spring that ended up being a Revise & Resubmit on an older manuscript, but the wording on this one was different, so I was pretty sure it was going to be an offer. She didn’t mention a time, but she called me the next morning, so there was only one day of nail-biting.

How did you prepare for The Call? Any sites or blog posts that you felt were helpful in preparing?

I emailed my amazing Pitch Wars 2015 mentor, Juliana Brandt, who shared her list of questions and gave me an awesome pep-talk. And I emailed a couple of critique partners to freak out/ask for advice. I also did a little cyber stalking internet research on the agency and its clients. I read Janet Reid’s blog religiously and she talks a lot about how to maintain good agent-writer relationships. If you’re querying and not subscribed to her blog, go subscribe NOW!

I have to ask where you did the call? Were your kids and husband home?

I was home alone, thank goodness, because I was pacing all over the house with my phone and notebook. I was so nervous and had to keep moving (and reminding myself not to talk too much)! Once I got off the call, I was getting DMs, emails, text messages, and phone calls all at once. I didn’t even text my husband until later because I was on the phone with The Winged Pen’s own Jessica Vitalis, talking her ear off as she drove out of town!

How were you feeling when the call started? How did you feel once the conversations got going?

I had already had a really positive interaction with Jennie about the R&R on my previous manuscript, so I was feeling really good from the moment the call started. Even before it started, really. I sent her The Elephant Tree instead of the revision (with her permission) because I felt it was a stronger manuscript and she was enthusiastic about the project from the moment I pitched it to her. The call blew me away. By the time we had this call, she had read all three of my middle grades, so I knew she really got me as a writer. And she said all the right things. I was floating by the end.

What was the big deciding factor on deciding that this was the agent for you? Was there a moment in the call or something she said?

When she made me cry (in a good way), I just knew that she got me 100% and was going to be the perfect fit.

How has communication been since the call and what’s the next step for you?

I have been working on revisions on The Elephant Tree since we signed in October. So in addition to discussing revisions, we’ve also had a productive back-and-forth about my next story. The one I was plotting before I signed with Jennie is a totally different genre than The Elephant Tree (dark fantasy instead of contemporary with a sprinkle of magic), so it doesn’t make a very good follow-up.

 I came up with a character and pitched Jennie a story idea that, unfortunately, has been done in an upcoming MG. That’s why I’m so glad to have an industry insider to help me navigate this—can you imagine if I’d written the whole story before I found out someone else had done something similar? I was able to take that same character, who I’m sort of falling in love with, and put her into a new story that Jennie thought would make a great follow-up to The Elephant Tree. Now if I can just get these edits done, I can start writing the shiny new story!

Are there any questions you wish you had asked that you didn’t?

We got so busy talking about edits for my current manuscript and story ideas for my next one that we completely forgot to talk about what her contract looks like! She had to email me the contract after the fact. I actually thought of a ton of questions after I got off the phone with her, so we had another round of email back and forth during my nudge week.

Any advice for querying writers working toward The Call?

Don’t give up! This was the third middle-grade manuscript I’d queried (fourth manuscript total because there was that one awful chicklit novel I wrote in my twenties and was foolish enough to query) and I racked up over a hundred rejections on my Pitch Wars 2015 manuscript before I shelved it to focus on The Elephant Tree. The evening before I got the email from Jennie, I got a heart-breaking pass from another agent that had me so down in the dumps that I’d actually told my critique partners I was all done with this manuscript (even though I only sent a total of 48 queries on it!). The next day, I had an offer.

Julie, thanks so much for letting me pester you with all these questions and congrats on this giant leap forward. I can’t wait to see what’s next for you. Follow Julie on Twitter @julieartz. You can also find her at

~Kristi Wientge is the author of KARMA KHULLAR’S MUSTACHE out August 2017 with Simon & Schuster BFYR and is repped by Patricia Nelson at Marsal Lyon Literary Agency.

Literary Agent Spotlight – Mark Gottlieb of Trident Media Group

Rejection isn’t people telling you you’re not good. It’s people telling you’re not good enough yet.

Mark Gottlieb grew up around the publishing industry. His father is the Chairman of the mark-gottliebTrident Media Group literary agency and Mark knew from an early age he wanted a career in publishing. He graduated from Emerson College with a focus in publishing and worked at Penguin Books before joining Trident. Mark ran Trident’s Audio Department, doubling its sales, and is now actively building his client list. Multiple sales in science fiction, thriller, and graphic novels have put him at the top of the Publisher Marketplace rankings for those categories, as well as overall sales.

Thanks for stopping by The Winged Pen today, Mark! If you think back to when you started in Emerson’s publishing program, in what ways is your job today what you expected it would be? In what ways is it different?

Book publishing was going through a lot of changes while I was at Emerson. The Kindle had just come out and Amazon was changing the publishing landscape.

Back then, I wanted to be an editor, but I had a very old-fashioned view of the publishing industry. One professor assigned Max Perkins: Editor of Genius, about the famed editor of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe and others. The book related how Perkins not only edited his authors’ manuscripts, but advocated for them, ensuring the author’s freedom of speech, getting an author an advance if they drank all their money away, or even letting Thom Wolfe sleep on his couch to get a manuscript written. Maxwell Perkin’s story was recently adapted into the movie Genius, starring Jude Law and Colin Firth.  Things like this would never fly today. Publishing companies have become very corporate.

The more I read about Maxwell Perkins, the more I realized the way he advocated for his authors sounded less like the role of an editor in publishing today and more like what my father did as a literary agent at Trident. Because of the nature of the publishing beast, editors have very little time to edit. They acquire projects and steer manuscripts through the publishing process at their company. Some editors work with authors the way Perkins did, max-perkinsbut most expect a manuscript to come in fully polished and that’s why you see literary agents working with authors to get their books into the best possible shape for submission. Reading that book was wake up call for me.

What kind of books are you looking to represent?

My deals have been all over the place. In children’s books I’ve worked on young adult, middle grade and picture books. I’ve also worked on sci fi/fantasy, graphic novels, romance, women’s fiction, creative nonfiction, and memoirs. Some agents want to be known as the woman you want to go to if you want a romance book or the guy to go to if you write military fiction. I’m more interested in diversifying what I do and working on all types of projects that interest me.

Our readers are primarily children’s book writers – young adult, middle grade and picture book. What trends do you see in those categories and what are you looking for in your slush pile?

I’m fairly open in young adult and middle grade. People are still on the John Green kick. They’re looking for contemporary, almost romantic themes in young adult. Editors say they’re tired of post-apocalyptic settings after Hunger Games or the James Dashner books. Of course, they say that until something else comes along to change their minds!

I think what helps in YA or MG books, especially since boys in this age group are sometimes viewed as reluctant readers, is to have a main character who is a girl, or at least a primary character. I don’t think Harry Potter would have taken off the way it did if Hermione hadn’t been so prominent. Or for YA and MG books for boys, it’s good to have fantasy or science fiction elements because boys at that age are drawn to those genres, which is why the Maze Runner books have done so well.

Picture books are tough because a lot of ideas are developed in-house by publishers. I’m open to them if they are developed by a writer/illustrator, especially one who has won awards, but otherwise they can be difficult to sell. Chapter books are tough for the same reasons.

Most authors have “Dream Agents” that they’d love to represent them. What would your “Dream Author” be like?

My dream author would have faith in the process. This industry takes time. It’s hurry up and wait because it takes time to read manuscripts. Even if things are quiet on my end, I’m still working on their behalf. I’m like the Wizard of Oz, pulling the strings behind the curtain.

A dream author would also understand that they are important to marketing and promoting their book.   If Tim Burton has a new movie coming out starring Johnny Depp, people want to hear from Tim Burton or Johnny Depp. They’re not interested in hearing from the cameraman or the guy who holds the boom mike. The author is unique in that they are like the director, the actor, the screenplay writer, the lighting guy, every important part of making their book. They are so central to the process. It’s a tough gig but readers really want to hear about a book from the author, so authors need to nurture their book to ensure its success.

Also, authors should write well. That’s a given.

What makes you want to read more of a submission?

If a query letter is well written it’s a good indication to me that the manuscript will be well written. The first two sentences are really important and need to hook the reader.

It’s important for writers to learn how to summarize their story. What you write in your query letter could be used to craft the pitch letter to editors or even become the jacket copy on the book.

Do you like to see personalization in a query letter or just want to see the pitch?

Agents in our industry have our egos stroked enough. I don’t need authors to say, “I really like your work,” or, “My book is a good fit for you because it’s like XYZ book you represented.” Agents know writers are approaching other agents as well.

When agents request manuscripts, authors should be wary about requests for an exclusive, meaning that author won’t send the manuscript to other agents. The agent could sit on their hands for months. I don’t ask for exclusives. If there’s a project that interests me, I try and read it in two or three days or at least within a week. If I take a manuscript home and stay up all night reading it and call the author the next day, it shows I’m competitive. I care about this project and wanted to get ahead of everyone else.

What words of wisdom would you like to share with aspiring authors?

Submit to agents who are building their lists. Writers submit to my father and he’s not going to take a new author unless he or she is a New York Times bestseller. Even if he likes a query, he’s going to pass it on to someone else in the agency. It’s better to take the time to research the agents and figure out for yourself who would be best for your manuscript.

I’d also advise authors that making mistakes and learning from them is a very important part of growth. It’s painful. People say it takes until the author’s fourth manuscript before they have one that is publishable. But you can compare it to competing in a tournament. There’s only one first place medal. Everyone else lost, even if they came in second or third. But you could say that the person who came in first really lost because they probably didn’t learn anything. They just used the skills they’d already developed. But the person who came in last knows a lot more about what they need to work on to do better next time, and in a way, that’s winning.

Instead of sitting quietly in the back at writing conferences because you’re nervous, participate. I’m happier when people make mistakes because they find out what they have to work on. The time when you are writing those first couple books is a very good time for a debut author to learn the foundation they’ll need for the rest of their career.

Rejection isn’t people telling you you’re not good. It’s people telling you’re not good enough yet.

Now for the speed round – Coffee or tea?

Both. Coffee first thing so I can hit the ground running. Then I switch to green tea.

Sweet or Salty?dingus-and-willow


Cat or dog?

I have two cats now, Dingus and Willow. They’re Singapuras. But I grew up with dogs and would like to have a couple, eventually, when I move out of the city.

Paperback, Hardcover, Audio, or E-book?

In an ideal world I’d read the paperback and let it get dinged up, and I’d let the hardcover sit pristinely on my shelf. The hardcover book is a technology that’s been perfected. My wife, who also works in publishing, and I love books. We have so many we really need to give some away but it’s hard to part with them!

Thanks again for taking the time to talk to us at The Winged Pen today, Mark!

And to our readers, you can find out more about Mark on Publishers Marketplace or query him via Trident’s website. Mark has generously offered to critique a query letter from one reader who comments on this post. Query letters for middle grade or young adult manuscripts will be considered. Please comment by 12 pm Eastern on Saturday the 15th to enter. We’ll draw a winner from the TriWizard cup and get in touch with him or her by email.

Photo by Pam Vaughan
Photo by Pam Vaughan

REBECCA J. ALLEN writes middle grade and young adult stories that blend mystery and adventure. Her best story ideas come from her two crazy kids. She’s on Twitter and her website is here.

Agent Interview: Renee Nyen of KT Literary

This week’s agent interview series hosts the lovely and hilarious Renee Nyen of KT Literary. Renee joined KT Literary in early 2013 after working in the editorial department at Random House’s Colorado division. She has a sharp editorial eye and enjoys partnering with clients to help shape their projects in the best way possible.

Tell us a little about your background and what drew you to publishing.
I wrote and illustrated my first book when I was 5, so it was inevitable. I’ve been really lucky to always know this would be my path. (Ok, I wanted to be a nurse for a hot second, but then I remembered that I am emetophobic and nurses have to deal with a lot of vomit, so I signed up for British Lit instead of Anatomy.) I love reading and I love recommending books to people and at its core, that’s what agenting is.

What do you most want to find in your slush pile right now? Anything you’re really not that into?
I’m loving YA and MG SFF right now. MG magic and witchiness is something I’ve been looking for lately, too. And I recently put out a call on Twitter for YA thrillers and had so much fun reading the submissions.

I love historical fiction, too but rarely see it in my inbox. I would love a book like Kiersten White’s AND I DARKEN. In full disclosure, I typically don’t like American frontier/Oregon Trail books. Though, I did recently finished Rae Carson’s stunning WALK ON EARTH A STRANGER and loved every second of it. So…

What’s your favorite part of being an agent? What do you find most challenging?
Seeing a manuscript become a book is a thrilling, powerful feeling. I’m like a midwife for books. Ok, weird analogy, but ask any of my authors—it’s true!

As for negatives, the length of time the whole publishing process takes is hard. People who aren’t in the industry don’t understand it. Hell, I don’t always understand it. But sometimes it’s deflating to work on something that won’t hit shelves for 2 or 3 years. All of the author’s hard work isn’t even acknowledged for months and months. And when exciting things happen, you can’t talk about it right away. With the immediacy of social media, it’s hard not to share.

KT Literary seems like an amazing agency to work with. What sets it apart from other agencies?
You mean other than working with some of the most respected, articulate, savvy people in the business? There’s a real sense of camaraderie. And we’re a team. Every victory is celebrated. Every loss commiserated.

Are you participating in any upcoming contests/conferences where authors might meet you in person?
I’ll be at ALA Midwinter this year! Also, I’m going to be at the RWA conference in Scottsdale, AZ in June 2017.

What are your top three favorite books?
This year, other than my clients:
WOLF BY WOLF Ryan Graudin

All time/desert island:
The Lord of the Rings
Harry Potter
Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Patterson

What are your top three favorite films?
Weird thing about me: I prefer TV to movies. So my top 3 TV shows are:
The Office (US)
Game of Thrones

Any nuggets of wisdom for querying writers?
It’s worth putting the time in. For all of it. Take time to research the agents. To perfect your query. Your comp titles. Your opening pages. It’s the little things that set the best queries apart.

Any query pet peeves or format styles you particularly prefer?
Get down to business. I don’t need wooing in your query. No voice. Nothing cutesy. That’s what your pages are for.
I want to know what your book is about, who it’s about, what makes it special, and where you think it should sit on the bookstore shelves. That’s it.

What’s one little-known (and preferably rather odd) fact about you, just to keep things interesting?
I was a swimmer in high school. I wasn’t half bad. And I loved it.

Thank you so much for taking the time to share a little bit about yourself, your agenting style, and about KT Literary! For all you querying writers, Renee is open to queries and if your project is a good fit for her, she’d love to hear from you. You can submit your query and first three pages to her at


HILARY HARWELL writes dark, whimsical fantasy and atmospheric horror for kids and teens. She makes her home in Colorado where she’s also a literary assistant at KT Literary. You can connect with her on Twitter.

New Agent Interview: Hannah Fergesen of KT Literary

Today we’re kicking off a mini-series of agent interviews with the lovely Hannah Fergeson of KT Literary. Hannah recently joined KT as a literary agent after working as an assistant at Trident Media, a bookseller at Books of Wonder, and several internships for a reputable, rock-star agent.


Tell us a little about your background and what drew you to publishing:

I’ve been a writer my entire life, but when I was querying my first book, it was the first time I really had to look into agents and what agents did. I’d been beta-reading for my friends as long as I could remember, and agenting sounded like a dash of that, mixed with a lot of other cool stuff. I was very intrigued, to the point where I told a lot of people that if I didn’t end up becoming a TV writer, I’d want to be a literary agent. But I thought, “I could never do that – I’d have to have an English degree (I was getting a degree in Writing for Film and Television at that point, and had NO interest in staying for several more years to get another degree)”. This is, of course, NOT the case – a varied background is actually quite helpful in the business, and internships are where industry hopefuls seem to gain the most experience before joining an agency or publishing house. When a sudden life-change turned me toward New York instead of LA, I thought it was time to actually look into what it would take, and got my first internship, which, of course, led to everything else!

What do you most want to find in your slush pile right now? Anything you’re really not that into?

I want to find unique, speculative fiction about diverse characters. I am not getting enough, and it’s very important to me and KT Literary to support #ownvoices. For example, a Latinx “Buffy” character/story would make my day.

I am NOT the right person for medieval fantasy, dragons, fairies, Atlantis, elves….you get the idea. Unless you have a really strange (hopefully dark) take on these, I am simply not that interested. In this vein: Arthurian stories. Unless you have an interesting take on the myths I know (and love) very well, I’m not interested in stories that simply take the names of the characters and run with them.

I also seem to get a lot of romantic fantasy, which just isn’t my thing. I like fantasy, with romantic subplots if the story calls for it, but NOT the other way around.

What’s your favorite part of being an agent? What do you find most challenging?

Working with authors. I love editing their books, talking to them on the phone, seeing how their career moves. It’s fascinating and rewarding, and never the same, even though the process doesn’t really change.

I think the most challenging part is the process of matchmaking the book with an editor – you have to consider a lot of things before doing so, and sometimes, even though you were sure it would be, it’s not to an editor’s tastes. This is the part where the agent experiences the rejection right along with the writer, even for the most amazing books, and when you love a book and worked hard on it with the writer, it can be tough if it doesn’t sell right away, or at all. And the only thing you can do at that point is be there for the writer and start working on the next thing.

KT Literary seems like an amazing agency to work with. What sets it apart from other agencies?

KT is so warm, open, knowledgeable, and connected. We (the agents and the agency’s fearless assistant, Hilary!) talk a lot, so we have a lot of support from one another within the agency. This means clients also have the full support of everyone at KT. Each client is cheered on by everyone, and it’s really lovely to watch and be a part of.

Are you participating in any upcoming contests/conferences where authors might meet you in person?

I am still working out details on some in 2017! I will very likely be talking about it on Twitter, so if you follow me there, you’ll get the updates!

What are your top three favorite books?

Oh my gosh, I have WAY more than three from the past few years (see my manuscript wishlist!) so I’m gonna go with classics: SABRIEL by Garth Nix, THE FIONAVAR TAPESTRY by Guy Gavriel Kay (which is technically three but shhhh), And THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING by T.H. White.

What are your top three favorite films?

Again, SO MANY. Some that really shaped my sensibilities (and this will come to NO ONE’S surprise): The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Moulin Rouge, Donnie Darko.

Any nuggets of wisdom for querying writers?

Keep it short – you don’t have to give me your whole story in the query. Give me your hook, your inciting incident, the conflict in a sentence or two, and what is at stake for the character.

I also really like a sentence or two about why you chose to query me, either at the top or bottom of your query. This will help set you apart and make me seriously consider the reasons you picked me.

Any query pet peeves or format styles you particularly prefer?

Peeves: Rhetorical questions. Rhetorical questions. Rhetorical questions. Also, not including your first three pages. I need them. I love them. Give them to me.

I love the Hello Hannah, Hook > Inciting incident > conflict > what’s at stake for your character > here’s a few lines about me > why I queried you > Thanks for your time Format. I don’t want a bio first, or a paragraph on why you wrote the book – those are conversations we’ll have in time, if I choose to represent you. Right now, I’m looking at the book. And the longer you delay talking about the actual book, the more likely I am to get tired of your query.

What’s one little-known (and preferably rather odd) fact about you, just to keep things interesting?

When I lived in Toronto (I was in middle school), I lived down the street from Ed Robertson of the Bare Naked Ladies. So of course, I was obsessed with them, and their album at the time was Maroon. I think it really helped to inform who I am today. Once I put a hand-drawn babysitting flier in his mailbox, but I never heard from him, which, of course, crushed me.


Hannah, thank you so much for taking the time to share a little bit about yourself, your agenting style, and about KT Literary! For all you querying writers, Hannah is open to queries and if your project is a good fit for her, she’d love to hear from you. Please send a query letter and the first three pages of your manuscript to Additional information about KT Literary can be found here.


HILARY HARWELL writes dark, whimsical fantasy and atmospheric horror for kids and teens. She makes her home in Colorado where she’s also a literary assistant at KT Literary. You can connect with her on Twitter.