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 julieartz.com.

~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.

Cover Reveal! Karma Khullar’s Mustache

We are excited to reveal the cover for Karma Khullar’s Mustache. The debut middle grade novel by The Winged Pen’s Kristi Wientge.

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Karma is entering middle school and is super nervous. Not just because it seems like her best friend has found a newer, blonder best friend, or the fact that her home life is shaken up by the death of dadima, or that her daddy is the new stay-at-home parent, leading her mom to spend most of her time at work. But because she’s realized she has seventeen hairs that have formed a mustache on her upper lip. With everyone preoccupied, Karma has no one to turn to, and must figure out what to make of her terrifyingly hairy surprise.

I LOVE this story! Such an original idea, yet an issue that affects a lot of young girls.

For aspiring writers out there, let’s look at the timeline of Karma Khullar’s Mustache from beginning to end. So from idea to date of publication.

The idea of this book has always been with me—seriously. As an avid reader from early on, I was always searching for a book about a hairy girl and knew I had to write one, one day. BUT, it was at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content in May 2011 that Karma’s character finally had a name and a story. I entered Pitch Madness & Sun Vs. Snow in March 2015 and agent Patricia Nelson set up a call (THE CALL!!!) and offered representation on the 12th of March 2015. We completed about three rounds of revisions and were officially on submission in June. We had two nibbles during the first round of sub, but in September we started the second round of submissions and immediately Liz Kossnar at Simon & Schuster showed interest. She took Karma to acquisition mid-October and we sold it! Then, it was April 2016 when we got the ball rolling with edits for Karma. After that initial edit letter, things went pretty quickly. There weren’t huge changes to make, so Liz and I swapped edits a few times and then I was shown the first pass pages in September and now my cover in October! All together about 4 years.

Wow! Things seem to happen quickly, unlike what we normally hear about the publishing process. How would you describe your journey to becoming a published author?

In one word, surreal.

Let’s talk about the amazing and fun cover. First, who is the illustrator? 

Serge Bloch

I have heard great and not-so-great stories about author’s feelings when they first see their book covers. What were your feelings when you first saw it? 

Well, if I’m honest, I was a bundle of feelings. It was exciting, but also not really what I expected, but I didn’t hate, but I didn’t know if I loved it… It’s so weird to see how other people interpret your story. I kept the PDF of the cover on my phone for several days and would find myself looking at it at random times. Now I can’t imagine any other cover for it!

Did the Karma on the cover look like what you imagined when you were writing?

I actually don’t have a strong visual of my characters when I write. There’s this foggy kind of blur of a person. Mostly, I’ve got about 3 or 4 versions of my character based on people I know or have seen and I kind of mash it up in my head, but not in a really concrete way. So, really, I think the illustrator did a fantastic job of sorting it all out!

How much input were you able to give during the illustrating process? 

None! Ha! I was shown a concept a few months back and I did tell Patricia my initial concerns. For example, I wondered if the whole concept looked too young—like it’d only catch the interest of younger kids. Was it too cartoonish? Basically, I was in the minority with those concerns. But, like I said, I really can’t imagine any other cover now.

I think the cover is fun. And for someone like me, who may or may not have had hair on her upper lip, it is a must read! Now before you go, I have a few really personal questions!

Plotter or panster? Plotter.

Coffee or tea? Coffee, unless it’s masala tea.

Sweet or salty? Salty.

Dog, cat, or goldfish? Robofish—I can’t take care of any more people or things that expect me to remember to feed them!

If you’re secret reading under the covers, what three books are worth the risk of getting caught? Keats! He’s always next to my bed as is my Bible and I’d definitely sneak in some David Sedaris for a good laugh after a crazy day.

Thank you so much for sharing the cover with us. Karma Khullar’s Mustache comes out August 15, 2017. But of course you can and SHOULD preorder on iTunes or Amazon.

Photo on 3-19-15 at 1.23 PM #2For more information about Kristi, check out her bio.

img_1701HALLI GOMEZ teaches martial arts and writes for children and young adults because those voices flow through her brain. She enjoys family, outdoors, reading, and is addicted to superhero movies. You can find her on Twitter.

3 Ways to Find Out About Your Readers from the Frankfurt Book Fair 2016

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Usborne Books stand at the 2016 Frankfurt Book Fair.

At the Frankfurt Book Fair, readers are a big theme. It’s the biggest book fair in the world and heavily “rights” focused. The more readers a book has, the more valuable the foreign publishing rights are.

The main business of the Fair is to make deals: between publishers and literary agents, domestic and international publishers, and publishers and booksellers or libraries. There are little tables at every stand and most of them are full of people showing each other books. It’s an affirmation of all those hours we spend writing. What we do matters, people! 🙂

1. Andrew Rhomberg of Jellybooks gave an insightful presentation about the way we read. Amazon collects data about how the world reads, but their data isn’t shared with publishers or authors. Rhomberg described Jellybooks as “Google Analytics for books.” The new epub3 format includes a button at the end of each chapter and at the end of the book that lets Jellybooks figure out how and when people read the books and how much of them they actually finish. It works on iBooks (iOS), Adobe Digital Editions (Windows) and Ebook Reader (Android) platforms. The data isn’t anonymous so that the publisher can tailor the book offerings to the readers.

Publishers use the service to find out just how people read Advance Reader Copies. Readers sign up for free e-books in exchange for sharing their reading data. Three reading patterns caught my attention:

  • Gradual fizzling out. Some prize-winning literature had a high percentage of readers finishing the first chapter, or maybe the first three chapters, but not much more. Or a skipping ahead pattern to see if the book got more gripping later on.
  • Commuter readers. Some readers only read around 8 AM and around 5 PM. If this was your target audience, you’d probably do well marketing to the commuter crowd.
  • Pageturners. Then there are the books where readers who finish the first three chapters read to the end without pausing. As Rhomberg says, “Some readers have discipline. They go to bed. But the others can’t put it down.”
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Bookcovers that set up the story to come. Usborne Books.

Rhomberg also collects feedback about book covers to find the answers to two smart questions:

  • What’s the influence of the cover for choosing a book to read?
  • Was the promise of the cover fulfilled by the story?

Writer take-home: If your book’s cover and your opening chapters are the perfect set-up for the exciting chapters that follow, you’ve got a winner.

2. Fabian, an Indie author on the same panel, talked about a low-budget way to get feedback about your readers. He posts chapters of his book on his blog and uses Google Analytics to track reading time. He uses MailChimp’s analytics too. His 3,000-member e-mail list also puts him in a perfect position for a reader survey about new cover designs.

Both presenters agreed that the most helpful information to describe your readers is time of day, context, gender, and age. Rhomberg said that men and women give up on books at the same rate, but men read 50 pages before they stop and women read 100.

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A lovely book truck in the inner courtyard of the Frankfurt Book Fair.

3. Wattpad‘s Star author, Jenny Rosen, has a much more personal connection to her 17, 747 followers. Wattpad is ten-year-old Canadian company with its strongest audience in the Philippines. Most stories on Wattpad are early drafts, she says, and reader input is useful. She and her editor, Kristen Maglonzo, consider reader feedback as they decide on the story structure. At the same time, she stays true to her vision for her story, describing herself as “stubborn.”

This young, dynamic team inspired me to go out and write the stories that need to be written! And to learn how to write a cliffhanger. 🙂

It’s clear that building an audience this way works: Wattpad is offering writers the ability to include video ads relevant to their readers. As Jenny Rosen says, “This lets readers support authors for free.”

Wattpad looks like a great platform for YA fiction and may work for Middle Grade, even though there isn’t a dropdown category for it. According to Wattpad’s spokesperson, most readers don’t search for books by category, so they’ve stopped adding new categories.

Swanky Seventeen author, Julie C. Dao’s upper middle grade Pumpkin Patch Princess is also a successful example on Wattpad.

As a writer, seeing this data and hearing Jenny Rosen’s story was powerful confirmation that first chapters matter. They really do set the tone and make promises to the reader. And when the promises are fulfilled, readers really do read every single chapter that follows.

Writers build stories with set-ups and payoffs to satisfy their readers. This reader data is more confirmation that craft matters.

I hope you’re feeling empowered to write more stories!

For more of the 2016 Frankfurt Book Fair, try these podcasts.

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Write a KILLER KIDLIT PITCH!

So you’ve spent a bazillion hours writing the GREATEST NOVEL EVER. Every word is spelled correctly. Every comma has been checked. Every em dash is used appropriately. You’ve filtered for over-used words. And, of course, you’ve crafted a Killer First Line(click here for more info).

Your book is ready to sell! Congrats!!!

Pitch it to me!

If you’re like me, your tongue goes dry, you start to shake, and you suddenly remember you need to put the clothes in the dryer. (And that’s just me alone with my mirror. I may actually break out in hives if an agent was in the room.) I guess telling you now that you were supposed to write your pitch sometime between the time the idea floated into your brain and the beginning of your second draft wouldn’t help your confidence much, huh?

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Shake it off! And let’s get to work!

All you have to do is condense your GREATEST NOVEL EVER into the GREATEST PITCH EVER, preferably one bite-sized concise Killer Sentence, no more than 35 words, that makes us want to read your masterpiece.

 

Lets break this down, step-by-step. First, write down this information about your story.

  1. MAIN CHARACTER (not the name) + an adjective that describes him/her
  2. MC’s GOAL
  3. CONFLICT/WHAT STANDS IN HIS/HER WAY
  4. WHAT ARE THE STAKES if he/she fails
  5. INTERESTING ELEMENT THAT WILL MAKE YOUR SENTENCE STAND OUT
  6. SETTING (only use it in the pitch if it’s important)

I’ll use THE WIZARD OF OZ as an example.

  1. Dorothy—lonely farm girl
  2. Her goal––return home
  3. What stands in her way––needs the Wizard, battles a witch
  4. Interesting tidbit––flying monkey army, tin man, lion, scarecrow
  5. Stakes––she may be stuck in Oz 4ever!
  6. Setting––transported into a magical land after a twister hits her farm.

Now, let’s put that into a sentence.

After a twister transports a lonely farm girl to the magical land of Oz, she must battle an evil witch with a flying monkey army to find the wizard who can help her return home.

That pitch is 35 words, 177 characters including spaces.

Notice that the MC’s name isn’t used, because it really doesn’t tell us much. Of the many interesting tidbits I had to choose from, I picked the monkey army because it played well with the conflict. The lion, scarecrow, and tin man are more related to the theme, which shouldn’t be a part of your pitch unless you can use an expanded to a two-three sentence structure.

After a twister transports a lonely farm girl to the magical land of Oz, she finds herself face-to-face with an evil witch and her flying monkey army. She befriends a lion, a scarecrow, and a tin man to help her find the powerful wizard who can help her return home. If they fail, she may be stuck in Oz forever.

Add a few more details (like the Good Witch, poison poppies, sparkly ruby red shoes, her being an orphan, Kansas, Toto) to the three sentence example above, and you’ve got yourself a query hook.

What about Twitter Pitch Parties? This pitch is too long!

To condense this into a 140-character Twitter pitch, simply take the one-sentence pitch and get rid of whichever words you need the least.

When a twister transports a farm girl to a magical land, she battles a witch to find the wizard who can help her return home. #PitMad #MG

This looks easy, right? I kinda cheated, using a beloved, well-understood novel. Yours might be more complex. But even if it is, you’ll need to be able to boil it down the the essentials.

*******

Behind the scenes  at The Winged Pen, we regularly help each other with pitches. Here are some great pitch tips from others in our group that will be especially helpful if you choose to participate in a Twitter Pitch Party!

Julie.— Adding recent comparable titles (comps) to a pitch can convey a lot of information about style and tone in very few words. So if your story is a mashup between Pride and Prejudice and The Walking Dead, or Sherlock Holmes reimagined as MG, or Veronica Mars in space, include that in your pitch for extra oomph! 😀

Laurel — Here’s a handy post from super-agent Jennifer Laughran to help you find the sweet spot for your comp titles. And two fun tools for brainstorming books that are similar to your masterwork: Amazon Visualization Tool and Whichbook.

Rebecca. —Now, you’ve got your pitch ready to go! Time to move on to your next story, right? WRONG! Now, it’s time to get creative. Most Twitter pitch parties let you pitch each manuscript a few times over the course of a day. Even for live pitches, you might want to let your hair down and have some fun with a pitch that has a little more voice. A creative pitch 1) sheds light on a different aspect of your story, and 2) gives you a second chance at bat. The pitch that calls to one agent might not get pulled out of the slush by another. Changing up your pitches gives your story the best shot at a request.

Even for a “creative” pitch, there are some “tried and true” formulas. Let’s take a look.

1, 2, 3. It’s a simple formula, yet appealing.

1 lost girl, 2 witches, 3 new friends. Dorothy and friends must defeat the evil witch to earn the thing each can’t live without. #PitMad #MG

Mash-up of interesting stuff. Imagine you’re an agent scanning through thousands of pitches at a twitter party. It takes something really grabby to get you to click on one. What’s interesting enough to rise above the slush? 

Poison poppies, flying monkeys, a wicked witch willing to kill her for her shoes – Dorothy must fight them all to make it home. #PitMad #MG

When using creative pitches in a twitter pitch party, it’s a good idea to pin your basic pitch to the top of your twitter page. Creative pitches might catch an agents eye, but they’ll probably leave them with questions too. If they’re a click away from your basic pitch, they’ll get a more compete picture of your story.

Great info, friends! Thank you!!!

Speaking of Twitter Pitch Parties! There are soooo many great ones coming up soon. Here are a few dates to add to your calendar. Polish your pitches now, so you’ll be ready. Click the hashtags below for more info!

February 23, 2017 #PBPitch Only picture books!

Feb 24, 2017 — #PitMad All KidLit categories, four times per year!

April 5 — #KidPit All KidLit categories

June (TBD)–#SFFPit

Others Twitter Pitch Parties to check out: #Pit2Pub, #PitMatch

Here are more references for writing loglines/pitches:

http://thrillerfest.com/pitchfest/pitch-tips/

http://fictionwriting.about.com/od/thebusinessofwriting/a/How-To-Pitch-Your-Novel.htm

Tips on Twitter pitches

http://writersinthestormblog.com/2014/09/the-ultimate-writers-guide-to-twitter-pitch-contests/

http://diymfa.com/community/crafting-the-perfect-twitter-pitch

http://dankoboldt.com/twitter-pitching-guide/

http://dianaurban.com/how-pitmad-helped-me-get-a-literary-agent-and-tips-for-the-next-one

http://writersinthestormblog.com/2014/09/the-ultimate-writers-guide-to-twitter-pitch-contests/


MICHELLE LEONARD is a math and science nerd, a chocolate biscotti baker, and a SCBWI member who writes middle-grade and young adult fiction. Her young adult sci-fi short story IN A WHOLE NEW LIGHT will be published in the BRAVE NEW GIRLS ANTHOLOGY: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME releasing August 2017. Connect with her on Twitter.

Insider Tips To Get the Most Out of Your Next Conference

woman with suitcaseYou’ve signed up for the conference. You’ve chosen your workshops. You may even have signed up for a critique.

Now what?

You tweak and revise your MS yet again. What else? I asked the Pennies to share their insider tips on how to get the most out of your conference. So without further ado, here are their wise, funny, practical and inspirational tips!

Julie Artz: I make a list of professionals who will be there (authors, agents, editors) who are of interest and jot notes about them. Very important tip–don’t let them see this list on accident, especially if you’ve written SQUEE, or fangirl, or dream agent by their name! Also, business cards!!!

Jennifer Brister Park: Agree on the business cards! Everyone at my table had them but me at SCBWI, and it never occurred to me to bring them! Also extra paper for notes. Some of the presenters didn’t pass out copies of power points and I was writing on the back of others. If you are meeting with an agent/editor, I would have a list of questions to ask if you have extra time to kill once critique is over.

Kate Manning: To bring: A copy of the sub you’re getting critiqued, granola bar, Advil, water, gum, tissues, cough drops, your phone! (I forgot mine once), a good notebook, and pens. For prep: have a one-line description of your work at the ready, as well as a slightly longer version; I agree re info on the professionals you want to meet – even a picture so you realize if you’re standing next to them in line for coffee; map out the route ahead of time and give yourself time to get lost; I give myself a few goals for the day (e.g., introduce myself to three people) to keep myself focused on the things that really matter – building connections, honing my craft, having fun!

Kristi Wientge: A cardigan and breath mints… Oh yeah, and all that other stuff everyone else mentioned.

Rebecca Smith-Allen: What was I planning to bring to my first New England SCBWI conference? A friend (and it was Karin)! I’d recently moved back to Connecticut and was quaking at the thought of walking into my first writers’ conference, so went to my first meeting with the local critique group hoping desperately that someone planned to attend. Going to the conference with a friend is great because you have support, reports from the workshops you couldn’t fit into your schedule, and someone to sit with when you need a break from all the new faces. Just don’t use this friend as an excuse to avoid meeting new people!

Jessica Vitalis: I like to bring water and paper and dress warmly (because the conference facilities are usually freezing). As to preparation, I try to read the most prolific and/or most recent book(s) by the speakers I’m the most interested in. I also do a little research on those speakers (read a couple of their online interviews, check out their websites, etc.) so that if I have the occasion to speak with them, I can engage in topics of mutual interest. I also agree whole heartedly with Kate‘s advice––I always make sure I have prepared a short description of my work. Most of all, I remind myself that while I’m an introvert at heart, I’m bound to have a great time because I’ll be surrounded by my people––readers and writers of children’s literature.

Laurel Decher: I agree with all of the above things. Like Kate Manning I have a “goal” for every conference: to find some way to “take a risk” and stretch my writer self. Sometimes it’s pitching or signing up for a critique or something that takes me by surprise once I get there. I always tell myself that I’ll be proud to tell my family how brave I was when I get home. I like to bring something to show and tell about my work. Some conferences like “one sheets” and some like business cards or pitches.

Michelle Leonard: I usually prepare like crazy, rehearsing a pitch in the mirror and everything. Then if I see an agent, I avoid getting on an elevator with them or go find someone to talk with that I know. This year, I’ve told myself I’m going to plop down beside an agent at lunch. I’ll probably be too nervous to eat/or speak so I’m taking extra granola bars!

Karin Lefranc:  1. Volunteer if you can, as it’s an excellent way, especially if you’re shy, to connect with other writers and presenters, including agents and editors. 2. Find out what the conference hashtag is and start making connections before the conference even starts! 3. Instead of asking agents and editors the same old questions about books and publishing, ask them something completely different. If you know an editor loves knitting, ask them what they like to knit. If you read they like to travel, ask them where the strangest/most exciting/oddest place they’ve been. This way you’re really connecting as it’s not about you asking them for something. Speaking from experience, this has a much higher success rate of them asking you what you’re working on. And, if they don’t, you’ve made a real connection that you can build on whether it’s on social media or the next conference!

Good luck! Hope that these tips will make your next conference a big success!

pic of me2KARIN LEFRANC is from nowhere and everywhere. Born in Sweden, she moved at the ripe old age of three to Lebanon. After then it was onto South Africa and then England before coming to the US to attend college. She now lives in Connecticut with her French husband and four kids. She self published her first picture book A QUEST FOR GOOD MANNERS. Her first traditionally published picture book I WANT TO EAT YOUR BOOKS came out in 2015 by Sky Pony Press. She’s currently stopping through the dark ages in a middle-grade novel about trolls and giants. You can find her on Twitter