Look for my short story “Nothing but Trouble” in Word Catalyst’s December issue.

I received this rather disturbing feedback from an agent about THE MAGIC QUILT:
The book appears to be a combination of historical fiction and fantasy … a hard sell to the minds of those who need to put things into the tidy marketing boxes that have become oh-so comfortably worn with use.

I anticipated this novel would a difficult sell, but not because it is a historical fiction and fantasy. I thought a book about the coming of age of a wizard would smack too much of Harry Potter, which brings me to the topic of this post. My next book will not be a fantasy for young adults.

I have an idea for a detective thriller for adults, which I will keep to myself for now. I am in the stage of contemplating, playing different scenarios in my head until I find just the right one that gels. After all, I’ve got to be willing to stay with this book for at least a year or so. I’d better be excited about it.

I am going to use a process like Diane Chamberlain’s to write this next book. See her excellent blog posts on Creating a Story.

I’ll be writing the synopsis over the next couple of weeks, so I thought I’d share the process as I complete each step. I hope this will be interesting to newbie writers and readers who want a peek into how a novel comes together. My synopsis will include writing a general beginning and ending–yes the ending comes first before writing the novel–choosing the point of view characters, writing character sketches for each, and then creating a storyline thread for each character. I wish I would have done this with my first novel!

I made several mistakes with THE MAGIC QUILT that I would like to help other writers avoid. First thing, I did not write a synopsis. I didn’t know who the characters were or any idea of what would happen. I just started writing. Big mistake, BIG! My story rambled. Katharine went here, there, yonder, and back again: to the past, then the present, then a different place in the past, to a different time in the past, then to the future. It makes my head hurt just thinking about it and it was too confusing for young adults. Also, I failed to do enough historical research, so I had to rewrite the book several times to correct the history and trickle down effect. Never again!

Agent search update
After receiving five rejections from agents for my young adult novel, with no request to read the manuscript, I posted my query letter on WritersNet. Clink the link to read the thread.

Here’s the query:
It is tough enough to make it through the sixth grade when you aren’t trying to save the world. Katharine is a shape-shifter who has traveled back to a time where electricity, cell phones and bottled water have yet to be imagined; her new friends are dead or in peril. Standing on the Lexington Green in the midst of the battle, Katharine is oblivious to her own danger. With the metallic smell of blood and gunpowder heavy in the air, she must make a choice: She can save her friends and turn the battle toward freedom or destroy the evil shifter, Dr. Ziegawart, in whatever form he might choose–an alligator, a dragon, or a tiny cockroach. As a musket ball whizzes by her head, she decides.

Patrick M. Leehey, the research director of the Paul Revere Memorial Association checked the manuscript for historical accuracy. He said, “I found your story to be quite enjoyable.” That might be because I’ve included some surprising historical facts. To name a few, Paul Revere never finished his midnight ride–he was captured by British officers before arriving in Concord. Nor did he own a horse, although he was a messenger and a spy for the revolutionaries.

I thought the query was pretty good and was taken aback by the feedback I received. After all, I’ve been working on my query off and on for a year. This is what the agents on WritersNet said:

You have to cut your first paragraph and make it into a really good hook–what’s the meat of your story? Make it catchy. It’s what sells your novel.

Think through each sentence very carefully. Does it have meaning to someone who knows absolutely nothing about your book? For example, what the heck is a “shape-shifter”? Bringing up a fantasy concept only you understand is immediately going to alienate the reader of your query.

Your writing might be excellent, but this query doesn’t do justice to the manuscript because it’s hard to tell what the premise is. It has to be plain to a complete stranger. We are even stupider than you think.

I don’t believe any agent is stupid, btw. I think the rigors or the job require intelligence.

Here’s my new query. I hope it will hook an agent. I’m crossing my fingers.
It is tough enough to make it through the sixth grade when you aren’t trying to save the world. Katharine is a wizard in training, learning how to shape-shift into animals, travel forward and back in time, and defend herself against the evil wizard, Dr. Ziegawart, in whatever form he might choose–an alligator, a dragon, or a tiny cockroach. Leaving her unhappy home behind, Katharine travels back in time to 1775 Boston, where she finds herself caught up in the magical world of spying, espionage, and rebellion.

My 55,000 word historical fiction and fantasy novel, The Magic Quilt, follows Katharine across the dark waters of the Charles River with Paul Revere, and onto Menotomy Road to alert the countryside. She never knows what danger is around the next bend, whether a musket ball from a British foot soldier’s rifle or the evil wizard in disguise.

On the back burner
I found some children’s magazines that I am interested in writing for, like ODYSSEY, CRICKET, NEW MOON GIRLS and AMERICAN GIRL. These are magazines that I’ve read in the past and been impressed with the quality of writing. I’ve ordered a sample copy of each one so that I can get a feel for what each currently likes. Once I get the samples, I’ll write a short story specifically for each magazine. I’m looking forward to it. The stories will give me breaks from the novel.

I’ve got my work cut out for me. Fortunately, I’m now working part time–which means I have every Friday off to write. I’m going to need it.

My debut novel and the economy

As the subprime mortgage crisis threatens the U.S. economy, I am shopping my first novel around to agents. This could possibly be the worst time to debut as a novelist.

Fewer books, bigger deals—No room for debuts? A frost is coming to publishing. This the shocking subtitle of Baby, It’s Going to Be Cold Outside in Book Publishing, a gloom and doom article brought to you by THE NEW YORK OBSERVER.

According to the article, only the most established agents will be able to convince publishers to take a chance on an unknown novelist like me. My query, synopsis, and of course my novel, had better be razor-sharp or I don’t stand a chance of convincing one of those established agents to take a chance on a newbie. Rather than backing down, I’m going to rise to the challenge. I know that some of the agencies I’m querying receive upwards of 200 queries per week.

Meanwhile, on BookEnds, Jessica Faust says:
While books are selling and BookEnds has in fact made a number of deals in the past few weeks, publishers are understandably going to start getting tougher and deals are getting smaller. Authors are going to start to seeing lower advance numbers and, yes, lower royalties. And everyone is going to take fewer risks. It was hard to sell a new unpublished, unproven author two months ago, imagine what it must be like now.

Tess Gerritsen says:
… as I travel from town to town, from bookstore to bookstore, one thing that’s struck me is how quiet all the stores are. In mall stores, in superstores, in major chains and small independents, customers seem to be missing. Many booksellers have told me that traffic has been way down these past few weeks, and they’re concerned. I know it’s of little comfort to booksellers, but nothing else seems to be selling either. Malls are deserted. Stores selling clothing and furniture and kitchenware are all silent. No one seems to be spending money.

What does it mean for the book industry?

Books, unlike milk and bread, are discretionary purchases.

The bar just went up–I never learned the high jump, but I’m going to get a pole and start practicing.


In searching for an agent for my young adult novel, I discovered Nathan Bransford’s blog. He wrote a post titled HOW TO FIND A LITERARY AGENT. He says, “Welcome to publishing, the land of books, writing, and agonizingly long waits. Pour yourself a drink. You’re going to need it.”

Is he right! So far, I’ve sent out only one query letter to an agent and received a form rejection letter not even 24 hours later.

Agent search

I have compiled a list of the top 20 agencies that I would like to represent me in finding a publisher for my young adult novel, THE MAGIC QUILT. Now that I’ve done my homework, I plan to contact my top five agents and then use any feedback I get from those submissions before contacting others. I’m hoping to get my first queries out this week. I want someone knowledgeable with the young adult market and historical fiction/fantasy. It is important to me to find the right match for my book, someone who will be passionate in marketing it. Because I also write adult fiction, I am hoping to find an agency that represents both young adult and adult fiction. I am a little scared to send out the first query because it is such a big step.

There are so many sources of information on agencies in books and on the Web, it was hard to know where to begin searching. I had a few recommendations from fellow writers, which I used to start my list. After floundering a bit in all the available resources, I decided to use CHILDREN’S WRITER’S & ILLUSTRATOR’S MARKET, but I found only a few agencies there. I moved on to Agent Query and used that site to grow my list. Now I have my top 20, but I’ve got to narrow the list even further to my top five.

So far I have:
• searched each agency’s web site carefully and read the agent’s blogs, if any.
• read each agent’s submission guidelines so I can send them what they want–a query, sample chapters, outline, synopsis–and how they want it–electronic or snail main
• looked up recent sales for the specific agent at the agency I want to represent me in PublishersMarketplace to be sure the agent is a good match for my book.
• checked in Predators and Editors to be sure there are no black marks against the agency
• Searched for each agent in Association of Authors Representatives (US) or the Association of Authors Agents (UK).

I am ready to begin contacting agents. Wish me luck in finding THE MAGIC QUILT a good home.