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Michelle4Laughs: It's in the Details


Holiday Query Hop Critique 8

  Posted by Michelle4Laughs , 19 December 2014 · 22 views

The special guest today is awesome agent Cate Hart from The Corvisiero Literary Agency. Thanks, Cate, for taking time in your busy holiday schedule. (Note: Corvisiero is currently closed to queries, but catch Cate in January.)
Keep in mind that feedback is subjective by nature. What does and does not catch the eye is going to vary by person. Each writer must weigh the comments they get against their own judgement and make the changes that resonate with them.

The Holiday Query hop is closed. Please make sure you get your 10 critiques done.  
The random number generator picks 33!
Dear Lovely Agent of Awesomeness:

(a personalized blip about why I’ve chosen this agent….this may move to the end if that seems to be more the agent’s preference)

Seventeen-year-old Anna Holloway is determined to have the best summer ever—her sister’s dream summer.

[I’m of the mind that one or two word characteristics should be included right here to give the reader a sense of who Anna is. That’s something I realized is missing. A good sense of who Anna is outside the context of her sister. Even if that is part of Anna’s inner journey/character arc, she still has some of her own characteristics. Something like bookworm, nerdy, prudent, cautious, quiet. Whatever it is that describes your character in a single word insert it somehow] Anna has spent her life looking up to her older sister, Storm. With her ever-present lists and a personality too big for Muscatine, Iowa, Storm’s always the leader of the pack—and Anna’s happy to follow. Until Storm dies suddenly, leaving Anna without direction. [One way to make this more unique is explain a little better the dynamic of this relationship. Looking up to the big sister is almost cliché or a given, so show us how their relationship is different from others]

When Anna finds Storm’s last list—fifteen things to do this summer—it’s like her sister is back, taking charge one last time. Armed with a 1971 Monte Carlo (that she doesn’t know how to drive) [This phrase feels off – Armed with – And how is that particular car important? If it’s not that important I’d cut the line, or make it connect – Like loading up her sister’s 1971 Monte Carlo…]and joined by Storm’s best friend, Cameron (who may be the answer to #5: Fall in love), Anna sets off on a cross-country journey (#9: Road trip!), marking off as many list items as she can along the way. [I think conveying why it’s so important to Anna to fulfill her sister’s list is another way to show how this story is unique. And Conflict. What’s the conflict? What’s going to prevent her from reaching her goals? Her parents? Giving up her own summer plans? We need some hints as to what the conflicts are.]

But the further Anna gets on the list, the more she discovers she didn’t really know her sister. Storm’s been keeping[since her sister has passed, I’m assuming either prior to the start of the story or right at the beginning as the inciting incident, in my opinion I’d make all sentences about Storm past tense. The rest should be present as queries should be.] a devastating secret from Anna—a secret Cameron has known all along. As Anna learns the truth about Storm’s last days, she realizes she needs to let go of the future her sister created [I don’t really get this line. Either a bit more explanation or rephrase. Because really has her sister created a future? I feel this needs to be that line about Anna’s character arc – what she must learn by the end of the story to fulfill her need as opposed to her want/goal. I think you’re getting there but right now this line is more about Storm than Anna. Make it about Anna.]and figure out her own path in life. [This may just be my opinion, but I think we need a little bit more as to the secret and how learning it has upped the stakes for Anna. I feel like it could be another thing that makes the query more unique.]

And none of Storm’s lists can help her now.

It’s The Bucket List meets Elizabethtown in SOMEONE ELSE’S SUMMER, a YA contemporary novel complete at 72,000 words. The full novel is available upon your request.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


So I thought first I would point out what I think works for your query. It’s tight and concise. I immediately know what Anna’s goal is and her motivations. I get just enough to emotionally connect with her.

Now for the things that I think need work. For me, your voice is missing – the voice of the story, of Anna. As I pointed out, we need a better sense of who Anna is at the start of her character journey and I think focusing on that will lend to the voice. I think there are places where we need a little bit more, another line to show the relationship. A line about Anna’s conflict to her goals and even a bit more revelation as to her sister’s secret. We also need more specific stakes. What’s really at stake for Anna if she does or doesn’t accomplish her goal of completing her sister’s list? I think adding these bits of information will help with the other big thing I noticed about the query. I don’t get a sense of what makes this story unique beyond a “coming-of-age” road trip. As it reads, it feels plain, nothing really grabbed my attention.

Cate is all about guilty pleasures. She loves salted caramel mochas, Justin Timberlake, Fox’s Sleepy Hollow, and Steampunk. As a native Nashvillian, Cate’s biggest guilty pleasure is watching Nashville.

When she’s reading, Cate looks for character-driven stories, a distinguished voice, and intriguing plots.She loves characters that surprise her, like the pirate with a heart of gold, and plots that keep her guessing until the very last page.

When she’s not reading queries, Cate works with clients to build their platform, works on PR projects to help promote clients’ books, and reads manuscripts with an editorial eye. 



Getting the Submission Call with Ami Allen-Vath

  Posted by Michelle4Laughs , 18 December 2014 · 38 views

Submission is a secretive place and for good reason. It's not polite to kiss and tell. (Imagine the stress of querying on steroids.) Ami Allen-Vath is here to shed a little light on the process.  Thanks, Ami!

Being here on Michelle’s blog is so weird and exciting, you guys! In May of 2013, I was in the query trenches and bummed about not making it into one of the awesome query contests that Michelle co-hosts. (There’s another one coming up: Sun vs. Snow—check it out!) Then, about three months later, she posted a Query Questions interview with Victoria Lowes of The Bent Agency. I queried Victoria and two months after, I was on here with my very own “Getting The Call” post talking about my query to agent journey. Today I’m back to say that I’ve made it through the fiery pit of “sub hell.”

Being on sub started out very fun and OMG THIS IS CRAZY! I was a little awestruck when I first got the list of editors Victoria would be pitching my book to. My agent started with a mid-size round and then as responses came in (fairly positive, seemingly subjective but yet NOPE) my agent would send more out. Fun fact: my agent used my query as her pitch—it was basically word for word so keep this in mind querying writers: Your query may never die!

The time it took from starting sub to the offer was about five months. It felt like soooooo muuuuuuch longer but I’m not going to complain. I would have never gotten through this without some people who knew what I was dealing with. I had something every writer on sub needs: A SUB SUPPORT GROUP. There is nothing like dipping into the pool of obsession, overanalyzing and anticipation than with a fun-loving writer friend or two. Writerly support is always good but if you have someone who is also going through sub or just got out of it, hold that writer friend tightly. Checking in and getting check-ins from others in the trenches made everything so much easier.

You know what didn’t make it easier? Going into Barnes & Noble and drooling over book spines, publisher names, and all the gorgeous covers. Holding other pretty paperbacks and hardcovers in my hands in the YA section was this beautifully awful form of torture. I’d be on the brink of tears so many times just holding a book and knowing that someday, somehow–please please please somebody– that could be me.

That’s why rejection is so hard. In querying or with your book on submission…it’s one more person saying “Sorry, I wish I had better news!” “I loved this BUT…” Yes, getting emails from my agent with a rejection gave me mini stomachaches. One made me cry. Sometimes I felt like I just wasn’t quite good enough. It felt like my book was becoming so ALMOSTY. I saw other writers in the trenches going through similar stuff. So much second-guessing. But just remember, those feelings are temporary. They usually fade or at least begin to ease up the morning after. I strongly advise against sub rejection being interpreted as giant red signs that say GIVE UP NOW.

The day that Victoria emailed me to call her was my son’s birthday. She told me we had an offer and I’m pretty sure I made her say it all over again and “Whaaaat?” I was in a fairly calm state of shock and awe. Since offer day, I’ve been on the brink of tears (but never legit breaking down) about the whole thing a good handful of times. I had a decent amount of time from offer to actual contract signing to get used to the idea of becoming published, but still can’t quite wrap my head around it. (Yes, there is still more waiting to be done after you get the offer—take note, as this can be fairly quick or fairly lengthy).

So to get into more detail of the sale, I am beyond thrilled that Kristin Kulsavage of Sky Pony Press, an imprint of SkyHorse Publishing has bought my YA debut, Prom Bitch. I had a conference call before we accepted the offer and Kristin was so wonderful. She loved the dark edginess of Prom Bitch mixed with the light and swoony romance and humor. She got my book and wasn’t interested in trying to make it one thing or the other. This meant so much to me and was important (crucial) in selling my book. I’m so thrilled to move into the next phase of this journey with another person who believes in my book.

My story about being on sub is just one in a bazillion. Sometimes it’s a first book; sometimes it’s the twelfth. Sometimes you get an offer in week two and sometimes in year two. There are so many ways to make it out of being “on sub.” So keep in mind, that a success doesn’t always mean a big auction with a giant advance or even a sale at all. Every journey is different. As long as you don’t give up or stop writing, you’ll still be a writer and your dreams are always within reach.

Ami Allen-Vath is a YA contemporary author, represented by Victoria Lowes of The Bent Agency. Her book, Prom Bitch is forthcoming from Sky Pony Press in fall of 2015. 
Ami loves books, good and bad TV, and ice cream. She does not like birds, cilantro, or cartoon character impressions. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, two children, and a dog named Yoda. She can be found on Twitter: @amilouiseallen, Facebook, and her blog: “Ami with an I.”



Holiday Query Hop Critique 7

  Posted by Michelle4Laughs , 17 December 2014 · 32 views

It seems like I've known Heather Van Fleet forever. We were in the query trenches together. I'm so happy to have her offer a critique.
Keep in mind that feedback is subjective by nature. What does and does not catch the eye is going to vary by person. Each writer must weigh the comments they get against their own judgement and make the changes that resonate with them.

The Holiday Query hop is closed. Please make sure you get your 10 critiques done.  
The random number generator picks 25!
Dear Awesome Agent,
When sorceress and Australian crime-boss Morgause hit-men fails to take out Artie before he discovers he’s the new ‘once & future king,’ Morgause implements plan-B: kill Artie’s spirit.

There is a LOT going on in this one particular sentence and you’ve kind of lost me, mainly because it’s extremely wordy. Also, I’d like to know more of Morgause’s stakes and why she wants to ‘take out’ the future king so badly. In queries, the simpler the better is what I’ve always been told. So maybe something like this might work instead:

After a failed attempt to assassinate Artie, the future king of (insert location here maybe?), Sorceress and Australian crime-boss Morgause must implement a plan-B. This time she must try to kill Artie’s spirit, before he discovers the truth about who he is.

She tasks her son to seduce Artie’s best mate and then uses the witless love-struck human to spy on Artie. Then, Morgause soon discovers ing Artie’s Catholic Priest is struggling with his vows and the woman of his sexual fantasies just so happens to be Artie’s girlfriend, Gwen. fantasies is Artie’s girlfriend Gwen, Morgause ply’s (I’d think of a different word than ply’s here.) Gwen and the Priest with a powerful tonic The potion one that fevers lust while diluting a mortal’s reason and moral compass. Gwen and the Priest spend a wild night together, but with the clarity of morning, both regret their actions. Ashamed, they agree to tell no one; however, a secret video of their night together quickly goes viral on YouTube.
Again, there is a lot going on here, more so a play by play of the story rather than little teases of what happens. Not to mention the abundance of characters. Is this Morgause’s story? Arties? Gwen?
Feeling b Betrayed and struggling with the world either vilifying Gwen or laughing at him, Artie is broken. (I think broken is not quite a powerful enough word here. I’d find a synonym or state exactly what Artie does. EX: Does he go off the deep in? Loose control? I need something more visual here.) Now, Morgause can finally destroy the man and the legend, while and also have her seeking revenge on the first King Arthur and her nemesis, Merlin.
This is, so far, the best written paragraph in the query. Great stakes. I just suggest a word change, some word replacement, and something more visual as far as Artie goes.
But Luckily Artie isn’t alone… (This would be a great standalone sentence adding to the tension and leading in to the final paragraph.)
With the help from a few mythical beings, of an invisible dragon and the mythical Rainbow Serpent of Koori legend, Merlin casts magic bullets (where do these bullets go? Morgause’s home? In her? I’m confused.) which should vanquish Morgause. But in order for the magic to bond, a final ingredient is needed… forgiveness. If Artie has truly forgiven his best mate, priest, girlfriend, and even his parents for their lies, (Since you didn’t mention his parents in the query, I would leave them out.) then the magic will work. The final body-count will determine the power of Artie’s forgiveness by who survives.
My suggestion here would be to combine the last two sentences into a simple sentence, for example: But in order for the magic to bond, a final ingredient is needed: Artie’s forgiveness to all who have wronged him. If not, then…
The rest is up to you. That last sentence though HAS to be pretty memorable for an agent to really feel it. You’ve got great bones here, but a little more tightening and simplifying will make this very intriguing.
Told for in dual point of view between Morguase’ & Artie, ARTIE AND THE DODECAGON is an (estimated) 80,000-word erotic contemporary adult, sexually explicit (straight and gay), dark, Arthurian re-telling set in Scotland and Australia.
No need to use contemporary, adult, sexually explicit, straight and gay, and dark. Erotic covers them all and simplifies the paragraph.
I was born in Croatia, raised in Australia, and have lived in France. In 2013 I placed in a worldwide short story competition. In 2015 I’ll and have a short story published in an anthology with a US publisher. (Agents will want to know this publisher name, so be sure to add it in the query instead of just saying US publisher.) I’m also a painter, a slave to my Feline Overlords and active on social media.
That’s wonderful you have such a fabulous background and were able to live in all those places. (I’m very jealous) but this is the paragraph where you tell your publishing background. If you want to say you were raised in Australia (since the book takes place there part of the time) then that might be okay. Otherwise I’d leave the rest of the locations out.
Per submission guidelines …..
Young adult and new adult author Heather Van Fleet is an Illinois born native, raised in a town that borders both Iowa and Illinois. She’s a wife to her hubby (and high school sweet heart) Chris, as well as a mom to her three little girls. When she’s not obsessing over her fictional book characters, burning meals, or running around chasing her crazy kiddos, you can usually find her with her head stuck in her Kindle, or typing away on her laptop, sucking down White Chocolate Mochas like they were water. Heather is represented by Stacey Donaghy of Donaghy Literary. 



Query Questions with Dan Balow

  Posted by Michelle4Laughs , 16 December 2014 · 28 views

Writers have copious amounts of imagination. It's what makes their stories so fantastic. But there's a darker side to so much out of the box thinking. When a writer is in the query trenches, their worries go into overdrive. They start pulling out their hair and imagine every possible disaster.


Here to relieve some of that endless worrying is a new series of posts called Query Questions. I'll ask the questions which prey on every writer's mind, and hopefully take some of the pain out of querying. These are questions that I've seen tossed around on twitter and writing sites like Agent Query Connect. They are the type of questions that you need answers for the real expert--agents!

This is the first time to hear from an agent who specializes in Christian Fiction. Dan Balow is here to answer questions about his query slush from the Steve Laube Agency.

Is there a better or worse time of year to query? Not really. I am pretty organized and keep up on them.

Does one typo or misplaced comma shoot down the entire query? No. But a misspelled word in the title is a problem. Not being from an editorial background, I overlook a lot of things that trouble editors, but it is still nice to have it well-crafted.

Do you look at sample pages without fail or only if the query is strong? Only if the query is strong.

Do you have an assistant or intern go through your queries first or do you check all of them?My assistant is there to organize, but I check everything myself.

If the manuscript has a prologue, do you want it included with the sample pages? Yes

Some agencies mention querying only one agent at a time and some say query only one agent period. How often do you pass a query along to a fellow agent who might be more interested?Our agency wants one agent within the company at a time. If declined, then they are free to pitch to another, but need to mention they sent to another. I will recommend an author send to one of our agents, but I won't send myself. Simultaneous submissions to other agencies are fine.

Do you prefer a little personalized chit-chat in a query letter, or would you rather hear about the manuscript? Not a lot, but it would be nice to know that the author knows something about our agency, a recent blog post, or can connect something to us. It shows they know something about us. I view it like interviewing for a job. You would never send out a mass mailing looking for a job. You would personalize and know something about the company where you seek an interview.

Most agents have said they don’t care whether the word count/genre sentence comes first or last. But is it a red flag if one component is not included? Not a red flag, but appreciated fairly early in the query or cover letter.

Writers hear a lot about limiting the number of named characters in a query. Do you feel keeping named characters to a certain number makes for a clearer query? Yes. The idea of the query is to get someone interested quickly. Get to the point quickly.

Should writers sweat the title of their book (and character names) or is that something that is often changed by publishers?  Do the best they can, but don't hold either very tightly. The publisher needs to have some latitude. 

How many queries do you receive in a week? How many requests might you make out of those? I get about ten per week. I will normally take an extra step with one of those ten.

Many agents say they don't care if writers are active online. Could a twitter account or blog presence by a writer tip the scales in getting a request or offer? And do you require writers you sign to start one? Yes on both counts. It is very important.

Some writers have asked about including links to their blogs or manuscript-related artwork. I’m sure it’s not appropriate to add those links in a query, but are links in an email signature offensive? Links are good, no matter where.

If a writer makes changes to their manuscript due to feedback should they resend the query or only if material was requested? Only if requested.

What bio should an author with no publishing credits include? Give some sense why they are motivated or qualified to write.

What does ‘just not right mean for me’ mean to you? Relatively fast, I need to feel like I can sell a particular proposal. Agents see the world through the eyes of publishers. If we don't see something they would want, then "it is just not right for me."

What themes are you sick of seeing? Only things that are preceded by the phrase, "I know you say you aren't looking for _________, but here it is anyway."

Do you consider yourself a hands-on, editorial type of agent? Hands-on, yes. Editorial, no. My background is the business of publishing and I help authors who need that type of agent.

What’s the strangest/funniest thing you’ve seen in a query? I plead the fifth. 

What three things are at the top of your submission wish list? A tough question. Honestly, great writing takes a lot of forms and is usually surprising. Art surprises. So surprise me.

What are some of your favorite movies or books to give us an idea of your tastes? I like biographies like Unbroken, fiction like Crichton and business books from Seth Godin. I try not to allow my personal tastes dictate what I can represent and sell. I've discovered that I am not the market for most things, so I've learned to see the world through the eyes of others.


Dan is a 30 year veteran of the Christian publishing industry. He was the director of marketing for Tyndale House Publishers working with authors Francine Rivers, James Dobson, Josh McDowell, Charles Colson and many others.

Starting in 1995, Dan led the marketing team for the immensely successful Left Behind series by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye. Eventually devoting most of his time to the effort, he took on the role of Director of Business Development for the series, expanding his involvement to licensing and product development along with the marketing. At its peak, the series was selling over two million copies of various products per month on its way to over 60 million copies to date.

In 2002, he added the role of director of international publishing for Tyndale and later, Director of Research and Analysis for the company. In recent years he has worked as Publisher for two audio publishing companies and consulted with ministries and publishers on their publishing programs.

Dan has served on the executive board of ECPA (the Evangelical Christian Publisher’s Association), the trade association for Christian publishers. In addition, he is a founding member of the advisory board of the Christy Awards and is involved in training and mentoring Christian publishers around the world. He was a presenter in marketing and digital publishing at the 2012 LittWorld conference in Nairobi and will be presenting similar sessions to publishers in Ghana, West Africa in August 2013. (Here is a link to a video of Dan speaking on the basics of marketing at LittWorld.)

Dan is a graduate of Wheaton College with a degree in Communications, is married to Carol and they have four grown children. He will be working from his office in Wheaton, IL.



Holiday Query Hop Critique 6

  Posted by Michelle4Laughs , 15 December 2014 · 33 views

Here to do the next critique is my friend from Agent Query Critique Sarah Marsh. Sarah has helped with a lot of my contests, including Query Kombat!
Keep in mind that feedback is subjective by nature. What does and does not catch the eye is going to vary by person. Each writer must weigh the comments they get against their own judgement and make the changes that resonate with them.

The hop is closed to new entries. If you are at the front or end of the list, please critique each other now. 

The random number generator picks 22! 
Dear Agent,

When Kuji, a recent graduate of Black Squirrel Academy, is assigned to the Ninja Squirrels of the Hundred Acre Wood, he doubts his ability to become a member of the elite, clandestine I’d choose just one word or the other here—maybe “elite” force responsible for protecting the Wood and its inhabitants. This first sentence was too long and had too many names to hook me. How about shortening it up a bit? I suggest removing “a recent graduate of Black Squirrel Academy” so we can focus on Kuji’s present job—the Ninja Squirrels. He contemplates requesting a transfer to an easier first assignment but decides to take the risk and accept the position as a Ninja Squirrel trainee. I’m wondering if this sentence is needed. From your opening, we already know that Kuji is uncertain about his new position. Kuji discovers he has found a place to truly call home, a place with good friends and a future. I feel like we made a big jump here—what caused Kuji to realize that the Wood feels like home? He is quickly put to the test and must prove to himself and the others he is capable of the challenges, even if the difficult training forces him out of his comfort zone. This feels a bit too vague where you mention Kuji being put to a test and facing challenges. Can you give a specific example of what Kuji does to prove himself? Don’t be afraid to give a few details relevant to the plot!

I also wanted to get a sense of Kuji’s voice here. Is he funny? Sarcastic? Serious and focused? Don’t be afraid to let his voice shine with phrasing and word choices that are unique to him!

Last, I’d recommend starting by describing Kuji a little in the opening sentence. It would be nice to get a vague idea of his age, ie: “When brave young squirrel trainee Kuji is assigned to the Ninja Squirrels…”

His arrival, though, has triggered This should be “triggers” to keep things in present tense. an increase in attacks by the Hundred Acre Wood’s greatest enemy, the Arachne. The Arachne are evil, overgrown I think you can simplify and trim a few words here for better flow. “These overgrown spiders and scorpions…” I’d remove “evil” because that’s implied by their actions! spiders and scorpions who will stop at nothing by doing what? Do they try to poison the squirrels? Fight them? to defeat the Ninja Squirrels and drain the magical power that gives the Wood its innocence and goodness. What really needs to be clearer here is why Kuji’s arrival triggers the Arachne to attack more. Reading ahead, I see that you address this in the next paragraph (he’s destined to become the Ninja Squirrels’ leader), but you could hint at it here with something like: “Strangely, Kuji’s arrival coincides with a massive attack by the Hundred Acre Wood’s greatest enemy…” only prettier and in your voice, of course!

Adding to the pressures of a trainee, Master Jonin, the legendary sensei of the Ninja Squirrels, tells Kuji of his destiny to be the kami, the group’s ninth member who is to bind the Ninja Squirrels, make them stronger, and eventually become their leader. This sentence feels a bit unwieldy. Perhaps cut the part about strengthening the group, and focus on how Kuji will become their leader? Again, I also see opportunities to shorten by rearranging things slightly. For example, instead of saying “the legendary sensei of the Ninja Squirrels” say, “the Ninja Squirrels’ legendary sensei” –you’ll lose two words from that alone. Kuji is not sure he can live up to this lofty expectation. You could lose “Kuji isn’t sure he can live up to this lofty expectation,” because you show that he has doubts in the next sentence. He doesn’t know if he can deal with the responsibility of leadership or risk losing being just one of the squirrels the “risk losing being” phrasing felt awkward to me—is there a different way you can say this in Kuji’s voice?, which is his favorite thing about being a member of the team. But, Kuji also realizes that without this kami presence, the Ninja Squirrels will inevitably drift apart and leave the Wood vulnerable to Arachne attack. I’m not too sure about the stakes at the end here. You’re almost there, but I want you to be more specific about the threat to Kuji. What does he stand to lose if the Arachne do attack? Will his friends be killed? Could he possibly be killed? Will all the goodness be drained from his beloved wood, leaving it a twisted, nightmarish land? Specifics are what help agents and readers to identify with your characters—again, don’t be afraid to give details!

Overall, the biggest problem I’m noticing here is length. This query reads at 280 words, but ideally, it should be less than 250! The tighter and snappier you can make your query, the better chance you’ll have of an agent wanting to read on to your sample pages! Trim any unnecessary adjectives and sentences that repeat the same idea or feeling.

Also, don’t forget to incorporate Kuji’s voice into the query, and wherever possible, give specifics about your character and plot! Then I think you’ll be well on your way.

The adventures in NINJA SQUIRRELS OF THE HUNDRED ACRE WOOD, a 39,600-word middle-grade fantasy, are stories built around the world created by A. A. Milne in his Winnie-the-Pooh books.

My upper middle-grade historical fiction novel, THE YOUNGER DAYS, was released by the MuseItYoung imprint of MuseItUp Publishing and was awarded the Catholic Writer’s Guild Seal of Approval Award. I have also published three non-fiction football coaching articles in a national coaching magazine. Great job summarizing your credentials and keeping it relevant! Best of luck on what sounds like a really fun story!

Thank you for your time and consideration. The complete manuscript is available upon request.

Sarah Glenn Marsh is a young adult and picture book author represented by Christa Heschke of McIntosh & Otis Literary. An avid fantasy reader from the day her dad handed her a copy of The Hobbit and promised it would change her life, she’s been making up words and worlds ever since.

Now she lives and writes and paints things in Richmond VA, supported by her brilliant husband and four senior greyhounds, who’d like you to consider a rescue as your next pet!

Visit Sarah online at: sarahglennmarsh.blogspot.com, and on Twitter: @SG_Marsh



Writing Pet Peeve

  Posted by Michelle4Laughs , 13 December 2014 · 44 views

A short and sweet editing suggestion today. Besides filtering in writing (see my rant against filtering here) the next thing that drives me nuts is mistakes with the word "couple." 

I see a couple presents under the tree.

Problem. Grammatically, that sentence is missing a word.

I see a couple of presents under the tree.

There are a couple of hot cookies on the counter.

I have a couple of stops yet to make.

Unless you are talking about two people with a fondness for each other, you need the word "of" with "couple." Maybe it's old fashioned, but for me, leaving off the "of" is incorrect, though I see it done often.

So what are your writing pet peeves? What brings out the rant in you?  



Holiday Query Hop Critique 5

  Posted by Michelle4Laughs , 12 December 2014 · 32 views

Rena Olsen used to enter my contests and now she's helping to run them! Ain't life wonderful!
Keep in mind that feedback is subjective by nature. What does and does not catch the eye is going to vary by person. Each writer must weigh the comments they get against their own judgement and make the changes that resonate with them.

The Holiday Query hop is still taking entries, see here for details.  
The random number generator picks 16!
Sixteen-year-old Tia’s convinced her mom and those villagers were wrong about the grandfather who died before she was born. He wasn’t a monster. The real monsters were the ones who killed him. She knows, because she found his lab, the one they did their best to burn to the ground. She read his journals. She secretly rebuilt his machines. (Axe this paragraph. Too much backstory. You want to start your query where the action is, which the second paragraph does beautifully.)

When her elusive crush, Frank, is killed in a car crash, she sixteen-year-old Tia snatches his poor, torn body (from the crash site? from the funeral home?) before they can embalm him. She hauls his parts and pieces (this pulled me out of the query because it’s kinda gross. Exactly how many parts is she hauling? Eeek! Maybe just “parts” or even switch to “remains,” which would encompass all his parts and pieces.) to her grandfather’s tower. Under the cryptic guidance left for her in the journals (if you delete the first paragraph, you will need to explain which journals she’s using), she patches him back together. Lightning erupts, and she reanimates Frank. (I love the last part of the sentence, but I wonder if the lightning causesthe reanimation or if it’s just to set tone. If it causes the reanimation, connect the two. “Using the power of a lightning bolt, Tia reanimates Frank.”)

Those cats that disappeared? Tia’s pretty sure coyotes got them. And that old lady has it wrong. (Has what wrong? Are there strange things other than disappearing cats going on in the neighborhood?) Tia knows Frank. He’d never hurt a soul. So what if he takes off every night? He needs his space. Stuff like that keeps a relationship fresh. Sure, he stumbles around during the day, and she tries to ignore the fact that he’s not quite Frank anymore. Well, maybe not even a smidgen like Frank anymore. Because he’s the guy she always wanted, and he tells her he loves her. All the time. (I’m torn about this paragraph. The voice is fantastic, but it almost contradicts itself. Tia knows Frank, except he’s not anything like Frank anymore. I would start with why she might ignore everything that’s happening. She’s excited she’s finally with her crush. He says he loves her. {Could add something there too, as far as how he says it. Is his tone flat, mumbled?} I love the lines about him needing space and keeping the relationship fresh. I think you could cut down the mentions of weird things happening in the neighborhood.)

But, when Frank’s possessive attitude—well, frankly, it’s a frightening attitude—becomes more than she can bear frightening, Tia must decide if she loves Frank enough to keep him alive, or find a way to bury him good. (Stakes don’t feel urgent enough. Do others notice Frank is missing? Is he normal looking enough that they don’t suspect? With strange things happening in the neighborhood, do they look for someone to blame? What else is Tia giving up if she buries him for good?)

Complete at xx,xxx, REANIMATING FRANK, a WIP, is a young adult contemporary fantasy in the vein of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I’m a member of SCBWI and RWA.

(Include a paragraph indicating that you’ve attached materials per the agency guidelines, and always thank them for their time and consideration.)

I really love the concept of this story. I think with a little tightening and higher stakes, you’ll have a really strong query. The voice shines through in the query, which is difficult to accomplish. 


Daughter of a wandering pastor, Rena Olsen never knew the answer to the question, “Where are you from?” Attending her third school by fourth grade, she found familiarity and comfort in reading, and when she figured out she could create her own stories, that was it. She hasn’t stopped writing since her first story, about an anthropomorphic tooth going on an adventure through a school, won the state of Iowa contest for her age group. Now she spends her days playing games and saving lives as a school therapist, and in the evenings she dives into the fictional worlds in her mind. She also spends more time reading than sleeping, and has absolutely zero regrets. Rena is represented by Sharon Pelletier of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. 

Website: www.renaolsen.com
Twitter: @originallyrena
Facebook: www.facebook.com/RenaOlsenWriter



Sun versus Snow is Coming!

  Posted by Michelle4Laughs , 11 December 2014 · 19 views

Yes!! It’s time to think about the New Year and get those queries and first pages ready for Sun vs. Snow!

Jump on over to Amy Trueblood's blog to get some juicy details! 

Looking forward to seeing some great entries this year! And don't be shy. If you have questions, hit us up on twitter.



Holiday Query Hop Critique 4

  Posted by Michelle4Laughs , 10 December 2014 · 34 views

Here to do the next critique is the inventor and host of PitchSlam, Leatrice McKinney! She's seen and helped with her share of queries.
Keep in mind that feedback is subjective by nature. What does and does not catch the eye is going to vary by person. Each writer must weigh the comments they get against their own judgement and make the changes that resonate with them.

The Holiday Query hop is still taking entries, see here for details.  
The random number generator picks 13! 
Dear Ms Perfect Agent for Me,

A couple of sentences on why this is the perfect agent for can go here or when you introduce the book by title.

When sixteen-year-old Cammie's forced off the road and nearly killed by the richest man in Sleepy Valley SC, she needs evidence to prove her sister’s boyfriend is the culprit before he murders both of them.

I’m confused at this pointing because it seems as if we have two Hes but the sentence reads as if there is one. Is the richest man her sister’s boyfriend? If not, we have four people introduced in the first paragraph: Cammie, rich guy, sister, sister’s boyfriend. That is already pushing the limit of the number of people that should be mentioned in the entire query to avoid the reader getting lost in trying to keep up with everyone.

Also, how is she nearly killed by said richest man? I assume it has to do with them nearly running into one another what with her being forced off the road, but it’s not clear. The hook is buried beneath guesswork and character description. Some mystery is good, questions can make a person want to know more, but they have to be the right kind of questions.

This is also the perfect place throw in a little voice. How would Cammie describe the situation? Would she say “being run off the fricken road” or “nearly being crushed by some hoity-toity townie” or anything other than forced from the road. Queries are the hardest to try and fit story AND character AND voice into, it’s small instances like this that make it possible.

Lucky she has someone to count on: her Nana, (Five characters) now in her seventies who worships the god Bahr, (Six characters. Even if the deity isn’t an actual person in the story, the mention of a name is one the reader has to keep up with) has more guns in her house than the local pawn shop, bakes fantastic Norwegian cookies and keeps up with the latest on profiling killers. But no one else believes Cammie, including the sheriff (Seven characters), until his hunk of a nephew (Eight characters) tries to help her, but he could be one of the bad guys.

By this point there are too many people to try and keep up with, and the introduction of all of those people has taken away from the description of what goes on in your story. What happened to the richest man and the boyfriend? How is the hook related to the rest of the book? We get great characterization about Nana (who sounds like a fun if not funny woman), but that doesn’t tell us anything about the story itself. Why can she count on Nana? What does Nana do? Why does no one believe Cammie? How does the hunky nephew try to help? Who are the bad guys and why is Cammie up against them?

After scheming to get the murderer (Nine characters. Is this the boyfriend or the rich guy? I assume neither, since they weren’t identified as murderers previously and the only killers mentioned thus far are the ones Nana keeps tabs on) to invite her and her family to his home for dinner, (Why would she take her family, who doesn’t believe her, with her to a killer’s house?) she makes friends with one of the maids (Ten characters) and takes a job as a maid at his family’s palatial estate. Dressed in disguise so her sister's boyfriend doesn't recognize her, she snoops in his laboratory (What sort of laboratory? This seems like a detail that is sort of thrown in and doesn’t add to the telling of your story. Searching his house would be fine. And wouldn’t he recognize her since he’s trying to kill her? Why would he hire her?) and room, looking for evidence, but time is closing in on her and so is the murderer. The mention of the murderer as a separate person in the same sentence as the boyfriend leads the reader to believe that it is a completely different character from said boyfriend.

The query reads more like a rundown of the cast of the story, who sound like interesting people, instead of what happens. After each of these individuals is mentioned, they go away. They don’t push the story forward in the least. The only ones repeated are Cammie, the boyfriend, and the murderer. We have no sense of the story itself beneath all of that. All we walk away knowing is Cammie is run off the road, people don’t believe her about it—I’m not sure why since it’s not something fantastical and happens to people often—and she goes under cover to catch the guy who did it and prevent him from…

What are the stakes? What will she lose if she doesn’t confront the man who ran her off the road? Or the murderer. Who did the murderer kill? Why is Cammie going up against him? Why is time running out? What will happen when it does? Why won’t anyone believe her about being run off the road? Is she a habitual liar or does she have some sort of sordid past where people don’t trust her? Those would be details to include instead of the list of people.

I won first place from the Virginia Romance Writers Association for one of my novels and second place for YA fiction from the Florida State Writing Competition. My mystery/suspense fiction has been published in PALM PRINTS, the University of South Florida Writers Journal, and online at RIVERWALK. 

You have impressive accolades, so you are definitely doing something right with you stories.

Dangerous is a YA mystery/thriller with series potential complete at 61,000 words. that contains unique formats, including newspaper articles, lists, cards and emails.

This is a multiple submission. Although Dangerous is a standalone story, it has series potential.

Your query is real estate, use only essential words and details to fill it, even in the bio section. If you don’t mention why the agent is perfect for you at the beginning of the query, mention it here. I’m writing you because so forth and so on.

Per your guidelines, I've included the first chapter and a synopsis.

Thank you for considering Dangerous.

L.L. McKinney lives the single life in Kansas surrounded by more nieces and nephews than she knows what to do with. Aside doing the Favorite Aunt thing, she spends her weekends watching Saturday morning cartoons, defending her crown as the Mario Kart queen, and waging war against the enemies of Azeroth. For the Horde! When she’s pretending to be a grownup, she plays the part of freelance writer, published poet, and an active member of the writing community via social media outlets (which is a fancy way of saying she’s addicted to Twitter). She’s the creator and host of the bi-annual Pitch Slam contest via her blog and has spent time in the slush by serving as a reader for agents and participating as a judge in various online writing contests.

You can follow her madness on TwitterFacebook, her Blog, and her Website.



Holiday Query Hop Critique 3

  Posted by Michelle4Laughs , 09 December 2014 · 26 views

Here to do the next critique is my Sun versus Snow co-host Amy Trueblood! Amy runs an amazing blog of her own, full of writing tips and agent interviews. 
Keep in mind that feedback is subjective by nature. What does and does not catch the eye is going to vary by person. Each writer must weigh the comments they get against their own judgement and make the changes that resonate with them.

The Holiday Query hop is still taking entries, see here for details.  
The random number generator picks 3! Another great match as Amy writes YA! 

Dear Blog Hop Critters,

Stealing painkillers is bad. Stealing painkillers from your grandparents is worse. Stealing painkillers from your grandparents’ aquarium (when I first read this I thought it meant an aquarium in a private home) while high out of your mind and then vomiting into the sea lion pool is category five hurricane bad. For sixteen-year-old Laura Angela Sweetling, it was called Tuesday night.

I love the voice here but there is too much set-up. I'd recommend cutting the first line and starting with "Stealing painkillers from your grandparents is bad." It is still a shocking hook.

Four months later and fresh out of rehab, Laura knows she has some amends to make. She just didn’t imagine making them as a volunteer. Thankfully, her grandparents are doing research on African cichlids so Laura is granted a reprieve before she has the pleasure of from drowning in their disapproving glares. She just wasn’t expecting to find her mom in the post of Volunteer Supervisor. Nepotism, much? It’s practically a family reunion and Laura’s wishing she drowned in the sea lion pool, instead.

The voice here is still strong, but you're losing me in all the detail. I'd recommend being more straightforward. Her punishment is to work as a volunteer, but grandparents are busy so Mom is now her boss.

Making new fish-loving friends (and some that are just there for something splashy to put on college apps) is a side aeffect of her jail sentence. So is a ridiculous crush on a boy that completely and totally embodies the term fish-o-phile. Then there’s summer school since her wild Tuesday night and therapy stint screwed the rest of her junior year.

But just as Laura is beginning to acclimate to new waters, (an activist protest in the walrus exhibit) challenges her ideas about captivity and the family business. Struggling to stay clean and repair her damaged familial relationships, Laura’s newfound beliefs might just sink everyone, including Laura herself.

The protest is your conflict and creates the stakes. I'd get this up into the second paragraph. I'd recommend looking at your sinker too. Identify what her change will cost not only her but her family. Will they lose their livelihood? Could Laura be in trouble again? Make it very clear what her change of heart could do to all of them and how it will change her life.

SWIMMINGLY, a YA contemporary novel, is complete at 67,000 words. I was a volunteer at the New York Aquarium my junior year of high school (this is helpful bio info). The experience has greatly aided and influenced this manuscript. Thank you for your time and consideration. (I think you could benefit from adding some comp titles here.)


Overall I'd say you have a strong start. I get a good sense of character and voice. Again, I'd recommend cutting out a lot of your superfluous info and making your conflict and stakes very clear in the beginning.

Good luck!


A devotee of reading and writing from a very young age, Amy Trueblood grew up surrounded by books. After stints working in entertainment and advertising, she began writing her first manuscript and never looked back. Her work is part of The Fall and Summer's Edge short story collections. Her recent short story, "A Seat For Every Soul" appears in Pen & Muses' Dark Carnival collection. She is represented by Roseanne Wells of The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. To learn more about Amy, check out her blogor follow her on Twitteror Tumblr


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