Thursday, July 12, 2018

Synopsis Critique #24: YA Fantasy

And now, it's time for this week's synopsis critique! The author of LIFE BEGINS WITH MURDER, a YA Fantasy novel, submitted this synopsis. My in-line comments are [blue and in brackets], and I'll include a summary at the end. Feel free to comment below!

If you'd like a primer on how to write a synopsis, see my posts here and here. And if you want your synopsis critiqued on this website, fill out the form here, or email your 1-2 page synopsis to me at (NOTE: I'll email my critique to the author as soon as I'm done, so the author won't have to wait to see his/her synopsis on the site). Thanks for participating!


Seventeen-year-old ALLII is Princess Albalia of Sallonia [1], a land with two distinctive features – extreme climatic conditions and vast deposits of Sallikan, the world’s most precious metal. [2]Ignored by her father, Allii is befriended by her beloved stepmother, BELLIZZA. Bellizza helps Allii avoid a distasteful marriage. Allii stands by Bellizza when the king and the court turn against her due to her inability to give birth to the much wanted heir to the throne. [3]Then Bellizza is poisoned and all evidence points to Allii. She is incarcerated and denied access to her father and to NANA, the beloved nurse who mothered her. She escapes and flees Sallonia, with the help of a daemon-dog. She is determined to avenge Bellizza and prove her own innocence to her father by finding the real killer. Since she has no access to the murder scene or witnesses, she uses unorthodox means to gain the information she needs.  [4]

From a woman who lives in a bubble outside time, Allii learns the history that is not in the approved history books. Sallonia once belonged to a race called Muffics who lived close to nature. It was invaded by warlike Sallonians who believed it was their god’s gift to them. Muffics were expelled to the margins of the land; friendly interactions between the two groups outlawed. Allii’s father, a Sallonian prince, and her mother, a Muffic woman loved each other. They eloped and lived together though laws prevented their marriage. Therefore Allii is a bastard and a Halfling, an ‘impure-bred’ despised by both sides. When circumstances forced her father to become king, he abandoned her mother who died soon afterwards. [5]

From a cousin who made a forbidden union with a Muffic woman Allii learns of the succession-crisis in Sallonia. Chief Minister SHERRIZ and Chief Priest PENA want the king to make a new marriage. The king’s cousin BERNALIN wants to change the laws so that Allii can succeed her father. Another cousin, ROCKRIN and his eldest son BROVNALIN angle for the throne. Halflings plot rebellion. [6]

From the secret letters Bellizza wrote to her sister Allii discovers that her stepmother had been resisting [7]attempts to divorce her when she was killed. 

While Allii tries to make sense of the information she has gathered she hears that her father has been killed and Nana locked up. Rockrin is now king. [8]He plans a war of annihilation against Muffics to unify all Sallonians behind him; and to grab the Muffic lands which are believed to contain the last untapped Sallikan ores.

By putting the clues together Allii concludes that Bellizza was killed by Nana. She manages to reach Nana’s prison and asks her why she killed Bellizza. Nana replies that she wanted the king to remarry and father a non-Halfling heir. She had no idea that her co-conspirators (Sherriz, Pena and Brovnalin) planned to scapegoat Allii. Horrified, she revealed the truth to the king who decided to expose the killers and exonerate Allii. Sherriz and Pena then aligned with Rockrin and murdered the king. [9]

Rockrin surprises Allii and Nana. He confirms Nana’s story. When he tries to kill Allii he is killed by NELLIN, Bellizza’s chief lady-in-waiting. [10]

Pena and Brovnalin arrest Bernalin and stage a public show-trial. Allii reveals herself and tells the court and the crowd the truth about who murdered her father and stepmother. She is backed by Nana and Nellin. The crowd turns against Pena and Brovnalin. Sallonian army, consisting mostly of forcible-conscripts, falls into disarray. With Halfling rebels on the march, Sallonian elites agree to make Allii queen. 

The quest to uncover Bellizza’s murder [11]has also been a quest of self-discovery for Allii. Sallonia is home but she doesn’t feel at home there. Her father betrayed her mother and stepmother because he prioritized the crown. She won’t go the same route. When Nellin kills Nana, in revenge for Bellizza’s death, and submits herself to Allii’s justice, Allii walks away sick at heart. 

Allii refuses the crown. At her insistence, the conclave comes to a tentative agreement to replace the kingdom with a republic. 

Having done what she could to set Sallonia on a less unjust path, Allii leaves. She has realized that she has a talent for at uncovering what is hidden. She will roam the world, investigating mysteries and helping those who are unjustly persecuted. Her birth will not determine her fate; she will. [12]


[1]This is a little confusing. I would just say “Seventeen-year-old ALLII is the princess of Sallonia…”

[2]These details are interesting, but don’t seem to be integral to the plot. If you’re trying to cut this down to one page, you can omit these details.

[3]Isn’t Allii the heir to the throne?

[4]What are these unorthodox means? Be specific!

[5]Wouldn’t Allii already know some of this? She knows Bellizza isn’t her real mother, so she must have questioned who her mother was. Was she lied to? Was she led to understand her real mother was Sallonian?

[6]These are all interesting details that add a lot to the main plot, but you need to omit all or most of these names. It muddles the reading. You can rephrase this as “ The Chief Minister and Chief Priest want the king to make a new marriage. The king’s cousin wants to change the laws so that Allii can succeed her father. Another cousin and his eldest son angle for the throne. Halflings plot rebellion.” That way, it’s a lot clearer who’s doing what without getting embroiled in name soup.

[7]I would add “the king’s” here to clarify who’s divorcing who.

[8]Again, I would just say “Allii’s cousin” here.

[9]I got a little confused by the end of this paragraph. Go back through and reword, making sure to focus on who’s doing what, and what the consequences are for the main plot.

[10]You might want to keep Rockrin’s name, since he recurs in the synopsis, but you definitely don’t need to name Nellin.


[12]This is a nice ending and good wrap-up for the plot.


You’ve got some Name Soup going on here. Limit the proper names to 4-5, tops, to make sure the reader doesn’t get confused. Here, I’d use Allii, Bellizza, Nana, and maybe Rockrin. Everyone else can be described by their relationship to Allii.

It sounds like a good plot with a lot of action. With that in mind, trying to condense it into a short synopsis was bound to be tricky. I’d go back through and make sure each major plot event is descibed fully (but briefly), in separate sentences or even paragraphs when necessary. Remember, a synopsis is a map of the plot, so you need to make sure the reader can follow the plot from Point A to B to Z.

Overall, nice job, and best of luck with this book!

Monday, July 9, 2018

July 2018 Pass Or Pages Entry Form

We are now accepting entries for Pass Or Pages! Before you enter, be sure to check out the rules. This month's round of Pass Or Pages is for Young Adult contemporary novels. Any entry not falling under that umbrella will be deleted. The entry window closes at 6pm Eastern time on Wednesday July 11th.

The form will not allow you to show italics or other formatting, but if your entry is chosen you'll have time to let us know of any formatting you need fixed.

Remember, with great power comes great responsibility!

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Synopsis Critique #23: YA Fantasy

And now, it's time for this week's synopsis critique! The author of EARTH RECLAIMED, a YA Fantasy novel, submitted this synopsis. My in-line comments are [blue and in brackets], and I'll include a summary at the end. Feel free to comment below!

If you'd like a primer on how to write a synopsis, see my posts here and here. And if you want your synopsis critiqued on this website, fill out the form here, or email your 1-2 page synopsis to me at (NOTE: I'll email my critique to the author as soon as I'm done, so the author won't have to wait to see his/her synopsis on the site). Thanks for participating!


Nearly killed by nuclear war, the sentient spirit of planet earth [1], know to many as MOTHER EARTH, floods the planet, culling the human population. Scattered across the livable land in independent territories, the humans have one last chance to prove their worth to the planet [2]. Most technology has been replaced with magic, but a handful of people cling to science, surviving with solar technology and genetic modification. 

17-year-old SEREN MCINTYRE is heir of ASSANA MCINTYRE, the ruler of a sovereign territory called Valley-Port and an ambassador between Mother Earth and humanity. Their connection to the planet allows them to manipulate the elements. [3][4]However, that connection works two ways. Every time a mage [5]like Seren uses magic, they risk being controlled by an elemental spirit or Mother Earth Herself. [6]

Growing differences between territories create the potential for a war, something that could lead Mother Earth to rid Herself of the remaining humans. [7]Therefore, dozens of small territories, including Valley-Port, decide to band together as one nation at the inaugural Newly Unified North Eastern State’s (NUNES) convention. 

The convention is being hosted 60 miles north at Merry Basin [8]by TREE-STRONG, a mage whose power rivals Assana’s. Since local elemental spirits won’t allow Assana to leave Valley-Port, Seren embarks to represent Valley-[9]accompanied by peacekeeper twins, DAVID and REGGIE. After a day of travels, they arrive in Little Port where Seren meets up with their boyfriend, ERIK. [10]He warns them about Altzis, a group of bigoted strangers loitering in Little Port on their way to NUNES. [11]

A storm blows up when Seren leaves Little Port, but the ocean spirit is one of the few elementals Seren trusts, so they draw power from her to get through the storm. They make it to Port’s Mouth just before nightfall but are run aground by a sola-powered [12]barge piloted by scientist who fear mages. Seren pulls their boat out of the water to repair the damage, but can’t find a part they need. Seren makes a bargain with a local smith: retrieve a machine trapped in the GREAT SALT MARSH [13]and he’ll make the missing part. 

When Seren returns to Port’s Mouth with the machine, they’re attacked by Altzis. [14]David and Reggie try to fight them off, but are outnumbered. A desperate Seren overcomes their fear of the elementals to draw power from an unknown river spirit, PISCATAQUA [15], who takes over Seren’s body. Piscataqua uses Seren to scare the fighting humans with a tsunami, making The Altzis drop their weapons and flee. 

After a brief stop in a hostile town, Seren and the twins camp on a riverbank. Local elementals snatch Seren’s spirit from their body and put it in a bird circling an Altzi ship. They discover Erik is held captive on board while the Altzis interrogate him about the elementals defending Valley-Port. 

The elementals just want Seren to sink the ship and kill everyone on it. Seren manages to hold the Altzis and raging elementals off long enough for David and Reggie to sneak on board and rescue Erik. 

The group makes it to Merry Basin without further incidents, but their troubles are far from over. The delegates, a mix of mages like Seren, Altzis, scientist, and village leaders who lack magic, cannot agree on anything. And Tree-Strong turns out to be so bad at moderating that Seren fears he is trying to cause a war. 

With the help of impish elementals Seren snoops around Tree-Strong’s home, but every time they get close to his office, his security systems nearly kill Seren. 

The elementals and Mother Earth grow weary of the human squabbling. When disagreements lead to violence, She uses Seren to give the humans an ultimatum: come to a peaceful agreement by dawn or die. [16]A storm blows up. The more people fight, the stronger it gets. It becomes lethal when a man tries to blow up the pier where most NUNES delegates have docked their boats. 

The man appears to be an Altzi, but Seren discovers Tree-Strong used magic to force him to deliver the explosive. 

Seren finally bypasses Tree-Strong’s security and finding [17]evidence that he engineered Altzi movement in hopes that by scarring people and saving them, they would accept him as their ruler, making NUNES an empire instead of a republic. 

Seren imprisons him and moderates the final discussion. The delegates vote to approve the constitution. 

As the sun rises, waters recede, and a rainbow stretches across the land -- a sign that The Mother approves of the outcome. Seren returns home no longer afraid of their power and more confident in their ability to one day fill Assana’s shoes as an Ambassador between Earth and humanity.


[1]: I’m not positive, but I think this should be capitalized as Planet Earth
[2]: Better clarity if you say they’re trying to prove themselves to Mother Earth
[3]: Does ‘they’ refer to Seren and Assana? Is Assana a man or woman? Reading through the synopsis, I think Seren is agender, but since the ‘they/them’ pronouns might be unfamiliar to some readers, it’s worth pointing this out upfront
[4]: Also, what do you mean by their connection to the planet? Can you add a little more detail here?
[5]: I would use ‘mages’ here, so it aligns with the plural ‘they’ later in the sentence
[6]: What does it mean for people to be controlled? I assume that’s a negative thing, but why?
[7]: I’m wondering why Mother Earth bothered to keep any humans around when she flooded the planet. If she’s just waiting for them to start a war so she can render them extinct, why not just get rid of all of them when she had a chance?
[8]: You’ve got a lot of character and place names in these first few paragraphs. Unless the place names are significant, I’d omit them and refer to places more generally.
[9]: Should be Valley-Port, right?
[10]: Whose boyfriend is he? The twins’? Seren’s? I’m confused who ‘they’ refers to here.
[11]: There are way too many character names now. You should stick to 4-5 named characters in a synopsis. Skipping ahead, I think you need Seren, Assana, Mother Earth, Erik, and Tree-Strong. The twins can be referred to as ‘the twins,’ and anyone else can be referred to generically, too.
[12]: This should be ‘solar-powered’?
[13]: This doesn’t need to be named
[14]: Here, I’m not sure if the ‘they’ refers to Seren or Seren, the twins, and Erik.
[15]: Don’t need this proper name. Just say ‘river spirit.’
[16]: Nice stakes.
[17]: ‘Finds’


You’ve got a clear plot through-line here, and I have a good idea of where the story goes. Most of my comments are for adding clarity. Doing that through deletion of excess character names will get you a long way. Best of luck with this!

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Meet Kat Seaholm in this Debut Author Spotlight

Debut Author Spotlight from @JLenniDorner on @OpAwesome6

In Search of Justice: Book One of the Seeker Files

1- Any fun outdoor activities planned for this summer?

I am currently in my second year of karate, with an end goal of achieving black belt. Every month this summer, I will be doing “Karate in the Park” as well as several workshops including board breaking. I am currently a blue belt in American Kenpo and will be testing for my Advanced Blue in July.

2- What five words represent your most notable characteristic or values? #In5Words

Loyalty, unique, laughter, strength, courage

3- What ignited your passion for writing?

I have been writing for as long as I can literally remember. Books and stories have always been a part of my life. My favorite day of the week was when we got to go to the library and my family would always max out our library cards, lol. It’s just such a natural part of me that I can’t imagine my life without writing.
Meet the cat of author Kat Seaholm in this Debut Author Spotlight

4- Would you share a picture with us of your book with one (or more) of your cats?

My cats are very active, so getting them to sit still long enough to take a picture was hard, but I managed. Meet Samson, the newest member of our family. In April, we had to say goodbye to our 17 year old Siamese tom, Sassy. It was hard, but we had to do what was best for him. However, we’ve always had a Siamese cat and the lack was quite evident. So after waiting a few months, we found Samson and it was love at first sight. Although we have both male and female cats, our toms tend to grow large, so we thought that he needed a big name to grow into.

5- What are some of your short and long term writing goals?

Short term writing goal is to finish the next book in my series finished “In Search of High Society”. The Seeker Files is planned to be a six-book series, so this will be the halfway point. The first book “In Search of Justice” is about Aletta and Lirim’s partnership forming. Book two, “In Search of Healing” is Aletta’s story. And this book will be Lirim’s story. I’m really looking forward to writing it and getting to know him better. Long term goal is definitely to finish The Seeker Files as well as write a second series called The Starfire Dragon Chronicles. Yes, the series that Aletta reads in the Seeker Files is a real series kicking around in the back of my mind at the moment. After that? We’ll see where the wind takes me 😊

6- What is your favorite book (by someone else), and what do you love most about that book?

Oh, this is a hard one. I have so many favorites, including books by Brian Jacques, Pride and Prejudice, anything by Eric Carle, Mary Calhoun, or Marguerite Henry. However, if I had to absolutely pick one, it would have to be “Lord of the Rings” by J.R.R. Tolkien. He created such a vivid in-depth world with such alive characters. Someday, if I work very, very hard, I might someday come close to his talent. I love all of his writing. His characters are so dynamic and alive. Now, I am a bit of a snob, as I rarely like the movie versions of books, but LOTR did an amazing job of capturing it, unlike the Hobbit. My only disappointment is that Tom Bombadil never made it into the movies, but I’m sure that’s because of run time. Also, Sam is the true hero of the series.

7- Who is currently your biggest fan? What does that person love most (or "ship") about your debut novel?

I haven’t been very widely read, although that is not the reason that I published my book. Due to an incident during my teens where I almost fell victim to a vanity publisher, I didn’t show my writing to anyone for years. Last year, I grew tired of hiding my writing from the world and dared myself to write a mystery in the month of October and publish it in time for Halloween. I was so burnt out by the end, but I did it. However, my mom is definitely my biggest fan and she enjoys seeing how the characters develop throughout the storyline.

8- What emotions do you hope your book will evoke for the reader, and is there a particular scene you hope will resonate with readers?

I really hope that the readers will connect with the characters as they make their journeys. I want my characters to not just evoke one emotion, but to make readers feel like that are real people that they could run into on the street. In ISOJ, the scene where Lirim and Aletta have lunch and try to work things out is the scene I hope that people relate to. It shows how two completely different individuals can figure out how to work together despite their differences and how people can recognize their own strengths and weaknesses. In ISOH, it’s where Aletta has to tell Lirim about her friend Lena. We all have issues that we tend to push down and run from. When we have to face them, it can be scary and even devastating. However, it can also be healing at the same time, which is why Aletta’s story is called “In Search of Healing”

9- What most helped you to improve your writing craft?

Now this is funny to admit as an author, but the fact is I absolutely HATE grammar. Grammar and I do not get along well at all, this goes all the way back to my middle school days. However, if I want my books to read well, it’s a necessary hurdle for my writing growth. So my many thanks go to my editor, Jennifer Benson, who helped me edit my two novels and had patience with my endless questions on the subject. My writing has definitely improved thanks to her help and I hope to continue improving as I go forward.

10- Where is the most interesting or unusual place to which you've traveled?

I was privileged to be able to visit Nepal last year with my company. I got to spend three days in a remote village doing community service and then spend another few days playing tourist. One of the cool things was that it is the year 2074 there, so I can say that I’ve been to the future. Also, they were having elections for the first time ever. The royal family was massacred in 2001 and then a corrupt government took over. It has taken time, but they finally got to do elections last year and it was an incredible thing to see. Nepal has a high illiteracy rate, over 80%, so they had pictures of all the candidates. The candidates could only campaign for one week and both men and women were allowed to vote. It was amazing.

11- What is the most memorable trait or visual oddity of one of your characters?

That honor would definitely have to belong to Cass, a pixie who works for HSI. She’s maybe five foot, but all energy and you never know what color her hair will be, it’s been every from fuchsia pink to mermaid aqua with teal highlights. I never know what color she’ll appear with next 😊

12- In what ways are the main characters in your book diverse? #WeNeedDiverseBooks

I don’t know if my main characters would be considered diverse or not, but Lirim is Supernatural while Aletta is Human. Although this is something that I’ll be expounding on in my third novel, the Fae were forced into hiding for centuries and only reemerged a few hundred years ago. In this world, they would almost definitely be considered a minority.

13- Which character has your favorite Personality Contradiction?

Definitely Cara, the secretary for Captain Jones. She is a very sweet person but cross her and she will bury you in paperwork. She is both the office mother and the enforcer of Captain Jones’s orders.

14- Does your book hold a mirror up to society, and in what way?

I don’t try to spotlight issues in society, what I want is for my books to be entertainment, a welcome respite from day to day stress. But if there is one thing that I would like people to take from my book, is that people are people and everyone has their own journey to make. You never know what other people are going through, sometimes a passing smile from you can mean the world to someone else. So be kind, it’ll make the world a brighter place.

15- What other books are similar to yours?

I think that it bears some resemblance to The Chronicles of Elantra, although it’s hard to define fantasy at times. It’s all so different 😊

16- Can you think of any small change in the world you could make to benefit hundreds of other authors or readers potentially?

Literacy programs. So many people hate reading because of required reading. They just haven’t been able to find the books that will make them fall in love. My middle brother has dyslexia (which is truly amazing, their brains work in 3D) and did not read until he was eight years old. My mother did not push him and let him work at his own pace, working from the book “The Gift of Dyslexia”. One day she came home and found him reading the encyclopedia about airplanes. Also, many people are Auditory and reading isn’t fun for them, but what about audiobooks? It’s about finding what draws people in and showing them the joy of reading, not just how to read, but why to fall in love with reading.

17- As a reader, what most motivates you to buy a new book to read?

This is a somewhat difficult question for me. I actually don’t buy a lot of books. Now, that doesn’t mean that I don’t read, because I read voraciously. However, libraries have been a major part of my life since I was born. I was even a Children’s librarian for a year and a half. So I usually check out books from my library first. Then, if a book really speaks to me, I will go ahead and buy it. I tend to have a wide taste, so I never know what genre or book will speak to me.

18- How will you measure your publishing performance?

I would really like to see reviews. I want to know what people love about my books, what they hated. Where they think I could’ve left something out or what they want to know more about. Although I would like to make enough to live on from writing, the money has never been an important part of writing for me. It’s about sharing my characters stories with the world in the hopes that someone will enjoy it as much as I do.

19- What was your favorite part of the #AtoZchallenge 2018?

The #AtoZchallenge was chaotic. I really did not know what I was getting myself into. But what I really loved to see was what all of the bloggers were doing. It’s such a simple subject, but it got interpreted so many different ways, each one unique and beautiful. I look forward to participating again.

20- What was the deciding factor in your publication route?

I have been writing for as long as I can remember. However, after a run-in with a vanity company when I was 15 left me scarred about sharing my writing for the longest time, although I never actually stopped writing. Despite people telling me that they enjoyed my writing, school or work related, never my fiction, I would never share my writing. So last year, I started writing fanfiction and didn’t tell any of my friends or family. I thought that it would be a way to test out my writing and no one would ever know if I flopped terribly. Imagine my surprise at the amazing feedback I was getting. Getting tired of hiding my writing away, I challenged myself to write a mystery in October and publish it in time for Halloween. I couldn’t believe it when I sat down to write and a six-book series popped into my head. I took it and ran with it. I decided to self-publish because a) I was on a deadline b)I didn’t have a lot of money upfront to publish with 3) The idea of finding an agent/publisher was super daunting and I might not have had the courage to go through with it. Amazon was amazing and easy to work with, so I don’t regret this choice at all
(In case you’re curious, my fanfiction is on and under Madkat89)

21- What's the best book marketing strategy you've come across?

I’m still working on this. This is not a strong suit of mine but I’m working on getting better. For me, the important part was getting the books written. Now I need to take off my author hat and put on my publicist one 😊

22- What is one question or discussion topic which you would like the readers of this interview to answer or remark on in the comments?

What emotions do readers want to experience when they read my book? What draws them into a book and makes them keep reading?

23- Anything else you would care to share about your book and yourself?

In Search of Justice Blurb

It’s all just fun and games until someone dies.
In a world where supernaturals and humans live side-by-side in peace, that peace can be suddenly shattered. That’s when HSI (Human-Supernatural Investigation) comes into play.
Agent Aletta Sheridan has been with the department for only a little over a month when she’s handed a new case. A murderer is on the loose in Isenton and it’s her job to track the killer down.
Fiercely independent, Aletta is forced by her superiors to partner with another agent. With only a handful of clues to follow, will they be able to stop the killer before anyone else dies?

Meet Kat Seaholm in this Debut Author Spotlight

In Search of Healing Blurb

Having survived her first few months at HSI, Agent Aletta is settling into her partnership with Lirim. She is coming to terms with her newfound gift and the threat to her welfare is finally over. Or is it?
Aletta had left everything behind to start over at HSI. But her past is not content to remain where it belongs, in the past. Drawn reluctantly back into her past, she and Lirim race against time at they try to figure out who is behind the attacks on the Canticum Opera Company.
Struggling to fully harness her gift and running from her past, can Aletta and Lirim figure out who is targeting the Canticum Company before time runs out?

Kat Seaholm lives on a small acreage in Colorado along with her family and way too many cats. The cats also happen to be her hardest critics and push her to improve her writing along with adding more mice and cats to her story. Besides writing, Kat’s other hobbies include traveling, karate, and several needlearts.


Twitter: @KatSeaholm

In Search of Justice: Book One of the Seeker Files

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

July 2018 Pass Or Pages Agent Panel

Meet the agents who are going to critique your Young Adult Contemporary entries!

Whitley Abell

Whitley Abell joined The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in 2018, where she is actively building her list and is seeking submissions in YA, MG, and select adult fiction and narrative non-fiction. Previously with Inklings Literary Agency, she also interned with the Carol Mann Agency and P.S. Literary Agency, and worked as a medical/S&T journal editor and a sales content project manager. She graduated from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville with degrees in English and Secondary Education, which means she can tell you everything there is to know about feminist literary theory and the Common Core Standards. Whitley is a proud geek—still expecting to find her misplaced Hogwarts letter, the spare key to the TARDIS, or the secret entrance to Narnia—and is beyond thrilled to have found the perfect profession for channeling her fangirl powers: Associate Literary Agent. You can find her on Twitter @whitleyabell.

Jess Dallow

Having grown up with the same name as her favorite Sweet Valley High twin, Jess has always had a love for books, especially those that feature kickass female characters, child psychopaths, and serial killers. She loves a book that can scare her, that can make her crying when she’s least expecting it, and a book that she can’t put down no matter what time it is or what rerun of SVU is on. She has a BFA in Writing for Film and Television from the University of the Arts and worked in entertainment for eight years before returning to her home state of NY where she worked at a literary agency for two years before joining Brower Literary & Management. Connect on Twitter: @JLDallow

Andrea Somberg

A literary agent for over fifteen years, Andrea represents a wide range of fiction and nonfiction, including projects for adult, young adult and middle grade audiences. Her clients’ books have been NYTimes and USABestsellers, as well as nominated for The Governor General’s Award, the Lambda Award, the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award and the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award, and have been chosen for ABA’s Indies Introduce Program. Andrea is a guest instructor for MediaBistro and Writers Digest. To learn more about her, please visit her website and her publishers marketplace page.

Details for July 2018 Pass or Pages:

Entry starts: Monday, July 9 at 6 a.m. Eastern
Ends: Wednesday, July 11 at 6 p.m. Eastern
Category/Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
How To Enter: Fill out the entry form on the contest post when it goes live
What Is Required: Your query (NO BIO or personalization for agents), your first 250 words, a complete and polished MS

You can also read more about the rules here.

The winning entries with agent commentary will be posted on Operation Awesome the week of July 23rd, one entry each day. If you aren't comfortable with having your entry (which will be anonymous) shared on the blog, please don't enter Pass or Pages!

If you have any questions, please ask in the comments or tweet @OpAwesome6. Also, feel free to chat about the contest with fellow participants on the hashtag #PassOrPages.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

July Pass Or Pages Details

Operation Awesome is excited to bring you another round of Pass Or Pages! In July, we'll be doing a round focused on Young Adult Contemporary novels.

Here are the important dates for this round:
July 3: Agent panel announcement
July 9-11: Contest entry (via a form here on Operation Awesome)
July 23-27: Feedback reveals!

For a recap of the rules and links to previous rounds, click here.
Note that for this round only, if you were one of the 64 finalists in Query Kombat you are not eligible to enter Pass Or Pages. Let's give someone else an opportunity for feedback!

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

A Good Day of Writing

I took a day of writing self-care last week, and I want to tell you all about it because it felt AMAZING.

I'm co-hosting Query Kombat this year. I've helped in the past as a slush reader, but somehow I failed to realize how much work went in behind-the-scenes to make that contest tick. I'm really enjoying it because I love supporting my team as they improve their queries and first pages. However, after a few weeks of going non-stop, I had to acknowledge: it was really eating into my own writing time.

I've been stuck on restructuring the end of my WIP for a few weeks; the Dark Night of the Soul period wasn't long enough, so the climax was coming right on the heels of the All is Lost moment and the pacing just felt off. Figuring out when things should happen has been a struggle, even more so than usual because I haven't had the time to think and write.

So last week, while my husband was out of town for work, I called up my favorite teenage babysitter and asked her to come by for three hours during the afternoon and play with my kids while I disappeared. I went to a coffeeshop in town, got an overpriced but delicious smoothie, and plugged my laptop in. I wrote over 1500 words, expanded the scenes that needed it, and figured out the next steps. It was incredible. I felt so recharged and refreshed when I finished. I think it was exactly what I needed to push through this revision and get the book to my CPs.

Are you burned out or frustrated with your writing time? What helps you?

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Author Websites When You're Prepublished

When I was making my New Year's resolutions on December 31st, 2016, I was still in the query trenches. And I know it's not healthy to make goals you don't control, so I didn't put "get an agent" on my list of resolutions. As I thought about what more I could resolve to do that I wasn't already doing, I decided to make myself an author website.

I am no technology wiz, but I have been using Blogger since 2008, so I decided to stick with a Blogger website. I paid the $12 to have a custom domain name, and got to work.

What to put on an author website when you're a writer but not a published author? I figured if anyone went to my site, it'd be an agent who got the link from my query letter. So what might be interesting to them?

I don't have any publication credits, but if I had I would definitely have included them. I put up a photo of my family, my Twitter handle, some light information about myself. I made a page with my query letter and first chapter of the book I was querying. Finally, I made a page to list the most recent books I've read, because I love recommending books, and also because I think the books you read speak volumes about you. (That was an intentional pun; I'll show myself out.)

Now that I have an agent, I included a link to her agency on my site so people could check her out. I took the first chapter of my book down, but left the query up. And now that I'm working on a new book, I added a brief blurb about that book. Not a query letter, because I didn't have to write one for that book 👐

My website is very simple, and I did everything myself, including the logo at the top of the page. I used Canva, which is about as much art-related technology as I can handle. If my book sells, then I will probably invest the time and money into getting a more professional site that will appeal to future readers. Until then, I'll keep plugging along on my own.

If you'd like to check out my site, you can see it here:
In the comments, I'd love to hear what you like to see on the websites of "prepublished" authors.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Synopsis Critique #22: YA Fantasy

And now, it's time for this week's synopsis critique! The author of THE STARRY-EYED MONSTER, a YA Fantasy novel, submitted this synopsis. My in-line comments are [blue and in brackets], and I'll include a summary at the end. Feel free to comment below!

If you'd like a primer on how to write a synopsis, see my posts here and here. And if you want your synopsis critiqued on this website, fill out the form here, or email your 1-2 page synopsis to me at (NOTE: I'll email my critique to the author as soon as I'm done, so the author won't have to wait to see his/her synopsis on the site). Thanks for participating!


Long ago, the nourishing sun vanished and plunged the planet of Serim into darkness. The stars emerged as heroes, replacing the sun in the perpetually dark sky. But in becoming saviors, they also transformed into oppressors [1], forcing the monster inhabitants into slavery. Now, whisperings of a secret prophecy give monsters hope they can one day overthrow their tyrants. [2]

Seventeen-year-old Princess RYE is desperate to escape her life. Half-monster, half-star, Rye is the first of her kind and an outcast among the stars. When Rye was just three-years-old [3], her monster mother murdered her star father—who happened to be a beloved king—tainting Rye with her legacy. In an attempt to fit in, Rye denies her monster heritage, determined to prove she’s a worthy successor of her father. [4]

When a star falls from the sky, the council [5]discovers a treacherous plot to snuff out the stars. They task Rye with marrying a prominent monster, ARLIN, under the guise of bringing stars and monsters together. In truth, they want her to find the monster behind the murders [6]and to ultimately turn the stars against the monsters. Although a bit trepid [7], Rye thinks this might be her chance to prove herself as a star. 

Arlin and Rye have a rocky beginning. The monster has a temper, is gruff, and speaks his mind. Even worse, Arlin sneaks the princess down to his monster town, where she witnesses a brutal whipping, revealing the true horrors that plague monster lives. [8]

As their relationship and feelings grow, Arlin and Rye learn to respect each other. The princess agrees to work with Arlin to bring monsters and stars together on the day of her coronation ceremony, in hopes they can create a peace treaty. They work in secret, knowing the council would never approve. 

The day of Rye’s ceremony arrives and Arlin goes missing, threatening their plans. Chaos reigns as stars and monsters clash, but Rye is powerless to stop it. Before she can search for Arlin, the council arrests her for murder of the snuffed stars. They framed her and Arlin to keep Rye from ascending to queen. [9]

Rye is devastated. But allies rescue her [10]and help the princess discover two things: first is an ancient prophecy about a half-monster, half-star who will rise as a new sun and free the monsters; second, her father, KING STRATTON, lives and has kidnapped Arlin to lure Rye into a trap. [11]

Long ago, when Stratton learned of the prophecy, he killed Rye’s mother, faked his own death, and spent years collecting the necessary power to steal Rye’s magic so he could rise as the sun. [12]It seems Stratton might actually defeat Rye, but he makes one fatal mistake: Stratton believed the sun could only rise once accepted by both monsters and stars. Really, Rye needed to learn how to accept both parts of herself, which Arlin helped her to do. Armed with this knowledge, Rye’s sun powers emerge and she defeats Stratton. 

With the threat disbanded, Rye and Arlin can work together to rebuild a peaceful world in which both stars and monsters can co-exist.


[1]: What was the stars’ motivations for oppressing the monsters? If they went out of their way to save the planet, why would they then want to enslave the inhabitants?

[2]: But if they did overthrow the stars, would they be plunged back into darkness again? Seems like a lose-lose situation.

[3]: Should be ‘three years old’ here

[4]: It’s perhaps worth including a few more details here about how Rye feels like an outcast, what the other stars do to her, etc.

[5]: What council?

[6]: Has there been more than one murder?

[7]: I don’t think this is a word. Do you mean trepidatious?

[8]: How does one become a prominent monster, worthy of marrying a princess, if they’re all enslaved?

[9]: How does Rye discover she was framed?

[10]: Who are the allies? Stars or monsters?

[11]: Is he also the one behind the murders?

[12]: If all he needed to do was steal Rye’s powers, why did he go to the trouble of killing the queen and faking his own death? We don’t need all the plot details here, but if there’s a simple way to explain this (did Rye’s powers only manifest in grief? Was the queen onto his plan?) that would help clarify.


This is an extremely strong synopsis, and my only comments are nit-picks. It’s very well written, and I can follow the main plot from beginning to end. Think about incorporating a few additional details, as I noted, and you should be good to go!

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The Best Explanation of why Showing is better than Telling

I feel like I've talked about it a lot here on Operation Awesome, but just in case you missed it: I went to an awesome writing conference called Storymakers. One of my favorite classes from the conference was called Using Character Emotions to WOW Readers, and it was taught by Becca Puglisi of The Emotion Thesaurus fame.

I flipping love The Emotion Thesaurus. Becca and Angela Ackerman have several books in their Thesaurus series, plus an amazing website for writers called Writers Helping Writers. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to take a class from Becca.

As I reread over my notes from the class while tackling a revision, this little bit on showing versus telling tugged at my brain until I remembered I needed a topic for my OA post this week. Show vs tell is one of those topics that feels like it's been talked about to death among writers, and I've seen many people complain about it. Whether it's because it's harder to show than to tell, or because they don't see why it's important, many writers struggle with this concept.

Here's what I wrote down while Becca gave her presentation:

“Telling” emotions is bare and sparse, and conveys information instead of engaging the reader’s emotions. “Showing” creates an emotional echo with the character, gives a sense of shared experience, and fosters reader empathy.

And that was a "boom" moment for me. That's why showing is more powerful than telling. I was never able to put it into words before.

That's all I have. If you haven't been to Writers Helping Writers yet, that should definitely be your next click!

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Dear OAbby: Help! My Publisher Went Under, But I Still Want to Write This Series

Dear OAbby is a new feature on Operation Awesome where we answer your questions! It's an advice column by writers, for writers, chock-full of information about writing, querying, the publication process, etc. If you have a question you'd like answered, just send it to All questions may be edited for clarity and/or space, and will be posted anonymously, with no identifying information.

Dear OAbby,

I've written the first two-and-a-half books of a YA fantasy series. The first book was published by a small press that went out of business under not so ideal circumstances. However, I really don’t want these books to go to waste, so I started a complete rewrite on the first.  My question is, should I continue and let it make the rounds?  Also, I wanted to know what’s your opinion on my submitting the second book first, like the Chronicles of Narnia?


Series of Frustrations

Dear Series of Frustrations,

This is a sticky wicket. Since the first book has already been published, I doubt an agent or publisher will want to pick up the rewrite, assuming it's got the same characters, plot, etc. as the original, published version. There may be some legal issues, too, since you'd be revising an already-published work, even though it's your own. At the very least, you need to reread your contract with the publisher to see what it says about reversion of rights, etc. Presumably, since they went out of business, the rights reverted to you, and the contract should speak to what you can and can't do with the book at that point. It's worth having a publishing attorney look over your contract and give you specific advice on this point.

Technically, you should be able to submit the second book, since it hasn't been published. Though, since it's based on the same plot and characters as the first book, you may run into some intellectual property rights issues here, too. Again, it comes down to how your contract was worded. I definitely recommend asking a publishing attorney to advise you on these questions, since they're specific to your particular situation. 

Yours truly,

Dear OAbby

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Meet Brian James in this Debut Author Spotlight

Debut Author Spotlight from @JLenniDorner on @OpAwesome6


Some interviews go from contact to publication in two weeks. Others, like this one, started way back in January. So welcome, at LONG LAST, Brian James! My fellow Urban Fantasy writer has a word of caution for all you planning-to-publish writers out there! 
Just a heads up to you Marvel fans... there will be no slap-fights at Operation Awesome... 

1- What five words represent your most notable characteristic or values? #In5Words

Relentlessly caffeinated stubborn extroverted hermit

2- What are the Kalamazoo Jaycees?

The Kalamazoo Jaycees is their junior chamber of commerce. I hate Ohio. Most of my disgust for that state is fueled by jealousy. Their Buckeyes are much better than my Wolverines and they have best collection of roller coasters on the planet. My petty side is entertained by the idea of the entire state burned to its bedrock by a group of profit-minded teenagers.

3- What ignited your passion for writing?

My passion for writing is the direct result of encouragement from my high school art history teacher. After a semester of reading my papers he believed there was a talent there that needed to be nurtured, so he encouraged me in much the same way that a football coach would cheer on and develop a promising quarterback.

4- How are the characters in your book similar to the pop-culture ones people currently know from the Marvel movies? How are they different?

My characters are not similar in the least to the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s versions of Thor, Odin, and Loki. Marvel has taken the names of the Norse gods and then completely changed everything about them. It’s to the point where their Marvel’s versions should be considered a different set of characters that happen to share the same names as the Norse pantheon. They look different, behave differently, and are related to each other is completely different ways.

For example, Loki was never Thor’s adoptive brother in the myths. Loki was Odin’s best friend and blood brother. His relationship to Thor is more of a prankster/drinking buddy. Hela is not Odin’s first born, as she is in the films. She is the daughter of Loki. Another good example is Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir. According to marvel, only someone worthy can lift it. In the myths, anyone can raise Mjolnir. In fact, there is a myth where a giant stole Thor’s hammer and Thor had to cross dress to get it back. When we come to Thor himself, the version we see on screen is a complete departure from the myth. The Chris Hemsworth version of Thor resembles the mythological version about as much as one of those creepy hairless cats resembles a snow leopard.

5- What are some of your short and long term writing goals?

Confucius once said, “Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.” My short-term goal is to grow my audience so that I can continue to make a living doing what I love. My long-term goal is to create lasting works that succeed in entertaining the audience and giving them a temporary vacation from the insanity of real life.

6- Do any of your "black plague era" characters sing "Ring around the Rosie" in modern times, and do they know what the song means?

My characters don’t sing Ring around the Rosie. If they did, it would probably sound a lot like a Manowar cover of the song. Whether they sung or not, my character would have definitely known that the song referred to the particular rash that came with the plague. Many of the Norse gods were complete jerks. They may have found the markings, and the song that went with it, funny. Those who died from the plague would have went to Hel (purgatory) instead of Valhalla (heaven) because they did not die fighting or in a heroic fashion. Hela, Loki’s daughter and master of Hel, would have seen a near endless stream of plague victims, with their rosy rashes, entering her realm.

7- What is your favorite book (by someone else), and what do you love most about that book?

My favorite book is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The late Douglas Adams created a cast of characters that I found immediately relatable. He then built an odd, smart, and unique story around them. His theories on how time travel really works and the long term effects of it is the sort of thing that would cause Sheldon Cooper to spontaneously combust with jealousy. The other books in the series are just as good, but without The Hitchhiker’s Guide, the others don’t exist. The only exception is the book And Another Thing. This was written following Adams death in an ill-fated attempt to squeeze one last dime from the franchise. This book and everything associated with it should be killed with fire.

8- What's the most interesting thing you learned while working with the World Poker Tour?

The first thing I learned was that poker is the only game in a casino where the player has an honest shake at winning because it is the only game where the player isn’t playing against the casino itself. The most interesting thing I learned came from a feature on a player named Jennifer “Jennicide” Leigh. She described how she was winning in online casinos by simply bullying other players out of the pot. The cards didn’t matter as much choosing the right room to push around. There is obviously more to it than that, but aggression was as powerful a weapon as a good hand.

9- Who is currently your biggest fan? What does that person love most (or "ship") about your debut novel?

The editor I worked with on this seemed to be a very enthusiastic fan of my work. He loved how I could weave humor into some very dark places allowing the user to chuckle, and then feel badly about chuckling.

10- What emotions do you hope your book will evoke for the reader, and is there a particular scene you hope will resonate with readers?

I want my readers to feel a range of emotions. I want them to invest in characters to the point where they feel betrayed if the character does not turn out to be who they thought they were. By the time they get through the climactic chapters and to the end I want them to feel spent.

11- What most helped you to improve your writing craft?

Like anything else, repetition. When working for a poker website and then later for the World Poker Tour, during World Series of Poker time I had to knock out up to twelve short articles per day. The world of online content development with its tight deadlines and high customer demand put the writers in a sink or swim atmosphere. All that writing helped me develop a style that connected with an audience. The great thing about online content is that the click numbers tell you when you’ve hit and when you’ve missed. This near instant feedback allows the writer to shape their style.

12- I see that you once published a book called "Ragnarok" with America Star Books, formerly PublishAmerica. The first hit Google gives me is a link to ( Writer Beware, where the lawsuits against this allegedly fraudulent publisher can be found. I'm so sorry you and the hard work that is your book were caught up in this. Are there any tips or advice you could give to fellow authors so that they might avoid such a dilemma?

Like any other writer, the act of finding a publisher was a long and hard journey. With PublishAmerica, now AmericaStar, I made the blunder of mistaking any attention for good attention. Think of it as a desperate nerd who was 18 and not yet had their first kiss (I can speak from experience on that one). One day someone magically showed romantic interest in you. You ignore all the warning signs and ulterior motive red flags and go full speed ahead. This never leads to a good ending.

My advice would be when talking to a potential publisher, if they will not provide basic services (like editing) then they do not care about the quality of your book. If they don’t care about the quality of your book then they can’t expect it to sell. Obviously, this means they are not going to fill their pockets with the sales to consumers. If the publisher isn’t going after consumer’s money chances are pretty good they will be coming after yours.

There are so many good, small presses out there that the opportunities for talented writers are better today than at any other point in time. Keep submitting your manuscript until you find the right fit. When a publisher does show interest, find every review you can about the company. Don’t suspend disbelief in the face of negative information. If it walks like a skanky duck, swims like a skanky duck, quacks like a skanky duck, then it’s probably Ameristar Publishing.

13- What is the most memorable trait or visual oddity of one of your characters?

All of my characters share a common trait, beauty. That is very deliberate. They are gods, and they are all beautiful. That beauty masks how broken and screwed up they all are. Their physical appearances exist in contrast to all too human failings they all have.

14- #WeNeedDiverseBooks recognizes all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, Native, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities. In what ways are the main characters in your book diverse? Or what's your favorite book with a diverse main character?

The early Norse were extremely xenophobic, and using them as the base characters doesn’t allow a lot of room for diversity. A great book with a very diverse cast of main characters is the novel Broken Monsters. This book, set in Detroit, has characters that reflect the rich diversity of the Southeast Lower Michigan area.

15- Which character has your favorite Personality Contradiction?

My favorite contradictory character is one named Dennis Syrdon. He is very affable, quirky, popular, a very good boss and unfortunately rotten to core.

16- Your Goodreads profile shows you've written no reviews. Do you feel that book reviews are valuable for authors?

I don’t like writing reviews because my review would only be relevant to someone who has my taste in books. Just because I didn’t like something doesn’t mean somebody else will see it the same way. I would hate to have something I wrote steer a reader away from a book they might adore. The Hunger Games books made me want to drink bleach until the pain stopped, but other people loved them.

17- Can you think of any small change in the world you could make to benefit hundreds of other authors or readers potentially?

Free coffee at Starbucks for all writers would probably be a change most of us could get behind. Outside of that I think a comprehensive online repository of predatory “publishers” and “agents” would be extremely helpful.

18- As a reader, what most motivates you to buy a new book to read?

Suggestions from my friends carry a lot of weight. Someone in my social circle who knows what the term “Nat 20” means has a much better chance of nailing my taste in books then a someone with a soft, NPR, voice whose list of favorite books just parrots what’s on the NY Times Best Sellers list.

19- How will you measure your publishing performance?

In the end, sales will have to be the determining factor for performance. I have a sales number in my head for this book. When it hits that number, I can call it a success. The next book will need to beat that number, and so on and so on. With that said, it may not be the best way to determine success. Something tells me this is just the sort of thing that turned Rod Serling into a self-destructive chain smoker.

20- What was the deciding factor in your publication route?

I decided to go small press after discussing the whole thing with someone who was higher up the food chain then I am. A small press didn’t require having to secure the services of a literary agent. Anyone who’s ever tried to find an agent will soon discover they would rather clean their ears with a shotgun then go through that process. Not having to find an agent was a huge selling point. Also a small press also comes with the credibility and support that comes with having a publisher. Self-publishing offers a lot of freedom, and the author keeps all of the money generated by their book, but there still seems to be a stigma attached to it. Plus the self-publisher doesn’t get the support services offered by a good small press.

21- What's the best book marketing strategy you've come across?

I believe social media has changed the landscape of book marketing. The best book marketing campaigns I have seen make aggressive and skillful use of Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

22- Would you share a picture with us of you playing Guitar Hero while wearing a top hat, and tell us if Slash inspired the fashion choice?

I don’t think there is a picture of me playing Guitar Hero. Getting pictures of Sasquatch has proved easier than getting shots of me, but Slash was definitely the inspiration for the top hat. Who doesn’t love Slash?

23- What is one question or discussion topic which you would like the readers of this interview to answer or remark on in the comments?

A great topic of discussion has been mythological Thor vs. Marvel comics Thor. Bringing this up at comic and gamer conventions almost started fistfights amongst the geeks. Well…slap fights.

24- Anything else you would care to share about your book and yourself?

Excerpts of the book can be found at
FB profile:
Twitter handle: BrianJames1066
Instagram: BrianJames1066

Mjolnir is Available at the following outlets:
Barnes and Nobles:
Apple iTunes: