Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Meet Rhoda Belleza in this Debut Author Spotlight

Debut Author Spotlight from @JLenniDorner on @OpAwesome6

1- What's your favorite X-files episode?

This is impossible to answer! I will give you some favorites at the moment, but they always change. “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” is about an insurance salesman who can see the future; it gets high marks for Mulder/Scully banter, and it also has a rhythm and sensibility that made me love the show in general. “Monday” is X Files meets that movie Groundhog Day; it made such an impression on me and I have to watch it every few years. “Hollywood A.D.” and "Jose Chung's From Outer Space" are totally absurd and shows the writing room’s range. I also just rewatched “Beyond the Sea” at a friend’s suggestion and that is super duper emotional with a nice character inversion. I’m sorry I cheated. I know that was five episodes.

2- Can you share a story from your life that shows who you are as a person and why you are a writer?

Today I went into a drug store and spent 20 minutes in the nail polish section, testing about a million colors so that by the end of it my nails looked like some bad Pollock interpretation. For every color I imagine a version of myself—what I’d be doing, who I’d be with, where I’d be headed etc. I know we’re only talking about nail polish here, but ultimately it’s an exercise about how to project myself into a reality that hasn’t happened, or to reminisce about a moment I’d like to relive again. And that’s what writing is like for me. With every character I take the time to imagine every reality for them I’m capable of imagining. At the end of the day I have to pick one, but I have that branching network of possibilities for each character—and at some point one of those branches intersects with another character’s branches and so on.

3- What ignited your passion for writing?

I was always a reader, but it wasn’t until I got to college and started reading Asian Am, Black, Latinx authors that I found the desire to tell a story. It had been so rare to see myself that intimately on the page. Reading from so many cultural viewpoints normalized the idea that my story was worth writing, and that maybe someone might connect with it.

4- How has social media helped you to promote your book?

I’m not sure it’s helped promote my book so much as put me in touch with a wonderful community. Of course I post pictures and information, and potential readers come find and support me (which by the way, thank you!!!!), but if anything it’s helped me plug in and meet people I couldn’t otherwise.

5- Have you ever been to Comic-Con or a sci-fi convention?

I went to SDCC when I was younger and it blew my mind. I’ve haven’t been to a comic con since. Definitely more to come!

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

My sister. We both grew up on a steady diet of scifi adventure and 80s action movies, and she really connected with the world building and formation of the EMPRESS characters. Lots of people tell me they connect with Aly’s voice but she has a soft spot for Rhee—while Rhee’s character is about loyalty and family, she otherwise staunchly refuses the expectations placed on her as a girl and public figure. And I think my sister might’ve connected with that?

7- 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 them to feel empowered. So much of our lives we’re made to second-guess our choices. Am I wearing the right thing? Did I sound smart enough? Was that a waste of time? That’s not to say I don’t think self-reflection is important and necessary, but that we should take the opportunity to define ourselves and our stories. It takes a while sometimes to figure out who you are, but that's time you're entitled to—identity shouldn't be assigned to you by others.

8- Would you care to share a picture of your favorite or most prized pair of shoes?

HAHAH YES. Don’t they look like they’re from the Fifth Element or something? I don’t wear them nearly enough.

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

Aly has a nick in his eyebrow and I still haven’t figured out how he got it! Rhee practices martial arts and when she feels threatened, always imagines how she’d fight her way out if the scenario escalated.

10- Is there any diversity we can look forward to in your book?

Yes! Rhee is Native Kalusian; I based that culture off of my understanding of Asian and Pacific Islander traditions. Aly is black, from the planet of Wraeta.

11- Would you care to weigh in with your stand on the feminism, equalism, or humanism movements?

This could be a whole other blog post! I am an advocate of intersectional feminism and strive to fight for all groups of women, respecting and celebrating the many facets of society and ways to self identify. Basically, I’m a feminist who believes we need to lift the voices of queer women and women of color, among others.

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

If I hear the politics are intricate, there’s great world building, and/or an irresistible voice—I will buy it. Oh also, a kick a$$ girl who can wield some sort of archaic weapon never hurt.

13- What advice would you give a minor who is being bullied?

There are safe spaces and people who want to support you. They exist. I know it sounds impossible and unfair that it’s on you to find them, but it will be worth it when you do. Please do not give up.

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

The option to publish traditionally was available, and I gladly took the opportunity! Ultimately my publisher thought the book was viable enough that people might buy it and read it, but not all of my writing fits into that category. I have no doubt there will be things I will self publish, and projects that will better suit smaller presses!

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

Rhoda Belleza was raised in Los Angeles, where she grew up writing XFiles fanfiction and stuffing her face with avocados. When she's not writing, Rhoda obsesses over nail art tutorials, watches kung fu movies, and sews together crooked things that pass for clothes. She's a children's editor at a publishing house and writes from a sunny Brooklyn apartment stuffed far too many bikes and far too many shoes. Empress of a Thousand Skies is her debut novel. Follow her on Twitter at @rhodabee

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Kindness of Friends

Happy Giftmas! We here at Operation Awesome are excited to be participating again in Rhonda Parrish's Giftmas blog tour. This year the blog tour is benefitting the Edmonton Food Bank.

We were asked to write stories about our holiday memories associated with food, and here's mine:

My oldest child was born in between my first and second year of graduate school. We lived in a tiny one bedroom apartment in the University of Utah's married student housing complex. My husband worked as a paraprofessional at an elementary school, which covered most of our living expenses. The rest and my tuition were all covered by student loans.

Friends of ours offered to watch our son while we were at school and work for a ridiculously tiny amount of money. But in the middle of November, our arrangement fell apart. My husband decided to quit his job and stay home with our son until I finished school, which was great for our family life but terrible for our bank account.

One night, close to Christmas, we were ding-dong ditched. When we opened our door, we found an envelope with $100 on our doorstep. Later, we found out that someone from our church had given several hundred dollars to our bishop to give to anyone that needed it that Christmas. We were one of a few families chosen to receive some of that gift.

Most of that money went straight into our bank account, but we used some of it to splurge on steaks for our Christmas dinner. It was a welcome break from pasta and rice. Those steaks were probably the most delicious I've ever eaten, because they were seasoned with gratitude for someone who loved us and wanted us to be happy. We took a photo of our dinner, which we ate off our wedding china to make it even more fancy, and every time I come across it on my computer my heart swells with joy at the knowledge that there are good people in the world.

Check out the rest of the stops on the tour for more great stories! I'll have another one up tomorrow on Diamante's blog.

There's also a giveaway for you readers! Woohoo!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, December 5, 2016

Merry Giftmas 2016!

Happy Giftmas! We here at Operation Awesome are excited to be participating again in Rhonda Parrish's Giftmas blog tour. This year the blog tour is benefitting the Edmonton Food Bank.

We all have stories about food we associate with the holidays. The Giftmas bloggers will be sharing their stories all week as part of our fundraising efforts. But what if your holiday food story was that you didn't have any? The Edmonton Food Bank aims to make sure that no family has to do without food at any time of the year. During this holiday season, we ask that if you can, you make a donation in the spirit of helping others make their own holiday food memories.

Come back tomorrow for Kara's favorite holiday food memory, and check out the rest of the stops on the tour for more great stories!

There's also a giveaway for you readers! Woohoo!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, December 2, 2016

Flash Fiction Contest #23

December 2nd is National Mutt Day, so our flash fiction contest is going to the dogs. From the National Day Calendar website, it states that National Mutt Day is celebrated each year on July 31st and Dec. 2nd, and 'encourages us to embrace, save and celebrate mixed breed dogs'.

So sit, stay, and write some flash fiction about man (and woman's) best friend! 

Rules for the contest can be found here.
Winner will be announced Sunday around noon.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Meet Kristin Smith in this Debut Author Spotlight

Debut Author Spotlight from @JLenniDorner on @OpAwesome6

1- What's your favorite song when doing karaoke?

Ooh, that’s a tricky one! I’d have to say either Hello by Adele or Skyscraper by Demi Lovato.

2- Can you share a story from your life that shows who you are as a person and why you are a writer?

When I was in fifth grade, my best friend of all time moved away to a different state. We were soul sisters—we’d been friends since kindergarten, she lived right behind me, and we both loved to sing. Needless to say, I was devastated. Wanting to do something that would show her how much her friendship meant to me, I decided to write a book. It was fiction, but it was based on our friendship, the characters modeled after us and people we knew. I wrote it out on paper, and then every day after school, I came home and typed it up on our old typewriter. Once it was finished, I had it bound and then gave it to her as a going away gift. I have no idea if she kept it or if it ended up in the garbage. We eventually lost contact. But the one thing that I realized was how much easier it was for me to convey my thoughts and feelings on paper, and how much I loved the art of storytelling. It was at that time that I decided I would one day become a writer.

3- Five boys! Any multi-births or do they all have their own birthdays?

Believe it or not, they all have their own birthday! Lol. No multiple births in this family!

4- What ignited your passion for writing?

Well, I’ve always loved to write, but when I was a young child, it was mostly poems and short stories. Life, of course, can be crazy, and raising five boys can be time-consuming, so writing really took a back burner for me. It wasn’t until I read the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer that I felt this burning desire to create my own stories again. I guess I thought, “if she can do it with three boys, why can’t I?”

5- I see you did the smoothie challenge a few months ago. Do you often drink smoothies, and do you have a favorite?

I actually don’t drink a lot of smoothies, but I think my favorite would be a classic strawberry banana one. And by the way, the smoothie I was assigned to drink for the challenge was so disgusting! I can still taste it if I think hard enough! Yuck.

6- Do you have a fun story to share with us that illustrates a time when a benefit of being a published author came to light for you?

I do, actually! It was shortly after I announced on social media that I’d signed a contract with Clean Teen Publishing to publish Catalyst. A friend of mine, whom I hadn’t seen in years since they moved out of state, contacted me and said her twelve-year old daughter was so excited about my novel and wanted to do a school project about me. Turns out the project was about a modern-day hero! I was deeply surprised but so honored. She interviewed me, wrote a report, and then presented it to her class. And from what I hear, she got a good grade!
I think that’s the first time I realized the immense responsibility that comes with being a published author. We are examples to our young readers. They look up to us, even admire and respect us. Teens who read my work may be influenced by what I’ve written, whether good or bad. Something to consider.

7- Can you share a pic of your favorite scarf?

I sure can! I love the coral and beige colors in this scarf—perfect for spring.

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

Wow, that’s a tough one. I’ve had readers message me that they read the book in a day because they couldn’t put it down. Then of course, there’s my mom who keeps buying copies for everyone else, but still doesn’t have a copy for herself. But I think my biggest fan would have to be the young girl I was telling you about who chose me as her hero. Her name is Anna. She sent me an email when she finished reading Catalyst and said she was telling all of her friends about it. Those words are music to an author’s ears!
I’m not sure what Anna loves most about the book, but I had another reader tell me they love the relationship between Sienna and Trey.

9- Do you have a favorite chocolate (or chocolate recipe)?

For favorite chocolate, it would have to be Lindt Lindor milk chocolate truffles or Reese’s Peanut Butter eggs/pumpkins/trees, etc. It has to be the specific holiday version of the PB cups, because those have the perfect ratio of peanut butter and chocolate. Trust me, it’s true!

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’m hoping it will evoke excitement in readers, as in they don’t want to put it down so they keep reading late into the night. There is a particular scene that occurs on the Gateway (which is equivalent to the modern-day Strip in Las Vegas) that I hope will produce water works—I know it did for my editor when she was reading it for the first time!

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

Trey Winchester, the leader of the Fringe, has a tattoo of a tree on his arm, meant to represent power, wisdom, strength, and leadership. But this tattoo doesn’t sit on top of the skin like a normal tattoo, instead, it glows from beneath the skin. When Sienna meets him for the first time, she’s never seen anything like it.

12- The line in the book description: "young leader who’s too hot to be bad" -- I love that. Have you known anyone who fits that description?

Lol. We all love the bad boy, don’t we? No, I don’t think I’ve known anyone specifically who would fit that description. But I think the character of Trey is built in part by bits and pieces of guys I’ve known, but also from my complete imagination. He’s a rebel with a cause, and yes, he is hot!

13- Reading the blurb, it looks like you've created a whole new kind of diversity! Are there any certain currently-existing diversities you'd like to mention that we can look forward to in your book?

The book takes place in a futuristic society where the wealthy choose genetic modification for their children. So you have the wealthy, genetically modified teens, and then you have Sienna (the main character in the story) who is considered to be a “normal” girl because her parents decided to let nature decide the characteristics of their child (the reasons why they did this are forthcoming in this novel and the next). So yes, there is a bit of diversity there, and on Sienna’s end, there are feelings of not being good enough, especially compared to her peers.

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

I think there are several things actually. If someone recommends a book to me, then I’m all over it. Also, I’m active on Instagram and love interacting with other readers to see what they’re reading and what’s hot right now. I discovered Six of Crows this way! And lastly, but probably the most important, I’m a cover snob. Sometimes I’ll buy a book simply because of the cover and the back jacket blurb. Which goes to show that you CAN judge a book by its cover!

15- There's a lot of DIY crafty goodness on your Pinterest boards. Are you into crafting and do you have a pic of a project you're especially proud of making?

Ahh, yes, I LOVE Pinterest! I also love planning parties (when I can find the time) so most of my “creations” stem from that particular outlet. Here are a few pics of a couple parties I’m especially proud of.
Octonauts Birthday Party
Dr. Seuss Baby Shower

16- What was the deciding factor in your publication route? (Clean Teen Publishing)

I actually received three offers of publication, with Clean Teen being my top choice. I knew they were the right home for Catalyst because of their reputation, their savvy marketing skills, and their all-around awesomeness. And I haven’t been disappointed! They are an amazing group of women to work with, and it truly feels like I’m part of a family. The other authors are fabulous too, and I love the camaraderie and willingness to help each other promote. I feel like I won the lottery when Clean Teen offered me a contract to publish Catalyst! It has been the best experience.

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

Catalyst can be found in Barnes & Noble bookstores nationwide, coming in December, so I’m super excited about that! Look for it on a shelf near you!

Book Synopsis:

Too pretty.
Too smart.
Too perfect.

In a crumbling, futuristic Las Vegas where the wealthy choose the characteristics of their children like ordering off a drive-thru menu, seventeen-year-old Sienna Preston doesn’t fit in. As a normal girl surrounded by genetically modified teens, all of her imperfections are on display. But after the death of her father, everything she's ever known and loved changes in an instant.

With little skills to help provide for her family, Sienna clings to the two things that come easily—lying and stealing. But not all thief-for-hire assignments go as planned. When a covert exchange of a stolen computer chip is intercepted, she becomes entangled with a corrupt government official who uses her thieving past as leverage, her mother as collateral, and the genetically modified poster boy she’s falling for as bait.

In order to rescue her mother, there may only be one option—joining forces with the Fringe, an extremist group, and their young leader who’s too hot to be bad. Problem is, these revolutionaries aren’t what they seem, and the secrets they’re hiding could be more dangerous than Sienna is prepared for. In the end, she must be willing to risk everything to save the one thing that matters most.

Catalyst is a thrilling adventure of danger, romance, intrigue, and deception.


Barnes & Noble:


Author Bio:
Kristin Smith writes young adult contemporary and science fiction novels. When she’s not writing, you can find her dreaming about the beach, beating her boys at Just Dance, or belting out karaoke (from the comfort of her own home). Kristin currently resides in the middle-of-nowhere North Carolina with her husband and five incredibly loud but extremely cute boys. To read more about her obsession with YA novels or her addiction to chocolate, you can visit her at

Twitter: @SwordsStilettos

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Fight the Good Fight of Faith

"Fight the good fight of faith" is a phrase I found recently while reading the New Testament. It has a lot of meaning for me in many facets of my personal life, but lately I've been chanting it over and over to myself while sitting down to write.

I've never not won NaNoWriMo (I am very stubborn, what can I say), but this year I've come closer to giving up than I ever have. I thought that with so many books under my belt, drafting this novel would be a piece of cake. Well, it hasn't been, to say the least. Some days I fly through my 1,667 words, but most days it's a slog.

Maybe it's because I'm presently querying last year's NaNo project. One night I paused in writing to update my word count, and took a break to check my query inbox. There was yet another form rejection letter waiting for me. It made writing very difficult that night, unsurprisingly. On the flip side, I've also gotten three full requests this month. Those made for easier writing nights. Although then there's the stress of wondering when I'm going to hear back from those agents. No wonder I find myself constantly on edge! Writing is a hard business to be in no matter how it's going.

When I tell myself to fight the good fight of faith while I write, it's a reminder that no matter how awful I think this first draft is, I need to keep going. I need to have faith in myself that I can take a rough first draft and edit and polish it until it's something I'm proud of. I need to have faith that there will be a payoff from all of this someday. I need to have faith that doing something I enjoy isn't a waste of time, even if there isn't a payoff in the form of being a published author.

As the immortal philosopher Steve Perry once said, "Don't stop believin'."
Please keep writing, my friends. Fight that good fight. Have faith.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Why You Need a Newsletter

Welcome back to guest blogger, A.P. Fuchs!

The Internet is a painfully crowded place, especially these days. I remember in the late nineties when the Web was starting to take shape. There were some basic websites and, well, that was about it. Communication on-line was pretty much email. Now look at us—everyone’s on-line, we’re all shouting, and social media is the main form of communication.

Unfortunately, there’s just too many people and these days, with every one and their monkey writing a book, there’s too many authors and it’s near impossible to get noticed. Sure, it happens, and some authors build a sizable and—keyword: pragmatic—social following, but for the most part, many struggle in this area.

Newsletters bypass all the number games associated with social media, the whole like-for-like and I-follow-you-you-follow-me tactics, and all the rest. (Which are pretty much useless because those are about quantity not quality.)

Productive numbers are where it’s at and newsletters, by their very opt-in nature, cater to that. Do you want to know who is truly invested in what you do? Start a newsletter.

It’s focused marketing: sending out communication and information to people who have chosen to hear what you have to say. Actually, I don’t even like to use the word “marketing” in this case because that totally devalues the point of a newsletter, which is connecting with readers who genuinely care about you in return.

Look at the word itself: newsletter. It’s a letter, not a brochure.

Sure, your newsletter numbers might be smaller than your Facebook likes, but they’re quality numbers, which have more value than just a high like count. The people who have chosen to receive a newsletter from you are the same people who are more likely to get a copy of your book because a genuine interest in you has already taken place.

There are so many ways to go about doing a newsletter, some of which are:

▪ The Plain Jane promo newsletter.

This is the kind that only goes out when an author has a new release. It’s not about communicating with the reader, but simply selling to them. I find these shallow; see the newsletter work breakdown above.

▪ The monthly update newsletter.

Typically something sent out once a month, this is the newsletter where the author says what’s going on with them, where what project is at in the production process and to promote a book(s) or event or something.

▪ The weekly newsletter.

My personal favorite and the kind I run, which I’ll get to in a moment. The weekly version can be like the monthly one, just sent out weekly. Or it can be about creating a dialogue with the readers and talking points of interest, usually to do with writing or books or entertainment.

My weekly newsletter, The Canister X Transmission—presently in its second year—has four main points: writing/publishing/marketing tip of the week; book/comic spotlight from my catalog; creator spotlight focusing on indie and mainstream creators who’ve impacted my career; rant of the week, which is basically a positive or negative thing depending on what’s been heavily on my mind for the past seven days.

I also offer a free thriller e-novelette download if you sign up.

The benefits:

▪ regular connection with readers who actually want to hear from you
▪ exercise in self-discipline to maintain the newsletter schedule, which then trains you to keep deadlines for other projects like, um, your books
▪ an opportunity to market work to readers without spamming, which can lead to sales options outside of the usual channels
▪ a chance to encourage and inspire others

Ultimately, newsletters make the on-line world a smaller place and, frankly, in today’s obscenely overcrowded rat race society, it’s sorely needed. It’s a chance to quiet down, meet with a reader, and open up about what’s going on on your end. And you’d be surprised. Readers respond to newsletters with their thoughts, questions and more.

Beats an overcrowded social media channel any day.

About the Author: An independent writer and cartoonist, A.P. Fuchs has been part of the underground publishing scene for twelve years. He is the author of more than forty books, loads of comics, short stories and poetry, and has a weekly newsletter called The Canister X Transmission, in which he currently discusses publishing and marketing tips, past work, indie creator spotlights and whatever’s on his mind that week. Heck, he’s so passionate about writing and publishing he even wrote several books on the subject, one a collection of the first year of his weekly newsletter, another called Getting Down and Digital: How to Self-publish Your Book. Plus a few others. Sign up for his newsletter at and get a free thriller e-novelette out of the deal, and be sure to visit him on-line at his main hub at

Friday, November 25, 2016

November Pass Or Pages Entry #5

Time for our favorite part of Pass Or Pages, the feedback reveals! We hope that everyone following along will get something out of these reveals that they can apply to their own writing. I did!
We are so grateful to our agent panel for critiquing these entries. We would also like to give a shout-out to the authors for being brave and willing to improve.

Entry #5: DEAR MR. PRESIDENT    


DEAR MR. PRESIDENT is a middle-grade epistolary[CG1] novel[CG2] completed at 34,000[CG3] words. It will appeal to readers of Dear Mr. Henshaw and The Naked Mole Rat Letters.[RP1]

When the Dunlap family receives a letter of condolences from the President of the United States—for the war the president started in which eleven-year-old Spencer’s father died—Spencer writes him back to tell him he is the worst president in history. To Spencer’s surprise, the president[CG4] replies and an unlikely friendship is born.[CG5]

While Spencer and the president correspond with each other via letters and emails, the Speaker of the House initiates impeachment proceedings against the president for enacting a raid on an orphanage hiding [CG6]the enemy dictator: the same mission in which Spencer’s father died. Spencer stumbles across letters sent by his father before embarking on the raid. In the letters, Spencer’s father admits he ordered the attack, not the president. Now Spencer must choose whether to share the letters that could exonerate the[CG7] president or keep them secret to preserve his father’s reputation.[RP2]

Rebecca's Notes:
[RP1] Nice comps

[RP2] There’s a LOT of plot introduced in this paragraph. It’s so tough to know what to include in a query, and how to pace it. I might include the detail about the president being in trouble in the last paragraph, and focus this one on Spencer finding evidence that his father had a hand in the mission. Something to suggest the serious nature of the story (or more like the big scope) before the end of the query. But I would keep reading.

Clelia's Notes:
[CG1] I like that you open with a context-giving paragraph. I would also include a one-line pitch of your novel in this paragraph. Something about the President as pen pal

[CG2] I had an editor tell me recently that she thought epistolary novels were overdone. I would research this potentially flooded market and make it a priority to show how your book is not a tired concept and can succeed.

[CG3] Feels low but I would overlook this normal red flag bc of its epistolary nature, which lends to a lower word count. But something to consider.

[CG4] Cool concept.

[CG5] I would add one line about the nature of this friendship – does the President joke with him, tell him personal secrets, etc? Part of the hook of this book, I think, so important to include.

[CG6] an the

[CG7] Sounds like a good core conflict that has high stakes

First 250:

July 30

Dear President Shepherd:

I hate you. You're a terrible president. If it weren't for you, my dad would be home and alive. Why did you start the stupid war in the first place?[CG1]

What if I sent your dad somewhere and he died. How would you feel? Probably rotten, just like I do now. Mom cries all the time and stopped going to work after the Marines came to the house to tell her dad died. My grandma and grandpa are here to take care of me since Mom is too sad to do it.

Grandpa said he voted for you, but that was a mistake. He won’t ever vote for you again. He thinks your war is stupid, but he didn’t say stupid. I can’t repeat the word he said without getting my mouth washed out with soap.

Mom stopped eating. All she does is cry and wears Dads old t-shirts.[RP1] Do you think your stupid letter telling us you were sorry would make anything different? It didn’t. Your letter can’t bring back Dad and that’s the only thing that would make us feel better.

The funeral is on Saturday. All my family will be there along with some Marines that served with Dad. Grandpa said if Mom is too sad to grab the flag from the Marines than I should take it, look the soldier in the eyes, give him a firm handshake, and thank him. That is what I’ll do.[CG2]

Rebecca's Notes:
[RP1] If the whole book will be told in Spencer’s letters, I would want a sense right away that you’ll be able to tell a fleshed-out narrative in that format. Everything in this sample is essentially summary and exposition, and so I would worry about the voice going forward. For instance, these two details could be expanded into paragraphs, a whole memory of Spencer’s mother—I would need to see something like that to convince me to read on, so if such a moment exists in this letter, I would suggest moving it up.

Clelia's Notes:
[CG1] This is almost too simple here. I wish it was a bit more nuanced to make it more compelling.

[CG2] A cool concept and interesting plot line, but I think the writing feels a bit too straightforward to me. Being an epistolary novel, the book has structural limitations, so you have to be really thoughtful with language so you can use what you have to give clues about the character’s personality and emotions, things that are left unsaid like events or reactions. I think this reads a little too “on the nose” for me.


Rebecca Podos: PASS
Clelia Gore: PASS

Thursday, November 24, 2016

November Pass Or Pages Entry #4

Time for our favorite part of Pass Or Pages, the feedback reveals! We hope that everyone following along will get something out of these reveals that they can apply to their own writing. I did!
We are so grateful to our agent panel for critiquing these entries. We would also like to give a shout-out to the authors for being brave and willing to improve.


Query: [CG2]

Ellie’s[CG3] beloved dog Rosie needs an operation. Mom says surgery is too expensive, but Ellie won’t take no for an answer.[CG4]

Her money-making plan?


After Ellie buys a camera and tri-pod, she starts Everyday [CG5] Ellie, a channel focusing on DIY crafts. With the opportunity to make money from advertising[CG6], Ellie hopes to give Rosie a new chance at life.

Without her mother’s knowledge, Ellie grows her channel. She gains admirers, including a talent agent who encourages her to film a sponsorship video. Three days after emailing the video, the agent promises to meet Ellie at the county fair.

It’s Ellie’s chance to make it big as a YouTuber and earn money for Rosie’s operation, yet something doesn’t feel quite right.

Especially when the agent tells Ellie to come alone.[RP1][CG7]

My middle grade contemporary manuscript EVERYDAY ELLIE is complete at 57,000 words[CG8]. Thank you for your consideration.

Rebecca's Notes:
[RP1] I really like this query for the most part—it tells me who Ellie (with the DIY crafts) what she wants the most (for Rosie to get her operation) and what she’ll do to get it. I would wonder what you mean by “sponsorship video,” and would want that cleared up, but would keep reading. My one reservation: this sentence is really ominous. I would want a little better idea where this was headed, so I was prepared, if that makes sense.

Clelia's Notes:
[CG1] I would consider retitling something that has more compelling or strong implications or allusions. This is a rather neutral title that doesn’t do anything to make a reader interested in reading. Even “Ellie Everyday” would be a bit more compelling – but I think there is probably a better title out there!

[CG2] Introduce your query – title, audience, word count, a one line pitch should precede your longer pitch,

[CG3] We need a little more contextual information, perhaps a personality trait or at last her age.

[CG4] This introduction makes me think that the books skews to the younger middle grade audience.

[CG5] Retitle for same reasons.

[CG6] This sounds like an upper middle grade concept and doesn’t jibe with the opening sentence to me.

[CG7] Ack! A compelling final cliff hanger. Again, there is some back and forth here re: who the target audience is – I can’t tell whether this is meant for lower or upper middle grade. The language and some of the plot points feel more juvenile, but other plots points feel more mature.

[CG8] High word count for a lower middle grade audience. An agent would note this because it’s a sign that either the author isn’t super savvy about the business of publishing and the word count expectations, or that the book hasn’t been fully edited yet.


First 250:

Filming a decent video wasn’t supposed to be this hard. I held up my phone, panned around my bedroom, and described my crafts: The pink and blue dresser drawers I decorated with leftover paint from the basement, the pillow I designed by hot gluing yarn to form the word “Smile”, and my headboard, which I created by painting foam boards with chalkboard paint.

“What do you think, Rosie girl?” I helped my dog onto my bed and stroked her snowy curls. “Think I could put my videos up on YouTube like Crafty Carlie?”

Rosie tucked her head to her furry chest.

“I know. Mine are awful.” I replayed my video. It was blurry and the sound was muffled, probably because Dad bought me an old-model phone after Mom yelled that no way on God’s green Earth could we afford a fancy schmancy iPhone, since, according to her, I just needed to send an occasional text or call 9-1-1 if the house was on fire.

“Ellie?” Mom knocked before peeking inside my bedroom. She clutched her grocery store coupon organizer, a purple accordion file.

I buried my phone under my Smile pillow.

“What are you up to?”


Mom gripped her coupons. “Can you help me pick beans? I need to get to the store.” Inside my head I could still hear Mom screaming that money didn’t grow on trees, and how extras—like the expensive dog food Dad bought to help Rosie’s stiff joints—was way outside our budget.[RP1]

Rebecca's Notes:
[RP1] I like the voice in this sample, and how her mother is introduced, and that money is a real factor in their lives, which introduces rich potential for conflict. I would read on!

Clelia's Notes:
[CG1] I feel sort of neutral about the writing as well. I would consider using a passage that showed off a strong voice or a compelling protagonist a little more.
Rebecca Podos: I’d be happy to request the first three chapters of EVERYDAY ELLIE. PAGES
Clelia Gore: PASS

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

November Pass Or Pages Entry #3

Time for our favorite part of Pass Or Pages, the feedback reveals! We hope that everyone following along will get something out of these reveals that they can apply to their own writing. I did!
We are so grateful to our agent panel for critiquing these entries. We would also like to give a shout-out to the authors for being brave and willing to improve.



Living[CG1] in an Italian/Spanish neighborhood has its advantages, and twelve-year-old Mitch knows how to maneuver his way around the hood. If Rat Ears and No Neck hadn’t played a school prank earning him[CG2] the nickname Skeletor Mitch, he wouldn’t have accepted their challenge to compete at a treacherous game of JUNKYARD DOG. But the idea of besting them and winning the prize, the school’s Marshal Badge, has its perks. For one thing, he’ll end their reign of terror. Humiliating the thugs[CG3] will be sweet. But the idea of losing is painful—he’d be labeled the biggest dork ever.[RP1]

Enlisting the help of his best friends, things don’t go as planned and instead of gaining supporters, Mitch ends up the underdog. On top of that, all efforts to win over the Bullmastiff that guards the junkyard of creepy old movie props backfire.

Its doomsday Monday, the street has been blocked off; the drones are ready to go live on Snap Chat, and the whole school shows for the event of a lifetime—including the mafiosos.[RP2] Armed with a glow in the dark watch, a bag of cat food, his lucky chicken legs, and a treasure map, he sets off on a scavenger hunting adventure. When the game goes awry, Mitch has to choose: save the lives of his sworn enemy and lose or go for the gold.[CG4]

MG JUNKYARD DOG 56k-words[CG5]

Rebecca's Notes:
[RP1] I have a lot of questions about what’s going on in this paragraph, because there’s a lot of plot. What does living in an Italian/Spanish neighborhood have to do with the skillset Mitch needs, and what does he need it for? What is Junkyard Dog? Is Skeletor Mitch a bad name (it seems better than Rat Ears.) What kind of game is Junkyard Dog, and what’s a Marshal badge? Piquing an agent’s curiosity is good, but you don’t want to confuse them by throwing too much down at once. I would be cautious going forward.

 [RP2] I might stop reading here, because I wouldn’t know what was happening. I thought this game was just between him and the bullies like a dare, but now the town seems to be involved (blocking off the street) and the drones make me think this is sci-fi, though Snap Chat seems like a strange forum for this, and I don’t know where the mafiosos came from. And I still don’t know what this game is, that it requires a treasure map. There are some cool elements here, but in a query I look for who a character is, what they want and what’s at stake, and I’m not sure of any of that. So it would make me wary of what story I was getting into.

Clelia's Notes:
[CG1] I always recommend starting with an introductory paragraph that includes contextual information plus a one line pitch that includes your hook and will get a reader interested in knowing more.
[CG2] This sentence construction is off because, as written, the earnings of the prank should be imputed the Rat Ears and No Neck, which, after two or three reads, I realized is not what you mean to say here.
[CG3] I’d use a different word.
[CG4] You are including too much of a plot in this pitch. It’s coming off as too complex for the pitch. Remember, the pitch is not a synopsis, but a selling document. So take the most compelling parts of your book and the necessary plot points and context – you don’t need to unveil the entire story. Try to cut this down to one paragraph. Read flap/jacket copy on books to get a better idea of how to do this well.
[CG5] This should be rolled into the text of the pitch more naturally.

First 250:

Mitch shook the hatchling lizard from its waxy bag into the terrarium, and counted the seconds it would take Sam, his pet python, to snag it with his killer fangs. The lizard’s tiny legs sped across the tank’s glass walls. On twelve, the python’s yellow head shot like an arrow, snaring the crawler into his mouth.[CG1]

“Whoa. That lizard didn’t stand a chance. You’re fast, buddy.”

Sam slithered lazily into his pool.

Outside his bedroom window Kurt hollered. “Yo, Mitch! You up there?”

Kurt said he’d be coming by at noon. The Batman clock on his nightstand had both hands pointed to twelve. Mitch pulled the curtains aside and poked his head out. “Hey, man.”

“We’re late. Hurry or all the free food will be gone.” He flipped his skateboard and held the Zero like a torch. “Break out your board, we’re rolling.”

If he moved any slower, Kurt would know he’d been dragging his feet. “Sure.” Mitch checked his iPhone.[CG2] No calls or texts. No news is good news. “I’ll be right down.”

Mitch slid closed the feeder door of the terrarium. “Sam, I’m late for an event.” He pressed his nose to the tank. “Have you ever been pushed into doing something you’ll regret? No. Why would you? You’ve got superhero strength. Who wouldn’t be scared of you? ” He sighed. “See ya, buddy.”

He loved bowling parties, but didn't want to run into a certain two morons from school.[CG3]

Clelia's Notes:
[CG1] A jarring initial image, some kids could be turned off by it. Consider whether this opening has a bigger purpose—does it demonstrate a character trait about Mitch or his life that will have importance later on or in the entire book, or is this just included for hooking in or shocking the reader on page 1. Ideally, you want a balance of both.
[CG2] Try to speak about technology as generally as possible – you want your book to still be around for years to come, and who knows if kids of the future will know what an iPhone is. Do kids of today know what  Blackberry is? Definitely not.
[CG3] Writing is solid, but I leave not totally hooked. Working on a sharper, more compelling query will make an agent want to read on even if they aren’t totally connecting at first with the sample writing.

Rebecca Podos: PASS
Clelia Gore: PASS

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

November Pass Or Pages Entry #2

Time for our favorite part of Pass Or Pages, the feedback reveals! We hope that everyone following along will get something out of these reveals that they can apply to their own writing. I did!
We are so grateful to our agent panel for critiquing these entries. We would also like to give a shout-out to the authors for being brave and willing to improve.



When making a choice between saving a life and rescuing his neighbors’ crops, 12-year-old Tau[CG2] accidentally sets fire to his African village.[CG3] He loses all hope of gaining acceptance among the villagers who consider his deafness a sign of dangerous unintelligence. Only his brother, Sam, shields him from abuse and encourages the villagers to give Tau another chance. When Sam is taken by a child trafficker[RP1], Tau will risk anything to find him.

With only one clue left behind—a burlap bag with a mysterious symbol—Tau follows their tire tracks to the nearby city of Bamako, Mali.[CG4] He loses the trail and finds himself lost and afraid until he meets Koowa, a Hard-of-Hearing girl with albinism. She not only introduces him to Deaf culture, she secures his job in a candy shop. While he’s working in the store, a matching burlap sack filled with cocoa beans arrives with the supply shipment. He discovers the darker side of chocolate and, more importantly, Sam’s location: a cocoa plantation south of Mali.

Koowa agrees to help Tau rescue his brother, but in sight of their goal they are stopped by the border patrol. Stranded, they realize abduction by the same child trafficker who took Sam is their only ticket into Cote d’Ivoire—a place where children go to never return.[CG5]

THE BITTERNESS OF COCOA BEANS is an Upper Middle-Grade Contemporary complete at 35,000 words [RP2] [CG6]. The tone is similar to The Bitter Side of Sweet but maintains a focus on Deaf culture like the TV show Switched at Birth.[CG7]

Rebecca's Notes: 
[RP1] There’s a lot of plot in this first paragraph: a life in danger, a burned-down village, Tau’s deafness and child traffickers. It wouldn’t stop me from reading on, but I would be confused about the pacing of the manuscript.
[RP2] This word count is low for upper MG, especially when you’re talking about all of these really big and weighty plot elements, so again, I would be worried about the pacing here, and whether the MS had time to appropriately address everything, so I would be wary going in.

Also, here’s something I would want to know: are any aspects of this story Own Voices? If not, what research was done, and what credentials does the author have? I would want at least a short paragraph on that to have confidence. Without this information, I would have trouble reading forward.

Clelia's Notes:
[CG1] I like this title. It’s sensory, a little mysterious and compelling.
[CG2] Solid opening line of the paragraph pitch.
[CG3] I would start with a more introductory paragraph that includes the information from your final paragraph plus a one line pitch . This will provide the necessary context for the agent and also capture her attention with the big selling points (hooks) of the book.
[CG4] Interesting setting.
[CG5] Wow! Sounds like a very thrilling, high-stakes book.
[CG6] This word count is more appropriate for lower middle grade. I would have expected at least 50K for this book. A too low word count can be a red flag to an agent or editor that the book isn’t as developed as it should be.
[CG7] In your bio, I’d be interested in seeing the author’s connection to Mali and the research he/she did to make this book as authentic as possible.

First 250:

Tau’s hand trembled as he brought a match to the cornstalk.

I’m in control, he reminded himself. [CG1]

He lit the edges of a few leaves until they curled away, taking the flames with them. Burning season made him nervous. Always did.

I’m in control, he reminded himself. He flicked the withered match into the blaze and backed away. Small embers grew into a billowing fire, engulfing the stems and creeping along the field.

A light breeze tickled his neck and sent a shiver across his shoulders. Tau hurried several paces to his tree where he could sense an unexpected wind. He jumped for the larger branch and slipped, a finger width too short. So unlike his older brother. His older brother Sam could’ve climbed to the top of the tree in two leaps.

But at only twelve years old, Tau started from the bottom. He slung his arm around the first limb in reach, hoisting himself up higher and higher.

From where he perched, Tau watched the fire steadily consume the field and wrap its long fingers around the next row of cornstalks. The warmth from the flames acknowledged his work well done, but his heart still ached in protest. Only the bare stems proved his usefulness during that dry, African summer. Now their ash would feed the hungry soil. A soundless laugh pushed his chest. It was almost funny. He’d harvested the cobs and picked out the dry kernels to plant next year. Like him, the cornstalks couldn’t use their ears. And he was punishing them for it.[CG2]

Clelia's Notes:
[CG1] A small change in order, but I think it makes your opening stronger, more dramatic.
[CG2] Compelling first pages and solidly written. My one thought is that the voice sounds very American from these 250 words, and not necessarily like a boy from Mali. I would be interested in seeing more of this—50 pages would be great. Please check out my submission guidelines at

Rebecca Podos: PASS
Clelia Gore: PAGES

Monday, November 21, 2016

November Pass Or Pages Entry #1

Time for our favorite part of Pass Or Pages, the feedback reveals! We hope that everyone following along will get something out of these reveals that they can apply to their own writing. I did!
We are so grateful to our agent panel for critiquing these entries. We would also like to give a shout-out to the authors for being brave and willing to improve.



ZAKE ALLGOOD, DUGOUT SUPER-SPY[CG1] is a humorous middle grade mystery about how a boy's love of baseball becomes his secret weapon to conquer his fear of public speaking, expose dangerous criminals, and muster the mojo to be a hero, both on and off the mound. The book mashes the film The Sandlot, with contemporary Hardy Boys[RP1][CG2], for a 54,000-word adventure that will resonate with fans of baseball, friendship, and victory over bad guys and other obstacles in the complicated life of a twelve-year-old kid.[CG3]

Zake's got some missions unaccomplished:

1. Talk in front of 62 eyeballs without puffing into a paper bag... again.

2. Write down journal stuff[RP2], so that random thought don't spill out like a bucket of baseballs.

3. Win back the championship in a Midwest town so small that Google Maps ignored it.

He’s also on a quest for self-discovery, even though he doesn’t know it.[CG4] But when Zake and his best buddy, Campy, break curfew to work on Zake’s curveball, they spy two thugs[RP3] burying something past the outfield, and Zake’s biggest mission becomes survival. No one lets them explain; no one takes the boys seriously. But the boys know one thing is serious—the bad guys’ threat to toast any witnesses. Zake plots to expose the goons, and pours his heart into his journal—an introspective journey that Google Maps couldn’t begin to chart. Along with his best friends, Campy—a biracial catcher who views life through the lens of legendary black MLB Hall of Famer, Roy Campanella; and MJ—a friend who won’t let Zake forget his dreams while she pursues her own—Zake discovers he must take matters into his own mitt to solve his problems and the town’s mysteries with the one thing he knows best—his baseball.
Rebecca's Notes:
[RP1]I wouldn’t stop reading here, necessarily, but these comps are a bit retro. I would pick a more current comp from the last few years (i.e. The Hardy Boys meets The Bubble Wrap Boy, or a more fitting contemporary MG sports book.)
[RP2]Always be clear and specific—you don’t want to waste words in a query, or give an agent any reason to doubt your storytelling ability, and even small choices like “write down journal stuff” instead of “Start a journal” send up a red flag. Again, I might not stop, but I would worry.
[RP3]I’m not crazy about this word usage because of its present day connotations, and it’s not specific—what thugs? Are they older boys? Men he recognizes as working for a shady businessman in town? Definitely be as specific as possible, so I know what story I’d be getting into, and so I don’t put it down for the wrong reasons.

Clelia's Notes:
[CG1]This title sounds young to me, so I am assuming this book is written for a lower middle grade audience, 8-10? I would clarify this in the body of the query.
[CG2]Although these references are ones that nearly everyone will know, they are a both outdated. I would consider bringing in a modern reference as well. You want to give the agent or editor the impression that this book will have modern appeal.
[CG3]Good starting paragraph that serves as a set up for your pitch. I wish more queries I received had this structure! I like how, in this paragraph, you start with a solid one-line pitch followed by an informative sentence to give me all the context I need to appreciate your pitch.
[CG4]This doesn’t quite add up for me because a “quest for self-discovery” implies self-awareness.

Overall, solid query.

First 250:

Not a whiff of trouble in the whole Ohio sky, and Keffel Stallions practice was in full swing. I stood tall on the pitcher’s mound and inhaled the warm evening air, heavy with the awesome smell of baseball—freshly-mown grass, glove leather, infield dust, and body odor stink so thick it curled my nose hairs.

My arm ached to hurl some more lightning bolts at Campy. He crouched behind home plate—a spittin’ image[RP1] of his Hall of Fame idol, Brooklyn Dodgers catcher, Roy “Campy” Campanella. He flashed a grin behind his catcher’s mask—he was ready for another jolt from my impressive fastball.

Sure, our team was only a small town travel ball squad of twelve-year-olds, but Campy and me, we were feelin’ pretty major league. We were at the top of our game, and only a few days away from our shot at winning back the championship against our arch-rivals, the Richtown Raccoons. Baseball at its best in Keffel, Ohio, and I was the fastball king of the mound.

This was heaven.

“Curveball!” hollered Coach Stone. I cringed. Coach wanted to see what else I could unpack. I adjusted my grip and snapped the ball, but my arm tightened on the release, as if it didn’t like getting tricked into a different pitch. The ball never even crossed the plate. I gritted my teeth and tried again, but missed the mark by a long shot.

My heaven was turning into H-E-double baseball bats fast.
Rebecca's Notes:
[RP1]This phrase, and the spittin’/feelin’ spelling, is a little outdated, and coupled with the retro comps, would make me worry that the voice wouldn’t be fresh enough. There’s some lovely really writing in this sample! But with the outdated comps and unclear or unspecific language in the query, I might not have made it this far, because I would worry that it would carry over into your storytelling within the manuscript.

Clelia's Notes:
Your writing style is appealing and clean. My one concern is that this book feels rather old-fashioned to me –from another time (other than the Google Maps reference). I would find ways to make this book feel more modern and appropriate for today’s market.
Rebecca Podos: PASS
Clelia Gore: PASS