Monday, February 28, 2011

Awesome Book Reviews: POSSESSION by Elana Johnson

Vi knows the Rule: Girls don't walk with boys, and they never even think about kissing them. But no one makes Vi want to break the Rules more than Zenn... and since the Thinkers have chosen him as Vi's future match, how much trouble can one kiss cause? The Thinkers may have brainwashed the rest of the population, but Vi is determined to think for herself. 

But the Thinkers are unusually persuasive, and they're set on convincing Vi to become one of them... starting by brainwashing Zenn. Vi can't leave Zenn in the Thinkers' hands, but she's wary of joining the rebellion, especially since that means teaming up with Jag. Jag is egotistical, charismatic, and dangerous--everything Zenn's not. Vi can't quite trust Jag and can't quite resist him, but she also can't give up on Zenn. 

This is a game of control or be controlled. And Vi has no choice but to play.

Review: I want to make out with this book. Hug it. Treat it to dinner and a movie. Hold its hand all night long. That's how much I loved it. Elana Johnson, a.k.a. the Query Ninja, packs so much awesome in her debut, it's insane. First of all, Vi is one heck of a main character. The word 'snarky' gets thrown around often in the YA community, but Vi embodies it perfectly. Sure, she's blunt when she needs to be, and is unwilling to compromise to what other people want, but she also has the biggest heart you'll ever find. Dystopians aren't exactly known to feature a hilarious yet reflective voice, and that's precisely why I found Vi so refreshing. I can picture her walking down the street and see her in the world Elana creates. 

In fact, that's my next point--the world. If you ever want a crash course in how to weave rich, vivid detail and a fast-paced plot, this is the book for you. Can you imagine living in a place where holding hands was a crime? Or where other people's voices crowded your mind 24/7? OR where freakin' robots watched your every move? *shudders* OR where people were grouped into regions known as the Goodgrounds and the Badlands??? Yep. Vi has to deal with that, plus a past that keeps popping up when she least expects it. Oh, and two super cute boys...

Which leads me to Zenn and Jag. Good Boy vs. Bad Boy. Here's the thing: don't let those labels fool you. The love triangle works so well because both guys are layered and complex. Just when you think you know which one fits best with Vi, the other sneaks up on you and changes your mind. Frustrating? Yes. But oh-so-fun. 

To wrap it up, I'll just say two final words.

The. Ending.

That is all. 

Make sure you join the Resistance and go pick up your copy of POSSESSION when it comes out on June 7th!! 

Reminder: Come back tomorrow for our epic Mystery Agent Contest!! You can check the rules out here. Best of luck to all who enter!

Friday, February 25, 2011

How Do We Love Thee?

Let me count the days...

until March Mystery Agent! There are only four. I know, it's only the 25th, but February is a blessedly short month, which means I won't be waiting long for the pitch-reading fun!

It's been exciting opening up the Mystery Agent contest to match even more closely what our M.A.s want to see. It threw us all for a loop at the beginning of this month when Chris Richman asked for 25-word pitches! But weren't the resulting pitches amazing? I wrote one for my WIP, just for kicks and the challenge of it. It wasn't nearly as awesome as ones I saw in the entries, but it made me feel good about my story, being able to sum it up in 25 words.

NEXT month's Mystery Agent has asked for the following parameters for MARCH 1ST!

1) Entry limit: 75 entrants.

2) Pitch length: 140 characters. Think Tweet. Since we're talking 140 characters, Title and Genre don't have to be part of the pitch -- add them on to the comment somewhere.

3) Genres: YA (especially thriller, cyberpunk, horror, historical romance); MG; women's fiction; romance (especially with a strong, female heroine).

And we think it's going to be awesome! Not only has super generous March M.A. asked for a twitter-length pitch, which is just fun, but also raised the entry limit from fifty to seventy-five! That means we get to read 25 more pitches from you guys, and it also means we need you to spread the word so Mystery Agent can get what Mystery Agent wants. 

I'm curious to know your thoughts on the Mystery Agent contests. How can we make them even better?

Now for the end of my How Do We Love Thee poem:

We love thee like Lindsay loves a cookie fest,
and how Amparo loves Jensen Ackles best.
We love you like Kelly loves a fun contest.
And how Angie adores the Irish bles't,
We love you like Michelle loves lolcatz
And how Kristal loves write-a-thon chats
We love you as Katrina Squee!s and Woot!s

We love our blogger friends and wish you many hoots!


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Winner Time!!

And the winner of a signed copy of Leah Clifford's A Touch Mortal is......


Congratulations!! Send your address to us at OperationAwesome6 (at) gmail (dot) com and we'll get your signed book out to you. And thanks so much to all our followers and everyone who entered!

It's been an awesome month of follower love :)

Don't forget! Our next Mystery Agent Contest kicks off on March 1st. Here are the rules again:

1) Entry limit: 75 entrants.

2) Pitch length: 140 characters. Think Tweet. Since we're talking 140 characters, Title and Genre don't have to be part of the pitch -- add them on to the comment somewhere.

3) Genres: YA (especially thriller, cyberpunk, horror, historical romance); MG; women's fiction; romance (especially with a strong, female heroine).

So get those tweet pitches ready for March 1st!!!! 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Psst, I'm Sharing Secrets

As you know it's follower love month here on Operation Awesome. On Monday, Amparo announced the winners of the agent (and OA) query critique winners. Check it out here if you missed it.

Yesterday saw the release of Leah Clifford's A Touch Mortal. To celebrate the fabulous book we have an awesome signed copy up for grabs. Enter here by 11:59 EST tonight.

Today I don't have a giveaway for you, but I can tell you some details about the March Mystery Agent contest.

We have another amazing agent ready for your entries on March 1st, but (like the 25 word pitch from our February M.A, Chris Richman) this time we're doing something a bit different.

Here's the rules:

1) Entry limit: 75 entrants.

2) Pitch length: 140 characters. Think Tweet. Since we're talking 140 characters, Title and Genre don't have to be part of the pitch -- add them on to the comment somewhere.

3) Genres: YA (especially thriller, cyberpunk, horror, historical romance); MG; women's fiction; romance (especially with a strong, female heroine).

So there you go. The contest starts when the Mystery Agent post goes up on March 1st. That gives you just under a week to get creative with your 'tweet' pitches. Remember, you only have 140 characters to wow our awesomesauce agent.

I know you can do it!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Follower Love with A Touch Mortal

Today is the 22nd of February which means....Leah Clifford's book A Touch Mortal releases today!!! We did a fun Q and A session with this awesome lady a couple months ago (click HERE to see it). I've had the privilege of reading the ARC and it's fabulous, edgy, different, and just an awesome read. Not to mention the absolutely gorgeous cover!

And, since we are coming to the end of our Love Our Followers month, we thought we'd spread just a little more and give away A SIGNED COPY!

Entering is easy - just

1) be a follower 


2) leave a comment on this post

Entries will be taken until 11:59 pm EST tomorrow and the winner will be announced on Thursday. So hurry and enter and tell your friends! You don't want to miss out on this amazing SIGNED book :D

Monday, February 21, 2011

Agent Query Critique Contest WINNERS!!!

Ladies and gents, the time has come. *throws confetti* 

We had SO MANY entries for our Agent Query Critique Contest I almost fainted. A huge thanks to everyone who participated!! 

And if you didn't win a prize today, don't fret--there is MORE awesome on the way. 

*rubs hands together*

Now. Let's kick things off with the winners of the first chapter/query critiques by us over at OA!! 

First chapter critique by Kristal goes to... 

Violet (MG Mystery)!!!

First chapter critique by Angie goes to... 

John Sankovich (YA supernatural)!!!

Query critique by Lindsay goes to... 

Nicole (YA contemporary)!!!

Query critique by Katrina goes to... 

Angie (YA paranormal)!!!

Query critique by Michelle goes to... 

Emy Shin (YA sci-fi)!!!

Query critique by Kelly goes to... 

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) (YA fantasy)!!!

Query critique by me (Amparo) goes to... 

Meradeth (YA urban fantasy)!!!

And now for our AGENT QUERY CRITIQUES!!!

Winner of Natalie Fischer's query critique is... 

Brenda (YA contemporary)!!!

Winner of Josh Getzler's query critique is... 

Kate Haggard (YA sci-fi)!!!

Winners: please send your materials to OperationAwesome6 (at) gmail (dot) com!!! The agent critique winners will have their queries forwarded to the awesome agents!! CONGRATS!!

Again, a HUGE thanks to everyone who entered!! Stay tuned for more contests and giveaways!!

Have a great week! :)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

What About Middle Grade?

Everybody feels misunderstood, left out, and underappreciated. That’s one of the great themes of middle-grade fiction.

It’s also how it feels lately to be a middle-grade writer. Children’s bestseller lists and Publishers Marketplace are dominated by YA. The Today Show deemed Newbery Award winners of such low interest that they bumped them for Snooki. Libraries and librarians, the best allies of middle-grade writers, face slashed budgets. E-books are shaking up the industry, and the impact on children’s books is one of the murkiest areas.

After the ALA awards, Dystel and Goderich’s John Rudolph wrote an insightful post that stuck with me.
I’ll be curious now to see if Moon starts to take off in the trade, or if it’s regarded as hopelessly institutional—that’s a question prospective MG writers should consider, too, especially as the gap between trade and institutional seem to be widening further.

Thought-provoking, coming from someone who reps, supports, and loves middle-grade. I needed a writing gut check, so this question hit home.

The good news is the Newbery winner, Clare Vanderpool’s Moon Over Manifest, rides high at number four on the NYT list for Children’s Chapter Books.
Snooki’s literary fame – well, let’s say it’s as ephemeral as a spray tan.

I’m aiming for commercial success and trying to write books for young readers that stay with them a little longer. So what if middle-grade writers feel misunderstood, left out, and unappreciated? I’ll channel that right into my characters.

Any middle-grade writers out there? What are your thoughts? Oh, and if you ever wondered what's the difference between middle grade and middle school, here's a great explanation.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Happy Writer Toolkit

Writer's Toolkit (not really b/c these are screw drivers, but you get the idea)

Tools for Happy Writing:

  • Silence. Turn off the phone. Get a sitter, or leave kids with a spouse and go to the library. Send your friends home. Do whatever you have to for the right decibel level in your writing space.
  • Music. Now that it's quiet, you might find music inspirational. Crank it up! Or, if you're like me, listen to lyric-free music so you don't lose your words in someone else's.
  • Snacks. You know how Brad Pitt's always eating in his movies?  Eating on the job is pretty much proven to increase job satisfaction. So snack while you write. Celery or double-chocolate chip. It's up to you. Ahem, but one of these is guaranteed to cause Writer's Butt,and the other isn't. Just saying.

  • Clutter-free zone. I can write when my house/desk is cluttered. But I find my brain is just less cluttered when I tidy up first. Plus, I'm old fashioned so I like to have a sheet of paper in front of me to jot revision notes on as I write (whenever I find an inconsistency, so I can go back and fix the beginning to match my new development). So clear a space. Your brain will realize writing should be its focus. And a focused brain is a happy brain.
  • Notes and Resources. If you have notes on paper, or on your hard drive somewhere, pull them up and put them someplace where you can peruse back and forth between your WIP and the outline/character bible. I also have a bookshelf right next to my writing space, so I've taken advantage of the shelf within arm's reach and stacked it with my writing books and a couple general resource books about herbs, rocks, insects, stars and planets, plus pocket-size Encyclopedia of World History. They're for times when I'm not in a Google mood. Details and world-building matter, so I love being able to whip out a book and find a picture/description of a common flower. *flips open the herb book right now* Did you know, in the Middle Ages, the marigold was used to treat a range of ailments, like intestinal problems, smallpox, and measles. They even used it topically for burns and eczema. The flowers were also used to dye cheese yellow. I know. I never would have known.
  • Water. Or something to drink. Writing kissing scenes makes me SO thirsty. 
  • Stretching breaks. When I'm on a roll, I don't ever want to stop, but I also don't want my Writer's Butt to linger. Plus, I find stretching breaks are close enough to actual exercise (hee hee) they trigger those endorphins and make me feel good. Which makes me think, Hey, I'm an awesome writer. I can do this!
  • Bling. My mouse pad is a mini photo album of my family. Glancing at it while I write reminds me to write for them as well as myself. What motivates/inspires you? Is it your purple-haired troll doll?  Or maybe your picture of Jensen Ackles... 

  • Chat box. For days when you don't actually feel like writing, but must, pull your writing friends into a group chat and have a mini write-a-thon. Write for a set period of time (20 minutes, an hour) and check in with word count. Repeat as needed. Sure, at times the chat box can be distracting, but if you make it a tool in your Writer Toolkit, it will motivate you to get those words out.
  • Clothes. Okay, I added this in just to make an even ten, but hey, you need clothes to write. They protect you from mosquitoes and make your butt look good. (Was that my third mention of butts in this post? *face palm* Well, you know where my brain is today.) 

What's in your Writer Toolkit for happy writing? Gel pens? Stickers? Glitter? Or are you strictly a laptop sort of writer?

p.s. Our awesome follower love contest with agent query critiques will run a whole week, so Amparo will have your winners Monday. Keep spreading the fabulous word (you guys rock at that) and be sure to stop by Monday to see if you won the drawings.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Getting Out of the Pool of Writing Funk

Have you ever been stuck in a pool of writing funk? You know the feeling...where the universe seems to be conspiring against you and you just get a little down in the dumps when it comes to writing?

I am currently trying to hose off the gunk of the funk as we speak. Now, first of all, I need to point out that it is not my writing that gets me funky. I love writing and most of the time, I really WANT to do it. Only sometimes the funk mires me down so much I just can't.

And sure, when I’m querying and the rejections pour in, it dampens my mood a bit. And mostly because I tend to get those “good” rejections; the ones that say “you are a great writer and this is a great story, it’s just not quite right for us right now.” It’s harder to be that close and not quite make it. My favorite was when one of my dream agents told me “it’s not you, it’s me.” Had me rolling on the ground. Just too funny/depressing. If I ever need to query again, I hope I have a project she loves, because she is just too awesome.

Anyhow, my writing funks tend to happen as a side effect to what is going on in my Real Life. Writer’s block never lasts for long. I just work on something else, or go do a load of dishes. I always get GREAT ideas when I’m doing dishes (which sucks because I HATE doing the dishes) :D But if I’ve been cooped in the house with the kids for months on end with no break, or if I’m stressed over anything else going on in my life, or just not feeling well… Real Life funk spills over into writing territory and becomes (dunh dunh duuuunh) WRITING FUNK.

How do I get out of it? I take a writing break. I read…a LOT. I also load up on romantic and British comedies. Two of my favorite British comedies are the shows Vicar of Dibley and Absolutely Fabulous. I love watching movies like Fools Gold and The Holiday and Pure Luck. When I get in a funk, I want to laugh.

And of course, my wonderful friends are great at pulling me out when I’m about to go under. I start sending out hoards of desperate emails and IM’s. And when things are really bad, I tend to shut down a bit, stay away from everything and everyone, and that is when the hoards of emails and IM’s start coming my way. I don’t know how I ever got through the day without my writing family. They are a true God-send.

I always reach a point where I just tell myself to snap out of it. The break has gone on long enough...time to suck it up and push through :) Time to write :)

How do you get out of the pool of writing funk?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Query Wars

Today I'm talking queries. Not cookies? I know, I'm shocked with you ;)

Queries are a necessary evil. I don't jump for joy when the time comes to write one, but I get why they are needed.

After all, if we can't get the gist of our book baby down in three paragraphs, it could mean our MS might not be ready. Don't believe me? Check out this post by Janice Hardy about 'What your query says about your book.' A super helpful eye opener.

Another query goddess is the frawesome Elana Johnson. Elana not only gives her eBook 'From The Query To The Call' away for free, but she has a section on her blog dedicated to queries. Did I mention how much I love her method?

Want a bit of extra help? C.J.Redwine runs some great query and synopsis workshops.

And you know we've got an awesome query critique contest going on, right? Well, you can enter it here. Not only will you be in with the chance for a query critique from agent Natalie Fischer or Josh Getzler, but you could win a query critique from one of us!

There's no harm in spending a good portion of time on your query, but make sure the MS is query ready as well. After all, a strong query gets you in the door. A stronger MS keeps you there.

What about you? Query tips? Handy hints? Feel free to share.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Follower Love Month: Agent Query Critique CONTEST!!!

Happy Valentine's Day!! 

We here at Operation Awesome have so much love to spread, and we decided to give it to the fine folks who make this blog awesome: YOU! In honor of reaching 300+ followers, we're throwing yet another contest to celebrate. *fist pump*

Ladies and gents, welcome to our Query Critique Contest!

Not only are we going to offer critiques, but we found TWO AMAZING AGENTS to help us out. 

The amazing agents are...

Natalie M. Fischer is an Assistant Agent at the Bradford Literary Agency. An honors graduate of the University of San Diego, California, Natalie holds a B.A. in Literature/Writing. She started as an intern at the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency in 2007, after which time she left to write author profiles and book reviews for the San Diego Union Tribune. Finding that journalism was just not for her, she returned to work full-time at the Dijkstra Agency in April 2009, and started building her own client list in September of that same year. She made her move to the Bradford Agency in February of 2011. Natalie's interests include talented, hard-working new authors with a fresh, unique voice and hook. Her specialty is commercial fiction, with an emphasis in children’s literature (from picture book-YA/Teen), romance (contemporary and historical), historical fiction, multi-cultural fiction, paranormal, sci-fi/fantasy in YA or romance only, fairy-tale/legend spin-offs, and “beautiful dark” novels. She will also consider select nonfiction (has to have a fantastic hook and an even more fantastic author platform) and that amazing project she never even knew she was looking for! She is always drawn to an open and positive attitude in an author, good grammar, and fantastical, engaging and sexy plots. 


Josh Getzler of Russell & Volkening, Inc.!!! (remember our interview with Authoress Anon? Yep, he's her agent). From his Publishers Marketplace page: After almost three fascinating and productive years reacquainting myself with the world of publishing at Writers House, I joined Russell and Volkening, Inc. as a (mostly) fiction and young adult/middle grade agent and their director of Film/Television rights in November of 2009. I represent fiction and nonfiction (mostly fiction, more than half of which is crime-related (mystery, thriller, creepy...)), adult, and YA/middle grade (though not picture books).  I am particularly into foreign and historical thrillers and mysteries, so send me your ruthless doges and impious cardinals... and your farmhouse cozies! Give me atmosphere, let me learn something about another time or another place (or both), and kill off nasty Uncle Mortimer in the process--I'll be yours! I take middle grade or YA adventure series, but not so much fantasy, and definitely not picture books. (There are many others who specialize in these books). And please don't send religious fiction--I don't have contacts in the Christian book market. 

Both these amazing agents will critique one query each. AND us over here at OA will be offering the following prizes:

A first chapter critique by Kristal
A first chapter critique by Angie
A query critique by Lindsay
A query critique by Katrina
A query critique by Michelle
A query critique by Kelly
AND yet another query critique by me :)

The rules to enter the contest are:

1) Be a follower


2) Leave a comment on this post with your manuscript's genre (no one-line pitches necessary)

The nine (yes, nine!) winners will be chosen randomly and announced one week from today, so make sure you get your entry in before then. 

Thanks for all your incredible support, and we hope you have an awesome day!! 

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Writer Love!

In the spirit of Valentine's Day, on Monday Operation Awesome is showing love to our followers with a super awesome query critique give-away -- thanks to the generosity of actual living, breathing Mystery Agents!

And in honor of our contest in honor of our followers, I'm offering up a little love to the writer who inspired me to be a middle-grade writer. Be warned: This post is not very original.

I decided to write for kids after I read Harry Potter, the series that launched thousands of kid writers.

I was a latecomer to the series about six years ago, but when I read JK Rowling's books, everything clicked. I had been a writing major in college, but it wasn't the right time. Later I tried a few adult novels, but they weren't the stories I wanted to read, much less write. Then I picked up my first middle-grade novels since my own middle-grade years, I remembered what had made me love writing and reading in the first place.

In the past few years, I've read hundreds more children's books, and there are many titles I admire more than Harry Potter. But JK Rowling got me started, and for that I owe her much love.

Express love to the writers who influenced you. Who got you started on your current path?

Friday, February 11, 2011

BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY Winner (and agent query critique contest!)

And the winner is...

Samantha Sotto-Yambao

Please send your shipping info to katrina (dot) lantz (at) gmail (dot) com and I'll get this baby pre-ordered for you!

Samantha won BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY as part of our Operation Awesome Month of Follower Love. 

Come back on Valentine's Day for some even bigger Follower Love!

TWO fabulous (and so generous) literary agents have offered up query critiques to help us celebrate our 300+ awesome followers: you guys! We'll have a random drawing from the comments, so be sure to stop by on Love Day!

Here's the awesomeness Samantha will be getting:

Add it on Goodreads

Lina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they've known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin's orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions.

Lina finds solace in her art, meticulously—and at great risk—documenting events by drawing, hoping these messages will make their way to her father's prison camp to let him know they are still alive. It is a long and harrowing journey, spanning years and covering 6,500 miles, but it is through incredible strength, love, and hope that Lina ultimately survives. Between Shades of Gray is a novel that will steal your breath and capture your heart.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Authentic Storyworlds

I was asked once how I, as an author, choose or create my story-world and give that setting authenticity

I loved that question. Choosing my setting is one of the most enjoyable parts of writing a story. I write historical fiction, so I need to pick a location, but also a time period. One of the reasons I obtained my Bachelor’s degree in history is because I love getting lost in other times and places. I can’t wait to write a book set in ancient Egypt or Greece, I have ideas for Italy and Russia, I want to delve into the old royal courts and medieval countrysides. I even have a project set in the old American West (not something I ever thought I'd write, but I'm always up for a challenge). I am very partial to England, Ireland, and Scotland, and my first two novels are set in those regions.

But in order to get lost in these time periods, and most importantly, in order to suck my reader into the past along with me, the setting needs to be believable. A woman in a huge satin ball gown, walking through the palace of Charles II, had better not have a cell phone ringing in her handbag.

Which brings me to how I give the setting authenticity. The answer…a LOT of research. I research everything, from clothing (down to the undergarments) and weaponry, to money values and housing availability, to who was on the throne and what the political setting was like. In order to make my reader believe that they are really in whatever time period I have chosen, I have to make sure the historical tidbits that I have sprinkled throughout the story are authentic and accurate.

This has made for some interesting emails on my part. I’ve emailed horticulture societies to find out what kind of flowers bloom in January in a certain region of England (not so odd). But, I did once get to ask a bone expert if a body that has been buried for a century would still have any hair (it wouldn't, in most cases). I have researched things as odd as what a laudanum bottle would look like in 1755 England, to when crowbars came into existence and what exactly they were called, to whether or not toilets were commonly used in 1855 England (they weren’t).

But it is an absolute thrill for me to get lost in the past. Which is why what I do. I write historical novels because I can use the knowledge I have been acquiring over the years, indulge my love of research, mix it all up with the stories that are percolating in my head, and get lost in a world that was once real. I choose a place I want to go, a time period I would love to have seen (at least for a short visit) and create the perfect characters to live in them. And it’s a grand adventure every time :D

How do you make your storyworlds authentic? 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Words On Repeat

I love that toddlers are like human sponges. I also like that they are kind of repetitive when the talk --  especially when they find a few words they like.

Some words I've heard on repeat:
Delicious. Wow (which said by a toddler with curly hair and big brown eyes is adorable). Gosh. Yay.
No. I'm ready (said as soon as she's in the car seat before I've clipped her in). No. Clever girl. No. Hot dog, hot dog hot diggity dog. Mickey Mouse.

And it's the same in writing (you knew I was going somewhere, right!) We all have our crutch words. The favourite descriptions and phrases. We pepper them into our manuscripts without thinking because they feel natural to us.

It's kind of like word poop, but repeated a few times a chapter.

There's nothing wrong with repeating words. Used properly it can be an effective tool. Most of the time repetition is mistake or a habit (like stuffing in that extra cookie in your mouth while watching TV). But the best thing about being a writer is finding new ways to describe or write things. The next time I find myself going for the tried and tested crutch word I'm going to stop, think and write something else.

Oh, and even though I'm sure you know it already, here is somewhere I love to visit for inspiration: The Bookshelf Muse

Because learning something new is just as delicious.

What about you? Any favourite words you repeat in your MS? Have any tips for deleting the little blighters out of your MS?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Original ideas...or not. Plus more blog love with a free book!

I wanted to do a quick post on original ideas. Or, more appropriately, how ideas are never very original. No matter how hard we try and come up with something original, there is always SOMEONE out there who has done it already. So how can we write and stand out?

One idea is to mash up several common ideas to come up with something new. Kind of like the mash-ups they do on Glee.Two completely different songs to make an original, unique performance.

So I really have no profound words of insight, but to encourage you to take your book ideas to the next level. You can take a normal book structure and make it your own. You don't have to come up with a completely original concept. Why? Cause there probably isn't going to be one. You are writing about a vampire? Well, how can you make your vampire book distinguishable from the next vampire novel? Can't tell you that answer. You need to find out on your own. Cause, if I had that answer, I sure as heck wouldn't be posting it on here. (grin).

This idea made me think of this video. (Mild language warning.) Even the great composers are repeated.

And... to further our month of Blogger love for the month of February, we are going to give away a book. 

Win a pre-order of Between Shades of Gray, by Ruta Sepetys. 

You must be a follower (new or old).
Post in the comments section for a chance to win!
Results will be announced on Friday, February 11th.
Book is released on March 22, 2011

Lina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they've known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin's orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions.

Lina finds solace in her art, meticulously—and at great risk—documenting events by drawing, hoping these messages will make their way to her father's prison camp to let him know they are still alive. It is a long and harrowing journey, spanning years and covering 6,500 miles, but it is through incredible strength, love, and hope that Lina ultimately survives. Between Shades of Gray is a novel that will steal your breath and capture your heart.

Monday, February 7, 2011

YA/MG: Genres Or Not?

Last week, the blogosphere was buzzing with great contests (including ours!). Most of them involved sharing a one-line, or 25 word, pitch of a completed manuscript. 

They also involved sharing that manuscript's genre.

I noticed a lot of entries that stated the following:




Here's the deal--there's a ton of conflicting information regarding what YA and MG fiction are.

There's Team YA/MG Are Not Genres. Then there's Team YA/MG Are Genres.

A few notables on Team #1: This post and this podcast. Both links lead to agent blogs. 

Which got me thinking, if most or some agents think YA/MG are not genres, are writers putting them off when they write 'My manuscript is a young adult novel' on queries or contests?

Maybe. Maybe not.

But just to be sure you're not making anyone cringe or hurl their stapler across the office, always be specific. 

Like this:




By doing so, you're telling agents/editors you know where your book fits in the market. You might not be published yet, but you have your facts straight. Did your homework. 

Personally, I believe YA/MG are a writer's target audience. The intended readers of your work. That doesn't mean they're the only ones who'll read it, but it was written with them in mind. To me, genre surpasses that target audience--it's a more specific category that tells your readers what elements they should expect to find in your story. 

So yes, please be specific. Agents will love you more for it :)

Now tell me: what do you think about this genre vs. not genre debate? Are YA/MG genres or not?

Friday, February 4, 2011

February Mystery Agent Revealed!

Our Mystery Agent is....

Chris Richman from Upstart Crow Literary Agency

Image from agency website.

 Chris Richman received his undergraduate degree in professional writing from Elizabethtown College, and an MA in Writing from Rowan University. A former playwright, contributor to The Onion, and sketch comedy writer, Chris broke into agenting in 2008 and has quickly made a name for himself by selling several noteworthy projects. Chris is actively building his list, enjoys working with debut writers, and is primarily interested in middle grade and young adult fiction, with a special interest in books for boys, books with unforgettable characters, and fantasy that doesn't take itself too seriously.

The winner and a note from Chris...

Thanks for having me, Kristal. The 25-word pitch is a tough thing to master, but I enjoy reading them, since they’re so similar to how I pitch a book to editors once I represent it. It’s always interesting to read a pitch stripped down to its barest form, and thinking about a story boiled down to such a small version can help a writer realize what the most crucial elements of the story are. For more on the 25-word pitch, head over to, where I blogged about the topic last year.

Winner (Query & Full Manuscript)

Author: Claire Legrand

Genre: MG Dark Fairy Tale

To save herself, her best friend, and the other degenerates of Belleville, 12-year-old Victoria Wright must outsmart demonic Mrs. Cavendish and her living, breathing orphanage.

I selected this pitch because it’s compact, full of necessary information, and, most importantly, sounds like it could be in line with what I’m seeking. There’s good information packed into the 25 words—the hero (Victoria), her age (12), the conflict (escaping an orphanage), the antagonist (Mrs. Cavendish), and a final, interesting detail that piques my interest (a living, breathing orphanage...sounds spooky!). Well done, Claire!

For those of you who weren’t selected, don’t be discouraged! The 25-word pitch is no easy task, and I thought many of the pitches were well constructed, even if the particulars didn’t match the types of stories I’m personally seeking. Keep writing, and I wish you all the best of luck! 

We asked Chris a little more about himself. 
Here are the questions and the awesome responses he gave. 

1.      What are some of your pet peeves in queries?

You know, aside from some of the usual gaffes like CCing every agent in creation on the same pitch or clearly ignoring my submission guidelines and sending me things that are completely outside of what I typically represent, I’m pretty easy going when it comes to queries. Things like errors in formatting, forgetting to paste sample pages, getting my gender wrong, or spelling my last name “Richmond” earn a frown, but not an instant rejection, from me. We all make mistakes and I try not to sweat the small stuff.

   if I HAD to pick a few things that get under my skin—which I do, since you asked—I suppose I can get frustrated when by writers who approach the process of finding an agent with an air of negativity right from the beginning, either by saying they don’t like that they had to follow our guidelines, or they don’t like the whole process of finding an agent in general, or even one gentleman who had an auto-reply set up to immediately respond to my passing on his novel with a form letter back to me, saying something like he was sorry, but he wasn’t taking rejections at this moment. I get it—the process can be tough and sometimes frustrating, but this sort of negativity right upfront is a significant turn-off for me.

   2.      What are some overdone concepts you’ve been seeing?

I’m hesitant to say that anything’s completely overdone, especially when any of the classic plots can be re-imagined in new and exciting ways. For example, I could say stories where a character magically travels to another world has been done to death, and yet two fantastic series I represent—Jacqueline West’s THE SHADOWS and Matt Myklusch’s JACK BLANK—begin in just this way. So I don’t think anything is ever completely off limits. Heck, I even read a submission for a vampire novel recently that really blew me away, although sadly I wasn’t able to sign it.

   Some things I tend to see all the time, especially because I specifically say I’m looking for books for boys, include one dimensional bullies, kids who have secret abilities, and standard takes on supernatural creatures (for fun I searched through the last two year and a half’s worth of queries for the word “bully” came up with 236 results). Again, bullies, secret abilities, and supernatural creatures can work, but they typically have to be done in a new and interesting way to stand out from all the books/films/tv shows that have come before.

   3.      Is there a dream concept that you’re dying for in a submission?

   I’m always looking for genuinely funny books, but recently I’ve been thinking I’ve been catching up on the show Fringe after missing it during its original airing, and I’d love for a book that successfully combines science with compelling characters and terrifically paced storylines.

   4.      What book are you currently reading?

I actually have a really bad habit of reading many books at once, so I’m technically in the middle of about four published children’s novels, several books for adults, and loads of requested material and client manuscripts. I did, however, just pick up the final Percy Jackson book after waiting for what seemed like ages for it to come out in paperback (I wanted it to match the other editions I own). I read the first 194 pages on a train ride and am itching to finish it and see what becomes of Percy and the whole gang, although I know I’ll probably be forced to start the new HEROES OF OLYMPUS as soon as it’s over. Darn you, Rick Riordan, and your snappy pacing, great concepts, and funny dialogue!

   5.      If you could be one superhero, who would it be and why?

I have a weak spot for Batman. He’s a terrific mix of brains and brawn who is basically a normal human wearing a costume in a world of heroes and villains with actual fantastic abilities, yet he still does okay for himself. That being said, I doubt I’d be able to handle all the bruising that comes with the job. Plus, dude never sleeps.

   So I guess I’d pick Spiderman. Why? Cool day job, some pretty smoking hot girlfriends/wives, and a decent sense of humor, even if it is overly reliant on spider-based puns. Plus, the costume is pretty cool.

   6.      Client or agency news?

I’ve got several exciting things on the horizon, and interested readers can typically follow what’s new at the agency by checking out our blog at     . Very soon, however, the first in Matt Myklusch’s JACK BLANK trilogy will be available in paperback with a spiffy new cover, although readers can still grab the hardcover now. 

Thanks Chris, from all the ladies at Operation Awesome. 
You are truly....AWESOME!!

And....speaking of Jack Blank (it's an awesome book by the way). 
Our special prize is for one of our  participants...chosen at random.

Ryann Jansen
You receive a copy of Jack Blank and the Imagination. 
Let me know if you'd like a kindle or hard copy.

Claire and Ryann, please email me at (at) gmail (dot) com 
for further instructions on your prizes. 

Congratulations to our winners! And thank to everyone who participated. Stay tuned for more great contests coming up this month, including more agent giveaways that you won't want to miss!