Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Pass Or Pages Lessons

Guys, I love Pass Or Pages. I learn so much every time, both from the behind-the-scenes stuff I do and what you guys see on the blog. The agents that participate in Pass Or Pages aren't compensated in any way except the satisfaction of helping people write better queries, and the possibility of finding a gem in our entries. Agents aren't the bad guy gatekeepers. They love authors, and books, and want to help those books find homes. I love working with them to bring this contest to you. I also love all those that entered. You are brave, and I admire you.

Here's what I learned this time around:

  • At least three entrants misspelled the title of their book when filling out our form. Guys, precision is key when entering a contest: It's like practicing querying for real. So I guess what I learned is that while typos may not be the end-all-be-all, they do create a first impression. Spoiler alert: It is not a good one.

  • At least one person who I critiqued through Tuesday Museday entered, and I could see how much their query improved from the first time I saw it. I'm not saying it was my feedback; I am saying that in general, feedback works and you CAN improve. How great is that!?

  • Every time we do this, I relearn the lesson that taste is subjective. What one person thinks is boring or overdone, another person will think is clever and fun. You MUST query widely to improve your odds of finding the right person to champion your work.

  • There are clear differences between MG and YA, and trying to blend the two doesn't seem to work. Know the differences between the categories, and use them as you write to help define your work.

  • Similarly, don't make an agent have to work to figure out what genre your work is in. If it's contemporary, fantasy, mystery, whatever--make it clear.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Introducing Our New Operatives!

A few weeks ago we advertised for new bloggers to join the Operation Awesome team. We had several people apply; they made it really tough to narrow it down to two people. We're so grateful to those who applied, and hope they'll consider applying again in the future.

We're very excited to have two new members of the team. They'll introduce themselves in the next few weeks, but for now we can tell you who they are!

J Lenni Dorner
will conduct the Wednesday Debut Interview feature. If you or a friend has a book coming out this year, please reach out to J! We'd love to have you on Operation Awesome.

Donelle Lacy
  is our new weekly blogger, covering Mondays. We look forward to reading her thoughts (and seeing her artwork; seriously, it's amazing!).

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Why Write a Picture Book?

Some amazingly successful picture books seem to be created on a whim or as art for the sake of art. Dr. Seuss wrote Green Eggs and Ham to win a bet, which apparently never paid out. Good thing the book did! It is still his best-selling work. 

David Weisner's reason for creating the winning picture book Art and Max was to explore and capture the creative process.

But Dr. Seuss was a writer (in advertising until his breakthrough into children's publishing)...

and David Weisner is an award-winning artist!

It's fascinating to read about the very strong reasons regular people feel drawn to the picture book format. 

For instance, there's Nicholeen Peck.
Her bio:
Nicholeen Peck is a mother of four and previous foster parent of many. She has been trained and certified in using the “Teaching Family Model”, which was developed at Boys Town and is used by the Utah Youth Village. Nicholeen did foster care for very difficult teens. She taught children with ADHD, OCD, kleptomania, compulsive lying, anger control issues, etc.
Would you believe she's written an entire manual for families on teaching self-government in addition to four beautiful picture books that reinforce what she calls the Four Basic Skills?

available here

People inspired by a sense of mission write picture books for a different reason than whim or artistic passion. Undoubtedly Nicholeen Peck would agree with Dr. Seuss when he said:
"Children’s reading and children’s thinking are the rock-bottom base upon which this country will rise. Or not rise. In these days of tension and confusion, writers are beginning to realize that books for children have a greater potential for good or evil than any other form of literature on Earth."

Sarah looked up from her piano music and saw Jessica through her window. 
Bolting outside, Sarah caught up with her neighbor. "Hi Jessica! Can you play?" 

 A sense of mission is what's brought me to the endeavor of picture book writing. And my first picture book is not likely to break any records or win any awards, despite my illustrator's obvious talent (see the gorgeous black-and-white sketch above). But that's okay, because my story isn't art for the sake of art. It is art for the sake of change.

My story is about a little girl and her homeschooling family, and the opportunities they find for growth and connection as they look around their community and see the needs of others. Specifically, it's about a family who looks to their community's deep historic roots and considers starting something new, a commonwealth for cultural enrichment, to strengthen those roots, even as the great branches of the community tree continue to spread outward to the bigger cities surrounding it. I'm writing it to explain my vision for a new commonwealth we're building in our area. I hope when parents in our community read it to their children, they'll feel a sense of loss and longing for the connectivity we've long-since outsourced to technology and big institutional programs. I hope to stir up some of the nostalgia that brought many of my friends to these small towns in the first place, and to remind them what we're capable of when we come together to share our most personal passions and talents with one another on a collaborative, volunteer basis.

That's my why.

What's yours? Have you ever felt inspired to write a picture book that would reach the rising generation? What would you say if you had to say it in pictures and less than 1000 words?

Friday, May 27, 2016

May Pass Or Pages Entry #5

Welcome to our feedback reveal for Pass Or Pages. In this contest, randomly chosen entries were critiqued by our agent panel. We hope it will give everyone a sense of what is going on in an agent's head as they read queries and first pages. We're so grateful to the members of the agent panel who gave their time to provide feedback on these entries. We'd also like to thank the entrants. It's hard to put yourself out there. Thanks for being brave!

Entry #5: WORST VILLAIN EVER (36,000 words)


When twelve-year-old George Pruwell finally gets admitted to the Academy of Villainy and Wrongdoing, he has big plans of making his family proud. Unfortunately George is anything but villainous. So to secure a slot in the school's best roster of classes and prove himself worthy of his family's wonderfully terrible villainy [RW1] name, he takes on a nearly impossible assignment: defeat Captain Perfecto, the world's best superhero.

Now, George has to figure out how one too-nice-villain-in-training can defeat the most impressive superhero of all time. And when Perfecto turns out to have some seriously big problems of his own, George must choose to follow his instincts and help the superhero or crush him and become the most villainous Pruwell ever.

The Incredibles meets Despicable Me [RW2] in this 36,000 word story for kids [RW3] who love comics and capes. I'd be delighted if you would consider WORST VILLAIN EVER for publication [RW4] .
Moe's notes:
[MF] So this sounds absolutely adorable. There are a lot of books with similar premises (either heroes in school or villains in school) so you need to do what you can to make yours stand out as different and unique!

Roseanne's notes:
[RW1] This isn’t really necessary.
[RW2] Great comp titles.
[RW3] MG book for readers
[RW4] Representation, not publication.
[RW] The query looks pretty good. Nice use of specifics without giving too much away, doesn’t read like a synopsis, and gives us the character, conflict, and choice of the story.

Emily's notes:
[EK] This feels like it has been done?


If the Pruwell family villains were a perfectly groomed head of hair, twelve-year-old George would be the cowlick that kept sticking out no matter how much spit was firmly applied.

In yet another attempt to reverse this unfortunate reality, today George peered out his second-floor window wearing his Mastermind Magnifying Goggles. With those bad boys on, he could see the yellow centers of Ms. Wutherford's daisies all the way across the street. But George was far less interested in the daisies than in what would hopefully be his first successful villainous trick.

He zeroed in on the location of the tripwire stake next to the sidewalk and saw nothing. Excellent. He’d perfected an invisible tripwire using Gloss Over-It to cover Rule Number One of High Villainy: Don’t get caught.

The thought of someone tripping and landing in a glorious pile of limbs and scattered papers should make George smile with anticipation. It was a classic. Any self-respecting villain would be rubbing his hands together. Perhaps even cackling maniacally. Instead, George felt like he had swallowed a dozen white mice from a mad scientist’s laboratory.

Chewing a thumbnail, he turned his gaze north. Mike Kahn was coasting down the sidewalk on his skateboard as he did every night.
Moe's notes:
[MK] I love the various inventions through out and how much we’ve learned about George in just a few paragraphs. I think there’s something weird going on in paragraph 3 and I can’t tell if there’s a few missing words in there. In spite of that, this sounds like a lot of fun. Please email the first 50 pages and synopsis to MFsubmissions (at) bookendsliterary (dot) com, with the subject OPERATION AWESOME and the submission pasted in the body of the email.

Roseanne's notes:
[RW1] This metaphor isn’t working because it requires too much explanation, and doesn’t really help us visualize that much. And it seems like a different voice than the rest of the text.
[RW2] This voice sounds like an adult, but not on purpose.
[RW3] Again, a little overwrought.
[RW] The story sounds great, but the narrative is overly wordy, even with the narrator’s voice styling, and the metaphors need to be simpler and snappier. I’m also not sure why we are starting in this place, but it might become more obvious after the 250. I would read pages with revisions.


Moe Ferrara: PAGES!
Roseanne Wells: PASS
Emily Keyes: PASS

Thursday, May 26, 2016

May Pass Or Pages Entry #4

Welcome to our feedback reveal for Pass Or Pages. In this contest, randomly chosen entries were critiqued by our agent panel. We hope it will give everyone a sense of what is going on in an agent's head as they read queries and first pages. We're so grateful to the members of the agent panel who gave their time to provide feedback on these entries. We'd also like to thank the entrants. It's hard to put yourself out there. Thanks for being brave!

Entry #4: VAMPIRE MASK (?? words [MF1] [RW1])


Piper is a thirteen-year-old vampire. [MF2]

Unless you ask her mom. [RW2] [EK1] To Mom, she’s an adorable thirteen-year-old daughter who was diagnosed with lupus—right after she lost her father to complications from lupus.

But in Piper’s mind, she’s a vegetarian vampire, waiting for her magic powers to come in. [RW3] She can’t go in the sun, she has to watch what she eats, she’s tired and hurting all the time and she can’t hang out on the beach with her friends [RW4] . It leaves her feeling very alone in a sea of sun-kissed people. Thank goodness for her mom and older brother, who refuse to “lose her to the dark side”. [MF3] [RW5]

And then she meets Devon, a homeless boy trying to feed his little sister by dumpster diving. In Piper’s eyes, he’s even weirder than she is, but her curiosity is piqued, and an unlikely friendship is formed. While Piper struggles to hold on to her mask—refusing to admit she has an incurable disease—Devon disappears and her “vampire powers” almost get her killed while she’s trying to find him. It takes the strength of a mother’s love and a brother’s unwavering support to pull her out from behind her “vampire mask” and into the sun once more. [RW6]
Moe's notes:
[MF1] What's the word count?
[MF2] Vampires. Why did it have to be vampires? /Indiana Jones reference. Not the agent for vampires and I would stop here.
[MF3] I’m having a hard time with these two paragraphs. Her family doesn’t want to lose her to the dark side, but in the paragraph above it feels like her mom doesn’t know she’s a vampire.
[MF] What are the stakes? (No pun intended!) This feels rather quiet to me from the query.

Roseanne's notes:
[RW1] I don’t see the category or the word count.
[RW2] I like this switch. It sets you up to think it’s paranormal, but then it makes it a coping mechanism.
[RW3] This should come after what she can’t do because it’s the result of her “logic” that she’s a vampire.
[RW4] This is repetitive of going out in the sun. If you want to emphasize that she lives in a place where the beach is the culture, then make it it’s own thought. We don’t know where she is geographically, which would also help.
[RW5] Does she want to be lost? This is not clear. Does she think she’s a vampire, or does she want to be one?
[RW6] This is not clear, and I don’t see what she wants or what the stakes are.

Emily's notes:
[EK1] My first thought was “oh no not another vampire book.” But if she’s not actually a vampire, why start with that?


I remember the day I was reborn into this new life. The day they told me not to go outside because the sun could kill me. That day, my whole life changed.

It was not a change I am [MK1] happy with. [RW1]

"Piper, eat your breakfast."

I blinked at my mom. "Vampires don't do mornings."

Long suffering sigh. "You aren't a vampire."

"Then why can't I go in the sun?" I asked, mushing up my pancakes.

"You can go in the sun. You just have to cover up. Wear that cute floppy hat I bought you."

I pushed away from the table, glaring at my mom. She would never understand me. I resisted the urge to bare my fangs at her and instead I jumped to my feet and stalked out…or at least, I tried to stalk out. But the big black combat boots she bought me yesterday make it very hard to stalk [MK2]. I think they weighed as much as I do, and they made my knees ache.


Vampires wear black. And since I'm sure I'll have to be fighting other vampires soon, [RW2] I must have combat boots.

"Piper!" Crap. My mom had noticed my retreat and my still-full plate left behind on the table.

"I'm going back to sleep." I called as I tried to bound up the stairs. I only fell once.

Do vampires sleep in their combat boots? I was new at this, so I wasn't sure.
Moe's notes:
[MK1] Don’t switch tenses.
[MK2] Watch your repetitions!
[MK] Sorry, but vampires just aren’t my cup of tea.

Roseanne's notes:
[RW1] This isn’t doing much to draw me in. It’s vague, sounds cliché, and makes it feel like a memory rather than the moment we’re in. And there are much more interesting ways to express a character’s displeasure with change.
[RW2] I’m not sure why she’ll be fighting other vampires? Does she know, or she assumes that’s part of being a vampire?
[RW] The MC sounds very young, more like 10 than 13, but I like the idea of her disassociation with her condition by accepting that she’s a vampire. Please send 30 pages following the guidelines on jdlit.com.


Moe Ferrara: PASS
Roseanne Wells: PAGES!
Emily Keyes: PASS

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

May Pass Or Pages Entry #3

Welcome to our feedback reveal for Pass Or Pages. In this contest, randomly chosen entries were critiqued by our agent panel. We hope it will give everyone a sense of what is going on in an agent's head as they read queries and first pages. We're so grateful to the members of the agent panel who gave their time to provide feedback on these entries. We'd also like to thank the entrants. It's hard to put yourself out there. Thanks for being brave!

Entry #3: THE TIME TRAVELERS’ INSTITUTE (48,000 words)


Thirteen-year-old Lexi has straight A’s, one friend, and socially-induced stomach cramps [RW1]. When a series of vivid, violent daydreams overtakes her in public, she’s sure she’ll die from embarrassment – if her parents don’t institutionalize her first. Instead, her mom hands her a top-secret [MF1] orientation manual from the Time Travelers' Institute (TTI), the organization that will guide Lexi in her new work [RW2] of stabilizing timelines as her consciousness jumps into the minds of her ancestors. But when TTI can’t lock onto Lexi’s jumps, they realize she isn’t Traveling to the past, but to the future — a rare and dangerous anomaly known as “Leaping.”

Now, even the brains at TTI won’t help Lexi figure out her mission [RW3] for fear of causing a catastrophic ripple through time. The last known Leaper, Adam, was killed on the job decades earlier. So when Lexi meets Adam’s teenaged consciousness [RW4] during her next Leap, she embraces him as a friend, an advisor, and a totally unfulfillable first crush.

Together, Lexi and Adam work out that their mission is to stop Jonas Washburn, the man who sparks an oppressive movement that will destroy much of North American civilization. Lexi knows Adam will fail to stop the child Jonas, so now it’s up to her to stop the grown man. [RW5] From spying on white supremacists to dating Jonas’ (possibly murderous) son, Lexi's never ventured so far from her comfort zone. And if she messes up, she’ll lose a lot more than Adam — TTI itself will never exist, changing the entire course of the future… and the past.

The Time Travelers’ Institute is an upper middle grade [MF2] [RW6] work of speculative fiction, complete at 48,000 [RW7] words.
Moe's notes:
[MF1] Why does her mom have it? Does she come from a line of time travellers?
[MF2] Just be careful this doesn’t wind up skewing more toward YA.
[MF] I have a thing for time travel, but when you’re dealing with time travel in a query, make sure everything is as clear as possible. Try and streamline your query a bit more and you’ll have a strong one.

Roseanne's notes:
[RW1] I’m not sure how all of these are connected, and I wouldn’t want to be put in the same sentence as my friend’s stomach cramps.
[RW2] This set up sounds very familiar.
[RW3] When did she get a mission?
[RW4] When did they meet, in what time frame? Is he in her present or in her future?
[RW5] This logic doesn’t make sense, if Adam is Leaping into the future, why does he have to stop the child instead of Lexi? Why is she stopping the adult?
[RW6] This feels much more like YA than MG, even upper MG. Aging the MC up would make more sense than calling it MG.
[RW7] This does not seem long enough to keep track of all of these threads.


The first time I Traveled [RW1], I was in the back seat of my mom’s old Volkswagen on a gloomy February afternoon. Using my fleecy hat as a pillow against the chilly window, I was hiding from the group of popular kids waiting at the curb. We hadn’t made it out of the school parking lot before I drifted off.

A deafening thump jolted me awake. I jerked upright and slammed my head into a roof of wood and rusty metal. Scraps of sunlight flickered through holes in rotting beams, illuminating the clouds of dust circling my throbbing head. Everything was vibrating hard, like I was in some kind of old vehicle [RW2].


I jumped again as a middle-aged woman, face smudged with dirt, leaned forward out of the shadows beside me. Her eyes were wide with concern. We went over another bump and she caught herself on my knee, calloused hand scraping my bare skin. I looked down to find I was wearing ragged grey shorts fit for the heat of summer.

“Alex!” she repeated, “Are you alright?”

I sputtered and struggled to respond to her simple question. Nobody ever called me Alex, just Lexi or Alexis.

“Wha… who are you?” I croaked.

She gasped, and I groped around for something familiar, something to give me a clue as to what was going on.

I found nothing.

I bounced and trembled. My vision blurred and my stomach gave an ominous groan.
Moe's notes:
[MK] While opening with a scene like this can be tricky and runs the risk of being a bit cliché, there’s something about this that intrigues me. I will say that I want to feel Lexi’s confusion a bit sooner.

Roseanne's notes:
[RW1] Why is the manuscript starting here, with her first jump, rather than with the inciting incident?
[RW2] Not very specific? Car? Train? Wagon?
[RW] I think this is misidentified as MG, and the story is starting in the wrong place. The query was confusing, especially problematic for a story about time travel.

Emily's notes:
[EK] This might work better as YA but would like to see 1st 30 pages to see if it gels. Please email them to me at queryemily (at) fuseliterary (dot) com, with the subject OPERATION AWESOME and the submission pasted in the body of the email.


Moe Ferrara: PASS
Roseanne Wells: PASS
Emily Keyes: PAGES!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

May Pass Or Pages Entry #2

Welcome to our feedback reveal for Pass Or Pages. In this contest, randomly chosen entries were critiqued by our agent panel. We hope it will give everyone a sense of what is going on in an agent's head as they read queries and first pages. We're so grateful to the members of the agent panel who gave their time to provide feedback on these entries. We'd also like to thank the entrants. It's hard to put yourself out there. Thanks for being brave!

Entry #2: ARTIFICIAL WINGS (78,000 words)


All his life, Carus has longed to fly in the sky with wings of his own. If only he'd been born a girl.... [RW1]

In Carus's world, girls are born with wings and the gender roles are reversed [RW2]: boys take home-ec, learn to cook, and are expected to look pretty, while girls show off their strong wings, play Skyball in the air [RW3] for gym class, and perch themselves on ceiling-chairs in the cafeteria to catcall down to boys. 

Carus feels like he's the only boy in school who dreams of having wings. He wants to fly and be able to do everything the girls do, but he has to keep those feeling buried deep inside. Boys can't fly, and that's just the way it is.

Until now. An extremely controversial invention - artificial wings for men - makes Carus's dream into a possible reality. What's more, the doctor who invented them comes to Carus's town to correct a mistake that she made years ago: removing the wings Carus had at birth. [MF1] [RW4] [EK1]

It will cost Carus his friends, his family, and everything else to confront his rigid society and get his wings back. But along the way he'll make an important discovery: even if you're different, you're never alone.

ARTIFICIAL WINGS is complete at 78,000 words [RW5]. It has gender themes relevant to today's youth [MF2] market, and can also be enjoyed simply as alternate-reality fiction.
Moe's notes:
[MF1] So this doesn’t follow your premise that only girls are born with wings. Is this a transgender or intersex book?
[MF2] MG? YA? It’s a bit long for me for MG, but honestly the query reads a lot more like YA than MG.
[MF] I appreciate getting some world building in here, but be careful there’s not too much that you lose valuable real-estate to tell us about your plot!

Roseanne's notes:
[RW1] This use of ellipsis isn’t correct, and doesn’t add much to the meaning of the sentence.
[RW2] Books that reverse our world’s (race/gender/sexuality/ability/neurodiversity) power imbalances can be really problematic because the reader is on this earth, not in an ideal world where the genders are equal. It usually ends up making the author look naïve and unaware of the deep-seated biases that are harmful, possibly to the reader now or in the future.
[RW3] Skyball implies that it’s in the air.
[RW4] Does he not realize until now that he has scars from removing the wings? Unless this implies that he’s intersex in this world, this seems very obvious, and how did he miss this?
[RW5] I’m assuming this is YA fantasy? Reads older than MG.
[RW] The query has extraneous words and some vague phrasing that makes it less compelling than it could be.

Emily's notes:
[EK1] I found this reversal confusing. Does this mean Icarus is genderfluid or transgender? Or merely that gender roles are a societal construct? What “gender themes” are you commenting on specifically? 


I wish I'd been born a girl. Then I'd have wings.

But it's not like I had any choice in the matter. I was born a boy, so that means no wings. No flying. I'm stuck on the ground, slowly withering away here in home-ec class, watching the girls soar around outside for gym class through the window. [RW1]

I can't take my eyes off them. The way they zip through the air, flapping their huge feathery wings. It must feel amazing, the wind rushing past them, blowing over every curve and crevice of their body as they glide through the sky like fish through water. It's a lot better than learning how to cook [RW2], that's for sure.

I would give anything to be out there with the girls. I know it's a stupid thought, and I know that it's impossible. But maybe, just maybe, if what I saw on the news last night is true, then there's a tiny chance that–

"Carus, did you hear me?"

Reality smacks me right in the face Crap, I got caught not paying attention. Again.

All eyes in the classroom are on me. The other Creton Middle School [RW3] boys are giggling while Mr. Hesti, our teacher, stands at the front trying to look stern in his frilly apron and oven mits.

"Welcome back to class, Carus," he says. "Now would you like to tell us what the next step in baking this cake is?"
--------------Moe's notes:
[MK] Do a re-read with an eye to grammar/spelling. (I spy a missing period and it’s ‘oven mitt’!) This is definitely reading more YA. Also, I haven’t learned much about Carus, especially since he’s telling us how cool wings are rather than showing us.

Roseanne's notes:
[RW1] This opening sounds overly dramatic and forced, bordering on whining. Probably would have stopped reading here or close to here.
[RW2] As someone who finds enjoyment in cooking and is very aware of the gender biases in the food world, it makes me instantly dislike this character.
[RW3] Oh, this is MG. I had no idea from the query.
[RW] Gender issues aside, I’m not connecting emotionally with the main character, and I felt like the pages sometimes read like YA, sometimes like MG. The pages also need a proofread. [Operatives' note: Roseanne very kindly included some proofreading; however, in the interest of time, we have not included those in this post.]

Emily's notes:
[EK] Everything about this seems too “on the nose.” 


Moe Ferrara: PASS
Roseanne Wells: PASS
Emily Keyes: PASS

Monday, May 23, 2016

May Pass Or Pages Entry #1

Welcome to our feedback reveal for Pass Or Pages. In this contest, randomly chosen entries were critiqued by our agent panel. We hope it will give everyone a sense of what is going on in an agent's head as they read queries and first pages. We're so grateful to the members of the agent panel who gave their time to provide feedback on these entries. We'd also like to thank the entrants. It's hard to put yourself out there. Thanks for being brave!

Entry #1: SECRETS NEVER TO BE TOLD (60,000 words)


Twelve-year-old twins, Henry and Maggie, burst awake from a shared nightmare that comes true when their quantum physicist father [RW1] disappears over the Bermuda Triangle. More dreams and paranormal experiences [RW2] lead the twins to realize they share a gift for ESP. Or is it a curse?

After dreaming about her father's abusive childhood, Maggie delves into his past and unearths secrets that make her doubt his integrity. [RW3]

Meanwhile, a voice in Henry’s head [RW4] demands he break into a government facility to steal confidential research in exchange for information about his missing father. [RW5]

Evidence builds that the twins’ father is being held by a terrorist [RW6] bent on attaining power. Will Henry and Maggie's burgeoning ESP skills save their father or strand them all in a parallel universe? [MF1]
Moe's notes:
[MF1] Avoid hypothetical questions in your query if at all possible.
[MF] I’m finding the query is confusing and I don’t have a good sense of what the stakes are here. Break up that first sentence – it’s a bit cumbersome!

Roseanne's notes:
[RW1] I know that writers are trying to get as much information into a query as possible, but this kind of description like “lawyer mom” comes off as awkward.
[RW2] This is really vague. You have space in your query to go into more specifics.
[RW3] More vague hints. Use specifics to draw the reader in. I have no personal investment in their story right now because I don’t know what is actually happening.
[RW4] This sounds less like ESP and more like schizophrenia. If I knew more specifics from above, like what kind of ESP they have, then I think this would be clearer.
[RW5] Does he do it? It’s never stated if he breaks in or not.
[RW6] I thought he disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle? This isn’t a BT story?


“He’s psychic!” [RW1]

Henry knocked his twin sister’s hand down as she pointed at the turbaned swami [RW2] waving a cheap stuffed animal as carnival goers passed. “No. He’s a scammer. How hard can it be to guess the month you were born within two months? He scribbles a couple letters that look like they could be January, June or July. So every month is covered except October.” [RW3]

“You sound like Dad.” Maggie turned to step into the Viking ship [RW4].

Grimacing, Henry wiggled his tennis shoe free of the sticky pink mess [RW5] on the ground and followed her on. “I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that.”

“Skeptical, is all I mean.” Her tone was teasing, but when Henry scowled she shrugged. “Just saying.”

As she headed toward the tip of the boat, he yanked her back. [RW6] “Let’s sit in the middle.” He made for the center row but a gray haired lady in a Virginia Tech t-shirt beat him to it. In the short time he’d wasted, the next two rows filled up. He turned to leave. “It’s a sign we need to find the new Demons and Aliens’ trailer [EK1], instead.”

“Not a chance.” Maggie pushed him into the only seat still open—one row from the back and next to a man with stomach folds sticking out from beneath his shirt. “If I can’t have someone guess my birthday, you can’t waste Dad’s money on video games.”
Moe's notes:
I’m very confused by the opening pages. I don’t have a sense of setting at all. Carnival, then Viking ship? Is this a carnival ride or a ferry-type boat? I will say, I like the dialogue in this.

Roseanne's notes:
[RW1] Starting with dialogue usually doesn’t work because it feels like we are missing half of the conversation, which is either then explained (instead of shown) or leaves the reader with no explanation.
[RW2] This sounds problematic.
[RW3] I don’t understand this at all.
[RW4] What? Where are they?
[RW5] What mess?
[RW6] He sounds very controlling and almost mean.
[RW] The query wasn’t clear about what’s going on, and the pages were very confusing, dropping us into a scene and then moving on, without getting to know the characters or what’s happening or where they are.

Emily's notes:
[EK1] I initially assumed this mean it was a movie trailer, not a video game.
[EK] An okay premise but I wasn't pulled in by the pages.


Moe Ferrara: PASS
Roseanne Wells: PASS
Emily Keyes: PASS

Friday, May 20, 2016

Secret Formulas and Inspiring Stories (from the Wizard of Ads)

On goodreads

This book was recommended to me by a fellow writer and entrepreneur, someone who personally seems to ooz success in every endeavor. In fact, one of his Life Manifestos hangs in my entryway as our family theme. Stephen Palmer is a worthy mentor for any writer, most especially because he approaches life with a holistic, full embrace of every valuable thing, from family to business to civic duty and community enrichment. I highly recommend learning more about him.

When I first picked up my hold at the library, I was taken aback by the seeming antiquity of Secret Formulas of the Wizard of Ads. (It was the 1999 Business Book of the Year!) But honestly, antiquity has always charmed me, so I opened it up eagerly to see what wisdom this old book had to offer.

Wisdom and humor shone back at me from every page. I laughed. I pondered. I was uplifted. I was inspired. Through a mixture of unlikely and little known biographical anecdotes about famous leaders of industry and state, stories from the advertising industry, and fascinating facts about the brain, Roy H. Williams kept me flipping the pages and soaking up his playful wisdom. 

More than once I began reading about some poor sap with all the chips set against him, only to find a few paragraphs later that he became Abraham Lincoln, or Teddy Roosevelt, or Frank Lloyd Wright. 

The Wizard is a man after my own heart. He's someone who sees the patterns and connectivity in everything, and realizes the value of applying more than just fancy advertising terms and spreadsheet statistics to marketing. In fact, he understands the importance of selling only what you love. As writers, I think there's a key in there for us. Do we love what we write? Enough to sell it with passion?

Since every writer is his or her own best advertiser at the end of the day, I highly recommend you read Secret Formulas of the Wizard of Ads. If it doesn't inspire you to take up mountaineering or to become president of the United States, at least you'll find real, working solutions for your need to advertise what you love.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Why You Need a Newsletter

Today, guest blogger A.P. Fuchs talks why writers need newsletter. Welcome A.P. and thank you for joining us.
* * * * * * * 

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, www.tinyletter.com/apfuchs and get a free thriller e-novelette out of the deal, and be sure to visit him on-line at his main hub at www.canisterx.com 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

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Are Brick and Mortar Bookstores All They're Cracked Up to Be?

One major goal every author seems to have is getting their books into bookstores. It seems like the holy grail of book sales, but are brick and mortar bookstores all they’re cracked up to be? Will readers walk into bookstores in droves and pull our books from the shelves? If we finally manage to get bookstores to stock our books, will it translate into sales?

My family loves going to the bookstore. My kids could spend hours browsing and looking through their favorite series. As a writer, I longed to one day see my books on those shelves. Well, now they’re there. I can go visit my book baby at a number of local bookstores. Dream come true, right?

Maybe not.

Notice where people tend to shop in those bookstores. They peruse bestseller tables and end caps that feature popular titles, but they tend not to sift through the hundreds of books, spine out, littering the shelves. If you’re a mid-list author, with a small publisher, or self-published, you will likely never end up on the bestseller table because real estate on tables and end caps is purchased. Publishers pay bookstores for their titles to appear in these coveted spots. Unless you can ante up, your book will be relegated to the shelves of obscurity.

So, unless someone walks in the door in search of your book, they likely won’t buy it, which also means your time on those shelves is limited. No sales, means no new orders and, in fact, can mean the return of unsold merchandise.

All my bookstore sales have resulted from signings, launches, or people walking into the store asking for my title as a result of my or my publisher’s marketing efforts. I’ve seen sales spikes after radio interviews and newspaper interviews. My bookstore sales as a result of Enslavement sitting on a shelf and just happening to get noticed have been next to zero.

I have to reach people before they set foot in the bookstore.

So, while I like seeing my book inside bookstores, its presence is not a goal in and of itself. My goal is the sale of that book, so that retailers want to continue to carry it. My focus has shifted from getting my book into stores, to introducing it to readers because if they want it, they’ll find it.

What are your thoughts on brick and mortar bookstores?

* * * * * * * * * * 
Melinda Friesen writes short stories and novels for teens.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Tuesday Museday

At the beginning of your novel, where is your main character headed? This may be a physical location, or more of a state-of-mind kind of thing. It may be a goal your character has.

How will your book change that character's destination (metaphorical or otherwise)?

If you don't know, I suggest you figure it out :0)

It's a busy week: I'm sorting through slush for Query Kombat, packing for a vacation, and helping to select new members of Operation Awesome. I can do ONE query critique this week; first commenter to post below gets it. You must include your e-mail address so I can contact you about the critique. If you don't include your e-mail, I move on to the next commenter. If you were planning on entering Query Kombat, let me know and I'll be sure to do the critique tonight.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Query Kombat Submission Window is Open!

While we're waiting to see the results from this round of Pass Or Pages, I'm excited to dive into the slush pile for Query Kombat. I'll be helping Laura Heffernan sort through entries trying to find the best queries to duke it out in the tournament. And yes, I'll be tweeting hints and query tips as I read. Follow me @reynoldstribe so you don't miss out.

I promise to keep my tweets kind. I may tweet some "don't do this" suggestions, but they'll be aimed at helping people improve their letters, not making fun of people for their mistakes. The atmosphere of Query Kombat is supposed to be exciting and informative, and I'll do my best to contribute to the good vibes.

If you're thinking about entering, just do it! There's nothing to lose! And if you're following along and not entering, I hope you find something helpful anyway.

Good luck!

Remember, we are accepting applications for new bloggers until Friday the 20th! For details, see our announcement post.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

When Rejections Make You Happy

Once upon a time, I wrote a book. And I let a few friends read it, and they were like, "Huh, this is like a real book," so I was like, "GOOD ENOUGH LET'S GET THIS BABY PUBLISHED."

So. Many. Rejections.

I've queried two novels, and racked up about a hundred and fifty rejections between the two of them. The rejections from novel #1 were mostly form rejections, with no requests to see more no matter how many times I revised my query. I had a problem with my query letter, and that problem was my book didn't have enough conflict or high enough stakes.

By novel #2, I had learned how to write a book with conflicts and stakes that I could communicate clearly in a query letter. I got several requests for the full manuscript. As the rejections came rolling in, they had a common theme: "Loved your writing; can't sell this book."

Yes, getting rejected was still hard. But the nature of the rejections from book #1 to book #2 was vastly different. It was clear that I had grown as a writer; agents were complimenting my work and passing with regrets, instead of form rejecting me at the query stage.

To survive in the publishing world, you have to be able to find joy where you can, even in the face of disappointments. For me, it's seeing that I have progressed from where I was when I started this journey two and a half years ago. I'm moving in the right direction, even if I haven't yet found representation for my work.

I saved a couple of those rejection letters, and when I get down, I read them to remind myself how far I've come.

I'm hanging in there.

I hope you do, too.

Remember, we are accepting applications for new bloggers until Friday the 20th. For more details, see our announcement post.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Pass Or Pages May 2016 Entry Form

We are now accepting entries for Pass Or Pages! Before you enter, be sure to check out the rules. Remember, this month's round of Pass Or Pages is only for Middle Grade Speculative novels. The entry window closes at 6pm Eastern time on Wednesday May 11th.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Flash Fiction Contest #14 Winner

Thanks for entering this week, everyone! Without further delay...

Flash Fiction Contest #14 Prompt: Clone

Entry by Laura Rueckert

You aren't supposed to move like that. Clones are supposed to sleep until revived. Not flutter their eyelashes when I stand before your pod. It's bad enough seeing my inanimate face through the milky glass. Seeing you move, seeing you twitch, is worse.

A knock. Your right pointer finger banged against the pod. I'm sure of it.

My hands shaking, I call the hotline, pressing 6 for *I think my clone is waking up*.

"The pod is filled with a sedative, nutrient gas that keeps the clone alive and in a coma-like state," the recording says. "Less than 0.000001% of clones awaken prematurely."

A scraaaaape fills the air behind me—I whirl around but you're still—and the telephone voice rambles on. I press 7 for *My clone is making noises*.

"The gas filter in the pod makes a hissing sound once per hour. Beyond that, you may hear a pop when a new canister of sedative is punctured."

That wasn't a hiss or a pop. Now your hands are sliding against the glass, pressing so hard I can see your fingerprints...my fingerprints.

You're crying. I have to help you, get you out of there. I press 4 for *Emergency revival*.

I fetch the transponder and—click!—the door swings wide.

"Do not attempt to revive your clone on your own. Improper revival can lead to dangerous results.

With a deep breath, you emerge from the pod. Your eyes are focused. Your stomach growls. You open your mouth.


*goosebumps* So creepy. I totally want to don't want to read more.

This is Laura's second win, and you can read her first winning entry here.

Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, May 6, 2016

Bid on an Awesome Package from our Operatives!


For this year's Pens for Paws Auction, our members are offering an entire package that includes:

From Karen McCoy:
Signed ARCs of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, The Marvels by Brian Selznick, and Winter Falls by Nicole Maggi

From Katrina Lantz:
 $15 gift card for Amazon.com

From S. L. Saboviec:
E-books of Guarding Angel and Reaping Angel (books one and two in the Fallen Redemption series)

PLUS A Critique of your first chapter 

From Kara Reynolds:
Critique of Twitter pitch, query, and synopsis (between Kara's crits and Samantha's, you could have an entire submission package ready to go!)

From Angelica R. Jackson: Signed paperback of Crow's Rest plus swag

This item will close on May 8, 2016, at 9:00 PM EST, so hurry over and get your bids in!

Flash Fiction Contest #14

Hi guys - Time for another #OAFlash Fiction contest! Rules can be found here. We're going slightly longer than last time, but only by a bit.

Flash Fiction Prompt For Friday, May 6, 2016

When posting, remember to include your name and your Twitter handle.

Come back on Sunday night to find out who the winner is!

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Join the Operation Awesome team!

With the recent departure of a few of our members, it's time to add some new bloggers to the Operation Awesome team!   

We are looking for:
- Someone to take over Wendy's Wednesday Debut Interview feature. This person would also be welcome to post on other writing-related subjects, and help with contests and other features, but their primary responsibility would be contacting debut authors and conducting interviews/giveaways around the time of their book releases.

- A weekly blogger. Currently, we have Tuesdays and Fridays covered regularly by Kara and Samantha, and Wednesdays will be covered by the debut interviews. We are looking for a writer to commit to blogging every Monday or Thursday. The actual day will be flexible around contests and other date-sensitive posts, but this blogger will still be expected to blog approximately four times a month.

As far as blog posts go, pretty much anything related to the craft or business of writing is welcome. We tend to stay away from controversial or emotionally-charged topics, because it's hard to reflect the views of everyone in the group in such a post. However, we're flexible and we communicate well with each other behind the scenes, so it's a good atmosphere to bounce potential ideas around.

Each blogger is responsible for promoting their own posts on social media. You will receive the passwords to the Operation Awesome Facebook and Twitter accounts to help you reach more people.

We welcome applicants from any background, and are especially interested in bloggers from groups that are underrepresented in the writing world.

We see membership in Operation Awesome as an opportunity to make meaningful connections in the publishing community no matter where you are in the journey. Each of us has grown and learned from the experience of group blogging, and if that sounds like something you’d be interested in, please send an email to OperationAwesome6 (at) gmail (dot) com with a short message on why you think you would be a good fit for Operation Awesome. Please include links to your social media and blog sites. If you don't have a public blog where we could see examples of your writing, please include a theoretical guest post with your application.

If you have applied before, and are still interested in blogging with us, we strongly encourage you to apply again.

We will accept applications until Friday, May 20th.

Thank you!

Note added 5/13/16:

The ideal candidates for these spots would, in addition to the responsibilities above, also assist in our Pass Or Pages contest every two months and would participate in our #OABookClub every month.

For PoP, that would include helping draw winners, emailing agents using our shared email address, giving a minimum of three query critiques as consolation prizes, and/or formatting posts to go live. We share all these responsibilities, so you wouldn't have to do everything; however, we like to rotate duties.

For #OABookClub, we select a book together the month before. You wouldn't be expected to participate every month, but since we're a team, we would like it if you would as much as possible.

If you have already applied and you are comfortable with these additions, no need to respond. If you feel that would be too much of a time commitment, please email us and we will remove your application from consideration.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Wednesday Debut Interview: ARTIFACTS by Pete Catalano

Welcome to another debut interview! Today we're talking with Middle Grade author Pete Catalano about his debut, ARTIFACTS!

First off, tell us a bit about yourself! What's one thing people might not expect about you?

My wife and I live with two big Old English Sheepdogs who definitely think that they run the house and most times they do. I’ve spent the better part of three years meeting and enjoying the writing community both online and in person and find they are very supportive and willing to help in any way they can. I write very quickly and I try to avoid the question of “How Quickly?” every chance I get.

How would you describe ARTIFACTS in one sentence?
Kids race against fairy tale villains to recover the one artifact that can rewrite fairy tales and turn the world, as we know it, upside down.

How long as this process taken for you, from the time that you began the first draft of this book until the date of its publication? How many novels had you written prior to this?
It’s been almost 2 years from the time I started writing ARTIFACTS until its date of publication. A very long two years! This was my 2nd book and there have been many after it.

I love the idea of a scavenger hunt for fairy tale artifacts! What's your favorite fairy tale and why?
It has to be Beauty and the Beast. I love the idea of Belle and the Beast finding each other, getting used to each other, and then battling Gaston together. I also enjoyed making Gaston look like such a dope in ARTIFACTS.

What scene from this book did you most enjoy writing?
It has to be the scene where the kids find Walt Disney’s brush in the middle of all the junk. It was so much fun painting things so they became cartoons and then the characters reactions to it.

Every writer experiences some rejection and setbacks along the way. How did you learn to cope with them and move on?
Once you get a lot of them there’s nothing else you can do but move on to the next project and hope that once one book gets picked up that they will want to go back and look at the rest.

How did you find your publisher? What makes them a good fit for you and your book?
I submitted it online and received a very quick answer back. The way Georgia keeps her writers involved and my editor Tara Creel make Month9Books a great fit for ARTIFACTS.

Your cover image just screams "Action! Adventure! Danger!" Can you tell us a bit about it? Who did the artwork? How much say did you have in it?
They did the cover in house and did give me a few options to pick from. They did a beautiful job with the cover. In fact at my first Comicon I actually had a 6th grader pick up the book and say, “The cover draws me in!” I couldn’t ask for a better compliment than that.

Tell us about the title: ARTIFACTS. Was this the original title you'd had in mind? If not, what made you change it?
It was the original title and worked out well even though it was called ARTIFACTS because it was the only thing I could think of at the time. ☺

What's next for you after this book debuts? Have you started working on another book?
Writing, writing, and more writing. I have several books that I’ve written in the last 2 years and I am currently working on a spooky chapter book series.

How does it feel to finally have your book out in the hands of readers? Do you have any events planned you want people to know about?
It feels great! I am going to NC Comicon, ALA, Dragon Con, Southern Festival of Books, and signings at several independent books stores including Malaprops, Parnassus, The Blue Bunny Books and Toys. There are also signings at several Barnes and Noble locations.

Is there any other advice you'd like to pass on to others pursuing publication? Anything you would have done differently?
Keep writing. Keep Querying. Find yourself a great CP. And as Brooks Sherman once told me, "Querying is not like throwing spaghetti up against the wall to see what sticks!”

Nothing different as far as this book, but maybe a few judgment calls with some of the others.

And, just for fun: what current summer blockbuster do you think your main character Jax would most enjoy and why?
It’s a toss-up. I loved Now You See Me and I’m hoping the sequel is just as good. Captain America: Civil War should be fantastic!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

May 2016 Pass Or Pages Agent Panel

May 2016 Pass Or Pages: Middle Grade Speculative Fiction

We here at Operation Awesome are thrilled to present our third round of Pass Or Pages, the query contest where entrants can receive feedback on their query letter and first page from literary agents. Let's meet this round's agent panel!

Moe Ferrara

Becoming a literary agent was fitting for the girl who, as a small child, begged her dad to buy her a book simply because "it has a hard cover." Growing up, she had a hard time finding YA books outside of Christopher Pike and R. L. Stine, and instead tackled Tom Clancy or her mom's romance novels. Though her career path zigzagged a bit—she attended college as a music major, earned a JD from Pace Law School, then worked various jobs throughout the publishing industry—Moe was thrilled to join the BookEnds team in May of 2015 as a literary agent and the subsidiary rights director.

Emily S. Keyes

Emily S. Keyes joined Fuse Literary in 2013 after working as an agent at the L. Perkins Agency for 2 years. Before entering the world of agenting, she worked in the contracts department of Simon & Schuster, Inc and graduated from New York University’s Center for Publishing. She uses her knowledge of contracts, copyright and the publishing business to benefit her clients and the Foreword team.
*Note: Even though Emily is currently closed to queries, she still intends to request pages from any entries that catch her eye!*

Roseanne Wells

Roseanne Wells joined The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency as an associate agent in 2012. Previously with the Marianne Strong Literary Agency, she has also worked as a proofreader and a special sales/editorial assistant. She graduated from Sarah Lawrence College with degrees in Literature and Dance. An avid reader, Roseanne discovered her passion for book publishing during her internship at W. W. Norton, and she approaches agenting as a writer's advocate, editor, and partner. She is a member of SCBWI and a volunteer for Housing Works Bookstore Cafe in Soho, NYC. You can find her on Twitter @RivetingRosie.

Details for May 2016 Pass or Pages:

Starts: Monday, May 9, 2016, at 6 a.m. Eastern
Ends: Wednesday, May 11, 2016 at 6 p.m. Eastern
Category/Genre: MG Speculative (sci-fi and fantasy)
How To Enter: Fill out the entry form on the contest post when it goes live
What Is Required: Your query (NO BIO or personalization for agents), your first 250 words, a complete and polished MS

You can also read more about the rules here.

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

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