Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Monday, September 28, 2009

Researching The Agent Of Your Dreams

Okay, so, you’ve written your novel. You’ve revised it until it’s so strong that you can drop a two ton piano on it and not even make a dent. And you’ve polished until it’s so shiny that it’s almost blinding, and no agent or editor will be able to ignore it. What’s next?


Whether you are looking for an agent or a publishing house, you need to research all of them so you know where to submit your work. And there are lots of places where you can do this.

Agent Query – This is a compilation of agents, outlining what each agent represents, what he/she is looking for, professional history, and where to send a query letter.

Query Tracker – This is similar to Agent Query, except it also has a tool to track your submissions. And, it has average response times for each agent. If you take out a subscription ($20 per year), then you get to see raw data, which shows you the exact response times for each query rather than averaging them all together. I found this information invaluable when I was managing my queries and submissions.

Guide to Literary Agents – This blog has fantastic announcements about new agents, promotions, moves, interviews, and the like.

Publisher's Marketplace – This site has information on both publishers and agents, though it’s sometimes hard to navigate. But if you’re looking for information on a specific editor/agent, or publishing house/agency, the search functionality will almost always find it for you. There is an added feature on this website that will show you who represented a particular book. It requires a subscription, though, which is $20 per month, and you can subscribe on a month-to-month basis. I made a list of books I loved, got a one-month subscription, and did massive searches on those books for that month. It helped me to create a great list of agents to query. It also showed me what else those agents had sold, how recent the last sale was, and what kinds of books they were.

JacketFlap – This site is a great resource for publishing houses. It contains contact info, website info, and submission guidelines. It’s also a community, and a way to keep in touch with other writers.

Children’s Writers and Illustrators Market – This is a book that contains info on both agents and publishing houses. You will be able to find contact information, submission guidelines, websites, and more. You can also sign up for a monthly newsletter from the website, and get updates that happen throughout the year.

The Children’s Book Council – This is the nonprofit trade association for children’s book publishers. Its members are publishing houses, and the list contains information on what each of them publish, how many titles they publish a year, and whether they accept unsolicited manuscripts. The list also contains contact information, and links to websites.

Literary Rambles – This blog is run by one person, Casey, who has done her own research, and shared it with the world. She has many excellent articles on agents, interviews, links to various industry websites, and a list of what’s coming up next on her blog. This is an excellent starting place for your research.

Cynsations – This blog is run by Cynthia Leitich Smith, author of TANTALIZE, ETERNAL, and other great books. She has amazing interviews with authors, editors, and agents, and lots of other great stuff. I have spent countless hours perusing the archives, and always walk away feeling smarter than I was before. This blog is a definite must-read.

What Casey or Cynthia don’t have, you can find on your own by doing a quick search of the internet. For example, entering the key words “Andrea Cascardi agent interview” will get you a list of interviews that Andrea Cascardi has given recently. You should also keep a list of books you’ve read and loved, then look up who published or represented them.

Since I write fiction for kids and teenagers, all of my research has been focused on places with that kind of information. But many of these resources include adult fiction and non-fiction.

Research is incredibly time consuming, and sometimes mind-boggling. But it’s a necessary evil. It will give you an edge when you are able to tell that agent/editor why you are sending her a letter and not someone else. Which brings us to the next step: the query letter.

But that’s for my next post. :)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Winners of the September book giveaway!

And now, to announce the winners of the September book giveaway!

For SHADOWED SUMMER, the winner is...


For THE MILES BETWEEN, the winners are...

Martha Flynn!!!

Congratulations to the winners!!!! Drop me an email at tabitha at tabithaolson dot com with your address, and I'll get those right out to you. You've got thirty days to collect your prize.

Don't forget to stop by next saturday to see what I'm giving away! Hint: two books from two fabulous authors, with interviews, as usual!!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

Plot Summary: This is Jane Austen’s original novel, edited to include a mysterious zombie-producing plague and ninjas.

When I first saw this book on the shelves, I thought of Carrie Harris.

After that, I had no idea what to think. I mean, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES? Written by both Jane Austen and some guy I’d never heard of. Huh? How was this possible? And then I remembered that Austen’s books are in the public domain, unprotected by copyright laws. So I picked it up, thinking it might be amusing, and read this in the jacket flap summary:

“... Pride and Prejudice and Zombies transforms a masterpiece of world literature into something you'd actually want to read.”

Um...I like Jane Austen. PRIDE AND PREJUDICE is my favorite novel of hers. Still, I’m not a judgmental person, so I took this statement as a joke (as I’m sure it was intended) and decided not to hold it against the author. :)

This was a weird book to read. I know the original story well, so I was basically reading this version to see where Grahame-Smith had made his changes. They had been inserted well, and the flow of the story was smooth for the most part. But, as you all probably know by now, I can’t shut off the writer part of my brain (urgh...brains...). :) There were a couple places that seemed odd, like when Elizabeth is visiting Lady Catherine, and she talks to Darcy about her short-comings as a result of lack of practice rather than inherent lack of talent. In the ZOMBIE version, it didn’t ring true to me because of the way Elizabeth’s character had been drawn throughout the story. But these places were few and far between, and I was reading with a light heart.

Overall, it was fun to read. The story is funny and very ridiculous, and I laughed my way through nearly all of it. I’m glad I read it, even though I’m sure I’ll never read it again.

There is another book that just came out, SENSE AND SENSIBILITY AND SEAMONSTERS. I also just noticed the zombification of WAR OF THE WORLDS, HUCKLEBERRY FINN, AND WIZARD OF OZ.

Thanks, but I’ll pass on these. One was funny, but all these feel like a marketing ploy.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Interview with Mary Pearson!

Today, we have an interview with the amazing Mary Pearson. Mary has won the SCBWI Golden Kite award and honor, YALSA Best Books for Young Adults, Kirkus Best Young Adult Books, and much more. She has agreed to share some of her wisdom and experience with us, so let's just get right to it, shall we?

What was the inspiration behind THE MILES BETWEEN?
After writing two very heavy books, I simply wanted to write something that was fun. Combine that with a certain fascination with coincidence and the unlikely ones I have encountered and the wheels began turning. I thought what if there was a girl who was obsessed with coincidence? What if one particular day in her life had bunched up with all the wrong events? I think we’ve all experienced that before. We’ve had a whole day, or a week, or month of bad luck where someone consoles us saying, “oh, when it rains, it pours,” or, “it always comes in threes.” But that doesn’t make us feel much better. It still sucks.

And then I thought, couldn’t it work the other way too? We always notice when everything goes wrong, but what if everything went right? At least for one day. And from there the story took off.

It was a fun adventure for me listening to my characters, and being in awe right along with them, as the day is turned on its ear. Of course, even though I set off writing this to have a rollicking outrageous time, my serious side was bound to kick in too. Destiny turned out to be a very complicated and conflicted character–a much darker side to her than I expected--and through her and the other characters, I did explore fairness, or the lack of it, which is central to the story.

How long did it take to get from the initial idea to a completed novel?
I began The Miles Between in the autumn of 2006 and delivered final edits to my editor in August of 2008, so it was completed shy of just 2 years, but the completed first draft took about a year and a half–my fastest ever. However, I think the simmering of the idea had been going on for years, wanting to explore the unlikely and unexplainable.

Your last three books have been written in present tense (successfully, I might add, and that’s no easy feat). Has this become your tense of choice, or does it depend on the story? How did you decide on present tense for MILES BETWEEN?
I honestly do not consciously think about which tense or pov I am going to use when I begin a book. I listen to the voice of the character and go from there. Sometimes part way in I will look at the story and ask myself, what would it read like in another tense or pov, and perhaps even tinker with it, but generally the voice is already there in stone and I do not change it. I think for MILES, because part of the story is told through flashbacks, the present and past tenses support each other. I think if it were all past tense it would have a flatter feel to it.

I know there is some controversy regarding tense. I think if you generally read a certain type of tense, another one can feel foreign to you. I don’t think one is better or worse than the other–just different. I’ve heard some people say they have a hard time with the logic of present tense which I really can’t understand. Omniscient viewpoint, which you don’t see as much anymore, has a long tradition in books, and to me that is the most illogical tense of all. What narrator can possibly be inside of every character’s head? Literature styles are always changing–it is natural and right that they evolve or we would still be reading literature in the form of epic poems.

How is your career different now from when your first book was published?
WAY busier, and I have many more distractions and obligations. But it all comes back to the writing eventually, and in many ways that is still much the same. Every book feels like a first, and really it is. Each character and their story requires a unique approach. So finding my way through a story is still an exciting, uncertain, and often bumpy process, just as it was with my first book.

What are you working on now?
I’m not ready to talk about it yet, but I think fans of The Adoration of Jenna Fox will be surprised. That’s all I can say right now.

Ooooo!! I'm insanely curious now! :)
Do you work on one project at a time, or multiple?
I work on one project at a time. Recently I attempted to work on two projects at once and failed almost instantly. The problem is in my down time, like when I am walking or driving, etc. Amazingly, this is really where a lot of writing gets done. The down times are where the surprises happen and I hear dialogue or see scenes or characters, and that sends me racing back to my keyboard. Unfortunately, I can only “hear” one story at a time. I guess my subconscious refuses to do double-time.

What does your writing space look like?
Right now it looks like my patio. : ) Seriously, I have been writing my current manuscript almost exclusively on my laptop out on my patio. It gives me some distance from the “business” of writing in my office. And I just plain like being outdoors. When the weather turns, I may go back to some of my local hangouts, like coffee shops, to get that distance.

How much do you read, and what are you reading now?
Like most writers, I read a lot. My TBR pile is huge. I just finished Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins and When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, and now I’m digging into a non-fiction book, Writers Workshop in a Book, which is a series of essays by various authors from the Squaw Valley Community of Writers. I love reading about how other authors approach their writing.

Thanks so much for sharing this interview, Mary!

For a chance to win a copy of MILES BETWEEN, go here. To read my stellar review of her book, go here. To see more of what Mary is up to, check out her website,

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Kiss In Time by Alex Flinn

Plot Summary: a modern tale of Sleeping Beauty, but the Beauty doesn’t wake for three hundred years...right into modern times.

I like fairy tale retellings. I think it’s fascinating to see how authors put their own spin on an age-old tale that everyone knows. Which elements do they keep? Which elements do they change? How creative do they get? I love it.

This story is just as interesting as the others I’ve read. The author is incredibly clever with her modern twist to the story, showing how two individuals collide. One completely sheltered, and pretty spoiled. The other ignored, and also spoiled. The fact that they come from vastly different centuries just adds to the fireworks.

The beginning was great, and I loved the interactions between Talia and Jack, and actually thought this would make a great movie. I’ve never had that reaction to a book before, and it was kind of weird. But I still feel that way. I thought that Talia’s reactions to the modern world were believable and interesting, and I thought that Jack’s reaction to dealing with a princess had just the right balance of ‘do it yourself’ and ‘okay, let me help.’

The ending wasn’t as strong as I’d hoped. Everything got tied up with a bow, a bit too close to Disney endings. But this might just be the author’s style – another book of hers, BEASTLY, also has a wonderfully imaginative modern twist to Beauty and the Beast, but too many Disney elements. Including the ending.

Still, I enjoyed the story quite a bit. If you like fairy tale retellings, and Disney, you probably will, too.

Monday, September 14, 2009

When to Give Up

I love blog stats. I look them up all the time, and love seeing who visited that day and where they came from. I also like to see how they got to my blog, whether by another website or through a search.

Lately, I’ve been seeing variations on searches about How To Know if You’re A Good Writer, and even a few on when you should give up writing. This last one really struck a chord with me, because I just went through a bit of a roller coaster ride with my YA novel (and I’m sure the ride is nowhere near over).

Last Thursday, I said you should never give up. And I truly believe least, for me. Do I believe everyone should never give up? And it’s not because of quality of writing, how much you write each week, or how many accolades you’ve received.

It all comes down to this: How badly do you want it?

Quality of writing can always be learned. All you have to do is try. The harder you try, the more you learn. It may take years, but if you keep at it then you’ll get there.

How much you write each week is sometimes a direct reflection of how badly a writer wants to be published, and sometimes not. What if a writer works full time and has children to care for? That may leave only a few spare hours each week. But, you know what? Those are hours she could be spending sleeping, watching TV, even scrubbing the kitchen floor. The fact that she writes means it’s important to her. And, if she keeps at it, she will get there eventually.

As for accolades, or a lack thereof, they mean nothing if the work isn’t important to the writer. A lack of praise could mean the writer needs to learn more – see Quality of Writing above. An abundance could mean the writer is eliciting feedback from the wrong people (i.e. family and friends). But if a writer keeps working, praise or no praise, she will eventually get there.

In other words, if you want it badly enough to keep going, even if you know it’s not going to be easy, then the answer is simple. NEVER GIVE UP. If you’re not sure, then taking some time off might help to clear your mind. If you miss it, then I think you owe it to yourself to keep trying. If not, well, there’s your answer.

Me? I want a career in writing so badly I can taste it. I can’t imagine pursuing any other career, because I have so much within me that I want to share. Therefore, I am willing to work my fingers to the bone, learn everything I need to learn (and then some), and stretch myself way beyond my limits.

But that’s me. My choice.

What’s yours?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Full Scoop – My Agent Revealed!

The contract has been signed and everything is official, so I can announce it at last!

It was a long and hard road to get to this point, but where I’m at right now is proof that you should NEVER GIVE UP.

I started planning my YA novel, ROYAL ROSE, in the summer of 2006 (my third novel, nothing happened with the other two). I wrote the first chapter, then registered for the SCBWI NY conference the following February. This was the first year they were doing critiques, so I brought the first few pages of ROSE with me. It was still a first draft, with less than half of it finished, so I didn’t know all the details of how the story was going to get from the beginning to the end – I had a road map with major points to hit along the way, but I always let my characters decide how to get there.

Anyway, my first critique session was with an up and coming agent, and she really liked ROSE. She gave me some pointers, asked a bunch of questions, then asked if it was done yet. When I told her no, she said she’d love to read it when it was. I was thrilled! When I got home, I buckled down to write this story...but it didn’t go so well.

ROSE was so far out of my comfort zone that I had no idea what I was doing. I’m a plot person, but ROSE is definitely a character-driven story. I had to learn how to write from that angle. Plus, I was so emotionally invested in this story that I was mentally exhausted after each writing session. It sometimes took days to recover. As a result, it was a year before I had a completed draft. When I sent my query to the agent who’d critiqued it, she said she remembered me (!) and still liked the story. BUT she was swamped with YA, and didn’t have the time to take on anything new at that moment. So she referred me to a few other agents and wished me well.


I queried those agents, making sure to mention her referral, and got a partial request from one of them. I sent it, and she replied back with a revision request, saying the story was weak in certain areas of the craft of writing. I had no idea how to fix that, so I sat down to learn. It took months to figure it out, then I revised the manuscript and re-queried her. She asked for the whole thing this time, and my fingers were doubly crossed... Alas, she did not come back with an offer, but she did have another revision request. I did more research. More writing. LOTS of work. Then I ended up rewriting the whole thing in a different Voice.

I sent it back to her, over a year after I’d sent her that initial query, confident I’d done what she’d asked. And she said I had, BUT... She was more familiar with MG than YA. She didn’t feel confident that she could make my manuscript stand out with what she knew of the YA Contemporary market at that time, with that particular project. So she passed. On the one hand, I was devastated (I'd worked so hard!). But on the other, I admired that she knew her limits and didn’t take me on out of some weird obligation. I will say that I really enjoyed working with her, and anyone would be lucky to have her as an advocate.

Moving on...

Even though it felt like it at the time, I was not back at square one. I had a much stronger manuscript, and a much better understanding of craft. Plus, I’d proven to myself that I could work my tail off on my stories instead of give up on them. And I could definitely bring that to the negotiating table of other agents.

I started researching agents – for this I highly recommend both and – then sent off my query letters. I got a solid request rate, 40% to 50%, but no offers. The rejections rolled in, and as they piled up it was hard to keep going. Especially considering the number of complimentary rejections.
"There was much I admired here, but..."
"The premise is compelling and marketable, but..."
"I didn't want to let this go, but..."

It was really hard to hear so many people compliment me and my writing, but still pass up representation. I wondered if there was something really wrong with my story, and no one had either the time or the guts to tell me. Regardless, I wasn't going to give up. I loved ROSE too much to set it aside. So I took what feedback I got, researched more agents, sent off more queries, and still had that same request rate. I told myself that I would find someone who loved ROSE as much as I did.

And I did. Two, actually. :)

On August 18th, I got a phone call from fabulous Agent#1, saying she loved ROSE and wanted to talk about representation if I was willing to make some revisions. I was on my way out the door to take my kids to an amusement park when she called, so, in between hyperventilating, I had to ask her if I we could talk the next day. She said that was fine, and I floated out the front door.

A few hours later, I got an email from fabulous Agent#2, asking to schedule a phone call to talk about ROSE. I get email on my cell phone, so I read this while I was out with my kids, and my brain pretty much exploded. Poof. Gone. Little bits sticking to the inside of my skull. Apparently, I can handle only so much good news in one day. :) Fortunately, I was with another mom and her son, and she had driven us there. So I didn’t have to drive in my incapacitated state.

Over the next few days, I spoke with both agents on the phone, both offered me representation, and it was obvious that I’d be lucky to work with either one. I ended up going with fabulous Agent#2, also known as...

Andrea Cascardi at Transatlantic Literary Agency!!

Not only because of her years of experience in this industry (or how much I was drooling as she talked about edits) but also because we really hit it off on the phone. I can’t say enough how excited I am to be working with her, and already have my sleeves rolled up, anticipating the hard work to come. Which I wouldn’t miss for the world!

Monday, September 07, 2009

Interview with Saundra Mitchell!

Today, we have an interview with the fabulous Saundra Mitchell, author of SHADOWED SUMMER.

Tell us about SHADOWED SUMMER.
Shadowed Summer is a southern gothic ghost story, about a girl who accidentally calls up an unsettled spirit, then spends the summer putting things right again.

What was the inspiration behind your idea?
I actually set out to write a paranormal romance. I wanted to write a book like Annette Curtis Klause's The Silver Kiss. But once I got started, my girl didn't want to fall in love with my ghost, and my ghost didn't want to fall in love with my girl. I had to sort them out on the page. The final book doesn't look at all like what I intended!

How long did it take to get from the initial idea to a completed novel?
I used to have the dates written down, but now I can't find them, wah! But it took me about six weeks to write the first draft. But that was in 2003- it then took several years to revise it, to get two different agents, and to finally sell it in 2007. And, of course, I revised again for almost 2 years with my editor. So it took six weeks or six years to finish the novel, depending on how you want to measure it!

Your knowledge of southern customs, language, and habits is deep. Have you lived there, or did that come from research?
Well, southern Indiana thinks it's the south (even though it's not, really,) so some of it comes from living where I live. And much of it comes from my best friend Wendi, who was born, raised and lives in Georgia now- and my many visits down to meet her. One day, I'll set a book in Georgia so I can call grocery carts "buggies"!

But the rest is research. I like to read linguistic surveys, which teaches me a lot about common phrases and words in an area. And I'm not shy about asking the experts- I called the Louisiana Sheriff's Department to find out the colors of the cars and uniforms, and who would respond to certain kinds of calls.

I bothered the Louisiana Native Plant Society to make sure Iris didn't pick flowers that don't exist there. I feel like the setting is a character in the book, so I worked hard to make it real.

Your research is seriously impressive!!
What was your favorite part of writing this book? Least favorite?
I really enjoyed writing the Delancie brothers. In the first draft, we saw a lot more of them. They amused me, so I included way, way, way too many of their antics. I also had more of Shea Duvall in the original, which also got cut. I thought he was cute, what can I say?

My least favorite part was hurting Jack Rhame. I really do feel bad for him. He lost the most and gained the least of everyone in this book.

How often do you write, and how much do you write in one sitting?
I write every day. How much I write depends on the project. If I'm working on a novel, I schedule myself 1000 words a day, period. That's my minimum. I can stop there, or go on, if I feel particularly inspired. Screenplays, I have to write two whole shorts (20 pages) or 1 act for an episodic (about 20 pages.)

However, I've been known to break up blog posts into 200-word gasps dragged over several days. My jedi mind-skills don't apply to blogging, it seems.

How did you go from screenplays to writing novels for young adults?
Most of my screenwriting is *for* young adults. I'm the head writer and an executive producer of Fresh Films ( and for more than a decade, I exclusively wrote all the films based on ideas that teens sent into the program. Now I instruct young screenwriters with the Fresh Writers program- so really, I wrote when I was a young adult, I have always written movies for young adults, and now I'm writing YA novels. It was a pretty seamless transition!

What are you working on now?
I'm revising my latest novel, THE VESPERTINE, for an editor (fingers crossed!) It's about a girl in Victorian Baltimore who can see the future, but only at sunset.

Crossing fingers for you! :)
How much do you read, and what are you reading now?
I read *constantly* and *voraciously*. Right now, I'm reading The Friar and the Cipher, which is non-fiction about an untranslated medieval manuscript. I'm also reading Pemba's Song by Marilyn Nelson & Tonya C. Hegamin, and The Afterlife by Gary Soto. I also just finished an awesome review copy of Flash Burnout by L.K. Madigan. I love a book with consequences, and this one is rich with them!

Thanks again for doing this interview!
Thank you very much for having me!

For a chance to win a copy of this book, go here. To see my raving review of her book, go here. To see more of what Saundra is up to, check out her website,

Saturday, September 05, 2009

What starts with an A and ends with a T?


Okay, I'm kidding. Even though it does start with an A and end with a T.

Guess what else does? AGENT! :)

That's right! I have an agent!!!!! Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!!!! And, I must say that she is amazing.

I can't disclose details yet, since I'm still waiting on the contract (I'm convinced the postal service doesn't know my house exists). But as soon as it's signed and on its way, I'll spill the rest.

But I just had to share!!!!!!!

September Book Giveaway!

This month, I've got five, count 'em, FIVE, books to give away! And from two amazing authors!

One copy of SHADOWED SUMMER by Saundra Mitchell! This book is fantastic. To read my raving review, go here.

And, four copies of THE MILES BETWEEN by Mary Pearson!
This book is also fantastic. To read my stellar review, go here.
Be sure to read the entry guidelines carefully, so you get all the entries you're entitled to.

To enter:
- Leave a comment on this post.
- For an additional entry, become a follower of this blog and leave another comment telling me so. If you already are a follower, leave a comment telling me this.
- For an additional entry, post a link to this contest, then leave a separate comment with the URL. If you post to muliple locations, then leave a separate comment for each URL.

I will announce the winners on September 26th, and you will have thirty days to collect your prize. Also, look for interviews with both authors later in the month!

Good luck!!

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Winners of the August book giveaway!

Hello all!!

I'm back from vacation, refreshed, and ready to give away these books. So, let's just get to it, shall we?

The winner of PRADA AND PREJUDICE is Kelly!!!

The winner of PARIS PAN TAKES THE DARE is Meg!!!

The winner of THE GREAT CALL OF CHINA is ellie!!!

Congratulations, winners!! Please drop me an email, tabitha at tabithaolson dot com, with your postal address and I'll get those books right out to you.

Don't forget to tune in this saturday to see what's being given away for September. Here's a hint: there will be five, count 'em, FIVE books! From two absolutely amazing authors. And, as usual, there will be interviews with those authors sometime next month.