Tuesday, December 15, 2020


Please enjoy a post written by the exuberant Valerie Bolling. 

Amazing things can happen when you make the most of an opportunity.  You only have to take advantage of the good things that appear in your life.  

For instance, a couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to collaborate on the artwork for my debut rhyming picture book Let’s Dance!  When my book was being edited, I had a specific vision for the illustrations and I could have dug my heels in, but Jes Negrón, my editor at Boyds Mills & Kane, wanted to expand upon my diverse, inclusive vision by creating a more global theme.  Where I saw “Tappity-tap/Fingers snap” as tap dance, she imagined flamenco from Spain.  I envisioned the electric slide or the cha-cha slide for “Glide and slide/Side to side,” but Jes suggested long sleeve dancing from China.  The international concept was perfect, and the illustrations by Maine Diaz truly made my words dance!

Another opportunity presented itself a few years after the publication of my book.  On June 1, 2020, I saw an agent’s “call” on Twitter, in support of #BVM (Black Voices Matter). I reached out to James McGowan via DM (direct message) in response to his offer to answer questions from Black writers.  During this event, I asked James if he’d be willing to provide specific feedback about a story that I’d sent him in December that wasn’t a good fit for him.  I was interested in his opinion, since I had been querying agents and editors after Let’s Dance! was acquired in July 2018 but received no offers.  

James promptly responded with, “Thanks so much for getting back in touch with me.  Your name has been on my radar recently, since we share a publisher (and even an editor) ... I'd love to reconsider and see more.” I was surprised to have been on James’ “radar” but immediately sent him the manuscript for which I’d requested feedback as well as two others.

The next day, I was shocked when I received an email in which James said, “I still absolutely love your writing,” and he described the writing in one of my manuscripts as “utterly beautiful.” I was beaming, but the sentence that floored me the most was, “I would love the opportunity to speak with you about these manuscripts and possible representation if you’re interested.”

WHAT? How was that possible?  In no way was I expecting an offer of representation. I was totally caught off guard!  Three months after Let’s Dance! was published, I signed a contract with BookEnds Literary Agency with James.  

I am grateful for having the chance to work with an editor and an illustrator.  I am thrilled to be a member of #TeamJames.  When you make the most of an opportunity—being open to change or seizing a moment— amazing things can happen.

 Let’s Dance! celebrates dances from around the world and the diverse children who enjoy them, children from all walks—or dances—of life: a boy in a wheelchair, a girl in hijab, a child in a tutu whose gender is indiscernible. Let’s Dance! showcases dance in a way that highlights diversity—and that leaves no doubt that dancing is indeed for everyone! It reminds us that dancing is a universal language, even though we all have different accents.”

Here’s where you can buy the book  You can request a signed copy. 

Sunday, November 15, 2020

<img src=”The Who.png” alt=”writer won't get fooled again by unscrupulous agents">
                                                                                                                                        Photo: courtesy Wikipedia 


Sad, but true...I was suckered by an agent.  I paid $300 for literary services not knowing that this was a dishonest practice.  It just goes to show how little I knew about publishing.  

Back in the late 90s, I had enrolled in my first writing class at the Carnegie Center for Literacy in Lexington, Kentucky.  Our assignment was to complete a picture book by the end of the six-week session.  On the last day of class our teacher brought in a local agent.  She passed out her business cards and I jumped at the chance to be represented.  

It never dawned on me that Karen would be unethical.  All I knew was that she was a nice person whom my writing instructor had recommended.  She invited me to her house for a business lunch.  During the meeting, she discussed her plans for presenting my work to publishing houses.  All seemed legit to me.  Even the money she needed to get the job done.  She was excited about my work and I was thrilled to have an agent who knew the publishing industry.

When we finished our business, she scheduled the next meeting and mentioned that she'd need another payment for more of her services.  At that moment something didn't seem right to me.  When I got home, I contacted a local author to find out whether writers should pay an agent.  She warned me that writers should not be charged for an agent's services and suggested that I look into the Association of Authors' Representatives, a professional organization of literary agents who meet the highest standards and subscribe to a canon of ethics.  

I immediately googled the website.  According to the AAR, the practice of literary agents charging clients or potential clients is subject to serious abuse.  For that reason, members may not charge clients or potential clients a fee and may not benefit, directly or indirectly, from the charging for their services. 

It was no surprise that my agent was not a member of AAR.  So, she was essentially free to charge writers for her services.  But not me.  I ended our relationship.  

Now when I look back on the partnership, I realize that paying Karen was not the only problem—I had also given her the very first picture book I had ever written.  How naïve was that?  My manuscript desperately needed to be critiqued.  It needed to be revised to improve the content.  It needed to be edited to fix grammar, punctuation and sentence structure.  It was not ready to be presented to publishing houses.  

As they say, live and learn.

Fast forward to November, 2016.  Believe it or not, I received an email from an agent on my birthday!  Editorial agent Melissa Carrigee fell in love with my manuscript Maggie and the Summer Vacation Show-and-Tell.  Together, we fine-tuned the text and collaborated with an artist to get the illustrations just right.  Nine months later, my debut picture book was published.   

My relationship with Melissa was wonderful and I wanted to work with her on future projects, but she decided to step away from agenting and to establish Brother Mockingbird Publishing.  So, at this point in my career, I'm searching for a forever agent.  Someone who is honest and professional like Melissa.  I will never forget dishing out hundreds of dollars to someone who called herself an agent.  What a costly mistake.  But hopefully I'll be savvier when I sign with another rep.  Because like the song sung by the Who—I "Won't Get Fooled Again." 

✌ and 

Thursday, October 15, 2020

                                                                                                                                                   Photo: Jude Beck                                                                                                              


Last week, I had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.* The first email I opened was a notice that one of my favorite picture book manuscripts had been rejected.  Then that afternoon, my publisher called to say my educational children's book won't be published until 2022, even though she had planned to have it published this year.  I had such high hopes for both of these books.  Now, I felt so bummed out.     

The writing life is not always sunny.  It's a roller coaster ride of highs and lows.  More lows than highs, it seems.  It takes days, weeks, months to come up with an idea and put it in words, then edit and edit and edit and submit and submit and submit and quite often you get a no thank you, it's a pass, it's not a good fit for my list or the market is not right for your book.  

It's easy to feel hopeless.  But this is what I signed up for.  No one forces me to be a writer.  This is my choice.  And I have to accept the fact that rejection and setbacks are part of it.  I know this.  I've known this for over twenty years.  

A day like this causes me to look back at my life and realize that it has been a journey of learning to be patient.  At the age of 28 I thought I'd never get married.  Two years later, I met my soulmate.  

At the age of 42, I wanted to be published in a children's magazine and three years later I was published in Highlights for Children.  

From that time on, I began to look for a publisher for my picture book and many years later, it was published by a small press.  

I have been successful in my personal life and with my writing career—it just takes some time.  But patience wasn't on my mind on this very bad day.  I needed a distraction so, I took a break from writing and checked Pinterest, LinkedIn and Facebook.  Then I headed over to Twitter.  Up popped a tweet from E. S., an agent whom I follow on Twitter.  

In one of his tweets he mentioned that he had signed ten writers.  That's a big deal.  Since we interactive rather frequently, I congratulated him and then snuck in a question.  I asked him whether I should query a colleague of his.  You see, earlier this year, this colleague rejected two of my picture book manuscripts.  I hesitated submitting to him again.  But E. S. sent me a positive message:  Don't be nervous.  Submit.  This manuscript could be the one.       

Wow, that was one of the coolest messages I've EVER received from an agent.  He lifted my spirits and gave me hope.  On this awful day I decided to stay on the writing path.  I worked on a query.  Maybe this new manuscript could be the one.  The one an agent will love.  The one that will land me representation.  The one that will become a book.  

Sure, there will be rejections.  Setbacks.  Major disappointments.  I repeat my mantra:  Be patient.  And then the sting of rejection and disappointment softens and I keep on keeping on.  I can't imagine not writing, even when I feel discouraged.  And if I remember to be patient, there will be wonderful, delightful very good days ahead. 

✌ and    

* Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst

PS.  Merci beaucoup to my faithful followers!  

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

<img src=”writer.png” alt=”writer querying for publication”>
                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Photo: Neonbrand 

Most writers would never send an unprofessional letter to an agent or a publisher.  They know that if they want to get published it's important to craft a thoughtful, considerate query letter. 

Below is an email that I received.  This letter is an example of what you should not do if you want to publish a book.  

Dear Sir/Mam,
        I want to get published my Novella (38600 words). I want my book online and in paperback as well. I need free publication with you. If you will publish my book without any cost please let me know the procedure for publishing.
Best Regards

Let's look at some of the problems with the letter which I've highlighted in red.  

Dear Sir/Mam,
        I want to get published my Novella (38600 words). I want my book online and in paperback as well. I need free publication with you. If you will publish my book without any cost please let me know the procedure for publishing.
Best Regards

Here are my thoughts.  

Do not:  address the query to sir or mam.  
Do: personalize the query with the agent's name. 

Do not:  declare that you want to get published. It's obvious and shouldn't be stated. 
Do:  be polite and tell the agent that you are submitting your book for her consideration. 

Do not:  omit the title of your book.  
Do:  give the title along with the genre, word count, and a description of the book.  Include comparative titles and a short bio.

Do not:  tell the agent how you want your work published.  
Do:  have a conversation about ways to market your book when you land an agent. 

Do not:  mention that you need free publication.  
Do:  be aware that when you submit to an agent, you should pay no fees. She will earn a percentage of the sales if your book is published.

Do not:  query an editorial consultant to publish your book.  
Do:  know that an editorial consultant can help you polish your work, but they have little power to put your book in print. 

It's safe to say this writer needs practice writing query letters.  When I reply, I'll give him some direction and tips on what a query should look like.  My response will include a link that will show him how to write a query letter. 

I get the feeling that he has sent out this identical letter to a multitude of editors.  (Hint, it's not been personally addressed).  I feel the urgency that he has in wanting to meet his goal.  But he doesn't know the first thing about pitching his book.  And it's a shame because he'll be met with disappointment.  It's kind of sad.  He has crafted the perfect letter that will prevent him from getting what it is he so desperately seeks. 

✌ and 


Please follow me on Twitter and RT my pitches on October 29th for #PBPitch (and I'll reciprocate)  https://twitter.com/RandiLynnMrvos  

Saturday, August 15, 2020

<img src=”BookEnds Literary.png” alt=”writers tips from Bookend's Literary">                querying for publication”>


I have to hand it to the agents at BookEnds Literary.  They offer expert writing advise for those who want to get published.  When you watch their Youtube videos, you'll learn about querying, being represented, marketing and much more.  

In this post for The Maggie Project, I'll present a short overview of one of their latest Youtube videos that centers on tips about writing.  But first, let's get to know a little about BookEnds. 

BookEnds was founded in 1999 by Jessica Faust and Jacky Sach.  They wanted to represent books that they had fallen in love with and to help authors achieve their dreams. 

This agency represents fiction and nonfiction for an adult audience. In fiction agents specialize in romance, mystery, suspense, thrillers, science fiction and fantasy, women’s fiction, historical fiction, literary fiction and upmarket fiction.  They are also seeking nonfiction in the areas of memoirs, history, food, current affairs, business and career, parenting, pop culture, and general nonfiction.

BookEnds Jr, represents fiction and nonfiction for the young adult, middle grade and picture book markets.  

Jessica Faust, President of BookEnds
I've watched nearly all of their Youtube videos.  What's nice is, you feel like you get to know each agent and their personal preference for books.  I also like that the videos last about 15 minutes and are concise, well-organized, and engaging. 

Listed below are four writing tips from BookEnds, recorded on Youtube June 5, 2020: 
  • Give yourself time in between drafts and come back to your work with a fresh mind.
  • Write from your synopsis and query before, during and after you write your manuscript.
  • Know your specific audience so that you can meet their expectations.
  • Write what you care about.
Each of the agents go into more explanation in the video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A3j24-dvdGQ

Remember to check the BookEnds Youtube video often.  They update frequently and offer new information three to four times a month.  

Writing, editing, and submitting can be intense.  So, it's nice to switch gears and listen to valuable advice, especially from the agents at BookEnds.   

✌ and 

Wednesday, July 15, 2020


Most everyone assumes that signing with a publishing company is like having a marriage made in heaven.  This is not always the case.

Three years ago, I was published by a small press.  This company helped me reach a goal:  to have a manuscript illustrated and published for children.  But there can be drawbacks working with a small press.  And you have to decide if the pros outweigh than the cons.

Cons, you say?  How can writers even think about cons when they have the chance to have a book published?

I get your starry-eyed enthusiasm.  It can take years to land a publisher or an agent.  Nothing is going to squash your dreams.

Still...if you submit to an indie press and they offer you a book contract, proceed with caution.

I researched my publisher and didn't find any negative comments about them.  A year later after signing the contract, I had to deal with issues that could not have been foreseen.

Before you sign a contract, google the small press to find out more about them.  See if there have been any complaints.  Contact some of the published authors and ask them about their experience with the press, both the good and the bad stuff.

Even after learning as much as you can and feeling safe with the publisher, you may find as I did, that concerns may flare up months afterward.  That said, be aware that certain matters are beyond your control and cannot be predicted.

Below are some facts to consider.

With a small press you may: 
  • publish a book in less than a year after signing a contract
  • have an opportunity to choose an illustrator if you write picture books
  • be able to take part in the revision process 
  • be able to make suggestions for the illustrations
  • have your book promoted on the small press website and sold by Amazon
But you may:
  • find your name and title of the book missing from the spine 
  • find the paper weight lighter than desired 
  • receive no help with marketing 
  • get little compensation for the money you invested in marketing 
  • find libraries will not purchase your book 
  • find your book dropped from the small press website after the contract has expired
  • discover the publisher expects you to buy back returned books (check your contract)
  • realize your publisher is not interested in your career    

I was excited to have my first book published by a small press.  But the relationship with this publishing company was lopsided.  I was putting in way more effort and receiving little in return.

So, after much soul-searching, I decided to part ways with this publisher after the contract expired.  It was the right move for me.  I have no regrets.  Working with the small press was a good learning lesson for me.  But now, I have higher expectations.  I want a better match.  Because a publishing partnership should be more than two people working toward a goal.  It should be like a great marriage—one that is built on commitment, teamwork, mutual respect, and decency.

✌ and 

Monday, June 15, 2020

                                                                                                                                                                                             Photo: Sammie Vasquez 

I'm not what you'd call a risk-taker.  Even still, I decided to take a gamble.

I contacted my former agent to see if she'd take a look at two of my manuscripts. Specifically, I wanted to know if they were marketable.

You might think, what's the big deal?  The big deal is, this move is generally not practiced in the literary world.

If a writer wants to know if her book is marketable, she has to send a query letter to an agent.  But agents will not tell you if your work is marketable.  The only way you'll know is if they offer representation, which means they love your story and they think it will sell. 

I believed that Mel would give me unbiased opinion about my work.  She was my literary agent up until the time she decided to start her own publishing company.  But approaching her for feedback would be risky.  Writer's usually don't ask this of publishers and it could sour our friendship.  This move could make me look foolish and unprofessional.

Though I was conflicted, I thought contacting her was the right thing to do.  Mel and I had worked together on a book.  And since we still stay in touch and have a professional and friendly relationship, I got the nerve to politely ask her if she'd take a look at my work. 

Mel agreed to read my manuscripts and said she'd get back to me.  And so, three things could happen:
  1. She could tell me that these manuscripts didn't have a chance in hell to get published.
  2. She could tell that that the manuscripts had potential, but would need significant revision.
  3. She could tell me that she'd like to publish them. (It did hurt to be positive.)
Photo: Ian Stauffer
I honestly didn't know what to expect, other than a sincere and honest opinion. Then several days later, Mel sent me an email.  She wrote that she loved one of the manuscripts. In fact, it showed so much promise that she offered to publish it!  That surprised the hell out of me.  In this case, taking a chance proved to be worth it.

But that's not always the case.  Taking a risk can set us up for rejection.  So, what does a writer do?

An article at Huffpost.com gives seven reasons why we should at least consider taking risks:
  • Unforeseen opportunities often come from risk-taking.
  • Taking risks shows confidence and helps you stand out.
  • We learn from risks — and those lessons may lead us on an important, new path.
  • Success won't fall in your lap—you have to pursue it.
  • You don't achieve your dreams by playing it safe.
  • Embracing risk-taking helps you overcome a fear of failure.
  • Taking a risk doesn't mean doing so haphazardly—you must not only consider the fall-out, you must implement and follow through.
No doubt, taking a chance is unpredictable.  A crapshoot.  It can bring about an unfavorable outcome.  But then again it can also generate a surprising result.  If you have met an agent at a conference or have a good relationship with one on social media, then it's worth asking for her thoughts about your work.  What have you got to lose?  All she can say is no.  Sure, it's a risky move.  It's a gamble.  But just think, you could get feedback on your manuscript.  And that would be a monumental payoff.

✌ and 

More on risk-taking: