Monday, March 15, 2021

writing inspiration, the muse, publishing
                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Photo: Diego PH


A few months ago, my muse visited me just as I sat down for breakfast.  Having a flash of inspiration at the kitchen table has never happened to me before.  In fact, inspiration usually strikes when I'm at the computer—it rarely happens elsewhere.  But that morning, the idea was so surprising and so powerful that I wolfed down my oatmeal and jogged upstairs to write.   

My muse was kind enough to follow me.  She revealed the initial concept and the conflict of the story.  Nothing more.  I simply started to type the first line (whatever came into my head) and allowed the muse to guide me.  This first line led to the setting of the story: a small village governed by a king.  

At this point, all I knew was the main character was a little boy who faced a big problem.  However, I didn't know his name or how he was going to solve the problem.  It didn't matter at this point.  What mattered was following the lead of the muse and allowing the voice of the story to shine through with lyrical language (rhythm, similes, and repetition) and sparse dialogue. 

I honestly didn't think about where the story was going.  Misspellings were ignored.  Editing would come later.  After about an hour, I had a rough draft of the story.

In the weeks that followed, it was time to address major issues.  There were questions that had to be answered: 

  • What were the personality traits of the main character?
  • Would the main character's name reflect his personality?
  • How would the main character change by the end of the story? 
  • How can I show the feelings of a child when he's up against something so big?  
  • How would he solve the problem?  
  • How could the message (the theme) of the story be conveyed without being didactic?  
  • How do I resolve the story and perhaps throw in a twist?  
  • How do I allow the action of the story to unfold visually so that an illustrator had plenty to work with?

With so much to consider and work out, you might say, go ask the muse for her help.  Invite her to return.  But it doesn't work that way.  It's not up to my muse to solve these problems.  Her goal was to inspire and set me on a journey.  I alone had to find a way to way to make it all work.   

Day by day, the story took shape and the beginning, the middle, and the ending came together like pieces of a puzzle.  Then, my first reader made comments and afterward, I edited the manuscript.  Now, the story is out on submission.  Time will tell how it will be received.  It may be a tough sell because it has social and political overtones.  However, it has a powerful premise, so it may pique the interest of an agent.   

It's exciting and surprising when inspiration strikes.  But this brain flash can be fleeting and soon forgotten.  That's why I wolfed down breakfast and headed upstairs to write.  When the muse stops by, there is no time to waste.  Intending to get to it later would not a good plan.  I had to act now.  I had been given a gift:  the seeds to a story.  And I was fired up to set it all down in words.  

✌ and 

Monday, February 15, 2021

writing, writing room, writing in silence, Stephen King
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Photo: Kristina Flour 

After having breakfast, I warm up a cup of Guatemalan coffee and head upstairs to work.  I check LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Twitter and then dive into composing blogs, fine-tuning query letters, and editing manuscripts.  But when it's noisy, my productivity slams to a halt.  It's frustrating because I have little control over loud sounds.  I can't force people to refrain from mowing their lawns.  I can't keep neighbor's dogs from barking.  

My husband has a good idea how sensitive I am to noise, so he tries to keep the volume down when he practices the guitar.  But when the Pittsburgh Steelers are on television, he cheers for them or more likely, he shouts at them.  If you're a fan you'd understand.  It's nearly impossible to be quiet (especially this season) while watching the Steelers. 

When it's noisy during my work hours, I always think of Stephen King.  King writes in a room on the top floor of a Victorian mansion outside of Bangor, Maine, lit by skylights and filled with shelves of books.  He has a big desk and a cozy chair.  I imagine it's free of distractions.  I imagine it is very quiet. 

My writing place (the guest bedroom) is comfortable and convenient.  But unlike King's room, I do not have bookshelves or skylights.  And it is not always quiet—especially when it snows.  

A few days ago, we received a sprinkling of snow.  My husband was inspired to get outside and remove it.  If it had been more than four inches, he would have used the snow blower.  But since we only accumulated a couple of inches, he opted for the snow shovel.  He began on the driveway and to most people it was not that loud, but it pulled me away from writing and I focused on the rhythmic sound of shoveling, the scraping of metal on concrete, and though I appreciated him clearing the snow, I hoped that the job would soon be finished and then all I thought about was Stephen King—up in his study merrily composing his best-selling novels IN COMPLETE SILENCE.  Damn that ol' Stephen King.  

It's kind of a drag to be sensitive to noise.  But this is the way I'm wired.  In my younger days, I had to have peace and quiet when doing homework.  The need for silence is still the case and it has stuck with me throughout my adult life.  There's no escaping it.  Not even ear plugs work.  I have to try to suck it up and deal with it.   

Luckily, for most of the year, the neighborhood is quiet and the Mrvos household is calm.  Ah...I savor the serenity.  When it's tranquil, still and hushed, I am writing away in my writing room, working away in complete blissful silence, totally in the groove.  I am focused and oh so productive.  All is good and Stephen King is never on my mind—unless the weather turns wintry and we're in for two inches of snow.  

✌ and

Friday, January 15, 2021

Twitter pitch parties


I'd often wondered if it would be worthwhile to participate in #PBPitch, an online session where writers can pitch manuscripts to agents and editors.  All that's needed is a Twitter account and a polished manuscript to join in.      

Being curious, I decided to pitch three manuscripts in the 2020 October event.  What I found was it's necessary to allow time to work on pitches days well before the event.  I needed to create at least two different pitches per manuscript because writers were not allowed to use the exact wording twice.  Each had to be unique and compelling.  In addition, the pitches needed to be short.  Agents and editors would not have time to read big blocks of text even though Twitter allows a 280-character count.    

There would be a lot of writers taking part in the event.  So, I was eager to learn the best approaches to pitching.  Here's what I found out from writers who have had success: 

  • Check the rules to see how many manuscripts you can pitch and how often you can pitch
  • Watch to see when the engagement picks up and then pitch your manuscript 
  • Use hashtags that categorize your work
  • Pin your strongest pitch
  • Retweet other writers' pitches and make encouraging comments
  • Respond to your comments 
  • Spread your pitches out from morning to evening 

I felt a roller coaster ride of emotions during the Twitter Pitch event:  excited, hopeful, giddy as well as nervous, disillusioned, and defeated.  Afterwards, I wondered why put myself through this mixture of joy and agony.  All writers that participated were dying to have their pitches liked by an agent.  And yet during the last session (and I'm talking 12 hours) I only saw a handful pitches that received hearts.  

Is Twitter pitching worth it?  That's a tough question.  Pitch events are a great way to interact with agents, to support the writing community, and to fine-tune the hook for query letters.  On the down side, a pitch event is time-consuming, can be physically exhausting (my eyes were killing me after reading and commenting on pitches) and it may leave you feeling discouraged.  

There are those who say you should never stop taking risks.  Writers have found representation through pitching.  But I'm on the fence about it.  Part of me even wonders if any agents actually saw my pitches.  It's easy to get lost in the feed.  You however, may feel up to the challenge.   So, do some research.  Weigh the pros and cons.  And if you're curious, go for it.  Only you can determine if #PBPitch is right for you.

✌ and 

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)