Wednesday, September 15, 2021

hoping for good query news
                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Photo: Fa Barboza 

I'm not embarrassed to say I check the status of my picture book submission once a week.

It's easy to do.  When writers submit a manuscript on Query Manager, they receive a link so they can check on an agent's decision.  

Query forms simplify the submission process for agents.  Though they are not complicated, I kind of dread filling one out.  There are a lot of areas that need to be completed.  Here's what agent Carlisle Webber's query form looks like. 

Generally speaking, writers are required to give their name, email, phone number, bio, book title, word count, and genre and supply a query letter, the manuscript, and a pitch.  Sometimes, there will be a space for a synopsis and similar books.  In addition, the agent may request Twitter and website addresses, which show a writer has a platform that can reach an audience.

For me, the challenging part is writing the synopsis.  A synopsis is not the same as the book description. The book description gives story highlights in an intriguing, selling kind of way without giving away the ending.  The synopsis describes the entire plot of the story and reveals the ending.  Because the query form can be daunting, it pays to have the synopsis and the book description already written (as well as the pitch and the query letter) so that these parts can be pasted into the form. 

Completing the query form is time-consuming and it feels like I'm jumping through hoops in order to please an agent.  Nevertheless, I try to fill it out carefully.  This could lead to an offer of representation. 

But each time I finish a form, I feel doubtful.  Have I spelled the agent's name correctly?  Are there any grammar mistakes?  Do the links to my website and Twitter work?  Is the query enticing?  Is the pitch snappy?  I read it multiple times over several days.  I say a prayer before I submit it.  Several prayers.

Then I check back, feeling a little nervous, until I read this message:  

No decision has been made about your query at this time. Please check back later.

And I will.  Because I can't help myself.  Because I've got to peek.  And once a week I will take a look, every hopeful of reading good news.     

✌ and 

Saturday, August 14, 2021

                                                                                                                                         Photo:  Maren Newhall

It suddenly dawned on me that agents want to fall in love with a manuscript the way people want to fall in love with a pet they hope to adopt.  It's something an agent or an animal-lover can't put into words.  It comes down to having a certain intuitive feeling that says this manuscript (or pet) is right for me and I can't live without it.  This emotional impression usually happens rather quickly.  

For instance, my daughter and I didn't know what kind of cat were looking to adopt at the Humane Society.  We just wanted a cute cat and we were going by gut-feeling.  Ollie made the choice easy for us.  As soon as he hopped onto my daughter's lap, I knew we'd be taking him home.  However, in the time he was our pet, he never sat in our laps again.  Go figure.  That's a cat for you.  

Eight years later, I was relying on the same gut-feeling when I returned to the shelter.  Ollie had passed away and I was ready for another pet.  The minute I saw Ozzie, it was love at first sight.  His sad-looking eyes stole my heart.     

I felt the same emotional tug for one of my neighbor's pets.  Upon meeting Beebee, I fell in love with her in a matter of seconds.  Beebee is a furry cat that lives a few streets from our house.  She's old, scruffy, and a bit deaf, but she is as sweet as pie and she lets me pet her soft thick coat.  She greets me whenever I take a walk in the neighborhood.  Beebee would be my pet if she didn't already have a home.
My furry friend, Beebee 

On the other hand, I have strong feelings about the cat breeds I wouldn't want as a pet.  One is the Russian Blue, a short-haired cat with a blue-gray coat. To me, they look cold and mean.  The only Russian Blue I've ever seen was a stray that had been to our deck looking for food.  This cat was intimidating.  Fierce and defiant.  In fact, he attacked Putty, a sweet stray I care for.  So, I'm doubly prejudiced against this breed. 

I couldn't own a Sphynx because, well just have a look.  My preference is for cats with fur.  However, Sphynxes were ranked as the 8th most popular feline breed in the country, according to the Cat Fanciers’ Association statistics for 2018.  Without a doubt the Sphynx is odd looking, but this breed may appeal to those who have allergies.  

Yes, this is a cat. 

Then there's the Siamese.  And the reason why I wouldn't want one?  They are among the most vocal cats.  It has to be quiet when I write, so a chatty cat would be too distracting.  Thank goodness Ozzie is not too loquacious.  He may chirp or chatter when he sees a bird.  He may speak up when I ask him if he wants to eat or if he wants to be brushed.  If he comes by while I'm writing, he keeps the conversation short and sweet, a quick meow that sounds like "meh."  

Suffice it to say, I have definite preferences when it comes to cats.  Which got me thinking that this may be how agents feel when they search through the slush pile.  They are looking for something that grabs them.  And the catch is, writers have to figure out what grabs an agent because it is an important part of the querying process.  Luckily, many agents have profiles on the Manuscript Wish List, where they can express the kind of manuscripts they would like to acquire. 

Even still, trying to match a manuscript with the specific taste of an agent is tricky.  Not long ago, I sent an agent a humorous story about a cat because she said she was looking for funny cat stories.  My manuscript was rejected.  It's puzzling because I've sent her just what she was looking for.  Or so I thought.  

The whole submission process is so subjective and I can only guess that my manuscript didn't resonate with her.  Which is probably for the best.  If the agent doesn't get my work, then it could mean that we would have trouble working together on other manuscripts.   

It never feels good getting a rejection, so I try to make myself feel better.  I imagine that the agent has a Sphynx cat.  Or a Russian Blue.  Perhaps a Siamese.   I cross her off of my list.  Then it's back to querying other agents.  One day, I'll find an agent who will get a certain je ne sais quoi that will make her fall in love with my manuscript.  And that intuitive feeling will tell her this manuscript is something she must have and she can't live without.  

✌ and 

Photo:  Sphinx: 

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Writer's block, famous author, knowing no shame
                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Photo: Jamie Street


Just the other day I read a Facebook post written by a prolific and very well-known author, who begged others to help him find something new to write about.  He lamented that he's drowning in picture books. I interpreted that to mean he didn't want to write another kid's book because he said he had sold over five last month!  Really?  And he's complaining?  

He's ready to start something new, but he doesn't know what that can be.  He writes that nothing comes to mind.  I seem to recall that this very author posted a sob-story just a few years ago.  And he's at it again, complaining big time.  If I had more nerve, I'd write him to say:  Couldn't you use this time to be grateful rather than to wallow in misery?  Couldn't you use this time to help others on their writing journey?

What he fails to remember is he is not alone.  Many writers, me included, feel as if we'll never find the inspiration to write the next book.  

So, what do we do when we're stuck in the dark tunnel of writer's block?  For one thing, we won't be making that public on social media.  Most of us have faith in ourselves and more dignity.  We will get over this hump.  We usually do.  We don't plead to strangers to give us ideas.  Dry spells are part of being a writer.  

When I check the writer's post again, people are giving him advice:  take a walk, write your memoirs, try some poetry.  Such good suggestions from these kind-hearted problem-solvers.  But I wonder why a famous writer would stoop to this level?  Could it be for attention?  Could it be a way to get his fans involved in his creative process? Or is he sincerely and desperately miserable?  

I'd like to say, "Deal with it like a writer.  For goodness sakes, you are a role model!  Act like one."

This author has been writing books for years.  Doesn't he know by now that the solution to writer's block comes from within?  

A writer must have the resolve to dig deeply, to go it alone and find that something powerful that says I MUST WRITE ABOUT THIS.  

I find it a little sad that Mr. Prolific author needs to lean on others to find inspiration.  How can that be?  In your lifetime, you've published well over 100 books.  On the other hand, many writers struggle to get one book published.  One book!  If a creative slowdown should strike, they don't complain about it publicly or rely on others for ideas. They climb out of the dark tunnel of writer's block and into the light of possibilities.  They are like the heroes in their books—they take on the responsibility to solve a problem by themselves.  

✌ and 

Monday, June 14, 2021


writing disappointment
                                                                                                                                                       Photo: Dev Asangbam


A couple of months ago, I hoped that a literary agent would fall in love with one of my favorite manu-scripts, Lacey's Red Umbrella.  She didn't.  But she said, "It was a beautiful story.  You're on the right track, and very close and nearly 100% there." 

She suggested to have the manuscript critiqued by a woman named Amanda.  Amanda's pricing was reasonable.  I wanted to follow the agent's advice by having a critique and I wanted to resubmit to her, but I had to find a different manuscript to be critiqued.  The agent had already considered the original and a revision of Lacey's Red Umbrella.  In most cases, an agent will only look at a manuscript two times.  So, the problem was, I had three completed manuscripts that I liked and couldn't decide which one to send for a critique.   

I contacted Amanda to tell her of my interest in her critique services and explained my dilemma.  She kindly offered to read all three stories.  She would choose the one she thought was the strongest.  In her opinion, Amanda thought And Still, Cassie Believes had the most potential. 

About a week later, Amanda emailed me the critique.  To the side of each and every line, she made comments and suggestions.  She explained what to remove to allow the art to illustrate, what to add to clarify, how to advance the plot and simplify the text, where to add transitions, and how to give the ending a twist.  OMG, Amanda was thorough and she had amazing ideas.  As I incorporated many of her suggestions, I emailed her several times to be sure the story was heading in the right direction.  

In the end, the voice of the manuscript stayed intact. The story become even more whimsical with just the right amount of tension.    

After I put the final touches on the manuscript and read it out loud to be sure it flowed, I decided to contact the agent.  I thanked her for putting me in touch with Amanda and mentioned how much Amanda really enjoyed the story about Cassie.  Then I added that I'd love to share this manuscript with her when she reopened for submissions.  

Here's what I was hoping for:  that the agent would say she'd be interested in seeing And Still, Cassie Believes right here and now (wishful thinking) or (more realistically) when she would be ready to receive submissions.  But she wrote, "Isn't she the best? I'm so happy to hear this." 

Talk about a let-down. I was so disappointed. Wasn't she the least bit curious to read a manuscript that had been critiqued by a person she had highly recommended?  Hadn't she seen from my last manuscript that my writing is nearly where she expects it to be?  Couldn't she have shown some interest?  Been a little kinder?  How depressing.

So, how do I move forward?  I decided to push this agent's name further down on my submission list and use the sting of disappointment forge on. 

I had Lacey critiqued by a published writer.  Afterward, I tightened the piece and it has been submitted to a handful of agents.  It has also been entered in an international picture book contest.  

As for Cassie, it is being submitted to agents and to a publisher of children's literature.  The story will be presented on a Twitter pitch event.  I love this manuscript and believe whole-heartedly in it.  Like Lacey, Cassie is a beautiful story—and after a revision, it is 100% there.    

 ✌ and ♥  

Saturday, May 15, 2021


Guest post by - Humayun Khan, writer and founder of QueryCats 

Let’s face it.  Querying sucks!  First you have to do research, short-list agents, then tailor your query over and over and over again.  

There’s a lot of rejection or passes and well, it can be pretty darn stress-inducing.  

Of course, nothing compares to the elation of waking up to a full manuscript request, a contract, and that blessed day when you ink your signature and get to put repped by @soandso in your Twitter bio.  

But what if the whole experience could be a little more fun and what’s more fun the getting support from the world’s most loved animal (biased opinion) while you’re on this journey?  

Like many writers, I poured my blood, sweat, and tears into a manuscript for a young adult novel only to get to the querying phase and finding out how hard it was to get representation. 

It’s a very confusing experience. Everything in my gut was telling me that what I wrote was worthy of seeing the light of day in a bookstore. I then discovered it's an entirely different skillset to pitch and market what I wrote in a way that would make it appealing for an agent. 

And I get it, agents are ridiculously busy, underpaid, often working multiple jobs, and working with their existing clients. Reading through queries from unsigned writers is at the bottom of their to-do list.

But I persevered and eventually found the perfect agent who helped shape my manuscript into something that would get picked up by a big publishing house. I never would’ve been able to achieve what I did without her. 

With my experience and day job as a software designer, I wanted to create an agent directory from the ground up that would take some of the sting out the querying process for other writers. That meant creating an application that was easy on the eyes, simple to use, and not something remnant of websites circa 1991. 

My hope for QueryCat is to make it easier for writers to research and shortlist agents while being able to easily track their queries.

You might be wondering, why cats? I think the bigger question is, why not cats? Querying is literally the most stressful experience and if there’s one thing that can help writers get through bleak moments, it’s photos of cats.

Don’t take my word for it, check it out at

✌ and 


Thursday, April 15, 2021


writing, publishing, perseverance, rejection
                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Photo: Erik Witsoe


I can show my clients how to craft a children's story and how to compose a query letter.  But the one thing I can't show them is how to slow down and be thorough when submitting to a publisher. 

All of my clients want to get published, but Gail seems more desperate than the rest.  I believe her desperation causes her to be impetuous.  And when she's impetuous she rushes and gets careless about submitting her work.  This worries me.   Her impulsive behavior may sabotage the dream of seeing her work in print.   

So, when we work on her projects, I remind Gayle of the three steps every writer should do before submitting to a magazine: 

1.  Adhere to guidelines.  The submission requirements may list the word count, the formatting specifics, the magazine's focus, and the age range of the audience.    

2.  Study a few back issues.  Take a look at the topics to get an idea of the subjects that are published.    Note the tone (serious or light) and the formatting to see if subheadings are used and shape the work similarly.  

3.   Edit and polish the manuscript.  Have a second reader review it to catch grammar or spelling errors and to give ways to improve the piece.   

No matter how often I remind Gayle of those three steps, she still rushes the process.  And because of that, her latest submission did not have a happy ending. 

Gayle submitted a piece to a children's magazine.  But within six weeks, she received a rejection.  The editor replied he did not publish the kind of work Gayle had sent him. 

I felt bad for her.  She revised and edited her work and wrote a professional query letter, but she submitted a piece that wasn't a good fit for this market.  It could be the guidelines were vague, though I got the feeling that she didn't notice that a good portion of the magazine was written by children. 

Needless to say, Gayle feels defeated.  But no matter how frustrated she gets, I believe she has potential.  I feel it in my bones she'll be published.  She just needs to listen to sound advice and slow down.  Writing for publication is not a race.  I'm hoping she'll realize this.  Because when she learns to take her time and adhere to the steps of submitting, her publication dreams will come true.   

✌ and 

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