Friday, April 29, 2011

QueryTrackers Making Tracks, #6

Today is the sixth installment of my Friday series on successful authors from QueryTracker. Some of the authors I'm spotlighting have agents, others have found success in less conventional ways. But one thing they all have in common is the utilization of the QueryTracker website to help make their tracks in the publishing world.

Today's guest is somewhat of a legend among my fellow QTers. Anna Zagar of Scarlett Prose (aka purpleprose on QT), sent out queries, received four offers of representation, decided on the fabulous Lucy Carson for her agent, revised her MS, and snagged Feiwel & Friends as a publisher (her debut YA Fantasy, OF POSEIDON, will be released in Spring of 2012), all in the whirlwind span of less than two months. Add a cruise and some family health scares into the mix, and you have one crazy climb to the shelves! Let's take a moment of silence to let that sink in.


Okay, enough with the hero worship. Let's welcome the lovely Miss Anna Zaga to the interview box.

Hello, Anna!

Anna: First of all, thankyousoverymuch for having me on your blog today! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your efforts to help new writers—both published and working toward publication. You’re an asset to the writing community.

AGH: Thank you, Anna. And I could say the same for you. You've been one of my biggest cheerleaders behind the scenes while I'm out on submission, and I know you've helped others besides me along the way. I'm honored to have you here! I know everyone's excited to get to know you, so let's get started. What genre(s) do you write?

Anna: I write YA Sci-fi/Fantasy and Adult Sci-fi/Fantasy. Every story I write will always have a romance in it though. Because I’m girlie like that.

AGH: Could you give us a quick summary of the book which snagged your agent?

Anna: Sure: A merman prince exchanges his fin for high school, hairy legs, and flip flops in order to help a human girl change into the fish he knows she is. She has a particular gift which can ensure the survival of his kind as long as she mates with his older brother, the Triton king. Keeping his loyalty to his kingdom gets tricky when he starts to fall for her; the sooner she turns into a fish, the sooner he can turn her over to his brother and put some distance between them. But will she give up everything she cares about—her mother, scholarships, cheesecake—to save a world she’s never known? And—what’s taking her so long to sprout a fin, anyway?

AGH: Sounds so fun! And a little fishy. Hmm. How long did you query it, and what were your stats?

Anna: I started querying the first of January, and received an offer of rep on January 27th. Lucy told me to notify other agents of my offer, so I did, and received two more offers (there was also an unofficial offer, like an offer to offer if I’d make some changes, so I don’t count that one). Here are my stats:
60 queries total:

11 requests for fulls (3 of which came from partial requests)
3 partials (included in full requests above)
8 who never received the darn thing
33 rejections
8 closed/no response

AGH: Incredible stats! What inspired your book idea?

Anna: I’ve always been fascinated with the ocean (did you know that only approx. 5% of the world’s oceans have been explored/seen by human eyes?). One day I was reading an article about how they’d found a washed-up carcass of a Colossal Squid in 2005—something scientists considered a myth, fishermen’s lore. I got to thinking, What ELSE could be out there? So, I set out to scientifically prove that mermaids could actually exist, and the story unfolded from there.

AGH: How did you come up with the title?

Anna: The title is OF POSEIDON, and I’ve just been informed that Feiwel and Friends plans on keeping it. It’s simply derived from the inherited gift my heroine, Emma, possesses. It’s the Gift of Poseidon. Can’t really say much more than that…

AGH: Before you signed with your agent, how many other books had you tried to query?

Anna: OF POSEIDON was my second attempt at writing and querying. The first one, an Adult Sci-fi, was put on hold to focus on my new YA venture. Weird, but I just received a full request from an agent on a query I sent OVER A YEAR AGO for that project. Got caught in her spam filter. The lesson is clear: If you hear no response, re-send the dang thing! (Unless of course, the agency policy is No Response Means No). Lucy has agreed to represent my adult project as well, so hopefully I’ll have good news to share on that soon…

AGH: Sounds promising! Please keep us posted on that. So, what books / authors would you say have most influenced your own style and concepts?

Anna: In general, I grew up reading romance novels, so all my books will have a love story (in her defense, I don’t think my mom realized just exactly how raw romance novels can be. She still thinks flipping someone the bird means “Up your butt, mister!”). More specifically, Janet Evanovich, for her humor. Not to sound cliché, but after reading TWILIGHT, I decided I just might be able to write a book too, so Stephenie Meyer for her story-telling skills. Also, LM Montgomery because how could I not follow in Anne Shirley’s footsteps? And I’d be silly not to mention Margaret Mitchell, because all of my heroines will in some way pay tribute to Scarlett O’Hara in that they will be strong and independent, and possible fit-throwers.

AGH: How did you find QueryTracker, and how did it help you in your effort to get inside the publishing doors?

Anna: I don’t remember HOW I found it, but the good news is that I DID find it, and it helped me for a couple of reasons:

  A.) It’s a collection of agents, their contact info, and if they are/are not accepting queries, so it’s soooo convenient for writers. (And Patrick pretty much keeps that thing up to the minute.)

  B.) The support I received from other QT’ers. It seems like we all worked together to get someone “discovered”. Sharing info, sharing horror stories, sharing tears and beers.

AGH:  That's what I like most, too. The camaraderie. On that note, have you recently learned anything about the business side of publishing that you can share with up and coming writers, something you wish you’d known in the beginning?

Anna: Yep. Sometimes this business is very, very fast, and you need to be able to keep up. For instance: I began querying January 1. Received an offer of rep January 27th. Lucy negotiated a two book deal February 16th. Received my first editorial letter from Feiwel and Friends about two weeks later. 

And then everything STOPPED. During the down times, keep writing. Remember that you mostly experience down times, and that when you’re not writing, someone else always is.

I learned that the pub contract is not instantaneous. That once you receive an offer from a house, it may be weeks before your agent actually sees the contract. This affects when you get your first advance, so keep that in mind. And be patient. Remember that almost everyone in this business is over-worked and under-appreciated and we all rely on each other.

AGH: Great advice. Now for the big question: Are you involved in any new projects you can tell us about?

Anna: Working on Book Two, OF TRITON, and am brainstorming against my will about a different YA Sci/fi. 

**Five for fun**

AGH: Which would you rather do: carry an umbrella or sing in the rain?

Anna: Sing in the rain. My hair is never perfect enough to worry about getting wet, and umbrellas in a Florida thunderstorm are kind of laughable. And I know you’ve all seen the Weather Channel show footage of people playing outside during a hurricane. I may or may not be related to them…

AGH: What’s your favorite breakfast?

Anna: A Strawberry Waffle that this local restaurant makes. I loves it.

AGH: Are you Team Dog or Team Cat?

Anna: Team Cat, but my hubby is allergic. He got me a tea-cup Chihuahua as a substitute for a writer’s cat, but turns out, tea-cup Chihuahuas are closely related to the devil…

AGH: When would you go to if you had a time machine, and why?

Anna: I would go back to the 1700s, for sure. That’s when chunky pale women were a hot commodity, so I’m sure I would have married very, very well…

AGH: Drinking tea … pinky up, or heavy on the Long Island?

Anna: Never pinky up! Not HEAVY on the Long Island, but I’d like to at least be giggling by the time I’m done with it…


Thank you for the interview, Anna! And I agree about Chihuahuas. My mom used to have one who's eyes turned up red in EVERY picture we took. Pictures don't lie. *shudder*

Congrats on all of your successes so far!  I'll be cheering you on as you climb to best-sellerdom and of course wish you luck and happiness on all of your upcoming projects. :)

If you have questions for Anna--or would like to show her your support -- please leave a comment below. Also, don't forget to find her on Twitter: @AnnaZagar and follow her blog for her witty observations on life along with helpful writing and publishing tips. ;)

Have a wonderful, safe, and relaxing weekend everyone!

Monday, April 25, 2011

QueryTrackers Making Tracks, #5

Even though it's Monday, today is the fifth installment of my Friday series on successful authors from QueryTracker. We will be having two interviews this week, so please stop by again on Friday for #6.

Some of the authors I'm spotlighting have agents, others have found success in less conventional ways. But one thing they all have in common is the utilization of the QueryTracker website to help make their tracks in the publishing world.


My guest today has chosen a less conventional venue, sans an agent, and it's working out great for her. When I first met KT Grant (katiebabs) on QueryTracker, I knew her story would be an inspiration to other writers who've had trouble finding an agent because they write out-of-the-box books. Also, I hoped she might be an encouragement to authors who are e-pubbed but still don't feel like they've “arrived.” KT has proven through her success that there are many different ways to flourish in this business, even more so now with digital publishing.
Want proof? Check out her impressive bio:
BIO: KT Grant is a self-proclaimed eccentric redhead who not only loves to read a wide variety of romances, but also loves writing it. Under her alter-ego (Katiebabs), she is a well known book reviewer and blogger who doesn't shy away from voicing her opinion. A proud native of New Jersey, KT is multi-published and known for writing "out of the box" romances. KT has been quoted in such publications as the Romance Writers of America's Romance Writers Report and Night Owl Reviews. She has also been mentioned in the Guardian.UK, Publisher's Weekly's Beyond the Book and at KT is a top ten best-selling author at Amazon, as well as being a multiple All Romance Ebooks best seller and a Night Owl Reviews Top Author Pick.

What wonderful accolades, KT! Without further adieu, let's pick your brain.  ;)

AGH: Which came first, blogging and reviewing other people’s books, or writing your own?
KT: I started reviewing four years ago for various on-line review sites and from that I decided to start my own blog where I could post my own reviews. Reviewing and blogging helped me jump start my own writing to great results. 
AGH: When was your first book accepted by an e-publisher, and what is its title/genre?
KT: The first book I published was in June of last year called Lovestruck with Noble Publishing Romance. Lovestruck is a May/December Contemporary Lesbian Romance set in New York City.
AGH: How long did you query before getting picked up by e-publishers?
 KT: Lovestruck took me six months to write. I queried to a few epublishers, and was rejected. I then went back to edit and revise with the insight from a few author friends who were wonderful to read Lovestruck. After that final round, I submitted again and Noble Publishing Romance extended me an offer.
AGH: How many books do you now have available to the reading public?
 KT: I have a total of six releases, with another four so far to be published this year.
AGH: With close to 600 reviews on Amazon under the name Katiebabs, most of them books, you’ve built up quite a readership through your blog and Amazon book reviews. Do you think this has contributed to your success in the e-book field by providing a platform of readers already hungry for your work?
 KT: My reputation as a reviewer and having my own blog definitely helped. I already built up an audience I hoped would be interested in reading my published work. Blogging is a great way for word of mouth, and I had that.
AGH: What books / authors have most influenced you (either in your writing or in your publishing decisions)?
 KT: Stephen King has been the biggest influence in my life. The Stand was the book that made me want to write. There are so many other authors who have influenced me such as Meljean Brook, Carolyn Crane, Laurell K. Hamilton, Julie James, and Stephenie Meyer just to name a few.
AGH: How did you find QueryTracker, and how can it help others in their efforts to get inside the publishing doors?
 KT: I started visiting various blogs and websites that talked about the publishing industry and advice on how to get published. From a few of them I found out about QueryTracker. QueryTracker is a great site that helps you pick agents and allows other writers to post comments about their experience with querying and the agents they’ve communicated with. It’s the perfect site I’d recommend to anyone trying to find an agent for their work or to keep track of the amount of queries they sent out, along with submissions and rejections.
AGH: What advice on the business side of publishing would you give to up-and-coming writers … something you wish you’d known when you first started?
 KT:  Being patient. Publishing moves very slowly. Epublishers are starting to get backed up and it may take months before an author’s release comes out. Don’t obsess about sales. When you see that first royalty statement, don’t be shocked or upset by how low your sales are in a month or quarter. It may take some time before you see some revenue for your book. The first five months Lovestruck was out, I was disappointed and then suddenly my sales shot up and have remained steady ever since.  Also, once you publish, your publisher may want more from you and expect you to write something for them as soon as you can. That’s a reward within itself.
AGH: Do you have any current news to announce?
KT: My publisher, Decadent Publishing will put three of my books into print. My two titles, For the Love of Mollie  and The Claiming of Suzy will be a combined print book. Xavier’s Loving Arms, which has yet to be released, will also be in print.
I also have three other books coming out this year. This Thursday, my third book with Ravenous Romance will be out. It’s a Lesbian Romantic Thriller called Sleeping with the Frenemy.
This is the blurb:
Deborah Murnay has a life most women would die for. She has a loving wife of four years who gives her anything she wants. But, Deborah hides a dark secret. Her wife Genevieve not only enjoys kinky, dangerous sex, but is insanely jealous and possessive. When a violent argument between the two leaves Deborah bruised and battered, she has no other choice but to run away.
Through some intricate planning on Deborah’s part, she’s able to trick Genevieve into thinking she’s dead. Deborah becomes Sharon Wade and ends up hundreds of miles away in the small town of Woodberry Creek where she can start over again, even though she lives in fear that Genevieve will find her and kill her.
When grade school teacher Bridgette Woodberry notices her new neighbor, she quickly figures out Woodberry Creek’s new resident is hiding something. Deborah knows she can’t have a future with Bridgette, but finds herself attracted to the kindhearted redhead whose kisses and warm embrace makes her feel protected.
As Deborah turns to Bridgette to help heal her scars, Genevieve is waiting for the right moment to take back her wife and make her pay for deceiving her.
I have a Contemporary MM (Gay) Romance with Phaze Books called Burning for You and a short MM (Gay) romance called A Bid for Love with Decadent Publishing. This is the first GLBT story for their new 1Night Stand series.
 **Five for fun**

AGH: Which would you rather do: carry an umbrella or sing in the rain?
KT: Carry an umbrella. I’ve been caught in the rain too many times before. It’s not fun.
AGH: What’s your favorite breakfast?
KT: I like a simple breakfast of yogurt, blueberries, jam on toast, and a must is a pot of coffee. And yes, I will end up drinking the entire pot. 
AGH: What video games do you play?
KT: I’m still trying to figure out a way to beat the Atari game, Pit Fall. If anyone knows how to, please tell me! I’m also addicted to Mario Cart. I love being Yoshi and running over the Mario brothers.
AGH: What would be the first thing you would do if you woke up to find you were a fish?
 KT: Scream and freak out. Then find a smaller fish to harass.
AGH: Drinking tea … pinky up, or heavy on the Long Island?
KT: Long Island all the way!

Thank you, KT. Your answer to the fish question was hilarious! If that's any indication of the voice in your books, it's no wonder you're such a success. Congratulations on your climb to best-sellerdom. And I wish you luck and happiness on the rest of your writing journey.

If you have questions for KT--or would like to congratulate her -- please leave a comment below. Also, dont' forget to find her on Twitter: @katiebabs (the lady has over 2,000 followers ... I'm in awe), friend her on Facebook, and follow her blog: Babbling About Books, and More!  for book reviews and witty banter.

And please make a point to join me again this Friday, because our next QueryTracker guest is the famed Anna Zagar of Scarlett Prose (aka purpleprose on QT), who got four offers of representation, decided on an agent, revised her MS, and snagged a publisher, all in the whirlwind span of less than two months. Too impatient to wait for the interview? Here's her personal summary of the experience

Have a wonderful week everyone!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Tag, anyone?

I know, I know. Today is Friday, and I'm supposed to have the super secret QueryTracker guest here to do my fifth QueryTracker Making Tracks interview.

Well, her schedule's been hectic this week, and after she heard about my own crazy week, she graciously offered to do her interview this coming Monday so neither of us would have to rush to get it posted today. So it'll be just a few days longer before I can unveil her identity. On the plus side, that means we get two QueryTracker success stories next week. ;)

Since I needed something quick for today, I decided a game of blog-tag might be fun.

Remember those summers when you used to run around barefoot outside until the sun went down, playing tag with your best buds in the dark? The scent of grass, dirt, and OFF stung your nose, and fireflies flickered on the lawn. The only other light was the star-studded sky hanging low and warm like a velvet blanket pricked through with millions of pinholes...

Well, I can't recreate the exact atmosphere, but we can play our own online version of tag, and we'll all be winners because we'll get to know each other better in the process. :)
So, here goes.

TAG -- Seven things you might not know about me:

1. I was a latch-key kid; I once chased my older brother around the house with a coke bottle to put an end to his incessant badgering. And that was the day of glass bottles, not the shatterproof stuff. Mom and Dad still have no idea what they missed in all those hours after school before they made it home…

2. In my childhood, we had a swimming pool beneath an oak tree in our backyard (one of those 6-foot above ground steel numbers) and I was convinced sharks congregated inside because of the shadows of the limbs.

3. My very first car was rewired wrong by my dad and each time I turned on the right blinker, the dome light flashed, too. My high school pals always knew it was me coming down the road at night because my interior would blink like a discotheque.

4. My husband broke his neck at Mustang Island several years ago while boogie boarding. He had surgery and is fine now — without any paralysis. Still, it was SCARY at the time.

5. I once entered a cake (decorated to resemble a snow-dusted birdhouse) in our State Fair and won best of show and first place.

6. I've always had a bone-deep desire to travel to Venice one day and ride in a gondola. This inspired me to write a historical fantasy about a society of vampires who travel by gondola on the subterranean lake surrounding their underground city.

7. I actually turned down an agent a few months before I got my first one. I'm saving the details for a future post, so consider that a teaser. Heehee


Okay, now YOU'RE IT!

Anyone who wants to play along, leave a comment letting me know and I'll hop over to your blog to read your seven things. Make sure you invite your readers to play, too.

Those of you who don't want to participate on your blog, I'd still love to hear from you! Say hi or leave one or two interesting tidbits about yourself here.

Also, remember to join me Monday to meet our QueryTracker guest and hear about her unconventional climb to publishdom sans an agent. Until then, anyone who's spending time with friends or family for the Easter Holiday, I wish you fine dining and lovely memories.

Happy weekend to all!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Collective Consciousness and the Color Green

My favorite poem of all time is Christina Georgina Rossetti's "Goblin Market." In fact, it's played a very big role in my writing career.

For one, it taught me to use sensory description to pull a reader into my MC's head. Upon reading the poem the first time, I was THERE, trying to fight the allure of the cursed and luscious fruits, forging a relationship w/my sister, grieving as she withered away before my eyes and I struggled to save her. Christina's words flowed like magic waves on the page, catching me in their tide until I was eternally enchanted.

Also, this deep appreciation for Goblin Market helped bring Agent Goddess and me together. We talked about the poem once just before I decided to sign with her. She loved it as much as me, even directed me to several images via the internet -- Pre-Raphaelite paintings by Christina's brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti -- which complimented the masterpiece.

Knowing how much Jenny loved Christina's lush and evocative attention to detail was a big selling point for me. Since I'm a very descriptive writer, I knew Jenny would get that side of my writing.

So I guess it stands to reason, since this poem holds such a special place in my heart, that I hope to one day pen a YA based on some of the elements, in tribute to Christina's vivid imaginings; similar to how I wrote one in tribute of Lewis Carroll's masterpiece.

Currently I'm working on a different YA WIP, but in the back of my mind I've been toying with the Goblin Market spinoff. I've come up with some interesting ideas, and was starting to get very excited about the concept until the other day, low and behold, I see a book review on someone's tweet about this self-published debut:

 (click on cover for a blurb; it sounds FAB)

Curses! Foiled by collective consciousness! But I refuse to let jealousy rear its ugly head. Nope, there will be no green here today, except on the lovely book cover above.

As a writer, I have to embrace reality. This isn't the first time this has happened, and it won't be the last.

When I was querying Splintered  I had an agent reject it on the grounds that there were several reinventions of Alice in Wonderland recently bought so she feared the market would be inundated with them. She scared me so much I researched PublishersMarketplace and found them:

Alice in Zombieland (about a girl named Alice who’s in a car accident; wakes up, her family’s dead, and she’s in a post apocalyptic world where zombies run rampant)

Alice À Paris (about an American girl abroad in Paris; non-fanstasy)

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (a fantasy YA similar only to Alice in Wonderland in that the girl has an adventure in a fairyland).

They are all scheduled to come out early next year. Am I worried? At first I was, until I took a really good look at the synopsis for each.  

None of them have any ties to the Lewis Carroll world. Mine is an adaptation/continuation of the original story. I pay tribute to the Victorian/Carrollian elements--tinging his characters a darker shade and twisting whimsical situations to pure creepiness. So that sets my book apart. Just like other elements set theirs apart.

All this to say, I'm still going to write my Goblin Market spinoff one day. My premise is different from the other author's, and I believe there's room for each of our books. The world we live in is made up of many different readers who want many different things. Subjectivity, which has so often seemed a thorn in my side, is at long last my hero.

How about you? Have you ever had a book idea and realized someone else was writing something similar? Did you let it stop you, or did you keep writing your story because your heart believed in it too much to quit?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Silencing your infernal ... er, internal ... editor, so you can smell the roses.

As writers, we've all experienced it. Cozied up in an easy chair, we crack open a brand new book, breathe in the fresh pages, and let the words swallow us whole.  Then our eyes stumble. Once, twice, three times. Before we know it, we've slammed our eyes AND the book shut, disgusted such a travesty was ever published.

How can a story with so many glaring mistakes and such weak writing ever have made it past an agent, much less an editor, and onto the printing press?  What a monumental waste of paper and ink! Didn't those publishers see the wooden dialogue?  What about the info-dump in chapter one, or the dream sequence that hopped from one POV to the next?  And there were at least seven commas in sentence # fifteen on page ten.

But is the book really so bad? Would we have noticed the blunders had we not read every book out there on "How to write", had we not taken every creative writing class offered at the local community college and attended each and every workshop / conference accessible?  Would we have cared, were we not inundated every moment with rules, rules, and more rules, that will assure us acceptance by an agent and ultimately publication with some big New York house?

Something happens when an avid reader learns to write.  Books that used to carry us to new and wondrous places, can't carry us past the lumpy cushion on the loveseat.  It's a catch 22. I can't argue that my internal editor has improved my writing by leaps and bounds, but yet it's stifled my enjoyment of the written word somewhat. The innocence is gone. 

And I know I'm not alone.

I've heard more than one frustrated writer ask why there are so many "bad" books that get agented and published (loathe to admit I've been guilty of such thoughts myself). How can "those kinds of books" possibly make it past querying, submitting, and slush piles to be a shiny new title on the shelves when they're lacking quality?

Thing is, do any of us really agree on what constitues a "bad" book?

Is it:

1) adverbs dominating each sentence?
2) too many passives?
3) excessive use of "that"?  (my personal weakness--grrr)
4) comma splices, dangling participles, punctuation faux pas, etc...?
5) head hopping?
6) cookie cutter cardboard characters or wooden dialogue?
7) unsatisfying plot / ending?
8) a flowery or sparse prose?
9) information dumping?

Okay.  So, numbers 1-4 are universal grating points.  Nothing is more frustrating than when we see someone slide into home plate and be counted safe while breaking all of the grammatical rules we've been taught as writers.  The rules we bang our heads against the walls day in and day out to uphold.  I'm so anal myself, that before I finish revisions on a MS, I'll go through with the FIND tool and search for all "was-derivatives", "thats" and LY adverbs in an effort to make those sentences stronger. 

But should we let it ruin what might be a perfectly good story by dwelling on the errors instead of skimming over them and reading on to find the meat?  There had to be something there that made an agent and editor love it enough to accept it despite its faults.  Aren't you curious to discover what that was? Maybe even learn something in the process?

And what about numbers 5-9?  There comes a point when we cross the line from grammatical to personal writing style, and some of the "rules" we've learned as writers can bleed into voice to be counted as style, much as it makes us choke to admit it.   

Read multiple reviews for the same book and you'll see it all boils down to subjectivity.  Where one reader sees wooden dialogue, another will think the dialogue sings.  While one sees the prose as too drippy and purple, another is swept away by the lyrical flow.  Head hopping or info dumping?  That can be argued as the author's personal approach to narrative, as long as they can swing it without jolting the reader from the story. 

It's kind of magical actually, when an author can bend the "rules" we've all been taught, and do it in such a way that the typical reader won't notice ... in such a way that the reader isn't shaken from the story but instead is left floating in a suspension of blind faith until the story's final sentence. 

Maybe, as writers, when we put on our reading caps, we need to borrow that nugget of wisdom from everyone's favorite pirate, Captain Jack Sparrow: "Hang the code and hang the rules. They're more like guidelines anyway."

Personally, I'm going to try it. I'm nostalgic for my innocence.  I miss the pleasure of just reading

It's time to smell the roses through someone else's nose, to taste the flavor of rain on their tongue. It's time to get lost in a story again.

*For a related post on this subject, visit Elizabeth Moon's blog entry on  "Why Bad Books Work."

Thursday, April 14, 2011

QueryTrackers Making Tracks, #4

Today is the fourth installment of my Friday series on successful authors from QueryTracker.

Some of the authors I'm spotlighting have agents, others have found success in less conventional ways. But one thing they all have in common is the utilization of the QueryTracker website to help make their tracks in the publishing world.

I'd like to welcome Kathy Bradey (known as kathy_xoxo on QT) who has recently signed with agent Suzie Townsend of FinePrint Literary Management. When I first read Kathy's book premise on her QueryTracker Success Interview, I knew I wanted to have her as a guest. This book is right up my alley -- complete with an incredible title -- and I'm looking forward to when it hits the shelves so I can devour it ... no doubt in one sitting. ;)

AGH: So glad you could visit us, Kathy! Could you give us a quick summary of the book which snagged your agent?

Kathy: ICE CAROUSEL is a YA fantasy inspired by the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. On the surface, it is a story about traveling to the land between life and death and bargaining for the life of someone you love. But if you look deeper, it is a story about a girl finding her feet in the world and discovering that she is stronger and has more substance than what she originally believes.

AGH: Before you signed with your agent, how many books had you tried to query?

Kathy: I queried a high fantasy novel for about a month in 2008. I only sent out a couple of queries. I think I knew the book wasn’t good enough!

AGH: What genre(s) do you write?

Kathy: I love writing YA. I gravitate toward fantasy, post-apocalyptic and paranormal. And romance is a huge part of all my novels because that’s what I love to read!

AGH: What inspires your book ideas?

Kathy: Music and feelings. Sounds corny, but it’s true. I like to capture a certain emotion when I write – whether it be heartbreak, joy, confusion, doubt, whatever. Music often brings that out in me and kick starts a story idea.

AGH: How do you come up with titles?

Kathy: It’s very important for me to have a title that I love before I start writing. I like pretty titles. Haha. I also like the title to mean something, so I find it easier to have the title upfront and work it into the story. But, to answer the question, I don’t have one method. I just think about words and ideas and pick what grabs me!

AGH: What books / authors have most influenced your own style and concepts?

Kathy: I’m not sure! I read lots of different authors: Wilbur Smith, Matthew Reilly, Anne Rice, J K Rowling, Amy Tan, Suzanne Collins, Ken Follett… to name a few. My favorite reads of late have been ‘The Sky is Everywhere’ by Jandy Nelson and ‘Anna and the French Kiss’ by Stephanie Perkins. I guess they’ve all influenced me in different ways, but I couldn’t pick exactly how. The best answer I can give is that amazing authors/books inspire me to keep writing and revising to the best of my ability.

AGH: How did you find QueryTracker, and how did it help you in your effort to get inside the publishing doors?

Kathy: I can’t remember when I found QueryTracker, but I used it to read about agent interests, statistics, success stories, comments from queriers about agents… and everything in between! I’ve found it incredibly useful.

**Five for fun** 

AGH: Which would you rather do: carry an umbrella or sing in the rain?

Kathy: Sing in the rain beneath an umbrella. Pretty much sums up my personality. I like to be free and impulsive – within reason! :)

AGH: What’s your favorite breakfast?

Kathy: I love toast with peanut butter, toast with vegemite, toast with cream cheese and smoked salmon… Go the carbs!

AGH: What video games do you play?

Kathy: Dead or Alive 2 is an old school favorite of mine. I’m also quite partial to those ridiculous games where you are required to build a theme park from scratch and keep all your visitors happy.

AGH: When would you go to if you had a time machine, and why?

Kathy: Ancient Greece, Egypt or Rome. I love history and beautiful places. However, I’d only like to visit!

AGH: If you were tight with one of the Greek gods, which one would it be and what favor would you ask of them?

Kathy: Hermes. I’d borrow his winged sandals.

Thanks so much, Anita! <3


And thank you, Kathy! I felt a kinship while reading your breakfast preferences. I'm a bit of a toast enthusiast myself.

I  look forward to buying your book one day! Such a unique concept. Much luck to you on the rest of your writing journey.

If you have questions for Kathy--or would like to congratulate her and show your support -- please leave a comment below. Also, dont' forget to follow her blog and cheer her on as she climbs to the bookshelves.

And be sure to pop in next Friday, because our QueryTracker visitor is somewhat of an online celebrity who's found her success in a less traditional way -- sans the help of an agent. (Hint: Much like our guest today, her ititials are K.B. Oh, and she holds the fates of many authors in the pads of her busy fingertips...)

Happy Friday everyone!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Irrigating your writer's soul...

Before I get to my post for the day, I'd like to announce Friday's QueryTrackers Making Tracks interviewee: Kathy Bradey. Be sure to drop by to learn how frozen horses and lost loves played a part in her offer of representation.

Now, onto today's post. Contrary to the picture above, we're NOT going to be talking about bad hair days (although I could write a whole series on that. Ha!). Today's subject is bad writing days.

Ever since my MS has been out on submission, I've been having a hard time motivating my muse to work on my WIP. Instead, I'm obsessed with checking my email or twitter or bouncing around PublishersMarketplace to read about new deals getting picked up.

Bad writer ... bad, bad writer.

I wouldn't say I have a block exactly, but it's the closest I've ever come. One thing that always helps shake the cobwebs from my brain is rollerblading. But it's been too windy around here to do that lately. Also, my muse loves rain. Last year, in the span of two dreary, drippy days, I managed to whip out over 6K words, finishing one chapter and coughing up another, all while I had a part time job. Unfortunately, we haven't seen a drop in the panhandle for months.

Much like the weather, I'm having a creative drought.

All of this got me thinking about how most writers have quirky routines that help set the mood for a productive session. Some famous examples:
• The poet Friedrich von Schiller used to keep rotten apples under the lid of his desk. To awaken his muse, he’d open the lid and inhale deeply. I’ve tried that a few times with dry erase markers, but it’s just not the same. Kidding! Just kidding...(or am I?)

• Colette, the author of the famed novel “Gigi”, used to pick fleas from her cat before she wrote. Maybe she was afraid she’d mistake some of those parasites for misplaced punctuation on her pages?

• Voltaire, a French Enlightenment writer, used his lover's naked back as a writing desk. That could be why most of his work had a romantic slant to it. *wink wink*

• Anne Rivers Siddons' husband reports that she makes a nest of papers, like a mouse getting ready for winter, then she starts walking into walls just before she begins a writing session. That walking into walls thing … I've tried it myself. It seems to be the only way I can work up a synopsis.

• Emily Dickinson wouldn't see her dressmaker, go out of the house, or expose her handwriting while working on her projects. Her sister transcribed all of her letters. Emily would’ve loved email.

After seeing these, I realized I really don't have any quirks for getting myself into the writing mood. I'm more inclined to nurture my muse while living my everyday routine, to irrigate it until it has no choice but to write or burst.

So, what do I have in my watering can?

• Mug shots: I post pictures of my main characters on a bulletin board in my office so I can see them each time I'm in the room. Sometimes that's enough to either inspire an entire conversation between them, or a scene that I have to sit down and write immediately.

• Books and movies: Every Friday night hubbie and I watch a DVD together. I prefer movies about my current WIP’s subject (I’m a bit of a fanatic about it). While working on my geisha vampire fantasy, we saw tons of vampire flicks (with the occasional side of Phantom of the Opera and Memoirs of a Geisha). Bless my spouse and his tolerant heart. This also goes for books. I saturate myself in the subject I'm writing. This not only keeps my head in the theme, but helps me to avoid things that have already been done in similar books and movies.
• Music: When I first start on a project, I'll compose a playlist of songs to evoke the moods of my characters / scenes, and to heighten the atmosphere of the setting wherein I've placed my story. The songs vary from instrumental to vocal pieces. I'm not picky. It all depends upon the book. But I listen to this music, not just when I'm writing, but when I'm doing other things. Like the pictures on my bulletin board, it sometimes inspires a scene or an exchange when I'm not even at the computer.

What about you? Do you have any quirks or tricks that help wake up your muse for a writing session?

Or, like me, do you just feed your writer’s soul until it's fat with inspiration and then sit down and write in a gluttonous purge?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Contest shout-outs...

Thanks to everyone who visited my "Whose Line Is It?" post last week where I offered a chance to win my critique partner's hauntingly lovely YA debut from HarperTeen (click cover for excerpt):

Through Her Eyes

As promised, I drew a winner from the six readers who answered correctly. But before I announce who won, I want to first give out the answers and personally acknowledge each of those readers for taking the time to play, because I didn't make it easy. They really had to work for a ballot in the drawing!

The challenge was to find three classic sentences hidden within a nonsense paragraph I'd written, and match the sentences to their famous original titles. Here's the paragraph again:

Morning light coaxes me awake. I crawl out of bed and stretch, arms spreading to the ceiling. My legs and ankles pop and snap. Now I'm opening out like the largest telescope that ever was! My pet lizard watches from his terrarium, unimpressed. If only I could've been his maker. Even better, if I'd made the world. A new species would bless me as its creator and source: many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. I shudder, remembering the dream I had last night. I was transported in thought to the scenes of childhood: I dreamt I lay in the red-room ... the night was dark, and my mind impressed with strange fears. Fears of waking to a world where my existence was of little consequence. The same world wherein I now stand.

Here are the classic quotes and the titles they belong to:

Now I'm opening out like the largest telescope that ever was! - Alice in Wonderland 

A new species would bless me as its creator and source: many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. - Frankenstein

I was transported in thought to the scenes of childhood: I dreamt I lay in the red-room ... the night was dark, and my mind impressed with strange fears. - Jane Eyre

And a shout-out to our savvy detectives, in no particular order:

Great job to all of these ladies! Make sure you click on their names to visit their blogs which are every bit as brilliant and industrious as their sleuthing abilities.

Now for the winner: Cathy, aka, The Total Book Nerd!

Looks like your years of being a book nerd have paid off, my well read friend! ;) Email me at anita at aghoward dot com with "blog contest" in the sub line. Include your mailing address along with who you would like the autograph to be made out to. I'll get the book sent your way asap.

Thanks again everyone who popped in and commented. Those of you who didn't win, please do order a copy of THROUGH HER EYES by Jennifer Archer. It's a must read for anyone who loves an eerie ghost story with a romantic twist. Also, drop by Jennifer's blog for a glimpse at her personal writer's journey along with some great writing tips.

Hope you all have a wonderful and productive Monday!

Friday, April 8, 2011

QueryTrackers Making Tracks, #3

Today is the third of a series on successful authors I've met through QueryTracker.

Some of the authors I'll be spotlighting on Fridays have agents, others have found success in less conventional ways. But, one thing they all have in common is their use of the QueryTracker website, whether for information or emotional support. In some way or other, each of my upcoming guest posters have utilized this amazing online tool to help make their tracks in the publishing world.

We're doing things a little different this time. My guest, the lovely Kristine Carlson Asselin (golfergirlkca to us QTers), has recently signed with agent Vickie Motter of Andrea Hurst Literary Management. She's written up a post detailing her unique journey, and how QT played an integral part in finding not just one agent who had a hand in her success, but two.

Welcome, Kristine!

[headshotmwcc3.png]   Thanks Anita for having me on the new blog today! I’m so excited to be able to share my QueryTracker story—it was an invaluable resource for me during my query process. On March 1, 2011, I signed with Vickie Motter of Andrea Hurst Literary Management. QueryTracker kept me organized, sane, and informed.

I first discovered QueryTracker waaayyyy back before it was in its current format—Patrick was just starting out. I hadn’t written my YA novel and was querying picture book manuscripts. How things change! When I rediscovered it, I was thrilled to see what a great tool it had turned into, complete with blog, message boards, and personal tracking tool.
I got serious about querying in the spring of 2010. I had a completed YA novel that I was DYING to query. I entered, and ended up winning, a pitchline contest sponsored by QueryTracker. That rocked!—I knew I had something with my novel. I wasn’t sure what yet exactly. But that contest validated my concept. And the agent was someone who was unfamiliar to me—he ended up helping me immensely in my revision process, though I ended up signing with someone else. If not for QT, I wouldn’t have had an incredible interaction that really helped my book.
As a ridiculously unorganized person, QT was my lifeline to keeping track of my queries. I recorded who was on my wish list, who I queried, who rejected, and who requested. The coolest day was when I recorded my offer—the little icon has sunglasses on—very cool.
It bears saying—and I think QT and Patrick and his team would agree—QUERY WIDELY. You never know what is going to interest any particular agent at what time. I’m not saying query anyone for any project, you have to do your research. But don’t give up after ten queries—I sent 67 before I signed with my agent. Stay positive!
Thanks again to Anita for having me. You can read more about my agent story at or or


Thank you, Kristine, for sharing your story, and congratulations on finding your dream agent. And just in case our readers are curious, here's Kristine's prize winning pitch from the QT contest:

With the family golf course on the verge of bankruptcy, Kate Anderson decides she's going to be the first girl to win the Junior State Championship to draw the crowds back, but her plans are derailed when her best friend and crush is accused of vandalizing the course with a blowtorch.

Sounds fabulous, and I can't wait to read it! Until then, I wish you much luck and happiness on your climb to the shelves.

Now it's your turn. If you have questions for Kristine--or if you'd like to congratulate her and show your support -- please leave a comment below.

And for those of you who participated in the book-give-away contest, I will be announcing the winner on Monday. Until then, have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Whose line is it? *CONTEST*

This contest is now closed. Please check back on Monday, April 11th, when I'll announce the winner!

Before I explain my title, I'd like to announce that on Friday Kristine Carlson Asselin will be my successful QueryTracker guest. She has some interesting insights on how QueryTracker provided interaction with an agent who helped make her book "representation ready" for a completely different agent. Please stop by and give her your support!

Next, I 've been itching to have a contest. I want to do something unique that will support the launch of my crit pal Jennifer Archer's debut YA from Harper Collins (released yesterday).

So, I came up with the Whose line is it? game.

The Rules:

I'm going to spotlight sentences from three of my favorite classic novels. The twist is, I'm padding them in a paragraph with my own words. If you can find the three sentences that aren't mine and match them with their book titles (I'm providing a list below), your name goes in a drawing to win a personalized autographed copy of Through Her Eyes. And for the record, the story and writing are every bit as lovely and haunting as the cover (read an excerpt by clicking on book).

Through Her Eyes

Here's my paragraph.

Morning light coaxes me awake. I crawl out of bed and stretch, arms spreading to the ceiling. My legs and ankles pop and snap. Now I'm opening out like the largest telescope that ever was! My pet lizard watches from his terrarium, unimpressed. If only I could've been his maker. Even better, if I'd made the world. A new species would bless me as its creator and source: many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. I shudder, remembering the dream I had last night. I was transported in thought to the scenes of childhood: I dreamt I lay in the red-room ... the night was dark, and my mind impressed with strange fears. Fears of waking to a world where my existence was of little consequence. The same world wherein I now stand.

Whew. It's not easy trying to tie three very different voices together in a paragraph. *mops brow with hanky*

Okay, here are the title choices:

1. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
2. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
3. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

I'll run the contest through Thursday. If no one guesses the answers, then I'll draw names from those who leave a comment of any kind (even if you're just saying "hi") and the name I draw will win the book.

I'll announce the winner on Monday (April 11).

If you're game, copy and paste your sentence choices along with the matching titles in your comment.

Good luck!

And do remember, Google is your friend...

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Angels Among Us

In honor of National Austism Awareness Month, I'd like to share my own experience with Autism, and the Asperger Angel who has left her footprints forever on my heart.

We always suspected my daughter was different, even from the time she was just a toddler. She looked like any other sweet little girl, but prickled at loud sounds, stiffened when we hugged her, and though advanced in her speech, she lacked the ability to connect emotionally. Also, physically, she couldn't master eye/hand coordination and balancing skills. She could walk and even ride a bike, but when running or dancing or anything meticulous, she just seemed awkward, for lack of a better word. We put her in ballet and gymnastics, in an effort to help with her physical limitations, but it just frustrated her. 

We talked to the pediatrician, who said she was simply shy and uncoordinated. We accepted that, until  in her third grade year I had a friend, a mother of one of my daughter's classmates, tell me she saw our daughter freeze up in the hallway at school between classes when the halls were chaotic, as if she'd shut down.  It scared us, so we had her tested for neurological disorders. Everything came back normal, and the word “Autism” was never mentioned by anyone. It was assumed that because her vocal communication skills were above normal, as well as her reading comprehension (she could read at a second grade level in Kindergarten), that nothing was wrong. 

That was some twelve years ago, before Asperger -- a high functioning form of Autism -- came to public light via the media and other venues. So, as the medical examinations all came back normal, we decided to accept her differences, adapt our lives around them, and move on. To support her school career, I became very involved in PTA. I volunteered three days a week in her elementary classes to assure all of the teachers knew me personally, and the children as well. It worked wonders. The children liked me, so they were kind to my daughter, and just accepted her as is, even though she could never really relate to any of them on a personal level. When it came time to move on to sixth grade, I knew things would have to change. Public middle school and high school would eat my awkward and painfully shy daughter alive.

I had her moved to a private school with wonderful, loving teachers, small class sizes, and a strict set of rules and routine. What I didn't know at the time, was that was the best thing for her. Asperger children thrive on constancy and regulations. Any change in routine is often viewed as an imposition.  If something upsets their balance, the reaction can be anywhere from volatile to introverted behavior. That's why my daughter shut down in the hallway at school those years earlier. It had been the first time she was required to switch classes between periods, and she basically removed herself mentally from the equation because it was too much to process.

It's not intentional belligerance. It's literally painful to them ... any variation is a disturbance in their world, and this makes them uncomfortable--physically, emotionally, mentally. With our daughter, if we explain why the alteration is necessary ahead of time, it builds a bridge for her emotionally so she can cross to the change. We know that now. We didn't then.

So, we settled into the private school life and though she didn't thrive socially, she found her own little niche and thrived academically. To try to boost her social life, we put her in some modeling classes run by a good friend of mine. It was less demanding than the ballet classes we'd tried when she was younger, and we hoped she might master coordination and confidence through the training. Amazingly, it did help. She started to look people in the eye, something her instructor worked with her on, and she outgrew her tendency to slouch into herself. But she still couldn't forge those social networks other children seemed to ace so effortlessly.

One evening, close to my daughter's fourteenth birthday, my sister-in-law saw a report on Dateline about about Asperger’s and recognized several of the symptoms. She called us, and though my heart broke, it was an answered prayer, because if nothing else we now had a name to put to our daughter's disorder.

All of those years prior we had no idea why she seemed so clumsy in her motor skills, shy and awkward in social situations, and why she couldn’t express emotions (she still has problems with body language and non-verbal communication to this day). With us finding out so late, she was old enough to recognize this means she wasn't "normal like other kids her age" -- augh... what is normal, really?! -- and it’s been difficult to motivate her to work with us to find treatment.

Now she's a senior, and we're contemplating her life as an independent adult. There are foundations that help Asperger young adults make the transition to functioning adulthood and the workforce. Unfortunately, there are none locally that we can turn to. So I'm looking into fixing that in my city.

To all of you with a young child who's been diagnosed with a PDD—I understand that you feel alone. I understand you're overwhelmed with adjustments, treatments, etc... But take heart. Finding out early on, your child will learn to take his/her differences in stride and grow into a sense of self without comparing him/herself to others. Because really, why does it matter if we're "like everyone else?" We're people either way, no matter our differences. We all have something to contribute to this world. A place where we belong.   

Bask in your child's accomplishments, and don't be afraid to set your expectations high. They will surprise you.  Children with PDDs are incredibly artistic and bright. My own is far above average in English, spelling, and writing skills, and can draw amazing Manga-style cartoons without ever having had an art lesson. The only thing that is keeping her from pursuing an art career is her dislike for letting people see her work.

Also, and most importantly, they see the world with a refreshing frankness and openness and everything is very literal. Which has taught me to rethink the way I look at things; to appreciate life on a whole different level. My daughter has been my teacher, when all this time I thought I was teaching her. 

You’re going to hear the phrase, “You are your child’s best advocate” a thousand times over. Truer words have never been said.

But even those of you who don't have to face these issues in your family can be advocates. Teach your children to approach other people's quirks and discomfort levels with a compassionate heart. I can’t imagine how it would feel to live in a world where you are constantly battling that feeling of disconnection. But that’s what Autistic people face every day. They're stronger than any of us give them credit for.

Teach your children to embrace others as the individuals they are. That differences are what make us unique. Tell them that they might just find that this person has something amazing to offer them, something new to show them. And most importantly, remind them to be kind. Because more likely than not, the person they're taking under their wing is someone else's precious angel.

Helpful links on Asperger and Autism:
Autism Society of America