Congratulations to Alexis Bass whose debut novel, Love and Other Theories, is out today!


Chances are you may have already heard me talk about this fantastic novel. It's one of those books that feels achingly real. When I first read the manuscript, I was absolutely obsessed with it, and I was terrified that I would lose Alexis to another agent. Thankfully I didn't. 

And now, I'm not the only one talking about how amazing this book is:

“Warning: Bass’s debut novel will ignite ALL your feelings!” (Wendy Higgins, New York Times bestselling author of the Sweet Evil trilogy)

“I loved LOVE AND OTHER THEORIES. Alexis Bass writes a compelling critique of the ways society expects girls to behave in their relationships, the lies girls tell each other--and themselves--to keep from getting hurt, and, when all is said and done, how only the heart knows the truth.” (Kristin Halbrook, author of Nobody But Us and co-founder of YA Highway)

“Alexis Bass masterfully captures all the complexities of high school relationships. A lovely debut.” (Amanda Maciel, author of Tease)

“A bold debut that authentically captures the frenzy of love, lust, and senior year of high school!” (Julie Murphy, author of Side Effects May Vary)

“Careful, subtle and aching. ” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review))

“Love and Other Theories challenged my assumptions, dared me to thinkdifferently and burrowed into my heart. A heart-achingly beautifulstory about whether it is better to protect your heart or to take thebiggest risk of all.” (Daisy Whitney, author of The Mockingbirds)

In her debut novel, Bass provides honest, incisive, and sometimes uncomfortable insights into the complicated intersections of friendship and romance, the ways sex can be wielded as a weapon, and the measures some teens take to protect themselves from pain. (Publishers Weekly)


Cora Carmack has a new book out

It's new adult, but it's also paranormal.


Kalliope lives with one purpose.

To inspire.

As an immortal muse, she doesn’t have any other choice. It’s part of how she was made. Musicians, artists, actors—they use her to advance their art, and she uses them to survive. She moves from one artist to the next, never staying long enough to get attached. But all she wants is a different life— a normal one. She’s spent thousands of years living lie after lie, and now she’s ready for something real.

Sweet, sexy, and steady, Wilder Bell feels more real than anything else in her long existence. And most importantly… he’s not an artist. He doesn’t want her for her ability. But she can’t turn off the way she influences people, not even to save a man she might love. Because in small doses, she can help make something beautiful, but her ability has just as much capacity to destroy as it does to create. The longer she stays, the more obsessed Wilder will become. It’s happened before, and it never turns out well for the mortal.

Her presence may inspire genius.

But it breeds madness, too.

When I was a baby agent, the second author I signed was Kristin Halbrook. 

And it was for this book:


Back then it was titled something different and it's gone through several rounds of revisions since then, but it was a beautiful book about flawed and real characters, and I loved it. 

It's been a long journey, but the book is finally available to readers, and I couldn't be more proud.

Here's what it's about:

Katie Sawyer has spent the past three and a half years cultivating the perfect UCLA experience. She has the perfect boyfriend: a football star. She has the perfect social life: she's President of Delta Gamma. But her perfect best friend, Chelsea, just drowned. Worse, the body tumbled out of the closet in Professor Griffin's chem lab.

Katie's fairy-tale façade hides a past she would like to forget, but Chelsea's death brings every old emotion to the surface. If she's going to move on from her hurts, Katie has to pull her not-so-perfect self together and search out the identity of Chelsea’s killer, even if it means turning to Josh Hunter for help. It's not easy. Josh infuriates her. Once upon a time, they were next door neighbors and best friends. They were confidants. They were even teenagers fumbling and exploring each other in the dark. He knew everything about her. He owned her heart. That was before things changed.

Now, secrets are surfacing. Chelsea was seeing someone. And she was pregnant when she died. Katie must come to terms with Chelsea’s other life…and face the fact that she has some secrets of her own. Even if it means letting the past--and Josh Hunter--back into her life.

A college Clueless meets Veronica Mars, Kristin Halbrook's new adult mystery is full of sexy romance and twists that will keep you guessing until the end.
Okay, here's the query:
Hi Suzie,

Seventeen-year-old Aubrey Housing and her best friends abide by the wisdom of Marilyn Monroe when it comes to romance: “A wise girl kisses but doesn't love, listens but doesn't believe, and leaves before she is left.” Following every first kiss with a preemptive strike on future commitment, and giving as little as they know they'll get in return, Aubrey and her friends have made it to the second semester of their senior year heartbreak-free and with their dignity fully intact.

So when Nathan Diggs moves to town he’s no exception. That’s what Aubrey keeps reminding herself. But there’s no denying Nathan is different. He’s oddly caring, polite in a way that isn’t embarrassing, and he happens to have the exact same sense of humor as Aubrey. She tries to shake it – she’s above this – she pities other girls for not knowing better, but it's too late. Aubrey’s already broken the most important rule of all: do not fall in love.

With senior year fading quickly, Aubrey must be strategic if she wants to keep Nathan. She’s seen the failed results when girls want what she wants from Nathan and actually try and have it. But business as usual might mean sharing Nathan, or worse, losing him completely. One false move in either direction could land her a broken heart.

GIRLS EVOLVED is a contemporary young adult novel about letting go, and is complete at 83,000 words. It will appeal to readers of Lauren Oliver, Nina LaCour, or Courtney Summers, and I thought you might be interested in its concept.

The first ten pages are pasted below. I’d be happy to send you more! The manuscript is available at your request.

Sincerely,

Alexis Bass
Here's what I love about it:

The first line. Any high school girl following the wisdom of Marilyn Monroe when it comes to romance, thinks she has it all together, but definitely has another thing coming. I also love the Marilyn quote and the way it's seamlessly incorporated into this query.

The structure. The best queries really build as you read them. This first paragraph tells me who Aubrey is and what she's trying to avoid: a broken heart. The second paragraph raises the stakes and reels me in. That's the point I knew I was going to have to read this manuscript.

Bonus points for the comp authors. Lauren Oliver, Nina, LaCour, and Courtney Summers are all authors I like--and they all can write contemporary YA that feels blisteringly real. And that was exactly what I got with Alexis Bass's debut novel.

The title changed to Love and Other Theories, and of course it comes out next month!



Jennifer Ryan's novella, Can't Wait, is out today!

Okay here's the question:
When agents reply, "It's good, just not for me," isn't that admitting to being gatekeepers to traditional publishing?
And here are my thoughts:

No.

There are a few reasons why. Here's one:

There's a subjective element to books. I might read a book about wereferrets and think "this has a great voice but I don't like ferrets" and another agent might read and love and think "this is the best thing I've ever read."

This isn't gatekeeping because not all agents have the same taste. I've read books before that I probably wouldn't have requested at the query stage. But those books still found an agent and still got published.

Plus, editors do the same thing to us. Let's say I did sign the wereferrets book. Not every editor would want it no matter how good it was. Even huge bestsellers or books that go to auction still get some passes. If it's well written with a good voice, I'm sure they see that, but they also just might not fall in love with the wereferrets.

And it's not just them either. Editors also have to "sell" the books they want to take on to their team--publisher, sales, marketing, etc. Sales might say--sure this is good, but we can't sell wereferrets to the major accounts so no.

And they say that because they're interacting with bookstores and the accounts (major retailers) and those buyers are saying "no we don't want any shapeshifters, we're not going to order any copies of books like that." Or maybe sales remembers how last year they tried to say a book with werebadgers and that book only sold 200 copies because none of the accounts ordered it to carry in store. Therefore they don't think wereferrets will be much different.


And the retailers, they're making that decision based on what they think their consumers want. Which they're determining based on the what the consumers are actually buying--or not buying. If they order 100 copies of a book about werebadgers and only sell two copies, they're not going to want any copies of a book about wereferrets.

So really it's the consumers that are driving the stores, and the publishers, and the agents. That's not to say that there aren't readers out there hungry for a story about wereferrets--it just means they're not buying books like that at traditional retailers. Maybe they're only buying ebooks. Or maybe they're reading fanfiction and pirating ebooks. Maybe they're only buying books from shapeshifting fandom conventions. I don't know (this example is getting out of control, but I hope you see what I'm saying).

Now here's another reason:

"This is good, but it's not for me" might not be the truth. There might be a harder truth, like "This is good, but it's not good enough."

I really like clothes. I get one of those monthly boxes that sends you a few clothing pieces and an accessory. Last month, it included a pair of earrings that were gorgeous and I really liked them. But they were $50 for just a little pair of earrings that weren't anything super special. So I liked them, a lot, but I didn't $50 like them.

Sometimes manuscripts are the same way. I've said I really like fantasy. Let's say I request a YA fantasy. I might read to the end, I might think, "that was a good read" but I do a lot more for my clients than just read their books once. There's the reading and the editing, but there are meetings and phone calls and strategizing and a lot of hours that go into that client's career and their books.

And there's only so many hours in a day. I can only take on so many clients. So I might read that YA fantasy manuscript and think, this is good, but it's not good enough for me. Maybe it's the characters or the pacing or the writing. Or maybe it's not even anything I can put my finger on. Maybe it just doesn't stay with me after I've put it down. Whatever it is, I don't love it the way I loved Gates of Thread and Stone or Red Queen. So it's not for me--because I only have time for things I love that much.

Sometimes it's hard to articulate that to authors. Even us agents don't like to discourage people or hurt people's feelings--and there are a lot of agents, maybe someone else will see something I don't or they'll have the time.

So that's a long answer to your question. I don't think we're gatekeepers. I know it's hard to get a book traditionally published--and that it's hard to get an agent. But the internet has made it easier than it was. Keep writing. Write a great book that you're passionate about--even if the characters are wereferrets! Then write another book. And keep going. At some point, you'll get there.
You might not know this about me, but I'm a Friday Night Lights fan. It's less the football and more the characters that I loved. 

Which is why when Cora Carmack had an idea for the Rusk University series, I was super excited.

I loved All Lined Up

But All Broke Down is even better. I know I say this a lot, but this book is my new favorite Cora Carmack novel and that's saying a lot. 


For me, this one line says it all: She fights for lost causes...he is one.

Silas Moore has everything I loved about Tim Riggins. And there was a lot to love about Tim Riggins.


And the romance. Oh my god.
So by now, you probably know the story. I was adamant about the fact that New Adult was not a thing. Then I read Cora Carmack's Losing It and changed my mind.

After that I read a lot of New Adult. In fact I read just about whatever I could get my hands on. I loved it! But because I read so much of it, sometimes the stories started to feel a little similar. I got a lot of submissions (which was a good thing!) but after a six months to a year, I started wondering if this was it, if I could find more NA that I really loved, or if I had about all the NA clients that I needed.

Then I got a query from Renita Pizzitola. And I was reminded what I love about NA so much.

Just a Little Crush by Renita Pizzitola is a beautifully authentic college story. It reminded me of how it felt to think that I had everything together, that I knew exactly what I wanted out of life only to find out that it was the things I was wrong about--and the hot mess mistakes--that worked out best in the end.

So.

Happy release day to Renita!


Okay, here's the question:
I remember Suzie always states that she keeps reading a manuscript if the first line catches her, then the second, the third, and so on. I don't know if I should take this literally, but if you come across a line that needs work, do you stop there even if you were interested in what was before? Are you willing to forgive that single line (or lines) and keep going?
This is a good question. I do say this a lot. I wasn't the first agent to say it. I heard it from a wiser more experienced agent on a panel back when I was a baby agent.

So here are my thoughts.

You do have to take that literally...to a point. For the first 25-50 pages or more until I'm hooked, each line really has to grab and hold onto me.

Once I'm hooked, I can overlook things and keep reading.

Now, here's the thing. When you mention a "line that needs work" though, it makes me think we might be talking about different things.

When I mention that the first line catches me, I'm not talking mechanics. I'm talking voice and storytelling.

Have you seen this?

I started reading that manuscript on a Sunday afternoon. I could not stop. Even though the manuscript turned out to be 168k words. It had some issues. I gave some notes. There was probably a typo or two. But the voice and the storytelling had me by the end of the first chapter. There was no way I was going to stop reading.
Here's another example query for you to feast your eyes on. Renita queried me with her NA manuscript The Unity of Opposites in October last year.

THE UNITY OF OPPOSITES is a New Adult Contemporary Romance complete at 70,000 words.

When nineteen-year-old Brinley Monroe runs into Ryder Briggs--an insanely desirable, tattooed bad boy and the other half of her disastrous first kiss--she knows she’s in trouble. Since that humiliating day four years ago, when she experienced a moment of Ryder-induced-bliss followed by nose-diving into a swimming pool, she’s hated him...every delectable square inch. Now in college, her past has reappeared and, by the looks of it, still hasn’t grown into his ego.

Despite their scorching chemistry, a guy like Ryder is the last thing Brinley needs in her life. As the product of a teen mom, who now loves vodka more than her own daughter, Brinley refuses to let bad decisions rule her life. But while spending time with Ryder, she discovers there is more to him than the image he broadcasts. Though complete opposites, they share the same fear--repeating their parents’ mistakes. And as Ryder's desire not to hurt her drives him away, her trust in him draws them back together.

But when Ryder’s involvement in a campus-wide scandal comes to light, the only person to pay is Brinley. As much as she wanted to believe otherwise, learning from her past means leaving people from it out of her future. Now, in order to protect her, Ryder must fix the mess he’s caused then do what he should have done from day one. Walk away.

I am a romance author currently published through Lyrical Press. (YA Paranormal Romance series--October 2012 and September 2013, and an Adult Urban Fantasy Romance--March 2013). I appreciate your time and consideration and sincerely hope to hear from you in the near future.

 Here's what caught my eye:

The Title. Now, we actually changed it--more on this later--but I loved the title. It automatically intrigued me. (Maybe I always go for people who are my opposite, I don't know).

That first paragraph gives a great set up. I love that Brinley and Ryder have a history and that it's humiliating for her. A disastrous first kiss followed by a nose-dive into a swimming pool--and it's made her hate him? That feels so very authentic. I still have a high school kiss that makes me cringe whenever I think of it. And if I ran into that guy now, oh I wouldn't be a fan.

But what really gets me with that paragraph is that Ryder "still hasn't grown into his ego." This is such a great example of voice and characterization in a query. It's a little detail, worded in a way that reflects exactly something that Brinley would say and it tells me so much about her and about the book.

The second paragraph sets up more conflicts. This is a book that is a romance but each of the characters have their own conflicts going on as well. Brinley's relationship with her mom comes into play here. More than that though, I also love that "Brinley refuses to let bad decisions rule her life." This tells me that she's a strong character, she might have history and family issues like all of us, but they're not going to get the best of her.

And of course the tease of a campus wide scandal really got me too, but what I liked about the ending is that this feels like a romance that's more than just a will they/won't they--it sounds like a relationship story, something that requires working through every day conflicts and struggles. It feels so real and authentic to the college experience.

Of course Renita is a fabulous writer so when I started reading her pages I was totally hooked. And I wasn't the only one. 

THE UNITY OF OPPOSITES and two companion novels sold at auction to Random House Flirt. We changed the name to Just a Little Crush and now it comes out October 21st. That's almost 12 months to the day that Renita queried me!


If you're missing summer, this is the book you should curl up with this weekend.


It's the best one yet.

Recently on tumblr someone asked me if the NL team had their wishlists somewhere online. I have mine on the blog and try to keep it current-ish, but I thought updating all of our wishlists and posting them would be a great way to kick off the fall.

So here they are--click on our names to be directed to the wishlist!

Mackenzie Brady

Kathleen Ortiz

Suzie Townsend

Joanna Volpe

Happy Fall!
Apparently I don't hold up well under peer pressure....

It's August, I am about to head out for vacation, and I'm excited to come back in September and finish 2014 with a bang.

So you asked for it.



What am I talking about?

I always hear from writers that they want to know what an agent is really thinking when they click to send a form rejection.

If you fall into that category, this is your chance.

When I'm back from vacation, I will respond to the queries I receive in complete honesty. I will either request your manuscript or I will pass and tell you exactly why.

No form rejection.

Now, this isn't a critique. Please don't expect that. I would never again see the light of day.

This is just an honest response to your query, but if you've been getting a lot of form rejections, this might tell you why. (hopefully it'll be at least a little helpful?)

You may see something as simple as "Not bad, but just not for me." or "I don't represent legal thrillers." or "Mermaids creep me out." OR you may see something like "I don't understand your plot" or "I stopped reading when you mentioned that the mailman was a vampire space zombie who has come to deliver a message of PAIN. Because come on...seriously?"

So, if you want the truth, query me for the next week (so right now until 11:59 pm EST on Saturday 8/30) and follow the directions very carefully.

Directions:
  • Queries must be submitted to Query(at)newleafliterary(dot)com. 
  • All queries entered must have this in the subject line: QUERY SUZIE - I can handle the truth
  • If it does not have this in the subject line, it will be considered a regular query only.
  • Queries must be in the body of the email. NO attachments!
  • Queries should include the first 5-10 pages of your manuscript in the body of your email below your query. 
  • One query per writer please. (Don't think you can trick me with different email addresses either)
I will make an announcement when I have responded to all the queries. I'll be aiming to have them all answered by Sunday 9/7.


Further Guidelines:
  • Yes, if you've already been rejected by me (or someone else at New Leaf) you may resubmit your query. But revise your query first. Don't say "You already rejected me..." Treat it like you've never queried her before.
  • Your queries will NOT be posted on this or any other blog. I will reply to you via your e-mail, only.  (Make sure your email doesn't require me to fill out some form to prove I'm not a spammer--I'm not going to go that above and beyond to get back to you).
  • You must treat this as an actual query process, which means you need to have a complete manuscript. If I do request your manuscript, I don't want to find out there isn't one!
Okay, ready go!

Recently on tumblr someone asked what they should do if they're in the lucky position that more than one agent offers on their manuscript.

First I'm going to say that's awesome.

Next, I'm actually going to defer to a brilliant post written by the fabulously talented MarcyKate Connolly who found herself in that exact position when she queried her forthcoming novel, Monstrous.

Here's what she says.
Jennifer Ryan's third novel in The McBride's series is out today!


Here's a confession: I don't actually rep this book. I recently started working with Jennifer but this book came before me. 

But I love it. I'm a huge fan of Jennifer's books. Swoony cowboys and romantic suspense, sign me up. This is a perfect novel to dive into while you dig your toes in the sand. Trust me.

Lori M Lee's debut novel, The Gates of Thread and Stone is out today!


I love this book so much. It has it all: beautiful writing, page-turning suspense, a strong and smart heroine, a swoony love interest, and a creepy and magical fantasy world.

At midnight tonight, the Prep School Confidential series will be complete.

Kara Taylor's fabulous third novel, Deadly Little Sins, will be available!


Anne Dowling is pretty much my literary best friend and it's been so wonderful to watch her throw herself in harm's way and sweet talk her way out of trouble and of course fall in love a little. 

If you haven't read this series, you should.




Okay, here's today's question:

The feedback I've been getting from my Query, runs something like this: Really interesting. No thank-you. I'm not sure if that is polite-speak for it sucks, or, simply not their thing. So, how to get a foot in the publishing door: A) Pound harder; B) Open a window (i.e. write a different genre/category book entirely); C) Quit: it's too hard.
Here are my thoughts:

This is most likely a form rejection.

This could mean:

A. Your query does suck (sorry, it happens, they're hard!)

B. Your concept is overdone (ie the genre is dead)

C. You're not querying the right people (hey I get a lot of queries from screenwriters so this happens)

What you should do:

1. Have some critique partners/beta readers/friends who write (etc) read your query. Get some feedback. Figure out if it's your query or if it's your book.

I'm going to say that if you've gotten 0 requests it's your query. If you had a good query, a few agents (especially new agents or agents who really love a genre) will request.

2. If it's your query, revise accordingly. You want your query to make people sit up and say "Oooh and then what happens?"

3. After you've resent your queries, start working on something else that's completely different.

4. Never quit. :)
I have another query that worked to show you. This one is the query the fabulously talented Kara Taylor sent me a little over four years ago.
Dear Ms. Townsend,

Seventeen-year-old Maggie’s job selling hot dogs at the beach is the epitome of unsexy, but it’s not like she wants to hook up with a guy wearing something a few inches shy of a Speedo anyway. Then she realizes Andy, the head lifeguard, isn’t visiting her three times a day because he forgot ketchup. Maggie finds out there’s more to him than his gorgeous abs, and their summer fling turns into a real relationship.

Then Casey, Andy's ex, calls to tell him her birth control failed.

It doesn’t help that Casey has graduated from pushing Maggie on the playground and making fun of her absent father to leaving Andy’s old love notes in her locker. But Maggie’s done with Casey’s bitchcraft. She won’t let her ruin Andy’s pre-med plans or the only relationship that’s felt real to her since her family dissolved.

The only way to coax Casey into choosing adoption is to earn her trust, even if it means opening up to the girl who knows how to hit Maggie where it hurts. But her plan backfires when she starts to empathize with an unborn baby more than the idiots who made it. Even worse, finding out the real reason Casey is willing to trade her ballet slippers for stretch marks reveals something within Maggie that terrifies her: sympathy for her worst enemy, and the realization she might not be so different from her after all.

SILVER MEDAL is a contemporary young adult novel complete at 62,000 words. I chose to query you because I too fear I may never love my future children as much as I love my dogs. I have included the first ten pages of the manuscript, hoping you will like to read more. Thank you for your time and consideration.
I received this query at a time when no one wanted contemporary YA--back in 2010. (That's when everyone was buying paranormal and dystopian). But I couldn't resist requesting this.

Contemporary stories can sometimes seem hard to write queries for. If they aren't plot heavy stories with really high stakes it can seem daunting to try to make it sound exciting. Here's what I love about this one though.

The twist on stories I've read before. This isn't a high school pregnancy story from the POV of the pregnant teen. It's about the new girlfriend of the teen dad.

It's more than just a romance. Sure there's a romantic element, but there's a lot more to this story. If the main character is empathizing with the baby and realizing that she has more in common with her high school enemy than she though--there's a deeper story there. I love that.

I also love the writing and the voice here. There's potential for humor and a flawed protagonist who makes mistakes but will figure it all out by the end (my favorite kind).

Now the title of this manuscript changed, and I didn't sell it. (Contemporary was a tough sell then remember). But it got us working together and since then, Kara has written three contemporary mystery novels and a TV pilot. And she has a lot more coming down the pipeline. And I still love this book and Maggie, it's wonderfully flawed and hilarious heroine.

1_29_PrepSchoolConfi#8BF92DWICKEDLITTLESECRETSCoverDeadly Little Sins (FINAL COVER)
Kelly Fiore's second novel, the fabulous Just Like the Movies, is out today!


Here's the question:
I've heard many people say that an agent rejection doesn't mean your manuscript is bad - it's just not a fit for that agent - but how many rejections does it take before a writer should start to reconsider their manuscript and either rewrite or abandon?
This is a good question.

What you've heard is true. And agent rejection doesn't necessarily mean your manuscript is bad. The same with editor rejections. We've all heard the great stories about books that are super successful and got a lot of passes.

But you're right to start thinking that perhaps a certain number means a pattern.

The tricky thing is that there is no set number.

When I go on submission I send to a group of editors. If they all pass, I look at their reasons. If there are similar reasons, then I'll revise with the author and then submit to new editors. Then we might do the same thing again. The whole time, I tell the author to keep writing something else.

You want to do something similar with queries.

Query 10 agents. If you don't get requests, revise your query and first pages. Then query 10 more. If you get requests but then passes, have a beta reader read and send you some notes. Then revise your manuscript. Then query more agents, etc.

All the while, work on something else.

If you don't get an agent and you exhaust your query options and you feel like it's time to put this manuscript in the trunk, hopefully you've already got a new something else that's ready or almost ready to be queried.

This is a long process. I know that sucks, but you're in it for the long haul.
It's been a while since I shared a client query, but if you're looking for a good example, I have one for you. This one was written by my fabulous client, Lori M Lee.

A few weeks ago, Lisa Desrochers sent you some pages from my YA cyberpunk fantasy HARBINGER, and I was thrilled to hear you were interested in taking a look. I'm honored to have Lisa's referral, and I hope you'll enjoy the story. I wasn't sure how many of my pages Lisa sent you or what I should send now, so I figured I would just submit what's listed in your submission guidelines. 
People are disappearing in the city of Ninurta. Like the rest of the citizens, seventeen-year-old Kai pretends not to notice. With her own survival to worry about, she doesn't have much concern to spare. But when her brother vanishes, Kai will do whatever it takes to find him, including using the ability she promised her brother to keep secret—Kai can see and manipulate the threads of time. 
With the help of an annoying and distracting friend—distracting because he's beautiful, and annoying because he knows it—Kai discovers a secret war between Ninurta's governor and a rebel named the Black Rider. The Rider has been kidnapping Ninurtans and transforming them into cybernetically enhanced soldiers called Golems. 
Kai sets out to find the Rider and discovers a shocking secret: the Rider is actually the Harbinger of Famine. And Kai? Not as human as she thought. Now, Kai will have to face down the Harbinger and uncover the link between herself and the secret war before her brother gets sent for dehumanization. 
Equal parts sci fi and fantasy, HARBINGER is complete at 75,000 words. An excerpt from HARBINGER also won first place in the San Francisco RWA Heart-to-Heart contest in the YA category, and Adam Wilson at Harlequin Teen expressed interest in seeing the full manuscript. He informed me that while he recently moved to Simon&Schuster, he would still like to see the manuscript and wants to forward it to Harlequin Teen. 
I included the first chapter below. Thank you so much for your interest, and I'm very much looking forward to hearing from you.
This is interesting because there's a referral in the first line. It's important that if you use a referral that it's a real referral though. Every once in a while I get a query with a referral from one of my clients--and the client has no idea who the author is. So don't lie--you might get caught.

Lori's referral was in fact true and I was very happy to receive her query.

What I love about this query is that it's a really great example for a fantasy novel--or any novel with a lot of worldbuilding. Rather than start with her main character, Lori starts with a problem in a way that grounds me in the world: People are disappearing in the city of Ninurta.

This query is predominantly about Kai. I get a strong sense of her personality and who she is in this world (and what she can do!) in a very quick span. Obviously this is a fantasy world, but it's Kai and her missing brother that I'm most interested in.

Now the title of this novel changed and in revisions it became much more of a straight fantasy, but it's now called Gates of Thread and Stone and will be released in August!


Here's the question:
I'd like to offer comps in my query, but (honestly) I haven't read anything like my story in same or similar genres. How close do comps have to be?

Here are my thoughts:

I sort of hate this question. (It's not your fault, don't worry)

But here's the thing. There's a huge problem with saying you haven't ready anything like your story. Taken literally, this means you're not very well read. OR there's nothing out there for a reason.

I'm betting that what's actually happening is that you're a little too focused on comps and not thinking about it quite right. So that's what I'm going to address. You don't have to have a THIS MEETS THAT comparison (like Graceling meets The Selection which is how I pitched Victoria Aveyard's upcoming novel RED QUEEN).

Instead you can have a "For fans of THIS and THAT" comparison. (For Love and Other Theories by Alexis Bass, I pitched it for fans of Sara Zarr and Nina LaCour).

So. Think about audience:

Who is going to read your book?

Fans of what books/authors will also be a fan of you/your book?


Cross off books and authors that have surpassed the mainstream tipping point and become a franchise (like Harry Potter, Twilight, Divergent, Hunger Games, John Green, etc). Those are exceptions since they're read by the non-reader population.

You have to be able to come up with something in terms of a comp. Otherwise, you're book is too different and won't have an audience.
The question:

I hear a lot of mixed things about slush piles. What is the real, behind-the-scenes story of the submissions process? :)

What kind of mixed things could you be hearing--that sounds scandalous!

It's actually pretty simple.

Writers send queries either via email or mail.

The queries are read either by the agent him/herself or an assistant.

If the agent loves the manuscript/non-fiction proposal, they'll call the author (mostly likely after stalking the author online). As long as that goes well, they'll offer representation.

Some NL specific details:

We still get a few snail mail queries but I'd say 99% of our queries come into our email (query[at]newleafliterary[dot]com). If that's an option I'd say email is the way to go. It's cheaper and faster.

You don't have to be referred. About 95% of our clients have come to us from just a query and those first pages.

Triple check your draft and read it aloud before you hit send. I always get a couple queries (each week!) where someone has replied with a desperate apology about spelling my name wrong or having a typo in the first sentence or not following directions.

Secret: you want the assistant to be the one reading the queries. They request more. They're new and not jaded and exciting about finding a good project, even more than the agents like me who sometimes sit down to read queries at 1 am and think I have too much to read already! The assistants are also terrified of passing on something big and getting fired. (Ok that might sound extreme, but the last thing any assistant wants is to be the assistant that passed on The Hunger Games). 

At NL we share manuscripts and projects we want to take on with the team. We talk foreign rights and film/TV and market and everything as a group. We like sharing expertise.

I have decided to pass on manuscripts before because of either the phone call or online presence. This is a business and I work closely with all my authors. Even if that author could somehow guarantee that the project would make millions of dollars (which is impossible by the way), it wouldn't entice me to work with someone who is on the wrong side of crazy or a terrible human being. There are so many writers out there who are lovely and wonderful people. And I'd rather work with them.

Got any slush pile myths you want to run by me? Leave them in the comments and I'll let you know if they're fact or fiction.
Chelsea Fine's newest novel is out today: Perfect Kind of Trouble

I signed Chelsea several books ago for her YA novels, but every book she writes I like even more than the last one. This new adult book is a stand alone but set in the same world as Best Kind of Broken and the upcoming Right Kind of Wrong. 

Chelsea does characters and relationships that make me laugh and tear up and smile, all in the same book. I'm so honored to be a part of this whole series. 





So it's really hard to interpret rejections. This is partly because you might be getting form rejections (even on full manuscripts) and that could mean anything from "I just don't love it" to "Your ms fell apart and I stopped reading at page 65."

Here's the question I got recently:

I've had a few agents read partials and say the writing was strong but they didn't fall in love with it. What does this really mean? And should I revise the pages or keep submitting to other agents?

The first step to answering this question is to ask one of my own--Was this a form rejection or was it personalized feedback?

Truthfully there is nothing from a form rejection that means anything. It's a canned response that's essentially pasted into the email. How do you know if it is a form?

It will look something like this:

Dear AUTHOR, 
I finished reading YOUR MANUSCRIPT. Thank you for being so patient while I considered it for representation. I really love your premise. Unfortunately I don't feel it's quite right for my list. I'm regretfully going to pass. 
Please don't take this rejection as a comment on your writing, because it isn't intended to be one. While your novel has merit, I am forced to give serious consideration to the realities of the marketplace when deciding which writers to represent. And I really have to be absolutely in love with every project I choose to take on.

Best of luck with this project and all your endeavors. Due to the volume of queries and submissions I receive, I'm unable to provide a personal evaluation and/or further explanation of my decision. 
Good luck with your submissions. 
Best,
Suzie
There is nothing in this email that is personal to you--other than your name and title which is how you know it's actually me responding and not a robot. If the rejection you have looks like this, it's not going to tell you much. You should keep revising, keep querying, and keep working on something new. Don't let this kind of form get you down.

Now, in terms of personal feedback:

If I do give personal feedback it's usually in between the first and second paragraph and I might comment on characters or the plot or maybe even the writing. I might include more notes at the bottom and I might even invite the author to revise and resubmit--or I might ask them to send me their next project if this one doesn't snag them an agent.

Or occasionally I might say "I just don't love it"--so that writers know this is actually how I feel I usually add a "I know that's not helpful" line. Because feedback that's fixable is always easier to receive, right?

So what should you do if you get a "I just don't love it" type of personal feedback from me or from another agent?

If you've only heard it from one person, WAIT. I know waiting is tough. It is my least favorite thing. But wait it out. If you manuscript is with other agents, wait to hear back from them. See what they say about your book. This business is subjective. There are books out there that I just "haven't loved" and they're published. So someone did love them. It just wasn't me. In the mean time, work on something else.

What should you do if you're getting similar feedback of "I just don't love it" from multiple agents?

Since you're getting requests, that suggests that you have a good concept. This is when you want to think about revising. If more than one person is saying this, that means there's something about your manuscript that isn't doing its job--grabbing its readers. The truth is there are a lot of decent books out there. A lot of books that come across my desk are good. I request them and I read them and I might have some notes here and there, but they writing is good, the development works, the characters and world are all okay. But good or decent or okay doesn't cut it. I can only take on so many clients and so many books.

Think about the stories that you love. What makes you love them? For me, it's usually the characters. I will follow a character that I love anywhere. Truly. I read Josh Bazell's Beat the Reaper a few years ago and it is not the typical kind of novel that I read (or it wasn't then, now I'd be happy to read the next Beat the Reaper, keep that in mind!). I loved that book. The writing is fabulous, the voice is amazing, and Dr. Peter Brown, I love that guy! (Past and Present versions).

So if I were you I would start with your characters and see what you can do to make them more alive. Then look at your world--how can you make that more alive. Then look at your pacing--does every scene move the plot forward.  Keep trying to make the book even stronger.
Someone asked me recently if there were any great writing conferences they should know about. I go to some conferences, but I actually think other writers are going to be best equipped to answer that.

Recently I was at RWA Chicago North's Spring Fling and was super impressed with the conference, especially the "hot night" critique session that I sat in on.

But I also took the question to twitter. The questioner was asking specifically about conferences for YA writers.

Some of the suggestions I got are:

Oregon Coast Children's Book Writers WorkshopThe Western WA SCBWI
New England SCBWI

But let's hear from you. In the comments let me know what are some great conferences that you've been to--not matter what you write.
There's not much out there that's better than spending a day with a Cora Carmack novel. Maybe spending a day with this guy...

Only now there's a new Cora Carmack novel that reminds me of the very best things about a show that I loved (family relationships, Texas football, hot guys, strong female characters, etc) and all of the things I love about new adult (romance, college, hot guys, strong female characters, etc).

And today, it's here.


The first book in the Rusk University series, All Lined Up, is one of my new absolutely favorite novels. I know I'm biased, but it's amazing. 

I mean it when I say you're going to love this book. Even if you know nothing and/or don't love football.
Okay this week's question is:
I'm working on a high-concept YA drama which I'm excited about. An industry person said if I changed the main character from a 16 year-old boy to a 16 year-old girl it could mean the difference between a hit and a massive hit, presumable because of THE HUNGER GAMES's and DIVERGENT's success with female leads. What do you think? Does it matter? FYI In my book's case, even though the lead is male, the three other main characters are female. GRACIAS!
Well I'm all about high-concept YA drama so yay for that!

The advice this industry person gave you is interesting. The Hunger Games and Divergent are good examples of series that have been a massive hit--and they do have female leads.

But there are a few things to think about.

First I want to address something that's not really part of your question: what is the difference between a "hit" and a "massive hit"?

I'm not exactly sure how you define either--I imagine a lot of people have different viewpoints/thresholds. Regardless of the definition though, I think this is the wrong thing to focus on. The truth is that as an author a lot of the publishing process is out of your control. A lot is even out of the publisher's control.

I can think of a number of books that got a big push from their publisher, that I saw everywhere, that I heard someone say "This is the next Hunger Games!" and whether the books were good or not, they did not reach "Hunger Games level" in terms of sales and fan mania.

If you go into publishing looking for your book to be a massive hit, you're bound to be disappointed.

But back to your question. At the root of it, you're asking will your book be more commercial if your protagonist is female.

The answer is: possibly.

I would like to say that it doesn't matter. After all, I'm interested in books that have male protagonists. I like them. I want there to be YA novels for teen boys out there. And I have a problem with telling anyone they should change the gender/race/sexual orientation of their main character for the sake of being more commercial.

But the truth is that right now YA fiction is dominated by female protagonists, because it's also dominated by female readers.

Hunger Games and Divergent have female protagonists as you mention. So do TwilightThe Fifth Wave, A Fault in Our Stars, Shatter Me and The Selection. Even in Cassandra Clare's novels, which have an ensemble cast, arguably the main characters are the female characters: Clary (in Mortal Instruments) and Tessa (in Infernal Devices).

There are of course some exceptions. The Maze Runner and Beautiful Creatures both had male protagonists. Perhaps if John Green had written A Fault in Our Stars from Gus's perspective, it would be just as much of a "massive hit" as it is today. Or perhaps not--it's just not something that I can answer for you. There are a number of really amazing books with male protagonists that didn't take off the way maybe they should have. If I could wave a magic wand, Holly Black's White Cat series would have a movie adaptation and topping the bestseller lists (I loved those books!).

In the end, you'll have to decide what to do with the gender of your protagonist yourself. If you want to think about it from specifically a strategic and commercial angle, I would suggest having a few beta readers, read the ms and get their feedback on whether they would have liked the plot more if the protagonist was female.

Also as them to keeping the following things in mind while they read:

Is this male protagonist a guy that YA readers can love?
Are there some amazing other female characters who are strongly represented throughout the story?

As much as I like money (I do), I'm in this for the love of books and the love of reading and storytelling. If I were you, I would think about what it is that made you fall in love with the story and what made you originally tell a male character's story. Then decide what you think you need to do for this story.

Hopefully you're in this for the long term which means you can always write more books after this one. This feeling that success has to come overnight isn't accurate. After all, both Suzanne Collins, Rick Yancy, and John Green had wonderful books before they perhaps hit the "massive" level of success.
I have been a Sarah Frances Hardy fan ever since I had the chance to see the picture book dummy for Puzzled by Pink.

So I'm so excited to let you all know that her new book, Paint Me, is out today! (It's also the first picture book that I sold, so it's an exciting milestone for me too!)


I love this little girl and I love her dog who is just as mischievous and cute as she is!



I've recently gotten two questions about MG voice.

Here they are.
I've been told by agents who've looked at a couple of my MG manuscripts such things as: "it was a little too ... juvenile" and the "character sounded a little younger than her age." If it's a middle grade novel, how do you as an agent determine if a MS has struck a balance between not sounding too young and not sounding like what it is: written by an adult? I know that's a tough, subjective "voice" question, but I'm hoping you can shed a little light based on your experience.
And
This may be a tough question to answer, but when it comes to an MG voice, have you ever read manuscripts that are TOO young-sounding or juvenile for your tastes or for the intended audience? If so, what are some things in the ms that made you decide that?
This is a tough question to answer. Because it really revolves around voice.

To address the questions, I will first say that if you're getting similar feedback from multiple sources, it's probably an issue.

That out of the way, an agent determines whether the voice works in a MG ms (not too young, not like it's written by an adult) by being well-read in the genre. Most readers who are wide read can start reading something and know immediately whether the voice feels authentic or not. Unfortunately something that feels too young feels inauthentic.

I have absolutely read manuscripts--and turned them down--where the voice has been the turn off. I've read manuscripts with a boy protagonist that don't feel like a boy. I've read MG manuscripts that have felt too young.

MG voice is tricky. I think it's one of the hardest voices to "nail" but there are some important factors that go into it.

Who is your intended audience?

Think realistically about what readers are going to pick up your book. So leave out books like Harry Potter and Percy Jackson. Your voice is going to be different if you're writing something for readers of Of Ice and Giants by Shelby Bach than it is if you're writing Wiley and Grampa's Creature Features by Kirk Scroggs. They're different audiences.

What POV are you using?

There's also a huge voice difference between a book like When Audrey Met Alice by Rebecca Behrens and The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne Valente. As an author you need to think about the POV you're using and why you're writing the story that way.

Diction, Syntax, and All Things Writing

Another thing to consider is your word choice and sentence structure. Are you avoiding "big words" because you're worried kids won't know them? Do you have too much onomatopoeia or exclamation points which can make your writing seem immature?

My recommendation is to read, read, read. And write, write, write. The more informed you are and the more you practice, the easier it will be to nail your voice.

Some New Leaf reading recommendations with great voice (in addition to the ones mentioned above):
Nightingale's Nest by Nikki Loftin
A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd
Sway by Amber McRee Turner
Chained by Lynne Kelly
Seven Tales of Trinket by Shelley Moore Thomas
Today the question is
How do you know when to switch agents?
This is a tough question because when dealing with human relationships things are always bound to be complex. I also imagine other writers might have more or different advice since they're coming from a different place. But here are my thoughts.

Hopefully you'll never have to switch agents. In an ideal world, the agent you sign with with be your partner forever. Which is why I would say that if at any point in your writer-agent relationship you're feeling unhappy or dissatisfied that you open the lines of communication and discuss it with your agent. This is a tough business and there are a lot of ups and downs. Your agent can be your partner and best advocate and sometimes just talking things out can solve a lot.

But if you have that conversation and you're still unhappy with your agent, you can part ways. This happens. To answer this question, I'd say there's a big sign for me that the agent/author relationship isn't working and it might be fixable or it might not and it's no one's fault.

Ask yourself, do you trust your agent?

You really have to trust your agent. They're your partner and advocate and they're managing your career. If you don't trust them, your communication will really suffer. As an agent, I expect my clients to trust me. I expect them to listen when I offer them advice and I expect them to come to me with questions when they have them. I expect them to keep me looped in one what they're doing. We have to trust each other and be on the same page for us to make the most of our working relationship.

After you talk to your agent, if you feel like the relationship has run it's course then you need to find a new agent.

To do so, you'll need to check your agent agreement. There will most likely be some kind of termination clause that explains how you can terminate the agreement (does it need to be in writing, sent via certified letter?) and what that means for projects that have been sold or that are on submission, etc.

No matter what, you will need to terminate first, before querying other agents.
Wow, this contest was a success! And also a really tough one to judge. You guys are all super talented and some of you are also super creepy. Just FYI.

Anyway, winners!

Honorable Mentions

Most Interesting Narrator
R.Lynn @ 1:47 PM

Best Slush Pile Depiction
Margo Owen @ 3:06 PM

Most Terrible Pet Owner
The Will to Write @ 7:11 PM

Best Last Line
Night Writer @ 8:17 PM

Best New Adult
Double Java @ 8:37 PM and Kate Michael @ 7:20 PM

Most Romantic Moment
BethF @ 4:38 PM

Best Opening Line
Alyssa Carlier @ 10:03 PM

Worst Father
Megan Hitch @ 10:55 PM


Runners Up --there are a few

Most Original/Best Style
Ashland @ 10:40 PM

Best/(Worst?) Use of Tea
Richard Strugis @ 11:28 AM
(I sort of want this story as a novel!)

Best Opening Image
Kat Waclawik @ 8:29 PM

Best Voice and Worst Reminder of Dating in New York
Jay @ 2:53 PM


And the winner of the contest is

Carol @ 1:58 PM

Mama used to call them “shivery days.” Days on the cusp of spring, when it seemed I could count every new leaf on a tree because there were so few.

That winter, Mama had a scan. There was a lump ... and no hope. I said I wouldn’t make it without her. She fought that harder than the cancer. Live! she demanded.

Death was swifter than the season’s change. By March, she was gone.

Mama had hung the moon. Had made all the shivery days golden.

I’d best keep my promise to her though: Let winter go, shivering. And live.



I love the voice here--and the writing and the images. I love it all. 

So Carol, please email me your address so I can send you your books! And let's discuss your critique.
The question is:

What are the MG and YA genres that you *aren't* tired of seeing, besides contemporary that is. And what are the adult genres you aren't tired of seeing?
This is a common question. In fact I probably get it asked once a week in some kind of form.
What's the next big thing?
When will dystopian/paranormal/vampires/unicorns/etc come back?
What are you looking for?
What should I write? 
It all comes down to the fact that right now the market is crowded. And we've run through a number of trends in a quick amount of time, especially in children's books and YA. Both markets expanded over the last ten years as more adult readers began to crossover and read MG and YA.

There's a problem with asking this question though.

I don't have an answer.

There's the fact that I can't predict the future, sure. But we're also in that strange place where I can't answer because I can't put words to it.

The truth is I want something I haven't seen before. I want something that doesn't feel overdone or tired or like that other book I read a few weeks ago.

The YA Gone Girl, the YA Game of Thrones, the Twilight but with [insert other paranormal creature here], the John Green-esque contemporary, the Hunger Games meets Percy Jackson--they're all either overdone or ridiculous. With 200 queries a week, half my queries are pitched like one of the above.

I want something that I can't describe because it's that different. I don't actually know what I want because the one line hook doesn't matter to me at the moment.

I want an amazing character. A voice. Someone who demands from page one, from line one, that I sit up and pay attention, that I follow their story. I want great writing and great pacing. I want to feel breathless as I read because I need to get to the end.

But I won't know what that is until I get it.

It might end up being something that could be described as the YA Gone Girl, the YA Game of Thrones, the Twilight but with [insert other paranormal creature here], the John Green-esque contemporary the Hunger Games meets Percy Jackson, but it won't matter because it will be so much more than that.
At least someone did.

I've had a request for another writing contest!

Here are the details:You need to write a short story (100 words or less!) using these five words:

All
Best
Scan
Death
Swift

Bonus points if you can use this phrase: New Leaf

Post your story in the comments of this post by 11:59 pm on April 22nd.

What do you win?A pack of amazing spring New Leaf releases, including:







AND

Your choice: either a first page critique or a query critique--good for you or a friend if you're feeling generous.

Can't wait to see what you come up with!
Here's the question:

Hello, Could you advise what subject line and content should go into an email when a new, un-agented writer has received an offer of publication directly from a publisher and has not yet accepted it but is looking for representation. Also, are inquiries of this sort welcomed or does it annoy an agent that the writer went direct to a publisher (knowing that the writer has not accepted the offer yet). Thank You.
Here are my thoughts: 

If agents have your manuscript already, I would follow up within the original thread and let them know you received an offer of publication from X publisher and could they respond to you by X date.

If agents don't have your manuscript. You can query and put "QUERY--OFFER OF PUBLICATION" in the subject line. Pitch the book and let them know where your offer is from. Let them know that if they're interested in reading, you'd love to send them your book, but you're hoping to get back to the publisher by X date.

In terms of response date, find out how long you have to respond to the publisher. A few weeks should be totally fine.

NOW, here's the tricky part and there's no easy way to say this so I'll go for blunt.

If you have an offer from a major publishing house (Big 5 or even not Big 5 but still a big deal--ie Scholastic for instance) this is awesome. As an agent, I will read your manuscript faster because of this.

But on the other hand if your offer is from a small press or an ebook only press, your offer doesn't actually help you. First of all those contracts are a ton of work and honestly not for much money and that leaves an agent signing you with two options--take the deal and hope it works out or turn down the deal and shop the book elsewhere and run the risk of not being able to sell it. Neither one feels like a winning situation.

I often get queries where an author tells me they have an offer from X publisher--but the publisher is someone I've never heard of. Unless it sounds like the most amazing life-changing book ever, I usually just pass.
I get questions about word count a lot--manuscripts that are too long or too short.

Here's one from tumblr:

My first novel is an epic fantasy of 225K words. I often see this length on the retail shelves, but internet wisdom indicates over 150K is an automatic no for a debut author. Is this true? Would this length mean this book is best pitched in person than via query letter?
My first reaction reading this is: gah!

As a rule I would say 225K is too long.

Of course…there are always exceptions to rules if a book is good enough.

The problem is that a lot of what you see on retail shelves are not debuts. Or they were debuts ten years ago when the market wasn’t quite as flooded.

In this case, what I would suggest you do is revise with pacing and cutting in mind. So you’re not cutting words for the sake of getting your word count down, you’re specifically looking for places where perhaps the story can move faster.

I read/heard somewhere that Stephen King has his wife read his books and he makes a note of where she pauses (if she gets up to go to the bathroom, if she decides to make a snack, etc) because if she’s pausing, the story isn’t holding onto her as tightly as possible and perhaps the pacing as slowed down. This is brilliant IMO.

What you need is someone who is a good reader (who reads epic fantasy and can be a good critique partner) to read and mark places where they got bored or lost or didn’t feel grabbed.

Then you want to read through your manuscript and make sure everything you have is moving the plot forward and developing the characters at the same time.

About a year ago, I read a brilliant fantasy novel as a submission. It was a pdf and didn’t have a word count so I read it. At the end I knew what I had read was brilliant and that the writer was superbly talented, but I also felt it was too long. I knew there were scenes in the middle that didn’t need to be there and I knew that there were long passages of description about the world that were always beautiful writing but also not always necessary to the story.

When I looked up the word count (by transferring it to a word doc) I realized the book was probably 68k words too long. I worked with the author and she cut about 50k in a round of edits and then when the book sold, the author and editor cut out a little more. It was that good. Even though it was long, it was so amazing that I didn't care. And of course, the author was willing to revise and tighten and cut in order to make the book better.

This book is RED QUEEN by Victoria Aveyard by the way and it is amazing.


* I'm back from Bologna and London and up to answer more questions: Ask me here
I've talked about this before, but it seems to get a lot of questions in different forms. Here's the specific question from tumblr:

I'm sorry you keep getting questions about YA dystopia genre and I'm now just adding to it, but I've had a YA dystopian idea for a bit and I've shuffled it back because of the issues with dystopia being dead. However the couple of people who have heard the basic premise have been really enthusiastic about it and pushing me to write it despite me warning them about it. Is it worth it to work on it now or wait like I've been doing because of the market?
Unfortunately I can’t answer this specific question.

I also can't answer what subgenre someone should write or what is the kind of book that would be most likely to sell. 

The truth is it's hard to sell books. A lot of people are writers and it's hard to get published. It's not easier if you're writing picture books than adult science fiction or vice versa. It isn't the genre that gets a book sold, it's the book itself.

I am of the opinion that writers should write because they love it. If you keep writing and keep trying to get published it will happen—eventually.

If you are passionate about a ms that is in a dead genre, write it. Who knows how long it will take before you finish? When you finish revising and it is ready for the eyes of agents, query. The worst thing that can happen is that no one will offer representation, but you will learn from both the writing and the querying process. It will make you a better writer.

When you finish writing this ms, WRITE SOMETHING ELSE. This is my advice no matter what a writer is working on. Writers should always write something else. The more writing you do, the better you will become. And putting all your hopes and dreams into one project is a recipe for heartbreak. (Even if it does grab and agent and get published). You should always have something else.

Also, I cannot predict the market. There are always some things that surprise us. I can say that I’m sick of dystopian novels. I can say that editors tell me “no more dystopian novels” but I can also tell you that people said that about angels right before Laini Taylor wrote Daughter of Smoke & Bone which was clearly a huge exception (albeit it’s an exception because 1. It’s Laini Taylor 2. it’s unique and 3. OMG the writing).

All of this is to say, you have to make your own decisions about what you want to write.
Here's the actual question:

What's the deal with submitting on proposal? Does this only happen with a book option? Or can a previously (traditionally) pubbed author submit on proposal to anyone after their first book? Or does it depend on the agent + editor?
It actually depends more on the author. For a few reasons.

Here’s the easy/obvious one. If a previously (traditionally) published author wants to submit on a proposal, the better their sales record, the more likely a proposal is sufficient.

For instance, Stephen King can submit on proposal. (Actually Stephen King can write a line on a napkin and probably get an offer. Or even just call his editor and say “I want to write another book, how about it?” This is because Stephen King is a well-known and well-established brand. I mean, he's Stephen King, he has a huge track record. His name sells books.)

But other bestselling authors who are not quite at Stephen King level can also submit on proposal. Authors who have won big awards (think the printz or the national book award) can very easily submit on proposal. Authors whose book sales are on an upward track can submit on proposal. Authors who are submitting to an editor they already worked with can submit on proposal.

Whereas authors who have not published in a long time or have “midlist” sales—they could submit a proposal, but the chance of getting an offer is going to be higher if they had a full ms.

The other reason is depends on the author is let’s face it: some authors are better at synopsis writing than others. I have some authors that can write a really engaging synopsis full of tension and great characterization. And I have some authors who really struggle with that—partly because they’re not big outliners—and their synopses can make their story sound convenient or unrealistic or just not that interesting. 

As an agent I can help them edit their synopsis and try to fix it but sometimes it might just be easier for them to write more of the book so that they know where it’s going. Again—this is a bigger factor with authors who are newer and perhaps not as established sales-wise.
Okay, this was the question from Tumblr:

If you like a MS, but it needs work/revising, how likely are you to offer? Or would it be more likely you'd ask for a R&R?

Here's the problem with this question: "If you like a MS..."

If I like a ms, I’m not going to offer.

Here’s a mythbuster: there are not a lot of TERRIBLE manuscripts that come across my inbox. 95% of what I read is decent. It’s okay. But let’s face it, okay isn’t good enough. It has to be great. I have to LOVE it.

I recently had lunch with Alexis Bass and her editor Rosemary Brosnan and I was telling them that when I read her manuscript (pulled it out of the slush pile!), LOVE AND OTHER THEORIES, I read it in one sitting. I couldn’t stop! Then I emailed her to say how much I liked it and that I wanted to talk to her. And then I was freaking out because she didn’t respond right away. I kept checking my email and refreshing and worrying if my email didn’t sound enthusiastic enough.

That I was that obsessed with the ms told me that I HAD TO WORK ON IT. I loved it that much. And Alexis and I did do some revising before I sent it on submission, as I do with almost all of my clients.

What separates and offer from an R&R is the level of work. I ask for an R&R if I love an idea and see a lot of potential. If I have a really great vision for a book but it’s so much work that I’m not sure if the author can make that happen then I’m not going to offer yet.
Recently I got a question on tumblr about submissions and what the process is like. It's a rather lengthy answer so I figured I'd talk about it here.

Once a writer signs with an agent--and after they go through any revisions, be it a polish or a more lengthy edit--the next step is going on submission.

In short, this means their agent will submit the manuscript (fiction) or proposal (non-fiction) to editors.

What this means...

I can only speak for myself, but the process actually starts when I first sign a new client. During my first read, before I've even decided whether I should represent a project, I'll be thinking about submission. Obviously, if I'm thinking ahead, I'm thinking how much I love the story, but I'm also thinking about which editors will love the manuscript as well.

After I sign an author, I make up a spreadsheet. It looks a little like this:

PublisherEditorDateStatusNotes
RazorbillGillian Levinson
ScholasticMallory Kass
HMHAdah Nuchi

(This sheet is blank because it's fake, and I'm using these editors because I work with them on recently released books--Nightingale's Nest by Nikki Loftin, A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd, and A Death-Struck Year by Makiia Lucier).

I think about what imprints are the right fit for the book and what editors at those imprints would fall in love the manuscript like I have. (One of the things I have to keep in mind is the different rules of submitting to each house--like you can't submit to two editors at the same imprint and some house you can submit to multiple imprints and some you can't.)

Then when the manuscript is all ready and polished, I pitch the manuscript to each of the editors on the list. Pitching could mean calling or talking to them in person if we have drinks or lunch or if I know them really well and we've worked together before, I might send an email.

After I pitch the project, ideally an editor will be as excited as I am and ask to see it. In that case I'd send them the manuscript with a written pitch (sort of like a query). If the editor isn't interested (maybe they just signed something similar), I would call and pitch to someone else instead.

Once the manuscript is with everyone on my list, it's officially on submission.

But that isn't the end of the process.

I'd love to say that I always hear back within a few weeks but that isn't true. Just like writers wait for agents to respond at the querying stage, we agents have to wait for editors to read and respond. Sometimes it happens quickly (there are times when I've gotten responses in a week or less!) but other times it takes weeks even months.

This is where following up comes in.

I follow up with editors (how soon after submission is based on the project or if there's any news and also based on what's happening in life or in publishing). This reminds them how much I love the project and makes sure the ms doesn't slip through the cracks.

When responses come in, I usually ask the author how they want me to handle it. Do they want to see the responses or do they want me to just tell them about it or do they only want to hear from me when I have good news, etc.

Once the book is on submission, there are a variety of different possible outcomes:

An Auction: This is where multiple editors are making offers.

(It's not like an auction at an auction house or anything. It's largely done over email). I'll set a date and a time, and ask every editors to get me their first bid--or offer--by then. Once all the bids are in, I'll go back to all the under bidders and ask for more and that will keep going until we have the best bid from each house. I've had auctions with two houses that last one round and I had an auction once that was seven houses and a different auction that lasted a week long.

Auctions can be stressful for everyone involved, but they also leave room for a lot of choice on the author's part. It's about more than just advance. Royalties, pub schedule, rights granted, the editor's vision for the book, etc--all of these are factors that I'll discuss with an author before the author makes his/her decision about what offer to accept. (I'll give my opinion/advise, but it's always the author's decision).

A Pre-Empt: This is where an editor makes a "offer you can't refuse."

Sometimes the editor might be the only editor to see the project. Other times they're just so excited about it that they come in with an offer before anyone else. Pre-empt offers are often higher or better than a first bid for an auction, but that doesn't mean that all pre-empts are huge. A quiet literary middle grade for instance isn't going to get the same advance as a huge commercial YA novel. But the reasons to accept a pre-empt are usually that it's the best offer including advance and terms and the editor's and publisher's enthusiasm.

An Offer

This is the most common positive outcome--it only takes one!

In all three of these cases, as an agent, I'm doing a lot of negotiation. And again, the advance is one of those negotiating points but royalties, publication schedule, subrights splits, rights granted, etc are things that I'm asking about. Sometimes I'm even asking for specific language to be in the contract a later date.

No Offer

Hopefully this isn't the outcome, but it does happen--more than you'd think. We all announce the manuscripts that do sell, but we don't announce the ones that don't. If there isn't an offer, I usually work with the author to revise and do another round of submission or I work with the author on their next project.