No, probably not. Maybe.

It's definitely an incredible example of a cover that tells you something. Not that it's YA vs. adult (in my opinion, this could be a cover for either), not the "tone" or the time period, although it does both of those things. I mean it tells us about the crux of the plot. It hints at the major choices the characters will face. The stakes.

This woman is leaving. She's moving towards something else, which is interesting too, but she's looking back, not forward. It could be that she's being forced to leave something she doesn't want to (reading the synopsis, it seems likely). But it could also be that she's escaping, and the glance over her shoulder is to ensure she's not being pursued. There's so much tension!! It's in the way her fist is clenched against the seat, like she's turning frantically before the last glimpse is lost. She's uncoiffed, rushed.

I think it's thrilling. Seen any good ones lately?
I love YA. I love representing YA manuscripts and interacting with the YA writing community online. But more than that, I am representative of a huge portion of the YA reading audience. Because YA book buyers fall (mostly) into two categories: fifteen year old girls and those of us who still feel fifteen at heart.

I love reading YA. Those firsts are moments I love reliving, because I still feel fifteen. (And I’m definitely not). But I taught high school for six years, and it’s hard to grow up when you’re surrounded by those tumultuous emotions, that whirlwind where everything feels like it’s Life or Death, like this might be the Most Important Moment of your life.

But thankfully I’ve gained a few insights since I actually was 15. And I’ve seen going around, first on twitter and now on several blogs, letters or advice to your teenage self.

I have to say I can’t really think anything I’d do differently if I suddenly had the chance to go back. Okay, well maybe a couple things. But through all that drama (and oh, there WAS drama), I don’t have regrets.

And even if my future and older self came to give me advice when I was in high school, I would have scoffed at it. (I was one of those teenagers who Knew Everything, trust me, and I wasn’t going to listen to anyone, let alone myself).

But here’s my top five anyway.

5. It’s the little things that make you feel alive: leave your windows open, walk barefoot, eat dessert first, stay up to see the sunrise, buy yourself flowers, change your hair color often, and laugh as loud as you want.

4. One day that obsessive personality and hardcore perfectionism will serve you well, but focus them. Reading Cry the Beloved Country to the point of memorization is probably not the best use of your time.

3. It doesn’t matter how pretty the guy is - it matters that he’s nice to you.  A swoonworthy smile, a six pack, and chiseled hip lines don't ever make him less of an ass.

2. You'll never have another teacher like Mrs. Hall - she really is that awesome.  But it doesn't matter.  The written word, books, and Lucky by Alice Sebold will save your life.

1. What you think of yourself is the only thing that matters.

**And yes, these are authentic high school photos**
Best Character Names
Mike Koch @ 6:51 pm

Best Love Triangle between the protagonist, Pee Wee, and the Were-Mer-Bear
Yahong Chi @ 9:36 pm

Best Description/Imagery
abrielle1 @ 11:15 pm

Best Soundtrack
taratyler @ 11:47 pm

Best Last Line
Pamela @ 5:02 pm

Best Dialogue
Alex @ 7:42 pm

Best Game Show
brian_ohio @ 9:02 am

Best Use of the "Beware the Were-Mer-Bear"
Heather Rebel @ 1:01 pm

Best Description of the "Were-Mer-Bear"
justwritecat @ 10:22 PM
they leap into the sky and remain airborne for extended periods of time

And the runner up is...

Elizabeth @ 8:51 pm

She shifted from foot to foot, feeling the betrayal: Where was her husband, with their tickets to see Pee-Wee Herman on Broadway? She waited across the street from the theater, underneath the bright lights of a marquee that read “Beware of the Were-Mer-Bear.” The round bulbs spread out above her in a V, like brightly illuminated wings in the night, turning her shadow into something as thin and stretched as she felt. She looked to the sky, but she knew she wouldn’t have the kind of comeback Pee-Wee did. Her husband had already found another playhouse.


Our Winner is 

Alex @ 10:56 pm

It warms the cockles of my heart that the “Beware of the Were-Mer-Bear” sign has the neighborhood Pee Wee’s and Scuge Muffins so terrified. Nothing betrays the mind more than the wings of imagination. The ground based motion sensor spot light blinding their scurrilous little faces helps too. As soon as they set foot on the lawn the sky lights up and I begin roaring “Down Were-Mer-Bear, DOWN!” over the howling zombie recordings I took with me when I retired from the film editing suite. Fact is I’d be bored if it weren’t for the kids.

Congratulations to everyone for fantastic entries.  Sorry it took me so long to get results up (blame it on that nasty flu going around)!  Alex, send me an email with your address and I'll send you a copy of Highborn by Yvonne Navarro.
This is my husband:

This is my husband on Bieber:

Any questions?

It’s Thanksgiving week! I wish you all quick access to that state where you're so full you can feel the food at the top of your throat. Don’t be alarmed by the extreme distress that ensues. It’s normal.

With a looooooong weekend staring you down, you might consider other things you could do besides eat yourself into misery. No? Well, me either. But hypothetically if you were going to do other things, you might devote some time to your query. And I’ve got an idea on where to start.

Start your query where the action starts. Where your character faces their first big choice. Tell us what the choice is, then tell us what will happen if they choose path A vs. path B. The query can’t start with your character’s backstory. How they came to be a lawyer or a detective or a sorceress. Or what the “themes” are or the “universal truths” the book “grapples” with. These may be the heart of your book, and it’s hard to accept that they have absolutely no place in your query. But it’s true.

The query should tell the agent what happens in the book. The plot. The action. The stakes. The themes and universal-truth-grappling, if done right, will just emerge as the agent reads. But she’s only going to read if you tell her what goes on. The plot will tell an agent whether what you’ve written is a good fit for her list and current needs.

My suggestion, if you can wade out of the food coma, is to write down your plot. Make it four sentences or fewer, as bare bones as you can, and focus only on your main character’s trajectory. You’ll need to do some finessing, probably, but this could very well be the first paragraph of your query. Also, read Janet Reid’s blog, Query Shark. Not only will you learn, but you’ll laugh. And I’m told that burns calories.
First I have to be shameless and plug our new Ask PeeWee segment over at Coffey. Tea. And Literary. Have a publishing/writing question? Ask PeeWee.

Now back to our regularly scheduled program....

I just got finished watching 3 Ninjas. That's right. You heard me. This movie from 1992:

I remember seeing it in the theater, too. Multiple times. I. Was. Obsessed. And it helped that my parents ran a movie theater :-)

So what did I do after the movie was over? I proceeded to go around the house, chasing my husband and PeeWee, kicking and punching, screaming AYAH! AYAH! AHhhhh! AYAH! At 11:30 at night. On a weekday.

You see, watching this movie and its Home Alone type hijinks made me giggle, but it also made me remember how BADLY I wanted to be a ninja when I was a kid. Seriously. I begged my parents to take karate for years (Karate Kid is another favorite childhood film). They never caved. I wonder if I'm too old to start now?

Watching this movie tonight reminded me how much I'm still a kid at heart.

Which is probably why middle grade is my favorite category in books. Don't get me wrong, I love YA and adult as well...and a good picture book I can read over and over. But 9-12 years...well, that's me. And you know how I know? Because when the dumb-surfer-kidnapper in the movie goes "If I were a little booger, where would I be?" I laugh hysterically. And when Colt gets angry at his dad for not understanding how much being a ninja warrior means to him--I'm *totally* pissed, too. Parents just don't get it.

So I'm going to leave you with a montage of some of the great 3 Ninja scenes here. Maybe it will remind you of being a kid, too. In fact...what did YOU want to be when you grew up?

Sidenote: Rocky's kip up 2:36 in is awesome! I knocked the wind out of myself trying that move more times than I can count....

I got a text message today that said "Stop whatever you're doing right now and go to the link I just sent you."

Begrudgingly I did so.

It took me here.

Where I immediately called over Mer Bear and Interns Laurel, Rachel, and Brooks.  Because it was definitely Stop Whatever You're Doing worthy.

(from Io9)
Books of course.

But also... when I was surfing through my blog list, I found Arlaina Tibenksky's post about the best t-shirts ever.  And I promptly when over to Out of Print Clothing and bought this:

And this:

And actually several more.  It's almost enough to wish I was teaching again - I could wear each shirt I bought when reading and teaching that book.  I can just picture the eye rolls at my unbelievable nerdiness.  Makes me miss my old high school classroom.  Almost.  

The Mer Bear, Film Intern Greg, and I all recently finished reading Highborn by Yvonne Navarro, a new Urban Fantasy out with Pocket Books.  And I have an extra copy to pass along.

Once an irresistible, soul-destroying seducer of men and women through the ages, Brynna Malak has fled Hell to seek redemption. While dodging the brutal Hunters sent to retrieve her, she must also battle her own kind to save the life of a young teenage girl fathered by an angel—whose destiny is to complete a preordained task. At Brynna’s side is Eran Redmond, a Chicago police officer who is fighting his undeniable attraction to her. Brynna would rather die, for eternity, than return to Hell or give up her quest. Yet to continue, she must begin the long and difficult journey of learning to embrace both the joys and the tragedies of being human.

Here's what you've have to do to get your hands on my copy.

Write a story, one hundred words or fewer, using these words:

Pee Wee

Bonus points if you can include this phrase: "Beware of the Were-Mer-Bear."

Contest opens NOW, and runs through midnight Thursday, November 18th. Post your entry in the comments section.

Enter as many times as you want.

Someone has a treat, all dogs come running....

Attentive pups.

PeeWee is so small! Slevin is so big!
It's happened.  I've managed to bury myself under a pile of requested material and client manuscripts and of course those TBR books, and I'm pretty sure I might not be able to move around until I read my way out.

There are also those things called holidays coming up and I'm moving apartments so after torturous amounts of deliberation, I'm going to take a brief query hiatus from November 15th to January 5th.

This means any query that comes in between those dates (11/15 to 1/5) will get response saying something along the lines of "Hey I'm on hiatus, re-query on 1/6" and will then be deleted from my inbox.
We come across some pretty creative genre/category match-ups in queries. Chick lit with a gruesome murder in it. A middle grade about patent law (I am not making that up). These are extreme examples, but their ilk is not entirely uncommon. Queries like these demonstrate a complete lack of knowledge about categories and genres. It means the author has no idea about what defines certain genres and what’s appropriate for different categories.

In order not to get ahead of ourselves, my definitions are as follows*:
“Category” references the audience of the book: is it a middle grade (10-14-year-olds), a young adult (15-19), an adult book? “Genre” is a description of content. So you can have a book where the category is middle grade and the genre is fantasy. A MG Fantasy. The combination of category and genre tells booksellers where to shelve your bastion of literary greatness.

You should know where your project fits in the category/genre morass even before you’re finished with the book, and certainly long before you start querying. Obviously, don’t obsess. Good writing trumps all. But if you don’t know where your books fits on the shelves, it will be hard for you to know a lot of other things. Like to whom to pitch and what to say when pitching.

Know what’s out there, and know what’s similar to your book. If there’s something out there like your project, don’t panic. You're still way out on the publication timeline, and an agent will know how to position you. Embrace the similarities between you and the published work. It won’t be identical, so mention (briefly--remember that a query must say what your book, not another one, is about) what makes yours different. You can mention these comparable titles in your query.

Note: You should not, when discussing other works, say anything remotely like “There’s this other, totally crappy book out there soiling bookshelves, readers’ minds, and, unbelievably, the Times list. Mine is vastly superior.” Statements like this are among the most maddening things you can do in a query. Comparisons are only useful when 1. not hostile 2. the referenced work(s) is(are) compatible with your project and 3. they've done well. But that’s a whole other blog post. Seriously. Comparisons are not easy. Beware. Pitfalls lurk everywhere.

BUT! Help lurks everywhere too. There are resources out there that will help you with queries and with defining genre. Once you’ve figured out where your project fits, you’ll be in an infinitely better place as far as knowing who to query and how.

Once you’ve decided where your book fits, put that info in your query. I think queries should start right in on telling me what’s going on in your kickass book, so I think that The Facts (word count, genre, category, title) should go at the end, before any bio paragraph you might choose to include:

Dear ______,


My (number) word (category/genre—e.g. YA Fantasy), (title—in all caps) is complete and ready to send.


…Or something like that.

Check back here in the next few days for some more talk on comparisons. Because I think that's a pretty opaque topic for a lot of people. And we can talk about any questions you pose in the comments.

*These, like the query format, are my opinions and are not considered law, no matter how many tantrums I throw.

**Don't be crazy and really say this.
So you can head on over to Coffey. Tea. And Literary. if you want to hear my excuses for being MIA lately. Suzie and Meredith were nice enough to pick up the slack! But no more. This agent is back and ready to blog.

And the first thing I want to tell you guys about is a book store chain I recently discovered in British Columbia while attending Surrey International Writer's Conference (SIWC). It was quite a journey....

I arrived in Vancouver in the middle of the night (Cathay Pacific--best airline ever!) and was ushered straight to my hotel. Because it was so late and I had worked earlier that day, I was more than a little bleary-eyed. Basically, I didn't pay attention to my surroundings. As soon as I got to my room, I crashed.

The next morning, I woke up with a rumbly in my tumbly. So I pulled back my curtains (I was on the 12th floor) to see if food was near by. This is what I saw:

I spy something edible....

I threw on a sweatshirt and headed over. Only to discover that EVERYTHING in the store was in another language that I couldn't read. So I picked the first thing that looked recognizable and brought it to the register. Where the cashier somehow swindled me into buying TWO boxes (she'd be some terrifying competition if she were a literary agent...).

Each box had 18 Choco Pies. Dude.

But the conference didn't really start up that day for me (I arrived a day early because of the red eye flight I took) and I wasn't sure if food was available, and I looked both ways outsides of my hotel and nothing. See:

To the left.

To the right-->

The Choco Pies held me over until the afternoon (although, after 3 I thought I might puke), but by that time I decided, if I didn't eat real food soon, I would wither away into my bed sheets, unable to take a single pitch or teach a single workshop. Now, any who knows me, knows I'm not one to shirk on my duties. So I threw my sweatshirt back on and took the stairs down 12 flights (I was trying to pump myself up for a long journey), and walked outside. And this time, I took a right and kept walking.

Well, I didn't need to go far before I ran into a HUGE shopping mall (that wasn't there before, was it?).

This shopping mall had a food market in it (something I now adore Canada for).

And you didn't have to lift a leg on the escalator (seriously...freaked me out at first, but then I used it 6 or 7 times for fun).

AND...look what I found right across from the book store (this is clear proof that the Literary Gods had a hand in designing this mall):

I grabbed the coffee first. Then I went shopping at Black Bond Books.

Yay! Canada loves THE DUFF! Look at it snuggled right between The Hunger Games and Thirteen Reasons Why...brought a tear to my eye. (This selection was made by Christina, a Black Bond employee--thanks, Christina!!)

Of course I had to buy a book (I don't think I've ever walked out of a bookstore without buying something). This time it was Stephen Hunt's THE KINGDOM BEYOND THE WAVES.

And I met the manager, Trish Petrie, who put up with my yakking all afternoon (I can't hold back when it comes to talking books!).

I also discovered some hidden talent in the book store. Check out these pictures done by Black Bond bookseller April Pierce:

When I left, new book in hand, I thought "It can't possibly get better than this."

Well...I was wrong. Because I turned the corner and lo and behold, one of my FAVORITE treats of ALL. TIME.

I had three that weekend (hey, I needed to stock up--they're not in NY anymore!).

**In case anyone is wondering, yes, the hotel had a restaurant and room service. I finally came to my senses and ordered a grilled chicken sandwich that night. :-\**
In the last week or so or…something, there have been some very nice posts by Molly O’Neill, to whom I owe a rock opera, and Veronica Roth, badass author of Divergent, on how important it is to engage with the world around you. For Veronica, that means the world she’s writing about. For Molly, it’s a world she’s got to be alert to for other reasons. As an editor (of some of mah faves, including Divergent), she’s got to engage to spot writing that displays our world in a singularly true way. Or imagines a new world so fully that it feels as real as ours. Clearly, they’re both doing a great job.

This, of course, isn’t just advice for publishing pros. Not only is it just enjoyable to get out and do new things, being in the world around us is a life skill, like the ability to make painful small talk, that transcends job titles. No matter where you work, it’s important that you can talk about things you find completely uninteresting. Interminably. In fact, these life skills are related. The more you know about the world, the more easily small talk will flow from your lips, like completely hygienic word vomit. Speaking of…

I’m going to get back on topic. I didn’t always have Molly and Veronica’s eloquent exhortation, and I’ve been working on this world-engagement thing and sort of failing. Moving to New York has been, to date, the most mind boggling thing I’ve ever done. Because here, everyone is interesting. And there is so much to do! Yes! But…there’s so much to do. And that’s overwhelming. Everyone is very intimidating and “cultured,” whatever that is. And also everyone works a lot, and I already worked a lot but when surrounded by everyone working a lot one feels like one is in Rome and you know what they say about being in Rome…

Because new people are intimidating and all the stuff is so…so much…and there’s work to do, you end up in a pattern. Patterns are good, but they don’t do much for eye opening and world-loving. I know how it feels, man. But let’s work on balancing. Work is awesome, not to mention you have to do it. Not doing work is frowned upon. Not doing random stuff, not so frowned upon. But it should be. My efforts at balance:

  • I rode the Governor’s Island ferry back and forth (it’s free for godssake), even though time didn’t permit me to actually do a whole lot on the island itself.
  • I went to the Brooklyn Flea Market on Saturday and (nearly) bought a giraffe sweater.*
  • I read an article in the New Yorker about British politics (they’re completely re-envisioning division of responsibility over there…it’s interesting).
  • I dressed up and went to the Halloween Parade in the West Village with Triumvirant Suzie.

Alarmingly, these are not things you can do while reading. You can’t take work along to the flea market or to the parade. That’s so scary. For us in an agency, it means that someone else might be reading and requesting that perfect query that’s going to revolutionize your list and allow you to finally TAKE OVER THE WORLDAHHHAHAHA. But that’s OK. Because like pruning your crepe myrtles means you’re going to get even MORE of those little blossoms in your hair when the tree grows back even more robustly, taking time away from the job—whether it’s publishing or not—is going to make you better and sharper when you return to the shackles at your desk.

So, what’re you doing this weekend? *smacks fist into hand. Again. And Again.* Working?

*I’m going back this weekend. If that sweater is still there, it’s fate. And it’s mine.
I recently got back from Myrtle Beach where I had the privilege of hanging out at the South Carolina Writers Workshop.  While I was there, I had a lot of questions about synopses.

I know they're evil, but they're a conquerable evil.

The Basics

  • Keep your synopses down to two pages (unless the agent or editor you're sending it to specifies otherwise)
  • Your synopsis should be single-spaced, with a double space between paragraphs
  • Have your title, author name, and word count on top as a header
  • And don't forget, in a synopsis you're clear to give away the ending, in fact, you need to.
And writers are not alone in their hatred of synopsis - most agents don't enjoy reading them either.  Just in case you think we're trying to torture you, that's not actually the case.  Even the sweet and benevolent bunny mean and sharkly Janet Reid doesn't torture for the sake of torture.  There's always a reason.

The Purpose
  • Here it is: Synopses save time.  
    • When agents or editors have to share your manuscript with colleagues, they're talking it up with professionals who don't have a lot of time outside their own clients, so when we're trying to get some attention and in house excitement, we can give colleagues the manuscript and a synopsis.  That way, they can read the beginning and then see what happens to get a feel for both the writing and the story.
  • Synopses are also useful for subrights.  Film agents and producers often ask for "coverage" which is their version of a synopsis.  
The most important thing you need to know about a synopsis: It's ALLOWED to be boring.  It's actually supposed to be boring.

How to Attack Your Synopsis
  • Think of it like a book report (you can even practice by doing a synopsis for one of your favorite books)
  • Tell the facts that your readers need to know about your manuscript
    • Remember your actual writing in the manuscript will determine whether or not an agent is going to sign you - not the synopsis
  • List all of the major characters that are essential to the manuscript
    • Avoid Character Soup - we don't need to know every minor character who's part of the story, just the characters who are essential to the protagonist's journey
  • List all of the major plot points that are essential to the main plot line and thus the manuscript
    • Avoid talking about the Theme or the moral of your story.  Just stick to the plot.
  • Looking at both of your lists, reexamine and cross off anything that isn't essential.  Then put it together in narrative form and you should have a synopsis.