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I’ve got a very ambitious client who has volunteered the little extra hours in her very busy days (hey, she’s a mom! An Alaskan mom!) to run a contest on her blog for folks to submit a query and first 250 words of their middle grade and young adult manuscripts for ME to take a look at (check this post here).

I let Melodie talk me into this, because #1, she is awesome! And #2, I just know that there are some manuscripts out there that I wouldn’t see otherwise (seeing as EMLA is closed to queries and submission unless by referral or you meet me at a conference; check this page for my upcoming 2012 conference schedule).

Good luck! See you on Melodie’s blog!

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Just back from ALA Midwinter in Dallas, Texas. Wow, what an experience. My first time at ALA ever and my first time as an agent.

There are a few things that must be reported (just in case you didn’t know).

1. Teen readers have strong opinions about the books we hand them to read. Either they like the character or they don’t OR they doubt that the character would do that or that the event would actually happen to the character. What does this tell me as an agent? It’s all about character. A character’s emotional development arc is how they respond to the plot. I came away with a greater respect for character and renewed inspiration to making characters that jump off the page (for books I agent and edit and also write).

2. There are tons of options out there. Books, books, books. As far as the eye could see. So many options, so little time. The book you are writing had better stand out (see #1 for how to do that) and I don’t mean it can’t be a similar premise to something that has already been done, I’m saying that your character should react to those events differently and so differently that I (and editors and readers) won’t immediately put it back down and say “I’ve already seen this before.” (I am guilty of this myself, so it’s easy to do, but there is hope for all of us. If we have a book that seems too familiar, the challenge is “how do I make this seem brand new?”)

3. Editors are hungry for good stories. Often the sentiment expressed by all of us in the industry is that we are buried in manuscripts and we are. WE ARE. But we are willing to be buried because we want to find that story that stops time, that moves us, that speaks to us, that makes us feel something we’ve never felt before (see #1 and #2). So, go write! Don’t be discouraged if the story you wrote was rejected, don’t walk away if an editor says no or an agent turns you down. Try again. Go again. If you are meant to write, please write.

That’s how you get to ALA as an author, I think. Work hard. Have fun. No drama. (But lotsa drama on the page, please!)

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A great article on Mediabistro by YA novelist Marie Lu last week caught my eye. In it was one reply by Lu about how to use social media as a working author:

Q: Do you have any tips for authors looking to connect with their readers via social networking sites?

A: I think something readers really love to see is an insider’s view–it’s always nice to use social networking to keep readers updated on the latest reviews or signings, etc, but it’s also good to sprinkle in casual social updates about your writing life. Tweeting something like “I think one of my characters just rebelled against my perfectly planned outline!” always gets fun reactions. I think readers really enjoy peeking in on the process. You can’t be too serious when connecting with readers via social networks….have fun with it.

I love this advice. Anyone tried a similar approach with good results?

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I’m talking constraints.

There are off-limit subjects IF your social media presence is supposed to be about something else.

If you talk one thing, you should probably not talk about other things. I’m not going to outline what you should or should not talk about, I’m just saying there is a point to your social media presence, right?

Then be consistent with what you post and how you update your status and what you Tweet out to your community.

Love this by Danielle LaPorte from her new book YOUR BIG, BEAUTIFUL BOOK PLAN:

You have to be clear on your theme—what most people will call your brand—what your service is, what you’re an expert at, the tribe you’re leading, and only talk about that stuff. If it’s not relevant to your brand and your message, you don’t talk about it.

I absolutely agree.

How will you apply this today? Comment here or go out and start talking about your brand!

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What do I really want for my list?

Something that stands out in relief, truthfully. What exactly do I mean? I’ve grabbed titles from my shelves to show you what has stood out in relief for me.

  • MG and YA mysteries. Any kind of mystery, but I’m reading a lot of those and I’m kind of addicted.

CHASING VERMEER by Blue Balliett
Rick’s Riordan’s MAZE OF BONES (first of the 39 CLUES)
Hardy Boys UNDERCOVER BROTHERS series by Franklin W. Dixon
NATHANIEL FLUDD (younger chapter book, but still good!) and THEODOSIA series by R.L. LaFevers
THE THIEF series, Megan Whalen Turner
THE WITCH OF BLACKBIRD POND, Elizabeth George Speare
WHEN YOU REACH ME, Rebecca Stead

  • MG and YA fantasy and this runs the gamut.

A WRINKLE IN TIME, Madeleine L’Engle
HUNGER GAMES, Suzanne Collins
SHADOW, Jenny Moss
THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES, Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi

  • MG and YA historical and contemporary and again, anything and everything

SPARROW ROAD, Sheila O’Connor
PENDERWICKS, Jeanne Birdsall
NOWHERE GIRL, Ammi-Joan Paquette
TAKING OFF, Jenny Moss
SASS & SERENDIPITY, Jennifer Ziegler

Does this give you a good start? Happy reading!

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No, not like vampires.

But, yes, as in “I cannot put this down!” I am looking for books that sparkle.

Let me explain what that means to me.

Writing that is not pretentious (ie, the writer is not helping me to understand, but trusting me to figure things out or to imagine it myself) and that gives me delicious clues about character and plot without burying me in too much information.

A book with a wounded narrator especially sparkles for me. If a character has been hurt, but I don’t know exactly how it all came down, but I know that sooner or later, I’ll get more information about how that hurt happened if I keep reading, yes, yes, yes.

I really love atmosphere. Okay, so I’m addicted to the Brontes, du Maurier, Dickens, Tolstoy, Hugo. Who cannot resist Jean Valjean on the run from his past wounds? Who can resist finding out just who the new tenant of Wildfell Hall really is and why she is so reclusive?

I really love dysfunctional families that make it work. I’ve learned much from Jane Austen, but one thing I have learned the most was that crazy families made for some incredible plot twists. I love those small turns in a story.

And then there are the books that were written in this century: (YA specifically) HUNGER GAMES series by Suzanne Collins, the GEMMA DOYLE trilogy by Libba Bray, everything by Sarah Dessen, Ally Carter, and Lisa McMann.

Not that I’m against books written by guys: (MG and YA) ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN by Sherman Alexie, LOOKING FOR ALASKA by John Green, BARTIMAEUS series by Nathan Stroud, SHIPBREAKER by Paolo Bacigalupi, and THE EMERALD ATLAS by John Stephens.

And this is just off the top of my head or from my book piles within view in one room of my house.

But I think you are getting a better idea of what I consider to be important and what makes a book sparkle.

More to come!

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I appreciate these words from Steve Jobs. But this post isn’t about him. True, he changed my life, made my home office work better than I ever thought it could, and I can’t go anywhere anymore without hauling something he designed in my purse—iPhone, iPad, or Macbook Pro. He will be so missed.

But I read this article today. And saw this:

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And this one:

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I have butterflies, yes indeed. And I can’t see what next week will bring. It is a scary prospect. I can sit and be scared—or I can move, take action, refuse to be handicapped by other people’s expectations, my own fears, and the things in my life I can’t control. There is a lot still to be learned. I’m only an agent-in-training you see. But I’m farther than I was before. I know what October 2011 looks like. That’s progress.

Sometimes, it’s the truest *me* that is the hard part. It feels so natural when it finally gets to you, but there’s nothing to count on after the present tense passes. I’m as unsure about January 2012 as I was in July about October 2011. But we did it! I did it. And I’m now on a journey and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

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I am not who you think I am.

In reality, I am a kid that never grew up.

How do I know?

1. When an editorial committee at Little Brown BFYR starts pulling out their favorite books for Fall 2011, I realize that several of them are on my hold list at my library already.

2. An editor and I at S&S both share our obsessions with Sweet Valley High novels when we were 12. An editor at Scholastic shares how she rereads Anne of Green Gables every May without fail and I reread Little House on the Prairie every year with the same resolve.

3. I die over picture books, early chapter books, middle grade, graphic novels, teen novels. I can’t stop reading them all.

I am an adult in the real world. But in reality, I’m using my adult persona to disguise the real me: a kid still discovering the awesome world of books and reading.

And that’s my job. I think I’m the luckiest person in the world . . . in disguise.

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I’m back from a lovely fall trip to New York City. What is the one thing about marketing and blogging that I heard over and over?

I heard that folks are looking for writers who are promotable (not that the publisher will do all the work, but that the writer already has a presence on the web)—blogging, Twitter, Facebook, etc.

So, if you are worrying that you may not be promotable enough, here’s a quick guide to help:

1. What’s your visibility on the web?

When people type you into a search engine, what comes up? Do you have a blog that lifts your results to one of the first pages in a search engine? If you Twitter, will people get a sense of your personality and what you are about (not by promoting yourself, but by viewing what you link to and tweet about: the ratio of your own stuff to other people’s stuff should be a 20/80 ratio, if you’re wondering).

2. What comes up most often (ie, what’s your story?)?

If you’re trying to write books for kids, do your journalism articles come up first? If you are seeking to publish a DIY book, do you have a blog that shows off your DIY prowess? Your presence on the web should showcase the background you’re hoping to sell. Wondering how to do that?

3. What’s your engagement?

The types of social media that you use must match the audience you are trying to reach. Does your audience prefer Facebook or Twitter? A blog or a vlog? Editors will be looking to see how well you interact with your audience and this is the first test. So, give it some time and think about it.

Up next week, more about using new media to promote books.

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Busy summer. I’ve been reading. A LOT.

In times of transition, I tend to retreat into reading. It’s my escapism. But this year, it especially paid off for me. Because I’ve had to learn to read as an agent rather than read as a reader, a critique partner, or as I’ve been doing for the past 16 years, as an editor.

It’s a little bit different than I expected. But I’ve definitely used it to my advantage. I have learned to let myself sink into a book that I truly love and I’ve learned to know very quickly when I’m not reading a book I love. It’s a different sort of reader, editor, crit sensibility. It’s only reaching out when I really want to. There’s no ownership otherwise. Who has time to own every single manuscript, especially when there are simply piles of them waiting to be read? (Thank goodness, I can read on my Kindle and save trees!)

But this new form of reading has made me read more. I still read piles of published books and frequently lose myself in one or two that I simply can’t put down. Learning to read as an agent has fueled my fire to read more, not less.

That I was not expecting.

It has been an incredible seven months. I have gone from being wholeheartedly social media strategist to partial social media strategist and now strident READER. I have sunk into this new role much like a wonderful book, owning it, relishing it, letting it take over parts of my life completely.

Now that’s the way to let your life change dramatically, right? Keep calm and go read a book!

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