Wednesday, November 30, 2011

oh yes, she did!

today, i give my blog over to my crit partner and friend, Gemma Cooper, for two huge announcements that will knock your socks off! take it away, Gem!

I've announced two big/massive/gigantic bits of news this month.

Gigantic news 1:
I am now a literary agent at The Bright Literary Agency, representing children’s books - picture books, chapter books, MG and YA. Further info here and here.

Gigantic news 2:
I have accepted an offer of representation from the amazing Joanna Volpe of Nancy Coffey Literary for my scary MG book, 'The Sinister Mr. Smythe.'

I did consider making these announcements a few weeks apart or not making one at all about my wonderful agent. I thought it might be better to keep my writing life separate from my work life....but then I realised the two have never been separate.

These strands of my publishing career are intertwined. As I’ve learnt and developed skills in one, I’ve polished and honed skills in the other. So this isn't a typical 'how I got my agent story'. It's a ‘how I got into publishing story’ or more correctly, ‘how I achieved my dreams.’ (Warning, as Erin will tell you, I don’t do short stories, so settle down with a cuppa for this one!)

The story begins in a rather lovely drinking establishment in a magical land far far away (read this as an Irish pub in New York City, my home at the time). I was drinking with my bestest friend and we were having one of those conversations you only have after the second bottle of wine. Those conversations where you share your secret hopes and dreams.

“I've always wanted to write a book,” I said.
“Why don't you?” awesome BFF said.
And in the harsh light of day, after a coffee and my hangover cure of chips and ice cream, I thought, “Why don’t I?”
So I did.

Time passed, as it does. I wrote, researched, critiqued and booked a place at a writer’s conference. The name of one particular agent at the conference stood out, that of Joanna Volpe. This was because I’d followed the exciting, ‘how I got my agent and book deal story’ from her client, the talented Kody Keplinger.
“Brilliant,” I thought. “Kody is the perfect conversation starter.” Talking to Joanna became my main goal of the conference.
So I did.

I told her how excited I was to read THE DUFF (by the aforementioned amazing Kody) and then pitched my first novel - a YA UF. Joanna said, “Sure, send me a query,” and then we said goodbye, and walked away probably both thinking we’d never meet again.

(and this would be a rubbish story if that'd happened!)

I sent Joanna my first ever query letter. She did request a partial, but ultimately passed. But it was okay as that same week, I got a revise and resubmit from a renowned UK agent.

The conference was amazing as I met my first critique partner and now friend for life. And l learnt more about publishing, including more about the role of a literary agent. I'd worked in sales for eight years by this point, and I loved books. So how did I not know that there were people who got to sell books? And why was I not doing this job?!

Cue epiphany.

I had to become an agent! So I researched how I could make that happen. I stalked writers online and offered to beta books to hone my editorial skills - which lead to me finding the incredibly talented Erin (and we would need a blog post double this size for all the gushing I could do about her editing skills and amazing friendship over the years).

My research showed I could get into publishing by doing an internship.

Cue heaps of coincidence with a dash of fate.

The first and only internship I found and applied to was a joint one with FinePrint Literary and Nancy Coffey Literary. The application said to write a cover letter to Joanna Volpe.
So I did.

And after talking Suzie and Joanna's ears off about books during my interview, I got the internship. My first day, I heard back from the UK agent who was considering my R+R.

It was a no.

I threw myself into my work, reading sometimes until the sun came up. If I couldn't be a writer, then damn it, I'd learn to be the best agent there ever was!

The internship was awesome, but eventually I had to move back to the UK. Fortunately, fate played its hand again. I'd happened to mention to the wonderful UK agent who'd rejected my R+R that I was interning, and she suggested I contact her when I moved back.
So I did.

And two weeks later I was back in publishing again, learning from some of the best agents in the country. The long commute to work also gave me time to start writing a new book based on an idea I’d had after finding a black and white photo my dad. The book was very different from anything I'd written before. And it felt like THE book.

Time passed, as it does. I moved again and started doing some freelance editorial work. I finally finished THE book and mentioned it to Joanna. She read it and liked it, and along with Sara (assistant extraordinaire), gave me some amazing editorial notes.

Cue light bulb moment.

It took a while, but I finished the revision and sent it back to Joanna. That week I attended a SCBWI event and ended up catching the train home with the lovely Assistant Regional Co-ordinator. I talked his ear off about books the whole journey and he recommended me for a job at The Bright Literary Agency.

I interviewed at Bright. They offered me the job. My first week, Joanna offered me representation.

So this is me. Literary Agent. Writer. Lover of wine and chocolate.

I’ve lucked out joining the experienced team at Bright and will be working closely with Vicki the MD and the other agents in the office. Our key focus is to develop new talent and as a new agent, I have more time to spend with my clients and can offer my editorial experience to make your manuscript polished and ready for submission.

We are currently renovating the literary website, but please check out the link to Bright Group International. I only accept email submissions, so please send the first 3 chapters plus a synopsis or the full text if your submission is a picture book to

To pre-empt one question, ‘why does an agent need an agent’?
An agent is your advocate. They fight for you. They stay rational when helping you make the tough choices. They give you honest feedback. They empathise, sympathise and encourage. I know I can do this for my authors, but it would be impossible to do for myself. Luckily I've signed with a person who I've seen do all these things.
Yes I did!

I'll answer any and all questions in the comments.

Friday, November 25, 2011

black friday books

hello shoppers!

i hope you have a grand time today working off that turkey dinner with your mall walking. just one thing before you head out. when you are making your list and checking it twice, can you consider adding a few items? i know flat screen TV deals are top priority and that the food processor is more than 50% off (or so my black-friday obsessed BF tells me. hi Bec!) - but there are some always-low-cost, always-available products that are too often left off shopping lists.

i'm talking about books, naturally.
and i want to recommend a few.

For the teenage girl who loved Twilight: Matched, by Ally Condie or Divergent, by Veronica Roth

For teenage boys: The Maze Runner, by James Dashner or Ship Breaker, by Paolo Bacigalupi

For the middle-grader reader, who is reading up for his/her age: When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead

For the reluctant teen reader: The Line, by Teri Hall

For people who "don't have time to read" (fast reads): The Road, by Cormac McCarthy or The Children of Men, by PD James

For fans of Dan Brown: The Rule of Four, by Caldwell & Thomason or The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl

For children of the 1980s: Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline

For women who like historicals: Memoirs of a Geisha, by Arthur Golden

disclaimer: all links are to Am*zon for easy one-clickability. but i highly suggest buying books directly from your local independent bookseller or online from IndieBound.

full disclosure: i have read all of the above books, with the exception of Ready Player One. some are among my favorites, and some were not my cup of tea, but i see how they would appeal to others.

happy shopping!!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

scrivener so far

one of the things that helped derail my NaNo plans this year is the purchase of the writing software Scrivener.
not that Scrivener ate my NaNo project or anything, but it was just so distracting to have a new toy to play with!

i spent 3 days diligently going through the tutorial (which Scrivener claimed would only take an hour. on what planet is that only an hour-long tutorial? ha!), and then i spent another few days plugging in a manuscript to take the software for a real test run.

and i thought i'd share my thoughts on Scrivener so far.

major pros:
- ability to compile everything you need into a single source - outline, actual text, character notes, research (including photos and web links!), etc... all available at the click of a mouse without scrolling or toggling through different Word documents.
- easy export. it takes less than 5 seconds to convert your Scrivener binder and all its contents into a properly-formatted Word or PDF or any other kind of document for easy reading and sharing with others.
- user interface. most of the basic-functions are self-explanatory, and there are at least 2 or 3 ways to do everything you want to do (select from a menu, click an icon, keyboard shortcuts, etc...) so you can make the program work the way YOU like to work.
- easy recovery of deleted material. (you can move an entire scene to a trash bin or take a "snap shot" of it before you start tinkering. both things can be brought back in an instant.)

minor quibbles:
- importing is not as simple as exporting. if you have a partial manuscript in Word or any other format, you can pull it into Scriv easily enough, but then you have to manually break it all up to create your binder. this is a simple but time-consuming process.
- saving is not so simple. the first time i reopened Scriv after a save, all of the work i'd done appeared to be ERASED except for the last chapter i'd been working on. this is because if you simply open the Scrivener program to start working, it will take you to a sub-document which shows only your work since the last save. you have to actually locate the primary program file in your folders in order to open the complete project. (full disclosure: this could absolutely be the fault of my own computer-challenged brain, but i thought it was worth mentioning after i found a few dozen online forum threads with questions from panicked authors about how Scrivener ate their work!)

who would benefit from Scrivener:
i can see how this program would work for both plotters and pantsers, but i'm still figuring out if it's the best software for a plantser like me. (click here for my definition of plantser.)

- the use for plotters is clear. Scrivener can get you organized like nothing i've ever seen. you can divide and subdivide that manuscript into as many pieces as your little plotting heart desires. you can color code your chapters by characters, setting or anything else you can think of.

- it doesn't look like a system for pantsers, but i see potential. people who like to write by the seat of their pants can jump in and start typing away. then, at the end of a scene, they can use Scrivener to attach notes (virtual index cards) to the scene to remind them what's in it. in a way, this is Scrivener outlining and organizing for you as you go along.

- but will Scrivener work for a plantser? hmm. only time will tell.
at first, i relished creating my Scrivener "binder" - a feature that allows you to break your novel down into chapters and scenes much the same way Windows folders work. it's all very tidy and will keep me from scrolling through hundreds of pages to "find that one scene where character X says that one thing" (my current, inefficient method of locating scenes in Word.)
once i started actually writing, i discovered a problem.
after every scene - or sometimes in the middle of a scene - i would stop writing to make notes on my Scrivener index cards.

writingwritingwriting.. oh! character Y is in this scene?!.. stop writing. open index card. make note about character. make sure it's color-coded. study outline to make sure it works with all the other scenes this character is in. spot continuity issue. rework outline to fix.
time spent writing: 10 minutes.
time spent updating Scrivener to make sure the outline stays organized: 25 minutes.

this is not Scrivener's fault but my own. i just need to figure out how to make it work for me so that i don't spend more time plotting/organizing than actually writing!

any Scrivener aficionados out there want to share a few tips with a newbie like me?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

best. lines. ever.

i finished reading A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness (inspired by Siobhan Dowd) on a rare stormy night in Arizona.
it was appropriate timing, as this very special novel itself is stormy.

it's hard to share some of the best lines from AMC without spoiling anything. my very favorite lines make little sense without giving you the full passage for context, which would also give away some of the secrets. so i am sharing only my favorite lines from the first 40 pages, to make sure i don't spoil.

The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do.
You really aren't afraid, are you?
"No," Conor said. "Not of you, anyway."
The monster narrowed its eyes.
You will be, it said. Before the end.
On the first day of the new school year, Harry had tripped Conor coming into the school grounds, sending him tumbling to the pavement.
And so it had begun.
And so it had continued.
I am the snake of the world devouring its tail! I am everything untamed and untameable! It brought Conor up close to its eye. I am this wild earth, come for you, Conor O'Malley.
"You look like a tree," Conor said.
Stories are the wildest things of all, the monster rumbled. Stories chase and bite and hunt.

i highly advise buying this book to read all of the amazing lines that come AFTER page 40 as well. it's killing me not to share some of them with you here.