Laura Biagi – Agent Interview

our_team_biagiI’m so excited that Laura Biagi, literary agent with the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency, will be speaking this weekend at our 2015 SCBWI OK Spring Conference. This year’s them is “Ignite the Spark”. In Laura’s talk, entitled “The Spark an Agent Brings to the Table”, she will be discussing “insights from the front line about what literary agents do and what they offer clients”. She’ll also discuss what red flags may make an agent pass on a manuscript, among other issues.

Laura graciously consented to giving an interview here on the blog to entice us with a little preview.

The Interview

Valerie Lawson: What advice would you give to querying writers?

Laura Biagi: One of the more obvious pieces of advice is to do your research on agents so you’re not querying agents who wouldn’t be likely to represent the type of book you’ve written.  But there are many other pieces of advice that writers too often take for granted: Be persistent–not only in submitting to many agents or reworking your query letter to make it the strongest possible, but also in writing new material.

Your writing will keep growing and become stronger the more you write, and sometimes it’s the next book right around the corner that will be your breakthrough.  Prior to querying, make sure your manuscript is as polished as you can possibly make it.  Show your work to your writer friends or anyone else you trust and get their feedback, then incorporate it organically.  Don’t skimp on the time you devote to revisions.  Revisions are usually THE most important part of a successful writer’s process!  Be sure to read very widely in your genre, not only so you know whether your book is unique enough to stand out in the crowded marketplace, but also–and more importantly–so you can learn better how to write with authority and grace and build tension.

VL: Do your research, don’t skimp on revising, and read a wide variety of books. Great advice!

What makes you stop reading a query?

LB: This varies widely depending on the book.  I make sure to consider each query on its own terms.  However, some examples of things that might convince me to pass include stereotypical characters or plots, too many adjectives and adverbs that get in the way of conveying a clear image, too few details about the characters and their relationships with one another (this makes me worry the characters aren’t developed enough in the manuscript), too few details about the plot (this makes me worry the pacing isn’t strong enough and the stakes and conflict aren’t developed enough).

I’ll be discussing more red flags in my talk at the conference–so for more info, please come!

VL: Yes! You definitely don’t want to miss out on this conference!

What’s one major aspect of a manuscript that hooks you? What doesn’t?

LB: What hooks me right away is an immediate voice that cleverly and organically reveals details (even better if they’re unexpected details!) about the characters, setting, situation, etc.

What doesn’t hook me is a tepid opening that feels too familiar or unintriguing or takes too long to reveal its purpose.

VL: What type of manuscript would you love to find in your inbox?

LB: I’d love to find more magical realism YA novels with literary bents.  I’m very interested in books set in the South or Kentucky, as that’s where I’m originally from.  I’d also love to find a literary YA with Romani characters.  I’m searching for more middle grade, too, but the voice, characters, and plot must be stand out; quiet middle grade novels can be very challenging.  I’m also always glad to find more humorous picture books in the vein of Jon Klassen or with heartwarming, big-voiced characters, and early chapter books.

VL: Oh, those are are intriguing ideas – a Romani character in Kentucky. Hmm. Thoughts are churning here…

Tell us what happens after an author signs with you; what’s the next step?

LB: It’s always so exciting after an author signs with me!

If I think the manuscript needs some revision before I submit it out to editors, I’ll send detailed feedback and discuss it all with the author and we’ll work on revising the manuscript until it’s ready.   Then I’ll create a list of the best editors to go to for submissions and get them excited about the book.  There are many more steps afterwards, including negotiating the deal and contract, selling subrights, working with editors on getting my authors the best publicity and marketing possible for their books, and more.

To learn more behind-the-scenes details about what an agent does for her clients, please come to my talk at the conference!

VL: I for one, cannot wait to learn more.

Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us, Laura.

Learn more about Laura from her agency bio here.

Follow Laura on Twitter here.

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ONLY A FEW SPOTS LEFT BEFORE CONFERENCE IS SOLD OUT!

For more details on the conference or to register online, click here. I hope to see you there!

TweetAnd for those who’d like more enticements, another one of our speakers for the conference this up-coming weekend, Editor Erica Finkel of Abrams Books for Young Readers will be our special guest this evening on our 2nd official OK SCBWI Twitter chat! Join us from 7-8pm CST and use the hashtag #okscbwichat. Follow Erica on Twitter here.

***If you missed the chat, CLICK HERE to view the recap on Storify. Enjoy!

Book Review – SOLD by Patricia McCormick – a TGNA Post

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It’s Things I’ve Read Thursday over at The Great Noveling Adventure and I’m discussing SOLD by Patricia McCormick.

Here’s a preview:

SoldMy daughter started reading this to me on a road trip. She was so excited about this book that she had to share many of the passages. That kind of enthusiasm for a story is contagious. When I got around to reading it from start to finish myself, I felt the same way. The layout of the book and the style of writing read more like free verse poetry to me – put me in the mind of an Ellen Hopkins novel set in Nepal. The short chapters paint such vivid imagery of the day-to-day life of the young girls, both the innocent and horrifying, that you felt you were living in the story. I felt for these girls, for the main character Lakshmi, especially. I wanted to her escape and feared that she never would.

To read the full post, click here.

TweetI’ve taken a brief hiatus from AM #wordsprints this week for spring break. I’ll return bright and early next week, if you care to get your early writing work out started with some company. I host AM #wordsprints on Twitter @Novel_Adventure from 6-8am CST.

How to Make Your Words Count – a TGNA Post

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It’s Writing Wednesday over at The Great Noveling Adventure and I’m discussing ideas to help you make every word count.

Here’s a preview:

There comes a point in the revision process where you can no longer see the verbs for the the clauses. You lose your perspective, along with the will to slash and burn unnecessary words. You may even go slightly mad.

Have no fear!

Newberry award winning author Linda Sue Park has some fantastic ideas to help you change the way you see your story and how to make every word count. I was lucky enough to hear this first-hand at the SCBWI LA summer conference during her keynote speech entitled “The How of It: Making Every Word Count”.

Here are a few of those great ideas that might just save you from setting fire to that beloved manuscript:

To read the full post click here.

TweetRemember to join me every week day morning if you’re an early morning writer and you’d like some motivation to get your writing day started or if you just want some company. I host AM #wordsprints on Twitter @Novel_Adventure.

And you can always  browse through our new forum section to find a critique partner, get your first five pages workshopped, or have your query critiqued.

2015 TBR Challenge – THE FUTURE OF US Review

The Future of Us

2015tbrbuttonMy second review for the Official 2015 TBR Pile Challenge is THE FUTURE OF US by Jay Asher & Carolyn Mackler.

The goal of this challenge is “to finally read 12 books from your ‘to be read’ pile within twelve months”. To qualify for the challenge, books must be read and reviewed before the year is over, and all selections must have publishing dates from the year 2013 or older. (Here are the books I’ll be reading this year.)

I picked this book up at an SCBWI LA conference a few years ago after I sat in on a breakout session with both authors. They spoke about the process of writing with a co-author and it was really great. I later got this book signed by both of them – they were so nice.

On with the review!

The Future of UsTHE FUTURE OF US written by Jay Asher & Carolyn Mackler

Published by: Razorbill -An imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

Release Date: November 21, 2011

Genres: Young Adult Contemporary, Romance, Science Fiction

Plot Summary:

It’s 1996, and Josh and Emma have been neighbors their whole lives. They’ve been best friends almost as long—up until last November when everything changed. Things have been awkward ever since, but when Josh’s family gets an America Online CD-ROM in the mail, his mom makes him bring it over so Emma can install it on her new computer. When they sign on, they’re automatically logged onto Facebook…

But Facebook hasn’t been invented yet.

Josh and Emma are looking at their profiles fifteen years in the future. Their spouses, careers, homes, and status updates—it’s all there. But it’s not what they expected. And every time they refresh their pages, their futures change. As they grapple with the ups and downs of what their lives hold, they’re forced to confront what they’re doing right—and wrong—in the present. (Plot summary from author website.)

The voice was seamless. I couldn’t tell where one author began and another one ended. The authors talked about how they made that one of their goals when working together – they both wanted to be able to write from each character’s voice, even though Jay mostly wrote the male character chapters and Carolyn wrote most of the female character chapters. Sometimes they would switch when a scene fell into the strength area of the other writer. Such a fantastic idea and a wonderful way to collaborate.

The pacing and tension were great – I couldn’t stop reading it. I actually finished this book in just over a day. I will say the futuristic concept fell a little flat near the end as the authors seemed to just abandon it, which left me feeling somewhat disappointed. Overall, the emotional part of the story was very interesting and kept me reading. I’d love to read another collaboration between these two that dealt with a straight-forward story – no gimmicks, please. I must admit, it was fun to read about that era not-so-long ago when the internet was brand new and didn’t consume our lives. And dial up modems? Ugh! Weren’t those awful? Just thinking about that sound makes me cringe. How fast things have changed!

 

Learn more about Jay Asher here.

Learn more about Carolyn Mackler here.

Follow Jay on Twitter here.

Follow Carolyn on Twitter here.

 

I’ve already completed my TBR Challenge book for March, so stayed tuned to read all about it!

How are you doing with your reading challenges this year?

Tips for Attending a Writing Conference

 

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Our SCBWI OK Spring Conference is a little over a month away, and it will be here before you know it. I look forward to this fun-filled weekend every year.

Are you attending a conference this spring? If so, are you ready?

Do you know what to expect?

Whether this is your first conference or your 30th (give or take a few) you can always use some good ideas to make the most out of your jam-packed day.

Here are some tips I’ve scrounged around among my dozens of conference folders, notebooks filled with years of furious scribbles of knowledge, and just words of advice passed along from my elders. I hope you find them helpful as you prepare for this spring’s conference season.

  • Do your research – You’ll get more out of the conference if you’ve read up on the speakers and know something about their work beforehand. If they are on social media, follow them. (You can see a list of all of our speakers and where to follow them in my previous post here.)
  • Know how to talk about your own writing – Practice your elevator pitch until you know it well enough to ad-lib. Be able to talk about it conversationally. DO NOT try to memorize it. One false stumble can lead to panic. I’ve seen perfectly composed writers turn into blubbering messes because they lost their exact wording. DO NOT LET THIS BE YOU!
  • Say hello to a stranger and start a conversation - Here’s a great opener that’s sure to work in a room full of authors: “What do you write?” or “Tell me about the project you’re working on.” Because that’s what writers do when they get together, they talk about their writing.(Another good reason to know your pitch.)
  • Take business cards if you have them – Networking is an important part of conferences. After you receive a card yourself – during a free moment later – jot down something about that person on the back to help you remember them better. It could be something about their manuscript, what they look like, or anything memorable you discussed. (Here are a couple of sites where you can design your own cards: Moo.com charges a small fee and Canva.com has many designs at no cost.)
  • Dress in layers – Cardigans, jackets, and scarves can be your best friends at conferences. In the morning, the room may start out freezing cold, but as the day goes on and all of those bodies heat up the conference space, you may find that you start getting a little too warm. Layers, my friend. Trust me.
  • Bring some spending money – Of course you’ll need money for food and possibly lodging. But more importantly, there are almost always fantastic books available for purchase and the authors who wrote them are usually available to sign them for you! (I don’t need to tell you what fantastic gifts personalized books make, either. Right?)
  • Be courteous and professional – Everyone wants a chance to interact with the speakers. Believe it or not, the speakers also want to talk with you. They just don’t want to receive an unsolicited copy of your manuscript from underneath the bathroom stall. At our conference, everyone has lunch at a table with either a speaker or a published author. It’s a fantastic opportunity to ask industry questions in a smaller group setting. Make sure you keep your conversation appropriate and allow others at the table to have a turn asking questions. That’s right, share the speakers. They are there for everyone.
  • Participate! Ask questions during Q&A sessions, attend pre- and post- conference events, make a writing date for after the conference with a new friend. Get to know your local tribe of writers and the speakers. Our writing community is smaller than you think and you never know what connection will lead to something amazing. Also, writing can be a lonely endeavor; we can all use every bit of support we can get.
  • Recognize your opportunities - If you get a critique or opportunity to pitch, take some time (I mean several days at least) to let the comments sit with you before deciding your life is over and you’ll never write again. Ever. Many of us have this dream that we will be that rarest of rare finds and be offered representation or a book deal right out of the gate. Most of the time, what agents and editors offer when they critique our work is an opportunity to improve our work. This is no small thing. You never know when these insightful suggestions can turn a not-so-fantastic manuscript into a dazzling one. One that can lead to a big fat ‘yes’ a little farther down the road.

Have you any tips you’ve acquired that work for you? What’s your favorite part of going to a conference?

 

 

Writing Getaways – a TGNA Post

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It’s Travel Tuesday over at The Great Noveling Adventure and I’m discussing the ultimate getaway for a writer – a writing residency. Don’t know what that is? Want to find out more about it?

Here’s a preview:

Last week I made to mistake of taunting all of my northern friends on social media with pics of me in flip flops, basking in the sunny spring-like weather we were having, while they were shivering in their tea cups.

This week, a winter storm finally hit my little corner of the world with a nice little layer of ice on top to add to the misery.

Touché, weather gods.

Now, I pile on the layers trying to stay warm and long for those rays of sunshine.

And some time away. Far away.

A friend of mine just returned from a two-week writing retreat and that got me thinking about doing something similar. I searched online and then I found this wonderful site about writing residences. Places where you can go and write undisturbed for a big chunk of time in beautiful places all around the world – sometimes at no charge or for a very small cost. What kind of heaven was this? There is some paperwork involved – applications to fill out – but why not take the chance? There are many to choose from and it sounds like a delightful way to spend some focused alone time. Think of it as summer camp for writers.

To read the full post, click here.

TweetIf you’re an early morning writer and you’d like a little company, I host AM #wordsprints every weekday morning on Twitter @Novel_Adventure. Join me if you need some motivation to get your writing day started.

And don’t forget to check out our new forum section. You can look for a critique partner, get your first five pages workshopped, or have your query critiqued.

 

Book Review – THE JUMBIES by Tracey Baptiste

The Jumbies

A dear writer friend of mine, Gwendolyn Hooks, asked if I would like to read this ARC as her own work load had recently increased dramatically. I would do just about anything for Gwen, so I didn’t even hesitate to say ‘yes’. Gwen’s a well published children’s author in her own right with over 20 children’s books under her belt. (If you count the ones I can’t tell you about, yet. And oh, I wish I could! She’s got some fantastic projects coming out soon.) Meanwhile, you can find her on her website above and she also contributes over at The Brown Bookshelf.

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Photo credit: Latifah Abdur

I was delighted to receive this first book from Tracey Baptiste, THE JUMBIES. After reading about Tracey’s background, it was easy to see how much Grimm’s fairy tales influenced her life and why as a writer she wanted to see fairy tales that reflected her own background. She grew up in Trinidad and had always heard fantastic tales about creatures called soucouyants (soo-coo-YAHs) that could shed their skin at night, and the douens (dwens) with their backwards feet that lured children away into the forest. And of course, the jumbies (JUM-bees) the name for every bad-thinking, sneaky, trick-loving creature that came out at night to cause trouble. I fell in love with Tracey’s story. Her take on a classic Haitian folktale called “The Magic Orange Tree” is beautifully written. Her fantastic cast of characters and lush, vibrant setting make you feel immersed in her Caribbean island. Be forewarned! This tale isn’t some cozy, tropical vacation and it’s not for the weak at heart, oh, no! If you like spooky tales, this is the book for you.   The JumbiesTHE JUMBIES written by Tracey Baptiste Published by: Algonquin Young Readers Release Date: April 28, 2015 Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy Plot Summary:

A spine-tingling tale rooted in Caribbean folklore that will have readers holding their breath as they fly through its pages.

Corinne La Mer isn’t afraid of anything. Not scorpions, not the boys who tease her, and certainly not jumbies. They’re just tricksters parents make up to frighten their children. Then one night Corinne chases an agouti all the way into the forbidden forest. Those shining yellow eyes that followed her to the edge of the trees, they couldn’t belong to a jumbie. Or could they?

When Corinne spots a beautiful stranger speaking to the town witch at the market the next day, she knows something unexpected is about to happen. And when this same beauty, called Severine, turns up at Corinne’s house, cooking dinner for Corinne’s father, Corinne is sure that danger is in the air. She soon finds out that bewitching her father, Pierre, is only the first step in Severine’s plan to claim the entire island for the jumbies. Corinne must call on her courage and her friends and learn to use ancient magic she didn’t know she possessed to stop Severine and save her island home.

With its able and gutsy heroine, lyrical narration, and inventive twist on the classic Haitian folktale “The Magic Orange Tree,” The Jumbies will be a favorite of fans of Breadcrumbs, A Tale Dark and Grimm, and Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. (Plot summary from publisher website.)

Corinne is a beautifully written, strong female character and I loved her story from beginning to end. As someone who grew up with a single dad, I could completely relate Corinne’s special bond with her father and understand how she’d do anything to try to save him. As Corinne struggles to save him and eventually finds her inner strength, it is a beautiful thing to behold. The secondary characters were just as wonderful and complex. The two orphan boys, Bouki and Malik, who cause Corrine such grief in the beginning, become her fiercest allies. Having lived on their own for so long, they understand how the world works and how to fight for a friend. And Dru, the smallest and youngest of seven children, befriends Corinne in the marketplace where she sells her oranges. Once Corinne is in trouble, Dru leaves the safety of her mother to do something big to help save her friend. Here’s an excerpt from the beginning of the story:

“I’m not going to hurt you,” she said in her calmest voice. She eased closer. “I just need that thing on your leg. You’ll be able to run much faster without it, and I won’t be chasing you…so…” She moved with care toward the ‘gouti and gently untied the silk cord. The animal’s coarse fur shivered and its pulse beat as fast as her own. Corinne closed her fist firmly around the stone pendant and crawled back out of the bush.

She rubbed the stone with her thumb. Over years of constant handling, she had worn a smooth groove that fit her finger perfectly. The pendant had been her mama’s, and when she put her thumb into the little hollow, she imagined her mama’s hand around her own. Corinne breathed a sigh of relief now that it was back in her possession, but her relief did not last long.

She didn’t know this part of the forest. And it was darker here. The branches of the mahogany trees were so thick that barely any light came through. It even smelled different, of wood and wet earth, while Corinne was used to the smell of the sea. She had no idea which way was out.

Somewhere between the leaves, Corinne thought she saw a pair of lights shining. They were close together, like eyes. Her skin prickled, but then the lights disappeared and Corinne tried to shake off her fear. The little bit of light must have been reflecting on something. Don’t be silly, she scolded herself. “I’m going to kill those boys,” she muttered into the heavy air.

A pair of yellow-bellied birds alighted on a branch overhead, and called out, kis-ka-dee kis-ka-dee! Something small scratched through the undergrowth. A cold lump formed in Corrine’s stomach and began to spread. She and heard grown-ups tell stories about terrible things that lived in hidden pockets of the island, like this forest filled with ancient mahogany trees. They talked about creatures with backward feet, and women who could shed their skin, and women with hooves for feet. Even though her papa told her these stories were not true, there must have been a reason no one ever came this far into the forest.

This is just the beginning of the goosebumps. Tracey’s rich storytelling kept me completely engrossed (and may have encouraged me to sleep with the light on a few times after some late-night reading sessions). Corinne’s story is truly a welcome and refreshing edition to the world of fairytales. I highly recommend this book. You won’t be able to put it down once you start.

Learn more about Tracey Baptiste here.

Follow Tracey on Facebook here.

Follow Tracey on Twitter here.

You can preorder a copy of this wonderful book for yourself here:

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