Left Hanging is a sweet star-crossed romance

Left HangingLeft Hanging by Cindy Dorminy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I requested LEFT HANGING as an ARC from the author because I have read her YA work. Overall, I enjoyed the book a great deal, even though I don’t normally read much romance. This is a cute story about two star-crossed lovers who can’t get on the same page communication-wise.

It all starts when Darla and Theo introduce themselves as Juliet and Romeo at a college party, and it spirals out of control for seven years of miscommunication and missed chances. They are sweet in a completely clueless way, but after awhile, I just wanted them to actually talk about their issues. It doesn’t take a genius to spend thirty minutes talking to one another rather than hearing half of the story and running off with misconceived notions, and about halfway through the book, I was ready to lock our two main characters in a room and force them to discuss the “big secret” that lay between them.

Of the two MCs, Darla is my favorite. She seemed to have her head together more than Theo did most of the time, and I felt that I could relate to her.

Theo was just a little too willing to take things as half truths, when he didn’t let the other person finish what they had to say. He could be a self-righteous jerk, and I wanted him to develop more of a backbone to tell people what he wanted. I couldn’t believe that he would spend seven years with Mallory. They seemed completely incompatible, and their relationship grated on my nerves a bit.

The side characters were great. Isaac was my favorite because he seemed like such a genuinely good guy, and he provided a lot of tender moments for both the MCs.

I would definitely read another one of Cindy Dorminy’s books. I hope her career continues to grow.

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I have announcement to make…

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the thing that I did yesterday!

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Yesterday I signed with my agent Rebecca Podos of Rees Literary Agency! I’m thrilled beyond belief to be represented by such an amazing agent. I have such respect for Becca and her clients, and I’m honored to join the team.

At the suggestion of several of my wonderful friends, I have been informed that it’s time to write the “obligatory how-I-got-my-agent post.” I’ll have to start way back in middle school, and hopefully I won’t repeat too much of what I’ve already mentioned in previous blog posts.

I started writing “seriously” when I was in sixth-grade. I had a teacher who enjoyed assigning us to write stories using our spelling words, and I got the great idea to join all of my stories into a continuous work. After awhile, I got tired of waiting for our next batch of words, and just wrote the story that was evolving in my brain. When I finished, I asked my teacher to read it, and she liked it. She encouraged me to write and to read more widely, and she was one of my favorite people in the world.

The next year, I met a new friend who loved writing as much as I did, and we started talking about our stories. We eventually started swapping chapters as we finished them, and over the next several years we wrote together, edited each others’ work, and became critique partners, even though we didn’t know that was a thing. We both wanted to be published. We talked about our favorite publishing houses, but we didn’t have a clue how to make that happen.

As happens, we moved apart toward the end of high school and college. I majored in creative writing and psychology, but no one in my program was as encouraging as my best friend had been. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was writing YA in all of my creative writing classes, and no one else in our department really understood what I was doing. I wasn’t working to be the next Graham Green or John Cheever, who seemed to be the role-models of many of my classmates.

Because I didn’t realize YA was a real thing, I decided my stories really were “schmaltzy,” so I focused on writing non-fiction, newspaper articles, and literature reviews. I went on to grad school for English literature, but I wasn’t happy with the academic articles and essays. I secretly wrote stories that I would never admit to anyone because I wasn’t in the MFA program, and I still had no idea how one would go about publishing anything.

In 2013, I reconnected with my high school critique partner, and she asked me how my writing was going. She still remembered all my projects from middle school and high school, and she said that she had been looking for my name on book lists ever since we lost touch. (I had been looking for hers too.) She encouraged me to start fresh and jump back in, and by this point I knew what YA was and that where my heart went when I wrote.

Meanwhile, I joined writer communities – SCBWI, Absolute Write, and Twitter – and I finished my first manuscript. After I had several people beta read it, I sent out queries far and wide. I really had no idea what I was doing, but at least I knew the basic principle of finding an agent. In retrospect, my manuscript was rough, and my query letter was even worse, but I got a few requests. Nothing panned out, but I was already working on my next story, and I had high hopes for it.

After I put finished my second manuscript, I put the first back on the shelf. I asked my critique partners to take a look before Pitch Wars 2016, and I made a list of my top 10 mentors. When I went into Pitch Wars in August, I felt pretty good about my manuscript. During the week that entries were due, I went to a Madcap Workshop in Pigeon Forge, TN, and I found out that several members of our group were entering as well. We even talked another friend into submitting, and then we waited.

Since coincidences are always fun, the week of the Pitch Wars announcement, Sarah, my high school friend and CP, happened to be in town for the first time since our freshman year of college. The night the mentees were announced, we had dinner together and watched Twitter for the results. When the list of YA mentees went up, I didn’t see my name at first, and I tried not to feel sad. I mean, Sarah was there, I was further along with my writing than I ever had been, and it was just another step on the way.

Then suddenly my mentions and texts started blowing up. I had overlooked my own name, and I had been chosen by one of my top choice mentors!

Laurie Elizabeth Flynn and I worked together on my manuscript until November. She helped me polish and perfect my story, and on Nov. 10, I sent out my submission to my four Pitch Wars requests and to other agents who had expressed an interest. I had a few additional fulls requested, a few rejections, more rejections, a lot of crickets, and on Dec. 18, an agent emailed that she would like to talk to me on the phone. We set up a call for the next day, and she offered. When I sent my “Offer of Representation” emails out to the agents who had my queries and fulls, I got a few more nibbles.

Rebecca Podos wasn’t in my first batch of queries. I had tried not to exhaust all my top agents in one huge swoop. If something wasn’t working with my query or the sample pages, I would hate to know I had no more awesome agents to send to, so I sent a pre-holiday query flurry out in mid-December. The funny thing is that I queried her the very day my first offer came in.

I ended up with three offers and several close calls all from fabulous agents, but Becca presented a vision for my work that I really appreciated. She has amazing clients, and everyone I spoke to adored her and said that her edit letters were insightful and even “gems.”

After she offered, all my second guessing and worries subsided. I knew she had a record of sales and a list that is small but breathtaking. Our personalities clicked, and I sent my friends messages shouting, “I think she’s the one!” I thought about it over the weekend, and on Monday, I couldn’t wait any longer. I emailed her that I was accepting her offer.

The one thing that people don’t tell you when you’re querying is that if you happen to get more than one offer, even when you know you’re making the best decision, it’s hard to send the letter to the agents you didn’t choose. They are both amazing in their own ways, and I know they will have great successes. But Becca was everything I had been hoping for in an agent, and when I knew, I was confident I was choosing correctly.

So forgive me if I squee and flail more than normal. I still can’t believe this has actually happened and I have an agent who believes in my writing and my book and that I’m going to start edits and go on submission sometime soon.

2017 is definitely off to a good start for my writing!

A weird place in my mind

I’ve been in a weird place mentally lately. I haven’t been able to write. My anxiety has been over the top, and I just haven’t been able to come up with words – for my WIP, for my blog, barely even for work. I don’t understand it, but it’s the kind of anxiety that leaves me staring my screen, holding my breath, chewing on my tongue and the inside of my cheeks so hard that they are sore. The thought of writing makes my hands shake and my heart pound. The thought of not writing makes me want to retreat to a dark corner and sleep until this feeling passes.

I hate it.

But slowly, maybe, my head is clearing again. I might be finding my words again. I hope I am. I feel like such a fake when I can’t get words and plot to come together. I worry I’ll never write another story. It’s all so frustrating.

In the meantime, I’m just trying to manage what I can control. I’ve queried dozens of agents since Pitch Wars ended in November – and I received full requests! My first manuscript only received a couple of requests, and the querying process was spread out over nearly a year. Soon, I will have some exciting news to announce regarding my queries.

I have a tentative plan for a new WIP. It isn’t fleshed out very well yet, but I’m excited about it. I also want to go back and visit my very first manuscript. I think it might need another rewrite, but I’m okay with that. When I let one of my critique partners read the first few chapters of my new WIP, she said that my writing seemed fiercer now. I know that manuscript had its good points, but it was also my first. It was rough around the edges. It didn’t gleam the way it could.

First though, the new WIP. I need to bring it together so I can quit fixating on my lack of progress. I know there’s something awesome there. I just have to find it, and it’s hard for me to let go of the gnarled pieces and the pages that don’t work. After finishing a manuscript and putting it through Pitch Wars, I feel silly having so many false starts and plot bunnies that go nowhere. I need to put the perfectionism behind and focus on getting a story on the page. That’s where it starts.

I can’t remember how many chapters I deleted from my previous manuscripts. And let’s not even start on scenes that needed stripped and rewritten. Finishing a manuscript and starting from scratch again makes me feel lost.

Somewhere in this jumble of images is part of my story trying to emerge.

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Hopefully, I’ll be in a better frame of mind for writing and I can post again soon. It’s therapeutic to type through my thoughts, even if no one else reads them. And if someone does, I hope my words help you somehow.

An interview with “Jerkbait” author Mia Siegert

Today’s an exciting day here on the blog! One of my favorite debut authors of 2016 agreed jerkbait-coverto an interview. I’m so happy to promote Mia’s amazing book JERKBAIT, which has twins, hockey and theater, in addition to a beautiful, heartbreaking story about two brothers accepting who they are and fighting for the chance to be honest about their identities.

The publisher of JERKBAIT, Jolly Fish Press, recently announced that it is closing its doors effective October 31, which means that purchasing JERKBAIT and other Jolly Fish Press books in the next 10 days would help the authors who have rights reverting back. Mia and many other authors need to sell books by the end of the month, and I know you’ll love JERKBAIT, so click here and choose your favorite book seller to order today.

So without further ado, an interview with Mia Siegert!

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1) JERKBAIT is one of my favorite 2016 releases. What inspired you to write this particular book?

MIA: It’s actually a bit semi-autobiographical. When I started it, I was Tristan and Heather was my former best friend. I wanted to cope with the abrupt end of my friendship and also go through some things I’d experienced. Robbie’s passion for hockey mirrored mine with horses. I was around their age when my horse, Grando 181, died unexpectedly from a horrific colic. A few months later, I had a career ending injury with a particularly bad fall and was left with nothing as I was a mediocre student at best and had no plans for college. I also had an encounter with an online predator who later turned out to be a convicted sex offender. By the end of the edits, I realize that Robbie mirrored a lot of me. I just gave him some hope that I didn’t have.

2) Tristan and Robbie are both amazingly deep characters. Do you have a favorite twin moment in the book?

MIA: I’ll settle for two: the cafeteria scene, and the scene where they talk about Robbie’s best friend Raiden and something Robbie did that was morally questionable. The cafeteria scene’s the punch-in-the-gut one and really shows Robbie’s bravery. The later conversation is probably the moment where Robbie shows us (as the reader) how close he feels with Tristan although Tristan doesn’t realize this.

3) There are a lot of difficult moments that both Tristan and Robbie have to overcome – from family expectations to suicide attempts to homophobia. What do you hope readers will gain from their stories?

MIA: I think every reader will get something different out of it. If I had to narrow it down to just one thing, I would say getting over the mental health stigma since so many people are afraid to talk about mental health. Recently I watched a YouTube video where someone mentioned that most people are willing to accept visible disability but when it came to the brain people would respond by saying, “just get over it” or “hang in there.” The ableism from that is really problematic.

I hope that with this, people might have resources to mental health. If there’s an LGBTQ+ athlete, the back of the book has contact information directly to You Can Play, an amazing nonprofit for LGBTQ+ athletes.

4) You’re a fan of Sigur Ros and stated that their music helped you write this book. What is it about this band that speaks to the atmosphere of JERKBAIT and/or your writing process?

MIA: Wow, you really paid attention to my Twitter! That’s absolutely right that Sigur Rós influenced JERKBAIT directly, but also everything I write.

Sigur Rós is very spiritual for me, partly because their music literally saved my life. Having songs that are in Icelandic and some in their made up language Hopelandic help provide vocals as an instrument rather than something required for the music to succeed (I’m a huge post-rock fan in general).

Their song “Ny Batterí” stood out to me in particular before writing JERKBAIT. The opening line is loosely translated as, “Barbed wire stapled in my mouth” which gave me the image of a fish on a hook (jerkbait). They return to the line in a different way, “We set off into the unknown until we destroy everything and are dominant once again. Once again in the back where we ride, the barbed wire returns, ripping open an old, healed wound.” Not giving away a spoiler but there’s a chapter where this is very, very relevant. The song ends detailing suicidal ideation but “daren’t risk it. Instead I turn myself off. Alone again.” I knew at that moment what I was writing, even though then I was so sheltered and protected I thought I was Tristan instead of Robbie. I was protecting myself.

For what it’s worth, when they play it live, Jónsi starts by creating just “noise” with his guitar and bow. I don’t know how else to describe it. They’re not notes. It’s just noise. And it becomes music. Beautiful.

5) What drew you to writing YA?

MIA: It was a complete accident! I actually solely wrote (and studied) literary fiction prior to JERKBAIT. After writing JERKBAIT, a friend said, “Oh, cool YA story” and my response was, “… YA?” It absolutely terrified me because I didn’t know much about the genre. I was very fortunate that the YA community was so accepting and willing to help since I had (and still have) a very steep learning curve!

6) Tell us a fun fact about Tristan and Robbie that we wouldn’t learn from JERKBAIT.

MIA: If Craig asked, probably Tristan would have made out with him.

Robbie actually likes Michael Bay movies.

7) How did you hear about You Can Play? Tell us about their work and how purchases of JERKBAIT can help support this program?

MIA: I love hockey. I have for a long time as a NJ Devils fan in the era of Martin Brodeur. I’m not sure how exactly I found out about the organization–maybe the NHL made an announcement about partnering and the allies but, immediately, I was interested. When I announced on Reddit that my hockey book was acquired, someone tagged co-founder Patrick Burke, who immediately got me in touch with Anna Aegenes. It took about a year but we partnered together, and made sure that You Can Play had their logo on the book and a full back page so LGBTQ+ athletes would know where they could go for help.

I ran two fundraisers so far with copies of JERKBAIT for You Can Play and have committed to donating 25% of in-person sales (like at an event) to You Can Play. The book is helpful in raising awareness about You Can Play as many people seem to be reaching out on their own to help out or seek help for themselves.

8) What’s something you want to tell LGBTQ+ teens and young adults, especially athletes?

MIA: Right now, it might suck. Depending on your sport, it might suck a little longer. But there are organizations like You Can Play. When one’s depressed, it’s really hard to think there could be something to help, but you’re directly connected with a large network of athletes, people who understand the struggles. You’re not alone. They can and WILL help you.

9) What are you working on next?

MIA: I have an LGBT+ YA about the dark side of the horse show world based on when I used to compete and some of the shady things I witnessed, another YA retelling of a lesser-done fairy tale that’s almost a murder mystery (also LGBT+ though that’s kind of a given!). I’m also polishing up the final touches on an adult thriller retelling.

10) Since your publisher (Jolly Fish Press) has announced that it is closing its doors at the end of October, how can readers and writers continue to help support you, JERKBAIT, and your pledge to You Can Play?

MIA: There are tons of ways to help.

Following You Can Play, subscribing to their newsletter, RTing them, getting out the message will help. Also they have a donation button (I used that when I did my in-person event and will do that for all future events).

For me, there are a lot of ways to help. I have a Patreon with neat rewards. (Visit Mia’s Patreon here.) Even a dollar pledge makes a huge difference to help my living expenses.

Requesting copies of JERKBAIT at your library immensely helps. Also leaving reviews on retailer websites such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Goodreads. Each review usually leads to about ten sales so I can’t stress how helpful they are to authors like me since new publishers will look up numbers and rankings. Direct sales are also super appreciated. 🙂

JERKBAIT is also available on Audible.

Mia Siegert received her MFA from Goddard College and her undergrad from Montclair State University where she won Honorable Mention in the 2009 English Department Awards for fiction. Her debut JERKBAIT has gained attention from SB Nation, Publishers Weekly, Barnes & Noble Teen Blog, AndPOP!, MaximumPOP! UK, VOYA Magazine, Paste Magazine, Teen Librarian Toolbox, and was recently produced by Audible, narrated by Raviv Ullman (star of Disney’s “Phil of the Future”). It was listed as one of Goodreads Best YA books of May 2016 and Top 12 Indie YA from Barnes & Noble Teen Blog. Mia has partnered with You Can Play, a nonprofit helping LGBTQ athletes. In her youth, she trained with the chef d’equip of the United States Show Jumping team.

So, I’ve been doing Pitch Wars

I’m sorry I haven’t been posting much lately. I’ve been so tied up with day job work and family things that I’ve barely had to time to think, much less blog, and on top of that, I got into Pitch Wars in August! That was one of my biggest goals for this year, and I was selected by the lovely and amazing Laurie Elizabeth Flynn, who wrote Firsts.

pitchwars-logo I entered Pitch Wars in 2015 with a different manuscript and a lot less experience in the publishing world. It was the first manuscript I’d completed since (maybe) grad school if I’m generous with the term “completed,” but I had been working on it for two years. I thought it was good – edgy, sharp – and I thought it was the story I was supposed to write. It had been with me since high school, and I loved my characters, so that meant it had to be the story that was going to get me an agent and published and begin my career, right? Wrong!

While I still love last year’s submission, Fall to Pieces isn’t a bad book, it isn’t my best work. I didn’t push the boundaries and explore like I have with my manuscript that got me into Pitch Wars. I attacked my latest manuscript with a passion, and it made me uncomfortable in ways that FTP never did. Yeah, FTP is gritty and dark, but I’m proud of my newest manuscript in every way possible.

Formerly titled Still Breathing, my tentative title is The Wreckage of Us. As with everything in publishing, that’s subject to change at any time. Once upon a time, it started out as a contemporary friendship story, and it has blossomed into an LGBTQ contemporary with paranormal elements that explores mental illness, disability, friendship, loss, and accepting yourself. Even though half the time I’m kicking myself and wondering why in the world Laurie decided to spend two months working with me on a book that I can barely find a genre to describe, I’m so proud of what I’ve accomplished.

In two weeks the agent round arrives, and we get to put our pitches and first 250 words in front of agents who can choose to request more. I’ve been talking with friends about the fact that it’s a public selection process, and while it’s daunting to consider that some of us might not get any requests, I’m to the point (today at least) that whatever happens happens. I’ve done the best I know how to do with my revisions, and I wrote the best book I could.

I’m so excited about this manuscript. I never honestly thought I’d get into Pitch Wars, but here I am. When the announcement went up in August, I was having dinner with a writer friend that I haven’t seen in years. I completely overlooked my name, but I saw several of my friends’ names and I was excited for them. I told Sarah that I didn’t get in, and about that time, I started getting emails, texts, and DMs. Sooooooo, I looked again. I still couldn’t believe it. Sometimes, almost two months later, I still feel like it’s a dream, even after two full edits of my manuscript, writing a pitch, and changing the title. It’s funny how things happen.

I’ll try to post more regularly from now on. Hopefully things are settling down a little as far as all of my big deadlines hitting all at once. I’ve got some fun posts lined up that I’m working on, so check back soon!

An agent’s perspective – Beyond the Query and Manuscript: 6 Things Agents Look for in Clients by Jennifer Johnson-Blalock

I’m excited to announce that agent Jennifer Johnson-Blalock of Liza Dawson Associates is here today to talk about “Beyond the Query and Manuscript: 6 Things Agents Look for in Clients.” She shares her thoughts on queries and manuscripts:

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Jennifer Johnson-Blalock, agent with Liza Dawson Associates

Obviously, as agents, the first thing we consider is the query letter. Is it something we’re looking for? Is it well written? Does it make us want to read more? Then we dive into the manuscript, and the clichés are true—with limited resources, we have to fall in love with the book to offer representation. Those things are undoubtedly paramount, but looking beyond them, there are six things I love to see in a potential client.

Attention to Detail

I’ve requested pages from authors who have misspelled my or the agency’s name, included sample pages when we ask for just the query, forgotten to edit lines in the query referring to materials included, etc. There are agents, though, who definitely reject if you say, forget to include requested pages. And even if it’s not an automatic rejection, a query letter is your first impression. You want to make the best one possible so that an agent reads your work with nothing but positive feelings in mind.

Social Media Presence

For fiction writers, I don’t need to see that you have X number of followers. (Nonfiction is different; there, platform is essential!) But I do like to see that you’re on Twitter for a couple reasons. First, if I sell your book, you will need to be on there. Agents have certainly taught clients how to use social media, but it’s a bonus if I know I don’t have to. Second, Twitter is a wonderful resource for querying writers; if you’re on there, I know that you’re starting to tap into the publishing community.

Beyond Twitter, a website (even a simple one) helps add to the impression that you’re savvy and professional. (For more on that, see my interview with Atmosphere Author Websites.) And then beyond that, just make sure there’s nothing offensive out there. I don’t mean never swear or don’t post photos where you’re holding a cocktail. But start to build your platform as if you already have a book deal. What would attract potential readers? What would make them run away?

A Shared Vision

Agents often refer to their clients as being on their team. Another way to look at the agent-client relationship is as a partnership. Whichever metaphor you adopt, the fact remains that we’ll be working very closely together, and we need to fundamentally agree on a few things. First, I’ll have revision ideas for your book. If you hate my ideas, I’m not the right agent for you! It’s truly best to walk away in that situation. Second, we should match up in terms of communication styles. I want to give every client the necessary support, but at the same time, I have more than one. I tell potential clients how I tend to communicate—if you need something different, that’s okay, but it might mean we’re not the best fit. Third, we should agree on a vision for your career. We all want to write good stuff and sell many books, but different clients and agents may have different priorities. With all of these issues, it’s best to start thinking and talking about them from the beginning, before you commit to each other.

Revision Skills

I recently encountered one agent who says she almost always does a revise and resubmit before offering representation. I’ve personally decided that I dislike the R&R in part because I don’t think it lets me put my best foot forward. But regardless of when it happens, I will almost certainly ask you to revise your work, and if I sell your book, an editor will ask you to revise it further. It’s frustrating when a client isn’t quite getting it, or worse, is resistant to change. Revision is a skill, just like writing; the more you can do to develop it, the better off you’ll be. If you tell me about revisions you’ve gone through, based on feedback from critique partners or beta readers, that’s a good sign.

A Thoughtful, Thought-Out Approach

As an agent, I often think that part of my job is to provide the business perspective to the writer’s creativity. But while you should absolutely write what inspires you, I love when writers are reading strategically, analyzing the marketplace, and thinking about how their work fits in. Writing is an art, but publishing is a business. Agents will give you their expertise, but it’s wonderful to work with clients who are being smart about their careers.

Future Books

My goal is always to build long-term relationships with my clients. In order to do that, you need more than one book! I’ve never had anyone say “nothing” when I ask what they’re working on next, but sometimes they’re working on things in wildly different genres. That’s fine, particularly if you write quickly (perhaps you could write under two different names, even), and sometimes you need to shift gears to reboot your career. But in the beginning, you want to build an audience and ideally, a relationship with an editor as well, and it’s easier to do so if your books have a similar readership.

I hope this gives you some additional insight as to what’s going through an agent’s mind when we’re thinking about taking on a client. Most of these are “bonus factors,” but those have occasionally tipped the scales for me. Definitely keep your focus on your query and manuscript, but if you’re ready for the 200-level classes on landing an agent, these are some great areas to work on.

Jennifer Johnson-Blalock joined Liza Dawson Associates as an associate agent in 2015, having previously interned at LDA in 2013 before working as an agent’s assistant at Trident Media Group. Jennifer graduated with honors from The University of Texas at Austin with a B.A. in English and earned a J.D. from Harvard Law School. Before interning at LDA, she practiced entertainment law and taught high school English and debate. Follow her on Twitter @JJohnsonBlalock, and visit her website: www.jjohnsonblalock.com.

Where does the time go?

Hi! Sorry I’ve been scarce around here lately. Life has a tendency to get in the way of our best intentions. Lots has been happening in my own little corner of the writing world, and I’ll try to post more about that soon.

Tomorrow I’m going to have a special guest on the blog! Agent Jennifer Johnson-Blalock from Liza Dawson Associates will be here talking about “Six Things Agents Look for in Clients.”

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I can’t wait for you guys to read her excellent advice, especially if you’re like me and getting ready to query soon. You’ll definitely want to read her thoughts on what an agent looks for when she’s reading and query and contemplating taking on a new client.

Jennifer is an amazingly talented agent, and I’m honored she agreed to write a guest post for Fueled By Coffee and Books.

Meanwhile, I’ll get back to work on my day job and try to squeeze in a few minutes of revisions on my manuscript. Soon I hope to write some posts about:

  1. The Madcap Retreat I went to in August
  2. Pitch Wars
  3. SCBWI regional conference
  4. And the beauty of having fellow writers as friends.

Stay tuned!