Friday, January 20, 2017

Believe In Yourself (A non-success Story)

In September I jumped back into the query trenches for the first time in two years. I had previously found a great publisher without an agent and ran with it. I knew I would want an agent eventually but for right now, I didn’t need one.

But a few years later I was ready to try again. I’m ready to try for new avenues, while not closing my previous opportunities—I still plan on publishing with Entangled. I’ve enjoyed my time there, but those opportunities are limited. There are several things that I want to write that they don’t publish.

So I picked up a MG fantasy book that I’ve adored and believed in but put aside for the sake of my YA contemporary career, and decided to query again!

At first, I was hopeful. I loved this book and now I had some publishing experience! In the first two weeks I got a few quick full requests and I was super excited! It was going better than I’d expected!

Then the requests stopped coming.

I was stalled. Months went by with almost nothing new. No requests from new queries. Just… silence. Even the rejections were MIA. I started wondering if the book was ready. If I needed to make more changes. If the best I could hope for was an R&R.

I had a really close call with one agent but a few weeks later it ended in rejection. It stung.

More time went by.

Most of my open queries had passed into “Closed/No response” territory and since another full rejection I received sited market, I figured I was dead in the water. All hope seeped out of me. This beautiful quirky book of mine wouldn’t find an agent.

Funny that, even in my case, where I knew I could have a great career without ever finding an agent, so really, the stakes are lowered—I still felt hopeless.

I stopped trying.

Stopped researching agents. Stopped sending queries.

The only thing I did do was nudge one agent that had had my full for several months. She responded saying my book got “great reader reports” and she was exciting to get to it soon.

Hmmm… that, also sounds promising. At least, in terms that, well, maybe this book *was* good enough.

I then got another full request.

So I sent out a handful more queries. Another request.

I took a good look at my queries and realized that even though my requests were a bit lopsided, with few at first and then none in the middle, my request rate wasn’t so bad!

Maybe, just maybe, I had given up a bit too soon. Maybe things weren’t quite as bad as they seem!

No, this story doesn’t end in an offer of representation. Not yet, anyway.

Instead, this story should show you a few different things. 1) that even published authors, or people who you might think have it all together still struggle—they just don’t always show it. I know many previously agented authors who have gone through very similar experiences.
2) Sometimes we get so worked up about what’s happening *right now* that we missed out on the big picture.

But here’s one more I’d like for you to take from this, something I’m probably still learning myself.

It’s okay if you fail.

Even if I don’t sign an agent with this MG book, I will with another. Some day. The time between sucks. The questions, the doubts, they’ll still be there. But one day, things will fall into place (even if not how you expect).

When that day comes, I’ll be sure to let you know. Whether with this book or my next, or the next.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Developing a Critical Eye

One of my most favorite writing events is returning in a couple of weeks, WriteOnCon. What is it you ask? Well it’s an all virtual kidlit writing conference where the events are either free or for a small fee. And by small fee, we are talking anywhere from $1 to $10. Sounds pretty cool right?

Well even better, industry professionals, agents, editors, and authors write blog posts, host live question and answer sessions, and take pitches. And if that’s not enough, there’s a free, yes I said FREE, critique forums where you can post your work, get feedback from writers, find potential critique partners AND possibly get agent feedback or requests from the ninja agents sneaking through the forums. It’s all pretty amazing.

But with all that awesome, surprisingly that’s not what I’m here to talk to you about today. One of the most valuable things I’ve gotten out of WriteOnCon in the past wasn’t just the feedback, or industry advice (and don’t get me wrong, it’s fantastic and super helpful), but it’s the forums themselves. And no I’m not talking about the ninja agents, sure they’re exciting and a lucky few people will get feedback and some EXTREMELY lucky writers will get requests, but there’s something valuable right in front of us writers and we don’t even know it.

The actual queries and first pages.

So let me back up a second. Writers join the forums and then post their queries and first 5 or so pages. Then they can read through the forums and critique other writers. So just by having your stuff out there and helping others, you’re likely to get feedback and maybe even find a new critique partner. But the thing I learned the most from was by reading hundreds and hundreds of queries and first pages. And I mean HUNDREDS.

For an entire weekend, you can pretend like you’re an agent reading the slush pile. There’s no better way to learn how to construct an awesome query letter and gripping first pages then by reading a ton of them. The more you read, the more you start to see what works and what doesn’t, what’s common and what’s unique, what mistakes others often make and what comes off stellar.

When looking at our own stuff, it’s often really hard to see where the issues are, but by reading tons of other people’s work, you learn how to improve your query and first page writing. You can read other work, form an opinion and then see how others are responding as well. This activity more than any other, really helps you develop that critical eye. Even better you can see where agents have commented and see if you agree with what they said.

So go out there and enjoy WriteOnCon, and all the amazing advice and activities. But don’t forget to spend some quality time on the forums with the queries and first pages there. You’ll be glad you did! And be sure to tell us in the comments what you are most looking forward to during WriteOnCon.

WriteOnCon is a three-day online children’s book conference for writers and illustrators of picture books, middle grade, young adult, and even new adult. For more information visit

Friday, January 6, 2017

Share a Writing Link and Enter to Win a Query Critique!

There are so many wonderful writing links that have helped me on my writing journey. How about you guys? Do you have a collection of links you still refer to from time to time? Some you’ve just discovered?

For this post, I’d like kick off 2017 by offering a query critique to one commenter in exchange for sharing a link that has helped you along the way. 

You never know who's world you might enlighten with one of those links!

If you'd like to be entered for the query critique, please leave your email address after the link(s). I’ll choose a winner by Friday, January 20th (links are still welcomed any time after that! Share as many as you like!).

I’ll start with just a few of my favs (I even dug out some from the Middle Grade Minded archives). Hope they come in handy!

Best to all my fellow writers in 2017!

Thanks for sharing!

Secondary Characters-Get a side kick:

CP Stuff:

Filter Words:

Having Fun with MG:

Show vs. Tell:

On Queries:

Need a Scrivener Expert? More MG Blog Links and Interviews?

Agent Wish Lists:

Other Awesome Blog Resources:

Monday, January 2, 2017

What's Your Reason?

About a year ago, almost to the day, I wrote a post here breaking down the differences between having writing dreams and writing goals. As I looked back at it recently and began wondering how many of my own had been reached in 2016, a realization came to me: Dreams are fine, but they’re almost always beyond your control. Goals can be useful, but they’re constantly evolving.

This year I decided to reflect on reasons for writing — not wondering so much about our hopes or ambitions related to it, but why we have them at all. What’s the point of investing so much of ourselves in this? What do we hope to accomplish from it? With all the frustrating moments that pile up along the way, why even bother, really? 

I came up with a fairly predictable list of my own reasons that, when taken as a whole, weren’t very convincing. As I thought about why each was on the list, I found that every reason could be traced back to either insecurity or arrogance. I felt I had to prove I was worthy of my dreams and goals — both to myself and to other people — or I was too quick to believe that not only was I worthy, but I deserved seeing them happen. Here are some examples of what I mean: 

*I want to see something I wrote on a shelf in a bookstore. (Insecurity: Why would being on a bookstore shelf make me, or my writing, any more valid? Why would it take that to make me feel I was good enough?)
*I want to write something that will be meaningful to people. (Arrogance: What makes me think I have anything noteworthy to say in the first place?)
*I want to write something that people in the publishing industry would respect and take seriously. (Insecurity: Why should this mean so much to me, if I’ve lived any kind of a life that, hopefully, has already earned me the respect of other people for different reasons?) 
*I want to be successful enough at writing so I can devote myself to it full time. (Arrogance: I must have a pretty high opinion of my work to think I could possibly be one of the few to ever see Royalty Dollar #1, much less go full time, someday.)
*I want to publish a book so the people in my life will be proud of what I’ve accomplished. (Insecurity: If anyone is going to be proud of me, why does the reason need to be so specifically defined? Why would it take an achievement like publishing for that happen at all?)
*I want to write something great someday. (Arrogance: So now it’s not just stopping at meaningful? And where did I get the idea I was capable of anything great?)

That writer brain can set some nasty traps and dig some twisty rabbit holes for you if you let it.

One of the reasons it was so important to me to reflect on motivation was the preparation I had going for a new manuscript. I’d spent nearly all of 2016 in a back-and-forth revision dance that finally felt like it had paid off with a solid manuscript, so it was time for a new one. I had an idea I felt strongly about, so I immersed myself in the mindset that planning it down to the most minuscule detail was the way to go. Between my character sketching, my setting descriptions and the pre-synopsis I wrote of where I expected the story to go (it was too comprehensive to be called just an outline), I had a planning word count nearly equal in length to the manuscript I’d just finished revising. I’ve always been a planner, but this was a new level.

The work started pretty well, and I saw things coming together in positive ways. However, having this road map to adhere to made the writing feel different. I wasn’t getting caught up in the excitement of what I still believe is a great idea for a story, and I couldn’t figure out why. So eventually, I stopped. Not just working on that story; I pretty much stopped writing. That left me feeling like a hole was opening up inside me, which is not how things are supposed to happen. Writing had always been a retreat, if not an escape. It was something I could rely on to help me process what I had going on in life. Without that, the hole kept getting wider and deeper, because I wasn’t filling it with a very specific purpose. 

So, I made the difficult decision to put aside the project I had invested so much planning into and started a different story, one that had been rattling around in the vault for years. I only had vague ideas about it, but felt like it would be more fun. Days later, without even trying that hard, I was thousands of words into a new manuscript and felt that part of me coming back to life. I was writing like I always had— just telling a story because I wanted to. It was fun again. The hole was filling. My head was clearing. The emptiness wasn’t there. Instead I was carrying around a growing collection of ideas I wanted to try. Nothing structured, all random. I wanted to see what was going to happen next, and began planning out just far enough ahead.

I felt like had my answer. Why write? What’s my reason?

I write because I feel wrong if I don’t. I don’t feel complete without it. Whether I’m writing something that only a few dozen or potentially thousands of people might read someday, or something that I’ll never show another living soul, I simply need to do it. Any hopes or dreams or goals beyond that just have to exist separately.

I imagine this is probably true for a lot of us. Whatever goals you set for yourself in 2017 — reach for the stars, but keep your purpose in mind. Write because you need to. Write to fill the hole. Write because you love it. Respect the hopes and dreams and wishes that happen as a result of that need, but put them in their proper place, and let them resolve themselves along the way.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Let's Celebrate The Season With A Holiday Writing Contest!

Contest Rules:

1. Write a 100-word story using the following words:
  • Santa
  • Reindeer
  • Elves
  • Candy Canes
  • Sugar Cookies

2. Post your story in the comments section OF THIS BLOG POST.

3. Include your email address in case you are the winner. (Email addresses and story titles do not count as part of your 100 words.)

4. Contest closes on January 2, 2017. The winner will receive a 5-page middle grade manuscript critique from me, Stefanie Wass, a three-time Pitch Wars mentor and member of the MG Beta Readers team.

Friday, December 16, 2016

An interview with author Margarita Engle

Today I'm delighted to welcome Margarita Engle to Middle Grade Minded. Margarita was kind enough to answer a few questions about her upcoming book, MORNING STAR HORSE -- an historical fantasy verse novel, forthcoming from HBE Publishing in January 2017. MORNING STAR HORSE will be available in a choice of English, Spanish, and bilingual formats.

"When Mamacita chose to call me Estrellita, / it was her way of imagining a little bit / of starlight, deep down in that cavern / where only rare streaks of day or night / could reach--now, Lucero and I will be / Morning Star and Little Star, / a lit-from-within racing team!"

A young girl stricken with rickets and her mother face the aftermath of the Spanish-American War, the challenges of a new century and innovative teachers. 
Dreams realized and dreams crushed exploring the freedoms only a magical horse can offer.
Award winning author Margarita Engle brings a tale of history mixed with a touch of fantasy.

Hi Margarita! Thanks for stopping by MG Minded. It seems to me both unusual and exciting to have a bilingual version of a story, in addition to the Spanish and English versions.  Were there any particular challenges in putting this together?

Yes, Morning Star Horse/El caballo Lucero is extremely unusual and exciting!  In fact, I’m not sure if it’s the first time this has been tried, with a simultaneous release of all three editions.  HBE Publishing is a new small press that offered me this choice of formats.  I didn’t have to beg!  They hired Alexis Romay, a brilliant translator, and also hired artists to do a beautiful cover and internal illustrations.  I’m thrilled with the result.  For the editor, I think the biggest challenge was fitting Spanish poems on facing pages in the bilingual edition.  For me, the greatest challenge was deciding when to stop writing the manuscript.  I went through so many drafts, and I was having so much fun, that I actually found myself thinking that I might write this book forever, and never do anything else.

What are the benefits of having a bilingual version?

They are essential for English language learners, Spanish immersion schools, and family literacy projects, where all the generations can read and discuss the same story.

I love that you’ve blended fantasy with historical fiction. Was this something that came naturally for you, or did you find it difficult to achieve a balance between the fantasy elements and the constraints of the historical events/setting?

I used to write magic realism for adults, inspired by the great “Boom” poets and novelists of Latin America.  Morning Star Horse is magic realism, not “world building” fantasy.  Everything occurs in ordinary places, with only one astonishing element.  In Spanish, magic realism is called lo real maravilloso (marvelous reality), a much more accurate term.

And just for fun...Without giving any spoilers, what did you love most about writing this story?

I was a horse-loving child, and a big fan of horse books.  This project fulfilled my lifelong dream of writing a horse story.  I decided to take it one step into lo real maravilloso, making it a story about a girl who needs a magical horse.

Thanks so much, Margarita! All the best with the launch of MORNING STAR HORSE.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Giveaway: Win an ARC of It's a Mystery, Pig Face! and candy!!!!

As of today, it's less than two months until IT'S A MYSTERY, PIG FACE! enters the world.

In honour of that blessed event, I've decided to share an ARC with a lucky Middle Grade Minded Blog reader.

But then I thought about it. Why it hardly seemed enough. And since this is a giving time of year in many cultures, it seemed I ought to sweeten the pot.

Get it? Sweeten the Pot?

In IT'S A MYSTERY, PIG FACE! Tracy Munro defends the honour of her town's local candy factory, Ganong Bros. Limited, which she believes has the best chocolate and pink peppermints in the world. In fact, Tracy and Ralph and Lester (AKA Pig Face) believe that chomping on pink peppermints is a mystery-solving  requirement:

Meanwhile, Ralph reached up, grabbed a thermal bag we'd left hanging on a nearby branch, and plunked down. He unzipped the top, pulled out a package of Ganong Pink Peppermints--also made at the local chocolate factory and our meeting candy of choice--and popped on into his mouth before passing the bag to me.

Ganong Bros. Limited is a real candy factory in St. Stephen, New Brunswick, Canada. I grew up in St. Stephen and that's where the book is set. I happen to agree with Tracy that they make the best chocolate in the world!

(And by the way, they ship to Canada and the U.S, and overseas by request, so you can always order some yourself if you don't win!)


Lucky for you, Ganong Bros. Limited has provided me with some candy to give to you!

The lucky winner will receive a signed copy of the It's a Mystery Pig Face! ARC, a stack of Pig Face bookmarks, an It's a Mystery, Pig Face! book plate, a box of Ganong Delecto Chocolates, a bag of candy chicken bones (if you haven't had these before, you're about to fall in love with them! I recommend you pop over here to see how chicken bones are made) and a bag of Ganong pink peppermints!

The contest opens on Monday December 12th and closes at midnight on December 16th, at which point, I will rush to send them in the mail to you!

What do you need to do to win?

Leave a comment below.

You can say hey or ask me a questions about the book,  or tell me why you'd love to read the book.  If you're a teacher, tell me; if you're the winner, there might be a few more sweet treats for you and your class to munch on while you read the book!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And hey, you can also pre-order the book now. Visit here to get all the details!