Hello, writers! Happy 2021! I’m writing this blog post from the same house I’ve quarantined in for the majority of 2020, in the same home-office, in the same chair . . . yet something feels different.
Despite it being below freezing, I’ve got the windows cracked open. The air drifting in is cold. But it’s also crisp, cathartic, and new. It’s full of possibilities.
That’s what a new year promises . . . possibility. A blank page to be filled with anything.
Personally, I’m hoping to flesh out a new middle grade idea that I’ve collected bits and pieces for in 2020. Through the darkest days of the year (and there were many, unfortunately), I found myself needing to write. I had so much to let out, and my notebook was the safest place to release these raw and honest feelings.
In these dark moments, I wrote and wrote and wrote. Not much made sense. Not much tied together. But I wrote and wrote my way back to joy, however fleeting it was.
And I captured the joy of each day. I wrote down those moments, too, to remind myself to focus on the light. To let the light guide me.
And it did.
One of these cathartic writings morphed into a picture book manuscript that will be published by Dial/Penguin in 2023 (stay tuned for more soon!).
So when I look back to 2020, despite the many tragedies of the year, and in some ways, because of some of them, there was much joy, some magic, and so much love. That’s what I’m hoping to capture in this next middle grade project, now that I’m in the proper headspace to start writing it . . . joy, and magic, and love.
As I begin to draft this new novel, I’ve pulled out a checklist that I made for myself, something I’ve named CHAPTER 1 & 2 CHECK. It’s a checklist I’ve made after studying many of my favorite middle grade novels, including THE TIGER RISING by Kate DiCamillo and HELLO, UNIVERSE by Erin Entrada Kelly. When I “study” a novel, I re-read the book as a writer…looking for those literary devices that make the writing wonderful.
To do this, I’ll type out the first chapter or two of the book (or the scene I’m studying). Then, I’ll make notes on my typed version of the text (because I can’t bear to mark up the beautiful book!). Finally, I’ll re-read the notes I marked, write out the revelations I made, and turn it into a checklist question to use when I revise my own writing.
A revelation I had after studying the first paragraph in THE TIGER RISING by Kate DiCamillo was that “we get a sense of who the main character is, we’re intrigued, and it’s hooking us!” all within the first few sentences.
And a note I wrote down after studying chapter one of HELLO, UNIVERSE by Erin Entrada Kelly was that “by paragraph one, we know who, where, a sense of why, and we’re intrigued to know the details.”
If you haven’t studied books in the genre you’re writing, I’d highly recommend it. I do this frequently and with a wide range of books within the genres I write in--
picture books, chapter books, and middle grade.
It’s the best way I’ve learned what works. And reading and studying widely, and taking notes on my notes, allows me enough space from the mentor text to then apply what I need specifically for my own writing.
So, without further ado, here’s my CHAPTER 1 & 2 Checklist. I hope it’s helpful to you! (If you're looking for my picture book revision checklist, it's here!)
Of course, nothing will be more powerful than studying mentor books yourself, and making your own checklist. But here’s mine to supplement yours:
CHAPTER 1 & 2 CHECKLIST:
By Katrina Moore
I have an “Every Chapter Checklist” that I’ve compiled as well. I’ll share that in a later post (make sure you’re subscribed to the blog so you don’t miss it!).
As we begin this new year, I wish you endless possibility and a notebook full of magic. A blank page to be filled with anything.
What will you fill yours with?
Happy Writing & Revising!
Katrina Moore writes in New Jersey. She holds a M.A. in Teaching and has been an elementary teacher for eleven years. Her mission is to create books that children will hug for ages. She is the author of the picture books, ONE HUG, illustrated by Julia Woolf (HarperCollins/Tegen Books, Dec. 2019), GRANDPA GRUMPS, illustrated by Xindi Yan (Little Bee Books, April 2020), and the forthcoming SOMETIMES LOVE, a powerful and poetic exploration of love---from giving, to growing, to sometimes letting go, illustrated by Joy Hwang Ruiz (Penguin/Dial, Summer 2022). Her humorous chapter books series, TEENY HOUDINI, illustrated by Zoe Si, star the magical, mischievous, mayhem-maker Bessie Lee. Books 1 and 2 will publish Winter 2022 (HarperCollins/Tegen Books).
When she is not writing or teaching, she is cooking without a recipe, painting outside the lines, or snuggling up with her two kids, husband, pups, and of course, a cozy book. Connect with her on twitter @kmoorebooks or at www.katrinamoorebooks.com.
Raise your hand if you’re feeling incredibly productive with your writing goals right now . . .
Don’t be shy . . .
No wonder . . . we are still smack dab in the middle of a global pandemic [heavy sigh]. Know this . . . you are NOT alone! See all those hands raised [there are no hands raised]. . . that’s how many people’s writing is thriving right now.
If you’ve been following my writing journey (thank you!) you may be thinking . . . but you *JUST* had two different book deals announced “smack dab in the middle of a global pandemic [eye roll] ” and, you are not wrong. I’m so excited about the announcements for SOMETIMES LOVE & another picture book, and the TEENY HOUDINI Chapter Books announcements!
But, remember, that in order to announce a book deal with an author and an illustrator, it requires both to receive, review, sign, and return the contracts. And when the project is acquired first with text only, and then an illustrator is chosen by the publisher, it can take a bit of time. Teeny Houdini was acquired last July, so it took almost a year before we were ready to announce it. Sometimes Love’s announcement happened a bit quicker. It was acquired late January 2020, and we were able to announce it six months later. So . . . all this is to say that the deals began pre-pandemic, and happened to announce during it. I’ll share more about both upcoming projects in the months to come.
But let’s get back on track! We were talking about being unproductive with our writing---feeling like we’re smack dab stuck in the middle of goop.
So how do we get UNSTUCK?
On July 16th, I had the great pleasure of joining my friend, author Josh Funk, on his new Instagram Live Show: Funk & Friends. We talked about books, the inspiration behind them, and he asked me to share some writing tips on getting unstuck. Check out the episode to listen to our fun conversation.
After the show, I realized I had much more to share about ways to get unstuck, which I will finally . . . without further ado!
Disclaimer: I cannot promise that any one of these tips will work for you. I’d suggest trying out a few (or all) and seeing what sticks, er, unsticks! Personally, I use a variety of these and often discover new ways that work through experimentation and play.
Here we go . . .
GETTING OUT OF THE GOOP:
The key here is to make sure they're different (one you're starting and one you're refining, or different genres, structures, etc.) so you can approach each with fresh eyes. Also, this way, your writing for one project doesn’t bleed into the other, leading to two projects that are too similar. *I elaborate on this in my chat with Josh on Funk & Friends around the 22 min. mark*
JUST KEEP GOING
And again, because it’s worth repeating...know that you are not alone. We are all in the ucky mucky goop together.
And we can help each other to get unstuck, and back into a writing groove, together.
Wait, what about the first elephant?!
Well . . . here’s what happened (as is convenient for the purpose of this blog post 😎). Baby Elephant found that the way out was not by staring at the slippery wall it couldn’t climb, but by turning around, and finding a new way out.
I hope these tips help you see a way out of the goop.
One foot at a time.
And lots of self care.
I’m wishing you some writing magic, too.
I’ll talk about voice in the next blog post: What it is, how to hone yours, and exemplary examples of voice in children’s literature. Make sure you’re signed up for the blog (see sidebar) so you don’t miss the post. I also tweet new #writingtips as they come to me. So if you’re not already, connect with me on twitter to get fresh tips every now and then.
Katrina Moore writes in New Jersey. She holds a M.A. in Teaching and has been an elementary teacher for ten years. Her mission is to create books that children will hug for ages. She is the author of the picture books, ONE HUG, illustrated by Julia Woolf (HarperCollins/Tegen Books, Dec. 2019), GRANDPA GRUMPS, illustrated by Xindi Yan (Little Bee Books, April 2020), and the forthcoming SOMETIMES LOVE, a powerful and poetic exploration of love---from giving, to growing, to sometimes letting go, illustrated by Joy Hwang Ruiz (Penguin/Dial, Summer 2022). Her humorous chapter books series, TEENY HOUDINI, illustrated by Zoe Si, star the magical, mischievous, mayhem-maker Bessie Lee. Books 1 and 2 will publish Winter 2022 (HarperCollins/Tegen Books).
When she is not writing or teaching, she is cooking without a recipe, painting outside the lines, or snuggling up with her two kids, husband, pups, and of course, a cozy book. Connect with her on twitter @kmoorebooks or at www.katrinamoorebooks.com.
While most of my writing posts are craft-based, this one is going to address the other side of the coin that makes a writer successful...being a reader. Are you being a responsible reader? Are you respecting the reader you're writing for?
From the moment children are born, they are amazing humans. They take in the world, make sense of it, and act accordingly. From the moment they are born.
Therefore, as the writers for children, the readers of books to children, the buyers of books for children, the grown ups raising and shaping today's children (who will become tomorrow's grown ups), we hold a grave responsibility---whether we want to, or not. Every book we choose, read, buy, and hand to a child teaches them something more about the world (even the funny and absurd ones).
We should be choosing books that children will love, yes. It's okay (and great!) to share the ones we loved growing up, too. We want them to become readers, so picking books that will engage them is essential!
However, we also need to consciously and considerately think about the books we choose.
For example, the first novel I read aloud to my second grade class this year was by one of my favorite authors of all time, Roald Dahl. We read JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH. But...that book was written in 1961. There is language that is not appropriate, that just wasn't "deemed" inappropriate in 1961. When I read these phrases and words, I make sure to pause, and explain that to the students. "This is not okay to say. It's never okay to say, but sixty years ago, they didn't think about it like that. It's great that we've learned since then and can read this now and know that it's not okay." Sometimes, it's a small conversation that we have, and sometimes, it's just something important to note, and then keep reading.
So what questions should be we asking? Here are some that I think about when selecting stories to share:
What might a child take away from this book? What perspective have I shown? Whose story have I shared? Whose story is missing from this narrative? Am I sharing books that reflect this child's experiences? Am I sharing a range of voices, experiences, and perspectives? As we know, it's important for there to be enough literature to both reflect all children's experiences, and provide windows into experiences they are unfamiliar to.
Am I respecting the child's intelligence--their ability to absorb and comprehend complex information?
Am I giving them access to literature that will build empathy?
Am I allowing them to ask questions?
Or, am I guarding them because I don't know the answers?
Remember, from the moment children are born, they are amazing humans. They take in the world, make sense of it, and act accordingly. I am not suggesting exposing children to content or writing that is not age-appropriate. But I do believe that *how* you have a conversation about a tough topic is important. It's okay to not have the answers. In fact, it helps children understand that we are still learning, too. And empowers them. I've been surprised and impressed by the deep conversations I've had with first graders, second graders, and my own kindergartener and preschooler.
When I read NOT QUITE SNOW WHITE, written by Ashley Franklin and illustrated by Ebony Glenn, to my second grade class in the beginning of the year, I did not present it as an alternate Snow White book. The little information I gave before reading was, "this is a book I love. I'm excited to read it to you and hear what you think," which is how I present most books that I read to children. Afterwards, a second grader raises their hand and says,
"the words the other kids said are mean. That's not nice. I'm glad Tameika got to be Snow White because anyone should be able to be Snow White."
A six year old said that. And it lead to a wonderfully deep conversation about race, confidence, and treating each other with respect.
When I read Kevin Maillard and Juana Martinez-Neal's FRY BREAD, to my kindergarten daughter and preschool son, they poured over each gorgeous illustration. My kindergartener pointed out that "their family members look all different, like in our family." When we read the lyrical and powerful words about how fry bread was made from the few ingredients given to the people after they were forced to move, my daughter wanted to know more. So we read the beautiful back matter. She asked tough questions. My preschooler said, "That's not fair. That's not nice." And I said, he was right. We talked about how it's important we remember that it happened, so that we do better now. It was a tough conversation, but I'm thankful for that beautiful book for opening us up to the conversation in a way that was accessible to my young children.
Here's my online review of FRY BREAD:
"Read FRY BREAD to my second grade students. They loved it (me too!). What a powerful, important, beautiful book this is! It affirms Native people's lives and shows the loving, thriving, diverse community of Native Nations. Through lyrical text, stunning art, and thoughtful, honest back matter, this book shares an authentic, ownvoice perspective of history that is important for all children to know. It led to thoughtful discussion and so many wonderful questions.
I highly recommend this for every early childhood and elementary classroom. And for families everywhere.
Also, we all want fry bread, now!"
Here are some more books that I've personally shared with students and my own young children. They're books that have sparked special and meaningful conversations. They're books that are among our favorites.
What I've previously posted about HONEYSMOKE:
"This is a tender and heartwarming book about a girl discovering her own color. She draws inspiration from mom and dad to come up with a color that’s all her own. I love the message presented here of finding your own color to express yourself. Readers, young and old, will be inspired to find their own color after reading this book. The illustrations are beautifully rendered---vibrant yet soft, bold yet gentle. As the parent of bi-racial children, I’m so glad this book is in the world and on our bookshelf. It’s one we’ll enjoy together, again and again!"
What I've previously posted about HANDS UP:
"HANDS UP is full of warmth and energy. It spins a phrase that has a negative connotation into one that is empowering and joyful. This book is a powerful celebration of the different ways we put our hands up---in happiness, in helping, in hope. Highly recommend!"
What I've previously posted about THE OLDEST STUDENT:
"THE OLDEST STUDENT is the incredibly inspiring and true story of Mary Walker. She learned to read at age 116! This book is beautifully written, capturing the perseverance, independence, and grit of the nation’s oldest student. Breathtaking illustrations. My second graders loved this—it sparked rich conversations and ignited excellent questions. This book belongs on every bookshelf!"
Here's another great list: 31 Books To Support Conversations On Race, Racism, and Resistance, here: (there is some overlap and I haven't personally read all of these books, but I plan to!)
One of my favorite independent bookstores, Red Balloon Bookshop, St. Paul, MN, curated an amazing list of books, too. Check it out & purchase books here:
Literacy Activist and Librarian Edi Campbell shares a phenomenal list of books for children on this matter, too:
You may also want to check out this list of own-voice books, organized by age group, by PenguinRandomHouse:
HarperCollins Children's also shared a great thread of books by Black creators from the youngest reader through middle grade:
Reading inclusive, own-voice literature is not something that should be done during a designated month only, or in the aftermath of a tragedy.
The way to raise empathetic humans, to lay a strong foundation today as we grow tomorrow's adults, is to make this a regular, all-the-time practice.
As an important gatekeeper---a teacher, a parent, an author, a gift-giver, a book-reader, a human, it's important that I stay informed, educated, and keep the child-reader's needs at the center of every book choice I do (and don't) make.
The inclusive books I share are part of my daily read-alouds in my classroom. In my house, they are prominent on the shelves with other favorite books. They're not in a "multicultural" bin or stashed away. These are books we read because we love the story, the language, the illustrations. We want to reread them again and again, because they are great books.
What questions are you asking young readers?
What questions are you allowing them to ask you?
What access are you giving them to content that will enrich and enlighten their view of themselves and of others?
When we center, and give access to books that represent underrepresented voices (but equally as important and much needed voices), we are slowly, but strongly, brick by brick, home by home, heart by heart, child by child, building a better world,
And, hopefully, these children we're shaping---they'll take in the world, make sense of it, and act accordingly.
(Please note: this is only a tiny fraction of the own-voice picture books I love.
Please add more own-voice picture books that *you* love and recommend in the comments. I want to continue to grow my list.)
Let's build a better world together 🌍💜
Katrina Moore writes in New Jersey. She holds a M.A. in Teaching and has been an elementary teacher for ten years. Her mission is to create books that children will hug for ages. ONE HUG, illustrated by Julia Woolf, is a lyrical celebration of the different ways that hugs bring people together (HarperCollins/Tegen Books, Dec. 2019). GRANDPA GRUMPS, illustrated by Xindi Yan, is a humorous and heartfelt story featuring Daisy, and how she connects with her Chinese grandfather across cultures and generations (Little Bee Books, April 2020). Her humorous chapter books series, TEENY HOUDINI, illustrated by Zoe Si, stars the magical, mischievous, mayhem-maker Bessie Lee. Books 1 and 2 will publish Winter 2022 (HarperCollins/Tegen Books). More to-be-announced books are on the way!
When she is not writing or teaching, she is cooking without a recipe, painting outside the lines, or snuggling up with her two kids, husband, pups, and of course, a cozy book. Connect with her on twitter @kmoorebooks or at www.katrinamoorebooks.com.
It's the end of the year (and the end of a decade). For me, this is a time of reflection. It's actually something I do at the end/beginning of each month, and then, again, at the end of the year as a whole.
Throughout the year, I have ongoing lists in my journal. I title a page for each, and then add to it throughout the year.
This year, my page titles included:
Of course, there's the rest of my journal for musings, learnings, sketches, early drafts, revision notes, outlines, etc.
After reviewing each of my lists at the end of the year, and going through my journals, I make a new list for the new year: GOALS. (I'll come back to goals in a later post!)
I was proud to fill (and overflow) each of these pages this year. In fact, my major highlights page was bursting this year.
Some Major Highlights This Year:
-Trusting my gut & seeking new representation. Knowing what I need and want in a professional agent-author relationship.
-Taking it seriously & staying grounded (and true to myself) when receiving multiple offers of representation. Taking my time to be thoughtful and ask potential agents and myself the hard questions.
-Signing with the perfect-for-me agent & agency! Later, meeting my agent (on the east coast) and celebrating hopefully-soon-to-be-announced news, meeting Writers House agents on the west coast in person, and touring the west coast office!
-All the moments along ONE HUG's journey to becoming a real book in the world, on the shelves for readers. What a long journey it's been! This year I got to celebrate this book in it's various stages!
-Connecting with others as an author! Presenting at my first SCBWI conference, and attending and signing books at my first nErDCamp!
-Of course, connections made are the best, biggest highlights of the year. I chatted about this during a twitter #PBCHAT with my New In Nineteen Debut Group. Also, this group of creators debuted AMAZING books this year. Check them out if you haven't already!
-And last, but certainly NOT least, ONE HUG debuted in the last month of this year, and I've been overflowing with joy and gratitude!
-So honored to have guest posted and been interviewed all over online! I share more on my writing journey, how ONE HUG came to be, what I hope it will do for readers, and some other fun traditions and tidbits! Check some of ONE HUG's online appearances here:
Whew! What a year it's been! I've filled four notebooks, sold books in a new genre, and began writing in another genre!
While the major milestones are definitely worth celebrating, it's also worthwhile (and important) to celebrate each moment that brings you to that milestone. Every moment that pushes you forward, and up, and along on your journey.
It's been a year of new beginnings, branching out, and what's been most challenging, but also most important to my overall health and well-being, a year of balancing. As a mother to two young children and two high-energy dogs, a teacher, and a wife, I'm most proud that I've been able to balance it all and find the time to nurture my passion---my writing. I've grown in craft and curiosity. And I'm excited for what's to come in the new year (I'll write up a goals post to share in the New Year).
For now, I'm wrapping up the year by spending New Year's Eve with my family. We're playing, partying, and not planning much of anything else!
What are you most proud of this year?
How are you wrapping up 2019?
Check out my Featured Author Post on the 12x12 Blog! I share more about my writing journey and how to take your career into your own hands:
So here's a letter to you about why I wrote this book, what I hope it will do, and who I think it's for (Spoiler alert--it's for you.)
When I set out to write One Hug, I wanted to celebrate how powerful and transformative one connection could be—how one hug connects us uniquely, yet universally.
At its heart—it’s about one hug connecting us in ways that sometimes words cannot.
Like the overwhelming joy that one feels when reunited with their far-away family after a long separation. Or that comforting hug from a sibling that soothes us more than a thousand “it’s okays” ever could.
I also wrote this book to give a voice and stage to the little Chinese-American girl in me who never saw herself accurately represented in the media. Growing up, none of the characters I knew were Chinese. Not on TV. Not in books. The few stories featuring Asian-American characters were issue-driven books surrounding race and identity. I never felt like being Chinese-American was my singular identity, but the media made it seem so.
This book shows the more accurate version of myself and others. Like the characters in One Hug, my cultural identity influences my life, but it’s not my whole story.
Upon first read, this book is a fun, rhythmic, easy read aloud that’s perfect for bedtime—celebrating summer nights, simple pleasures, and the people we love. And yet, when we dig deeper, asking, “Who are these characters? What are they doing? Why are they celebrating?” children, as astute as they are, will notice a cross-cultural family dinner, an immigrant family reunion, and three generations of a family.
I hope it’s a book that all children will cozy up with—anyone who needs some love, and also those who love to hug!
Hugs and Love,
Ready to pre-order?! Available here
and wherever books are sold!
Want to know more about the book? Click here:
One of the most common struggles for writers, myself included, is creating an ending that delivers a WOW factor. A good ending leaves a feeling of resolve.
But delivering a wow ending . . . what’s the secret?
Picture book author Dev Petty said it best when she tweeted this:
(She also says lots of other wise things and gives great writing tips if you follow her on twitter, FYI.)
I couldn’t agree more. The best endings leave me thinking about a book looong after I’ve closed the covers. In a previous post, CRAFTING STAND OUT PICTURE BOOKS: A REVISION CHECKLIST, I challenge picture book creators to ask themselves:
DOES THE STORY FEEL RESOLVED?
-Was it logical but surprising?
-Are we satisfied?
In this blog, I’ll expand on these questions by studying picture books that deliver a W.O.W. ending. I have a method for studying picture books from the lens of a creator, but for this blog, I'm going to zoom in on the endings.
How do they make us wonder?
How do they outdo our expectations?
How do they wrap us in all the feels?
Of course, I'm never one to ruin a good surprise. So I won't actually be sharing the endings. No spoiler alerts here! But I will share a glimpse leading up to the ending and follow up with my reaction as a reader.
How do you end a book by creating a beginning? How can you ingnite, within the reader, a curiosity to explore more? A sense of wonder?
If you haven't experienced BLUE, from Laura Vaccaro Seeger, you need to!
I use the word experience purposefully because this book is a true work of art. As with all her books, the illustrations are stunning. You want to touch each page, each cut out, and you pore over each artistic detail time and time again. I rarely read one of her books with my mouth shut because I am full of wonder the entire time. How did she do this? How will she create a spread as magical as the last one? What will be on the next page? This book is a companion to the award winning GREEN, and it is wonderful!
Especially the ending.
You are invited into this special relationship between a boy and his dog as they grow up together. In the end, your heart will break. But it will also heal. And you are left with an overwhelming feeling of hope. And wonder. What will be his next chapter?
Outdoing Our (the reader's) Expectations:
You've crafted the perfect resolution. It's sweet. It's silly. It's meant to be.
It's . . . totally expected.
How can you surprise the reader? How can you deliver a twist that's logical, yet totally unexpected? How can you outdo yourself?
I previously tweeted this list of picture books that surprised me in the best ways. They made me giggle. Or gasp. Or guffaw!
Another book that outdid my expectations at the end was Dan Santat's AFTER THE FALL. This book tells the story of what happens after Humpty Dumpty falls off the wall and how he finds the courage to climb back up again. The story resolves beautifully, and then the very end is so unexpected, yet logical, that it's mind-blowing. Of course this is how it should end! How has no one thought of this before? How can *I* do something like this?!
Wrap Us In All The Feels
It is a very special thing when you connect to a book. When this connection happens, that's what brings me back to a book time and time, again. I've not only read the book, I felt it. I related to the struggle. I cheered for the main character. I was part of the journey. And when that journey comes to a resolution that's heartwarming, deserving, and wraps me in strong feelings---that's a wow ending. When this happens, I literally will hug the book, knowing it's just made it's place onto my bookshelf and into my heart.
This book ends with the happily ever after that, we, as very invested readers, *needed* to happen, but then the very last spread wraps us in a feeling that's warm. And wonderful. And WOW. Smile-lingering, heartwarming, wow.
Now, it's your turn!
Check out the ending of your work in progress. Does it check the list?
Will make us wonder?
Will it outdo our expectations?
Will it wrap us in all the feels?
Your W.O.W. ending is waiting for you, wishing, willing you to write it.
Will you? ✨
Katrina Moore writes and teaches in New Jersey. Earning her M.A. in elementary education, she has been a teacher for almost a decade in Maryland, Massachusetts, and New York. Her mission is to create books that children will hug for ages. Her debut picture book, ONE HUG, illustrated by the talented Julia Woolf, is a lyrical celebration of the different ways that hugs bring people together, forthcoming from HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Books in 2019. The book follows an Asian-American boy as he and his family prepare to welcome their immigrant relatives. Her second picture book,GRANDPA GRUMPS, illustrated by the amazing Xindi Yan, is a humorous and heartfelt story featuring a little girl, Daisy, and how she connects with her Chinese grandfather across cultures and generations, forthcoming from Little Bee Books in 2020. When she is not teaching elementary kids or writing, she is cooking without a recipe, painting outside the lines, or snuggling up with her two kids, husband, pomapoo pup, and of course, a cozy book. Connect with her on twitter @kmoorebooks or at www.katrinamoorebooks.com.
Moderated By Katrina Moore
There’s been a lot of distress in the writing community surrounding agent/author relationships following recent situations that have surfaced. So I wanted to feature a post that provides hope, knowledge, and light. In this “panel” post, I’ve asked four stellar agents four questions. Their thoughtful answers will give you insight into their agenting style, and inspire you to not give up hope on your journey to finding the right agent, even when the light seems dim.
Joining our panel are the brilliant, and incredibly inspiring agents: Holly McGhee, Natascha Morris, Ammi-Joan Paquette, and Jennifer March Soloway!
Holly: If there’s one thing I can tell you unequivocally, it’s that there is no typical submission process! Just like life, the journey of a submission is full of surprises, both good and not so good. These days I only accept exclusive queries, and I take my time considering them, usually four weeks. I like to know how an author sees themselves, where they want to go, why they have to write, whether or not they’re capable of putting their best energy into their stories, maybe time and time again. I’d say the best surprise in the query process is when a story comes into my query inbox in perfect condition, and I read it really fast and can call the author up the same day and offer representation immediately. That’s a real joy and hardly ever happens . . . more often I’m excited because I’m moved, or I hear something in the voice, or I just cannot put the manuscript down (even if it’s a big old mess)!
From there, once the story is ready, if it’s a debut, I like to do a select multiple submission to editors I know and trust, or sometimes to new editors I’ve met who show the promise of the future. We often know in a week or two if there is interest, but sometimes it can be longer. Once we know there is an offer coming, we’ll let the other editors know that, and ideally have the author speak with or meet everybody who’s interested in publishing the work. Financials are next and ultimately, we weigh the financials and passion for the project together in order to make a decision.
Sometimes a publisher will offer pre-emptively, and those cases are hard. It’s tempting to take a pre-empt, but at the same time you’re ruling out all the other possibilities, so you have to feel really sure. Never take a pre-empt because you’re scared no one else will offer.
That said, I have seen major deviations from this scenario. One time, an editor was in my office and I showed her half of a picture-book dummy from a client. I’d been trying unsuccessfully to get him to finish it for over a year, so that I could submit it broadly. The editor made a pre-empt right there in my office and we accepted it, not only because the financials were strong, but also because then he would be forced to finish due to a contractual deadline!
Natascha: Once a project is ready to go out, I usually research editors. I always ask my clients who their dream editor or imprints would be because this is an exciting part. Once I have the list and pitch together, I send it out, and then keep track on a spreadsheet. Clients usually get the spreadsheet as soon as it goes out.
I honestly can’t think of a project that wasn’t handled in this way.
Joan: Every project is a little bit different, but typically I submit client projects to editors in batches. This gives us a chance to review the responses we receive and, if the project doesn’t sell immediately, there may be some valuable information in those passes which can help to guide a revision before continuing the submission process. That said, every single project unfolds a little bit differently—it’s an art, not a science!
Jennifer: First, I work editorially with my client to revise and polish the project for submission, so we can put our very best foot forward. (Note: This step usually takes more time and drafts than either my client or I first expected.)
In the meantime, I compile a list of editors whom I think will enjoy the project, and I write a cover letter and pitch for the project (Note: I write multiple drafts and get feedback from colleagues to get it right before I submit to editors.)
Then we submit to editors. My hope is always to receive multiple offers, but that’s not always the case. Agents receive many rejections, too! Every time I get a rejection, I see it as an opportunity to learn more about the market and what works or doesn’t. If I am lucky enough to get feedback, I then have the opportunity to strategize next steps with my client. For example, I might need to rethink my submission list. Or maybe the project would benefit from a round of revision. Or maybe the project needs some key changes to better position it for the market. And in some cases, maybe we need to wait and try selling a different project first.
After we regroup and strategize next steps, I try again. In some cases, I’ve sold projects right away, and for other projects, it took me several attempts to find the right editor.
At this point in my career, I have yet to deviate from that process. So far, it’s worked well for me.
Holly: I took on a debut YA author a few years ago, which I hardly ever do. Her book was around the theme of suicide, but unlike anything I’d read about suicide. When I read it, even though it needed a ton of work, I knew that the world needed this book badly. Not only that, but it was one of the most beautiful teenage love stories I have ever read. I know that this book will prevent many, many suicides at every age, and I can’t wait to submit it to publishers in the next few weeks.
Natascha: Picture books are where this most often happens. I recently signed an author for a quirky picture book that I could never had dreamed I would want. Sometimes we know exactly what we are looking for and sometimes we get hit with projects that are weirdly perfect.
Joan: That is just about always the case! When it comes to books and manuscripts, it’s not what you do, it’s how you do it.—You can have the coolest, most original concept in the world, but if you haven’t also crafted a fresh, layered, smartly written and well-rounded story, it won’t be enough. Submissions are also very subjective! What makes one agent or editor wild may leave another unmoved—so do your research, keep polishing, and keep submitting.
Jennifer: My favorite picture books tend to be funny books with bright, light-hearted illustrations that also add humor to the story, and I am not usually drawn to sweet picture books. But when I received a picture book dummy about grief, I fell in love with the project. The story followed how a young girl processed the death of a loved one in a way I had never seen before, and the illustrations, painterly and whimsical, also conveyed emotion. I wept as I read the story and immediately contacted the author/illustrator to offer representation.
However, as much as I love that project, I would say I still love and prefer funny picture books. If your story can make me laugh out loud after multiple reads out loud (if I like a project, I read it multiple times aloud before contacting the author), I will offer representation.
Holly: I can’t answer this question exactly, but I can tell you about an artist I offered representation to over a decade ago, who didn’t choose me. He seemed like somebody who shared the Pippin sensibility, and who wanted to take risks and do the work necessary, but he went with a Hollywood agency, who doesn’t specialize in books, because they painted a bright future for him in animation and film and took him around town in limousines . . . he forgot for a bit that books were his first love.
Then a year or two ago, he wrote to me and said he wanted to see me. I still loved his work and was curious about what he wanted to talk about. He told me he wanted to sign up with Pippin, if we would have him, that he had made some changes in his life and was ready to dig in to the most important project of his life, one that would take many years to finish, and he wanted our company along the way, since we have strong editorial instincts and he needed support with this daring new work. I took one look at the project and I knew that I had to welcome him back . . . we sold it at auction several months later, and he’s about one-third done with it at this time. I also have a hunch that it is going to make an extraordinary Hollywood film, but the book comes first. So, I guess the lesson is to always keep an open mind, and always be willing to take another look if the person comes back for the right reasons.
Natascha: I find that there are a lot of similar themes in picture books so sometimes we get familiar feeling projects. I am looking for the fresh take on that. One of my current clients initially sent me a new to school book that just felt like a million takes on the subject, so I naturally passed. The next manuscript she sent showed a much stronger writer and a much fresher story so I moved forward. Bad books happen to good writers, so never give up.
Joan: Typically, if an agent wants to see more work from you, they will say so. I do this fairly often, when an author’s voice or writing style feels promising, but I don’t connect with the particular work I am reading. I have signed more than one client in this way; and have been signed that way myself: My agent, Erin Murphy, passed on my own work the first time she read it. The next time we connected, she signed me as a client. And the following year, I also began working with her as an agent ☺
Jennifer: When I say, “no means not yet,” I mean it sincerely. I believe in the power of revision!
Two years ago, I met a MG writer at a conference and gave her a critique of her opening pages. I loved her pitch and the sample I read, but she didn’t have a complete manuscript. We stayed in touch, and a year later, she queried me. The story was terrific, but the draft still needed work. I sent her notes and asked her to please consider revising the draft to send to me again. When she did, her story was amazing. I laughed and cried as I read the draft, and I immediately offered representation, as did several more agents. Fortunately, she said yes to me.
So, yes, if I offer a revise and resubmit, that means I see potential in the project but feel the draft needs more work. That step is a test for both the author and me: I want to see if the author can revise, and if my feedback inspires the author to produce a better draft. And the author will get a sense of my editorial style and if I would be a good fit for them. Win, win, right?
Unfortunately, a lot of writers will rush a revision and send it back to me right away. When they do, it is such a huge disappointment. I was really hoping they’d take their time and send me something I could represent.
Please don’t whip out a quickie edit and squander the opportunity. I used to tell writers I didn’t want to hear from them for at least a month, but I’ve realized even a month is not enough time to do a deep, comprehensive edit—especially if an author is a newer, less experienced writer. Take your time. Don’t worry if it feels like you’re taking forever. I want your next draft to be amazing, and I will wait for you!
Holly: Yes. The desire to give the world your best work, along with: Talent, Integrity, Trust, and a really good sense of humor.
Natascha: I would say all of my clients have a willingness to work (most authors do), but we really approach this as a team endeavor. One person’s success paves the way for the rest. Having that mindset, and approaching writing in that way, shows that you understand that while this may be your book and you chance, the impression you make reflects on the team.
Joan: I wouldn’t say there’s any one commonality, but I do think that the strongest authors who really end up going the distance are the ones who have a real serious commitment to craft. They are always growing, learning, practicing, writing something new, polishing something old. They are constantly growing and evolving as an artist. They are immersed in the world of publishing, they make connections, they are professional and approachable and smart about what they do. If you see this as a career, as a genuine profession, it matters—and it shows!
Jennifer: I’m looking for the following qualities:
If I sound like a good fit, please consider querying me. I am actively seeking clients.
Wow! That was incredibly insightful and inspiring. Thank you, Holly, Natascha, Joan, and Jennifer, for championing creators and stories that are truly making this world a better, safer, happier place . . . one client and one book at a time!✨
Holly M. McGhee is the founder and President of Pippin Properties, Inc., a boutique literary agency located in the heart of New York City (pippinproperties.com). She is also the author of New York Times bestselling, E. B. White Readaloud Finalist Come with Me, Illustrated by Pascal Lemaitre, as well as the middle-grade novel Matylda, Bright & Tender, a Bank Street and Amazon Best Book of 2017. Her next collaboration with Pascal, titled Listen, will be published in the fall of 2019. You can find out more about her writing at hollymcghee.com, or follow her on twitter or insta @hollymmcghee
Holly accepts exclusive queries at: email@example.com. She requires four weeks to consider the work–if you don’t hear from her after that time, it means that regretfully, she is passing on the opportunity to represent you.
You can also query the other stellar agents at Pippin Properties, Inc., but no more than one at a time. Guidelines can be found here: https://pippinproperties.com/submissions
Follow Pippin on twitter @lovethepippins and on insta @pippinproperties
Natascha spent most of her childhood in a leather chair with her nose in a book. Formerly an editorial assistant at Simon & Schuster, her passion for books across genres and her desire to finding amazing talent drove her to make the transition from editorial to literary agent.
Her editorial philosophy stems from the idea that all books should be well written and entertaining. Some of her favorite authors include Molly Idle, Sherwood Smith, Ann Rinaldi, Sabaa Tahir, and Meg Cabot. Check out her Pinterest for a quick look at her favorite books. https://www.pinterest.com/nataschamorris/
Natascha is primarily looking for picture book, middle grade and young adult manuscripts across most genres, including contemporary, mysteries, thrillers, fantasy, historical fiction, and narrative non-fiction. She is also looking for artists that speak to her creatively.
Ammi-Joan Paquette is a senior literary agent with Erin Murphy Literary Agency representing many leading children’s and YA authors. She is also the author of many books for young readers, including the magical adventure The Train of Lost Things, the bestselling picture book Ghost in the House, and the Two Truths and a Lie series, co-written with Laurie Ann Thompson. Please note that EMLA is only open to submissions via referral or from attendees of conferences or events at which she is a speaker. Check www.emliterary.com for a list of upcoming appearances!
JENNIFER MARCH SOLOWAY is an associate agent with the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. She represents authors and illustrators of picture book, middle grade, and young adult stories. She enjoys all genres and categories, such as laugh-out-loud picture books and middle-grade adventures, but her sweet spot is young adult. A suspense junkie, she adores action-packed thrillers and mysteries. Throw in a dash of romance, and she’s hooked! But as much as she loves a good thriller, she finds her favorite novels are literary stories about ordinary teens focused on family, relationships, sexuality, mental illness, or addiction. Regardless of genre, she is actively seeking fresh new voices and perspectives underrepresented in literature. Jennifer is actively building her client list and welcomes queries to firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about Jennifer, follow her on Twitter, @marchsoloway, and find her full wish list at www.andreabrownlit.com.
By Katrina Moore
Picture books, by their nature, are books in which the pictures tell as much (sometimes more, sometimes all) of the story as the words. When done well, this is why picture books are so magical. In 40 or less pages (mostly) and 500 or less words (usually) we are made to laugh, or cry, or wonder, and in the very best of cases . . . all of the above.
So how do you craft such a magical marriage between words and illustrations?
And how is this done if you are only the author?
Let’s share some stellar examples:
Sometimes, the words are purposefully open to interpretation, like in SOMEDAY by Alison McGhee and Peter H. Reynolds:
This can also lead to illustrations that amplify the drama and escalate the tension (and humor),
like in CHARLOTTE AND THE ROCK by Stephen Martin Illustrated by Samantha Cotterill:
Sometimes, the words are charged with emotion, leading to illustrations that are giggle-worthy,
Sometimes, the words are super silly, and the illustrations create the perfect compliment,
Sometimes, the words are intended to be ironic (and if you are the author-only, this is an instance where you will want to include an art note), as in Cate Berry and Charles Santoso’s PENGUIN AND TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME, where the words say,
In the above picture book examples, the words and art flow together fluidly, sometimes complimenting each other, sometimes elevating each other, sometimes opposing each other, and sometimes balancing each other so beautifully that the matches are seemingly made . . .
in picture book heaven.
So as you craft your picture books, think:
How can I leave room for the illustrator?
What purposeful word choices can I use to make a big splash?
Katrina Moore writes and teaches in New Jersey. Earning her M.A. in elementary education, she has been a teacher for almost a decade in Maryland, Massachusetts, and New York. Her mission is to create books that children will hug for ages. Her debut picture book, ONE HUG, illustrated by the talented Julia Woolf, is a lyrical celebration of the different ways that hugs bring people together, forthcoming from HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Books in 2019. Her second picture book, GRANDPA GRUMPS, illustrated by the amazing Xindi Yan, is a humorous and heartfelt story about a little girl, Daisy, and how she connects with her Chinese grandfather across cultures and generations, forthcoming from Little Bee Books in 2020.
When she is not writing or teaching kids in elementary school, she is cooking without a recipe, painting outside the lines, or snuggling up with her two kids, husband, pomapoo pup, and of course, a cozy book. Connect with her on twitter @kmoorebooks or at www.katrinamoorebooks.com.
By Katrina Moore
A writer’s journey is full of waves. Some knock you down. Some push. Some pull. Others wash over you with warmth and glimmer with hope. And on this journey, landing the right literary agent can provide both a powerful wind to to push you in the right direction and an anchor to keep you grounded. So how do you get there?
Shall we set sail?
There is a sea of excellent and in-depth resources to surf through online. So instead of restating what’s already out there, I’ve fished through and organized links with boat loads of information.
But first . . .
Are you really ready?
Do you have at least three to four “ready manuscripts?” Ready as in, ready for agents’ eyes and ready for editors’ eyes?
Why is this important? Honestly, your first manuscript might not sell. Your second manuscript might not sell, either. Your agent has to know they can get behind your body of work. And the wider range you can show them early on will ensure that they will be able to be a champion for your career, and not just this one book.
If you’re not sure if you’re ready or not, check out these articles:
Yippee! You’re still aboard!
Let’s journey on . . .
How do you research agents?
Research is so important. You want an agent who can be your champion. Who will sail with you through the ups and downs, keep you afloat when you feel you’re sinking, who is so passionate about your work that they’ll practically jump off the boat running to shore to share your work with editors. And yet, finding the right agent is such a personal thing. Not only should they check the list of qualities you’re looking for in an agent, but there are also so many intangibles that you can’t know until you at least talk to the agent on the phone. Just like with dating, sometimes a person can check all the boxes and yet, they end up being all wrong for you! (More on how to gauge this in “What Should You Ask Before Accepting Representation?” below)
Here’s advice that Senior Agent Jen Rofė recently tweeted on researching agents:
So back to that list. . .
Have you made a list of the qualities you’re looking for in an agent?
Doing this will help to narrow your search down. Once you make your list, here are a few different ways you can go about researching agents:
This article provides a wealth of information including whether you might need an agent or not, how to research agents, how to tell if an agent is “real”, how to write a synopsis, etc:
And here are some more great links to check out:
Ready to take the plunge and Query?
What to put in your query letter:
I would add that you should tell the agent why you are querying them (succinctly) in your query. If an agent knows that you specifically took time to think of them because of xyz, they may be more excited to consider your submission.
And when rejections start rolling in, because most likely, some (or a lot, a lot, a lot) will, don’t get salty (I know, nearly impossible). But, it really is about being a good fit for each other, otherwise the agent won’t be able to best serve you. So if they’re not passionate about your work, they really shouldn’t be your agent.
Here’s what agent Molly O’Neill recently tweeted regarding agents not "saying yes":
QUERY LETTERS THAT WORKED! There are real examples of query letters that landed agents and book deals here, plus an analysis of why they’re so great:
What should you ask an agent before accepting representation?
How do you know if it’s the right agent for you?
"Is It Normal?" A great twitter thread by Amy Tintera on what to expect from an agent:
Best Practices from Agents and What an Agent is Supposed to do Podcast from senior agents Jennifer Laughran and Kelly Sonnack:
And finally . . .
How do you prepare for this long and arduous journey?
The 3 Ps! I originally shared the below advice on my “How I Got My Agent” post on Julie Hedlund's Blog:
Patience – It’s about the journey. It’s a long, long (rollercoaster of emotions) journey. But have patience and faith that you will find that great match. It’s worth waiting (and researching).
Perseverance – There’s so much you cannot control in this process. I kept my mind off the waiting by focusing on the only thing I could control: my writing. I continued to hone my craft so that every time my work was viewed, it was my best.
Positive Thinking – Eye on the prize! (The prize being that you continue to grow into a better and better writer. There are so many different paths to take. What is perfect for someone else will not be perfect for you. But you will get where you want. Keep going!
And if you’re worried that you’ll fall off the boat,
that you’ll be unable to find your way to land . . .
**P.S. If you have links, questions, or advice to add, please do so in the comments!**
Katrina Moore writes and teaches in New Jersey, outside Philadelphia. Earning her M.A. in elementary education, she has been a teacher for almost a decade in Maryland, Massachusetts, and New York. Her mission is to create books that children will hug for ages. Her debut picture book, ONE HUG, illustrated by the talented Julia Woolf, is a lyrical celebration of the different ways that hugs bring people together, forthcoming from HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Books in 2019. The book follows an Asian-American boy as he and his family prepare to welcome their immigrant relatives. When she is not teaching elementary kids or writing, she is cooking without a recipe, painting outside the lines, or snuggling up with her two kids, husband, pomapoo pup, and of course, a cozy book. Connect with her on twitter @kmoorebooks or at www.katrinamoorebooks.com.
Katrina Moore writes for all, teaches many, and raises two young children. She holds an M.A. in elementary education. She's the author of ONE HUG, GRANDPA GRUMPS, SOMETIMES LOVE (Penguin/Dial, '22), and the forthcoming chapter book series, TEENY HOUDINI (HarperCollins/Tegen, '22), and more. Connect with her on twitter!