December 29, 2009

2010 Reading Resolution Challenge: What Book Changed Your Life?

Dear Readers,

Since last week I took a look back at this past year, this week I’m taking a look forward at the year to come... with a CHALLENGE! I’m inviting anyone reading this blog or following me on Twitter to participate.

After reading a really great blog entry by Jenny over at Jenny Loves to Read ( I’m joining her 2010 Reading Resolution Challenge.

My Resolution: I will read 52 books this year. Easy, you say? Of course that’s the easy part! The hard part is that I’m not going to pick them. YOU will. But I WILL read them. And here’s why—

I’ve heard that the best way to get to know a person is by the company they keep. If this is true, the second-best way to get to know a person is by the books they read. Aren’t these companions almost as alive as people? Didn’t it take even more time and just as much love to bring them into existence?

So even though I’m designing this challenge, it’s really about you. Please leave a comment, or send me a tweet, or shoot me an email about a book that means something to you. Tell me,"What book changed your life?" Feel free to tell me anything else you want me to know about you or your book. I’ll track down the books, make a list, and start reading. You can track my progress on a list on the sidebar of my blog and Jenny will help me by checking back in every two months. I can only promise to read the FIRST 52 books, so contact me ASAP! I’ll blog about how each book affected me- maybe you’ll tell me about how the book affected you too?

Again, official rules:
1 entry per person
You must be FOLLOWING me on either Twitter or this blog
Any genre/age

I encourage everyone to make their own reading resolution and PLEASE help me to make mine- it will only take a minute of your time now and no commitment in the future. Have a happy new year, everyone!


December 24, 2009

In Retrospect

December 24th, 10:00 pm, Eastern Standard Time—I can’t believe a year went by so fast…time to see what we have, time to see.

I know that New Year's Eve is usually the time that people like to look back and evaluate the past year, but the previous line (from the musical Rent, as my fellow Rentheads know) has always inspired me to use Christmas Eve as my yearly marker.
2009 has been a momentous year for me. I’ve finished my undergraduate education, moved away from home, and began pursuing my dream of a career in publishing in New York City! I can certainly say I’ve learned a lot about myself. Most of these lessons have turned out to be pretty applicable to publishing. On this chilly Christmas Eve, I thought I would share of a few of the lessons I’ve been lucky enough to learn from 2009.

You can’t move backward. So move forward. It’s better than standing still.

Sometimes you get the chance to fix your mistakes. And sometimes you don’t.

Great achievements are worth all the effort. No matter how small it looks to someone on the outside, I know how much I’ve accomplished and how much work it took to get here.

Don’t bother networking. Just make new friends—the network will follow.

If you don’t have the confidence, fake it. Eventually, you’ll convince everyone that you’re confident—including yourself.

Publishing as an industry may be competitive, but publishing people are just people.

Choose a path and follow it. If you don’t like it, choose another one.

Listen to advice and wisdom—don’t be afraid to ask for help from people who have been there. Asking for help is not weakness, it’s turning your own weaknesses into strengths. It’s also allowing the wise to make an investment in you. Aren’t you a worthwhile investment?

Love what you do. Passion is contagious.

Whatever struggles I may have, I certainly love what I do. I hope that's still true at this time next year. And every year after that.



December 22, 2009

Dear Endings, Your Happy Sappy Little Bows are Strangling Me

Dear Readers,

Having been closed for the past few days, I’ve had a great opportunity to catch up on my reading. (To be honest, I don’t know why I say “catch up” as I never really catch up on reading—it’s like trying to empty the ocean with a teaspoon: you never feel any closer to finishing than when you started.) But all this reading—manuscripts & published novels—has me frustrated out of my mind. Why, you ask? ENDINGS. I’ve already done a post about prologues (which are one of the biggest destroyers-of-openings, post can be found here: and I think now is a great time to talk about endings.

No matter which genre you’re writing, the ending is essential. This is the last thought the reader is going to have of your story, the taste you’re going to leave in their mouth. If you write a fabulous book but a terrible, incongruous ending, the ending is going to be the only thing the reader remembers. Those few pages are going to stop the reader, who might have adored your story and your style, from recommending your work to any of their friends and probably from picking up anything you write in the future. Yes, it’s that important.

And so, I’d like to highlight just a few of the biggest issues I’ve seen with endings:

1) Forced

Too many authors make the mistake of thinking that everything has to have a happy ending—it doesn’t. Don’t feel that everything has to be tied up with a neat little bow with all the characters smiling, holding hands, and singing kumbaya. Don’t insult your readers’ intelligence. If you’ve written a strong, compelling book, don’t force and ending that doesn’t make sense. There are sad endings; there are bittersweet endings. If your novel talks about mental illness and institutionalization, it might not make sense for everyone to be reconciled at the end. It’s much more important to stay true to your characters and tone in the ending rather than forcing the plot somewhere it doesn’t want to go.

2) Preachy—“and what I learned today, boys and girls…”

One of the most frustrating things for me as a reader is a story that forces not necessarily a happy ending but a moralistic one, especially in YA literature. Teens are preached at from every angle in their lives—they go to school, religious institutions, live with their parents, are watched all the time. They always have someone telling them what’s right and wrong, how they should think. They absolutely do not need it in books, too. Don’t force your characters to make the “right” choice at the end just because it’s “right” if it’s not actually consistent with who you have written them to be. They can have done the wrong thing and learned from it; it’s more important to show the change than to throw the “what I learned” moment in.

3) Three dimensional characters suddenly become stereotypes

Writers should know more than anyone—characters are human. If you have a character that is 3-dimensional all through the story but then becomes an stereotype at the very end (the person who decides it’s time to face up to their responsibilities & offers to be punished, the weak person who is suddenly a hero, etc.) you’re just leaving a sour taste in the reader’s mouth. Real life is more complicated than that.

4) No change in character/no development

The other problem with so many endings is that they don’t incorporate any change in the character. Stories are about growth, especially in YA, where characters experience extreme emotional growth in a very short time-span. It’s not about learning a lesson and shoving it in the face of the reader but rather how the character has or is going to incorporate those lessons into who they are becoming. The ending often just shows us the first step in this new direction. If they didn’t change at all, make sure that’s what you intended because otherwise it just seems like a long story where nothing happened.

5) Series whose book couldn’t stand alone

Okay, you’re a tease and we know it. You want to put out another book in the series and you’re leaving plenty of room for sequels—I respect that and so do the rest of your readers. Hell, we love it! But don’t forget, we need to be able to survive between books. Your story has to end at a logical stopping point; don’t cut us off in the middle of the story. Your book has to stand alone. Tease us with what will happen, the upcoming adventures and problems of our beloved hero, but don’t just stop. There needs to be method to this madness. A great place to stop is usually where the path has changed directions; we know that the journey isn’t over but we’re okay with taking a short breather. I think the Harry Potter series had this down pat.

So what do you all think—what are the other cardinal errors of endings? What are some books that have done endings very right…or very wrong?

December 18, 2009

Doubling the job search

Dear Readers,
I'm so sorry I didn't do a post on Tuesday! I meant to, really really, but it just didn't happen.

Here's an update on my publishing journey. My "official" internship with Robert Astle ended yesterday. But halt your tears. No crying for me! I decided to stay on--woo hoo! The Boss was incredibly cool and said he understands how brutal it is out there and that I could stay a little longer while I'm still looking for a full-time gig, so of course I said yes. There's no way I could keep getting the same experience, meet the kind of awesome people, and do the incredible things I love without having a place like Robert Astle & Associates to work. Now I can even pick up another client!

But inside, I can't help but be a little disappointed. I just can't afford to stay full-time; I'm going to need to find a part-time job, which means I'm only going to be at the agency part-time. I have to cut back my responsibilities, so there's going to be less variety in my slush, less all day doing what I love. I sound really greedy and spoiled, don't I? I don't mean to. What I'm trying to say is that I feel like taking a non-related job is a step back, not a step forward. And even though this really doesn't mean anything, I'm afraid it's just the first of many steps down a path that leads me farther and farther away from where I want to be--the publishing world.

I know I need money. I'm incredibly lucky to have my family behind me, giving me a place to stay and almost everything I need. But sometimes I feel like they're sick of me now, like it's "you're a burden already." And the worst part is, I kind of agree--I know I'm not contributing anything. I don't want to be a burden on the relatives I'm living with, on my parents who work hard to financially support me so that I can be happier than they ever were. Both of them gave up their dream careers. They know how important this is to me. And I'll always be grateful to them for what they're doing.

I try not to be a parasite and I remind myself that I'm not sitting at home watching cartoons all day--I'm working toward a goal--a full-time, editorial entry level job in the publishing industry. (So strange, to be looking for both full-time and part-time work.) I WANT to work, but I can't do something that doesn't challenge me, that I don't love. And I believe in the importance of what I'm doing. I believe that books change lives.

So I've devised a way to keep publishing in mind while working a second job. How about working in a book store?!?! Anyone in NYC hiring? For someone who loves matching people to books it sounds like an excellent choice, no? While I'd still rather be editing full-time, (don't hit me for the cliche) I've gotta do what I've gotta do. The dream is calling, after all. Wish me luck tomorrow--maybe my previously luckless resume will get some attention. And maybe I'll make some connections.



December 17, 2009

We're moving the discussion back to my place.

Let's move the discussion right here!

"So what is YA? Discussion started here:, went here:, then here:"

Thanks to @kashikat for pulling me into the discussion--now I'm bringing it back to my place!

So far, I've been able to discern that YA tends to have little to no subplot/side stories & plenty "adult" books feature young MC, so that doesn't make YA unique.

What do you guys think?

December 11, 2009

Bonus Post: What I'm Looking For

Here’s something I’ve been sorely neglecting—I’ve had plenty of people email me asking, and Robert’s even asked me, and I’ve just never had the time. But since I’m sitting on a bus right now, looking out the beautiful New York skyline, I figure now is a really great time. Plus, I have great coffee, and that makes me feel happy.

It’s a What I’m Looking For Post! (Tada!)—the YA edition

I’m sure it’s hard to know what kind of things will strike my interest since you don’t know me. And I certainly can’t give you a good picture of who I am with a few blog posts, or a Twitter account, or even a phone conversation or meeting. One of the reasons I’ve been avoiding this is because my likes are so diverse. I can tell you that I’m interested in people I can relate to on some level, but that really isn’t telling you anything. I love clever writers who can make me laugh with their wit but I also love really emotional descriptions. I love hearing about places I’ve never been and things I’ve never done but also different takes on people just like me…ugh, maybe I’ll just start with what I DON’T like.

I DON’T like people writing for a trend. Please don’t query me with: here is the newest vampire/werewolf/orphan who just realized they have powers super-mega-seller! I’m sorry if you’ve been really interested in the paranormal your whole life and this novel has been bursting out of you for years and the trend just hit at the wrong time, but as soon as the market gets flooded with these things, they stop becoming special and unique. And what I love more than anything is the truly unique. Hint Hint: If you write me a query and tell me how your story is unique, it might help your cause.

The best queries have me at the moment they tell me what’s different about their story than everyone else’s in the world. Even if I think the story sounds okay, I have to ask the querier, “so what? Aren’t there 1001 books like this already out there?” So tell me where the twist is—I love me them twists. What’s different about your character, about your plot? I’m also a huge literature dork, so if you reference Dante’s Inferno or Shakespeare I’ll probably melt into a little puddle. But I can’t promise you’ll get an offer.

I also DON'T like religious books. Excuse my 80's lingo, but it's a little too heavy for me. If the Devil is going down to Georgia and looking for a soul to steal in your novel, however, I may find this intriguing. Just no preaching.

What I would love to find: something timeless. Good books are nice, but great books are around forever and enjoyed over and over. Those are the ones I buy instead of going to the library to borrow. I would love to represent something that I could see my children enjoying as much as I do.

An example of a YA that has touched my heart—Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine (if you haven’t read it, go read it right now before I ruin it for you). The reasons I love it are many-fold and all things that I would love to see again.
First: A classic story re-worked with the author’s own twists that make it extremely personal—whoever heard of Cinderella under a curse? I’ll be honest, I didn’t realize it was Cinderella until the very end (be nice, I was 10).

Second: A journey. Yes, all stories have a journey, and no, I don’t mean a (necessarily) physical one. I want to see someone who is different at the end of the story than they were at the beginning. And don’t tell me—show me.

Third: A voice. If you don’t have this, then you don’t have a story. I want to close my eyes and hear the character reading their book aloud to me. It’s all about the little choices. This goes hand in hand with character development—you should know everything there is to know about this person, like they’re your alternate personality, and then their voice will just flow.

Fourth: Love. Face it, your YA has to have some sort of romance, even if it’s on the back burner. Sure, it can be a little steamy, but it should have a buildup, and actually give me butterflies. Don’t rush through the good stuff! I want to fall for Prince Charming, too. But don’t make the mistake of thinking a little love story is enough—there had better be some meat to it.

Fifth: Make your characters round. I love characters that love something, even if it’s not something I normally care about. But the important thing is that they make me love it with them. That they convey their passion for it. Plenty of authors can write this character well. But too many forget that the character has to be a full person, not just a caricature of one. No person is defined by one activity or relationship or event. What else is there about them that makes them who they are? I may not be a hockey star but I can relate to the goalie’s need to support his teammates—I was in the marching band, you know. And I may think that Mathletes is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard, but if you tell me the girl is there because it’s the only place that’s all boys who don’t judge her for her body, I’ll get that. This is where you’ll find the voice and, for me at least, this is what I’m looking at—who are your characters and what do they have to say? Because interesting people will get into interesting situations—they just can’t help themselves.

When I’m reading, there also has to be some drive, what I call “the urge” to get to the end, the race to the last page because you HAVE to know what happens. So send me something with a storyline that keeps moving, please!

Subject matter? I’ll leave it up to you, you’re the writer! Surprise me!

December 8, 2009

My First Client

This week I’ve started a new stage in something I’ve been working on since I started at Astle & Associates—I finally began calling editors and submitting the work of my very own client for consideration. While this isn’t the first time I’ve called editors about a project, it’s the one that’s been closest to my heart and certainly the only one I’ve picked out from the slush and followed from start to finish, wherever 'finish' ends up being.

Robert has been really great about helping me learn by doing, which is something that you just never get at school. While Robert’s offered me essential guidance for this project and the client officially signed with him as the agent, I’ve been the one doing all the agent-ing. There hasn’t been anyone looking over my shoulder.

Finding the project was exhilarating—I knew it was special from the first time I read it. It just wasn’t like the others I was reading—I couldn’t put it down. The decision to sign them was all mine and I jumped on it. I had no idea what it was going to entail but it wouldn’t have made any difference. I love this whole process and I love being a part of it.

The author and I have gone through draft after draft of edits together—I’ve started to think of us like a team. Now it’s time I pulled my weight. When the author worries that no one will like the book, I do my best to reassure them: I promise, I know what I’m talking about and I like it. And the agency wouldn’t have signed you if we didn’t think you were worth the effort.

It’s a tough balance between giving helpful criticism and destroying a writer’s confidence, but I’m trying to be both a sympathetic support as well as an editorial sounding board. I know I can’t be everything at all times, but I think it’s important to tell the author that every criticism I give is because I think their work is great, that it can get even better than it is already. That all this effort is going to pay off.

But it would really help if I had someone telling ME that everything was going to be great and that they were sure that someone wanted to buy this book. I just keep thinking: but what if NONE of this pays off? What if I’ve made the author go through all these changes, rip their story apart at the seams and restructure it so many times that they don’t even recognize it, and no one wants it? Will it be my fault if they don’t want it because I suggested bad changes? Or theirs, because the story wasn’t good enough? I think the hardest part is that since I need to be strong for the author, I don’t have anyone to be strong for me! I don’t think of it as much about the money, probably because this isn’t my livelihood yet. I just couldn’t stand putting an author through all this just to have nothing come of it.

My biggest fear was really that today, when I started calling editors, NO ONE would let me send it to them. I know it doesn’t make sense—it doesn’t work that way. Of course there would be at least someone who would give it a read. But this is how my mind works. And I felt so much better when every single editor I got on the phone today agreed to read it. And, they were all very nice! I always feel terrible when calling, since so many editors complain on twitter about being bothered by phone calls from agents. (If there’s a better way, let me know and I’ll use it!)

Now it’s time for me to be an agent. As much as it’s unofficial, I’m BEING an agent to this author, so there’s really no difference. For this manuscript, I get to be Rayna the Agent. Not play, but actually Be.

The author has done a great job. Now it’s my turn. Did I pick the right editors? At the right publishing houses? Can I pitch the right angles? I guess, the overall question is: CAN I DO IT? And the answer is a wholehearted yes—I know I can. But it’s still nice to hear it once it a while, and while I can certainly tell the author that they can do it, I can’t ask them to say it back. I guess this is a little piece of how authors feel the whole time they’re writing: am I doing it right? Is anyone going to like this?

Every time I pick up the phone and talk to an editor about it, I get a rush. I’m terrified but I’m also excited. I want to make this author’s dream come true, because now their dream has become my dream and I feel incredibly lucky. I guess I’m about as insecure as any person who’s new in their field, but I’m also confident that I was made to be around books and I’m ready to have my chance to prove it. I can’t wait to get this book published!

December 3, 2009

Bonus Post: Author Event Tonight!

Very exciting--my first author event with Robert Asle & Associates! If you're in NYC, come by, meet me and hear my author read!


Author and film maker, Deidre O'Connell will be reading and signing books at Hue-man Bookstore in Harlem:

6:00PM, December 3rd, 2009

Hue-Man Bookstore & Cafe

2319 Frederick Douglass Boulevard
New York, NY 10027-3612
(212) 665-7400

Subway: 2/3 train to 125th street

December 1, 2009

Thank the Publishing Gods

Dear Reader,

Sorry, no advice for querying writers tonight. I’m going to share something from my own experience: my first “networking party.”

If I’m going to be completely honest, I have to admit that I almost fainted when Robert told me today that he wasn’t coming with me. Umm…what? Leave me to face a sea of strangers? In a strange place? How do I get there? What do I say? Okay, so I’m not a little kid and I don’t need hand holding. He probably did me a favor—I would have clung to him like a wet blanket. But still, there was that moment…
And the moment after it was scarier. “By the way, don’t forget to mention such-and-such book and such-and-such project. And bring these handouts.” Ugh. How do I work that in a conversation?

I fretted about it all day. And finally, directions in hand (okay, on my cell phone via HopStop) I set out: 433 Park Ave. And I got there okay! Which, if you don’t know me, is a huge step. But there was no door—at least not for 433, just for 435. I walked back and forth along that block for 30 minutes, sure it had to be something I did wrong or a door I wasn’t seeing. And boy did I do something wrong.

It turns out that I didn’t scroll down far enough in the directions on my BlackBerry—it said “433 Park Ave. S.” So this seemed like a good time for panic: I had no idea how to get to this mysterious “S,” or if I would even make it there before the party was over. I didn’t have any idea how to find the right subway and at 5:30pm the chances of getting a cab were about .01%. Here were people that I admired and RSVPed to and I was going to stand them up and let the boss down and embarrass myself and never make any contacts and how can I get a job if I don’t meet anyone…deep breath.

Then the publishing gods smiled upon me. I know it was them because the near-impossible happened: I became one of the golden few to get a taxi in rush hour. I still can’t believe a taxi pulled up and let a passenger out at my feet. I may have looked a bit desperate when I dove into the cab in my power suit (complete with skirt), but it was only because I WAS desperate. Thankfully, that was the end of my bad luck.

The people at Egmont, and their guests, were wonderful. They completely killed my nervous energy right at the door with a personal greeting as though they already knew me—everyone was so friendly! And meeting other interns/hopefuls was a great boost—it’s great to know there are other people out there sharing my journey. Plus, I love talking about books. I had the chance to talk up my client, whose work will be going out sometime next week. I hope that I’m starting a personal relationship with people, not just being a faceless voice on the phone.

I don’t know if I did enough of what I was supposed to do for the agency (promoting our books) but I managed to promote myself and my client. I guess that’s a good start. I even left with ARC in hand: Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can’t Have by Allen Zadoff, which I started on the bus home. It came with a personal recommendation from the delightful Elizabeth Law (@EgmontGal), who was just one of the great people I met. A few of the others (whose names I can remember): Sarah Davies (Greenhouse), Miriam Kriss (Irene Goodman), Diana Fox (Fox Literary), and Joanna Stampfel-Volpe (FinePrint).

Perhaps someone will have a position for me? Or…publish my client’s book? If nothing else, I’m really glad I got to meet everyone—I certainly handed out a whole lot of business cards.

Until next week,


November 17, 2009

The Surest Way to Have Me Groan at Your Partial...

Dear Readers,

I send a lot of comments back on authors' partials and I can tell you that the one I hand out more often than any other is, "Although I greatly enjoyed your story, you need to begin with action."

You have to grab me (or any other reader) from the first paragraph. From the first sentence. It's my first impression not only of your story but of you as a writer. It's the moment I get to sit back and say, "Okay, show me what you've got." How well can you make me feel the urgency of the plot, the dire straits the character is already in? How much can you make me care about those characters from the moment I join them? Starting in medias res lets me begin with curiosity rather than cynicism, setting my frame of mind for the entire story.

But to accomplish this "begin with action" goal, too many writers try to grab an action scene that doesn't quite fit and make it into the opening of their book. Here we find...THE PROLOGUE. (And don't think that just because you don't call it "Prologue" that you've fooled us--we have degrees in book reading. We know these things.)

Prologues make me cry. I even suggested to my boss that we write on our website that there were no prologues allowed in partials sent to the agency. (Sadly, that does not seem to be happening any time soon.)

When a writer gives me a prologue (with very few exceptions), they put me in a rather cranky mood before I've even gotten to the meat of the story:

1) They want me to bond with characters that I will most likely never see again. Knowing this, I already don't care about them.

2) If it was important enough to write a prologue about, it will be important enough for your regular characters to talk about--in doing so, they'll end up telling me the story again. This means that when I hear the character refer to it, it has lost most of its emotional strength and shock value.

3) If it is a flash-forward to future action, I now know where the story is going and you took away the surprise.

4) I feel like I can skim it because "it doesn't really matter" and eventually I end up skimming the entire partial. It's really hard to get my interest back once you've lost it--and if you lose my interest and I love reading books all day, think about how much harder it will be for your target audience!

5) A strong writer should be able to incorporate background information within the story, not shove it into a prologue. If you need a prologue for that kind of information, you're including way too much.

In addition, the actual writing becomes stronger when you incorporate it into the body of the story. We get to hear how the information makes the characters feel, how they react to learning the information, what they choose/don't choose to share and with whom, etc. These little things make the story much stronger than plain exposition.

If you have a VERY SHORT prologue where the writer addresses the audience (in something like a diary or a letter), a prologue may make sense. Or with some historical background included as a foreword. But prologues, as a whole, only prevent the reader from getting to the actual story. Don't distract from the main attraction!

The last thing you want to do is leave the assistant, the first line of defense for the agent, groaning and writhing in pain. So please, consider VERY carefully before you include a prologue. Can the information be included within the body of the story? Do you really need that info at all? What do you hope to accomplish with it? If it's death to the assistant, send that prologue.

Until next week,


November 9, 2009

Statement of Purpose

Dear Readers,

Here it is: Post Number 1. This is a simple introduction, nothing very fancy. As you can see, the blog is still under construction. I'll be posting about once a week with things that I'm learning as an assistant at a literary agency. (I love my job but it was a short-term position and I am currently looking for similar long-term employment, to start in January.)

As someone on my way up, I'm hoping to share the everyday lessons I'm learning with anyone in the writing community who can benefit--writers, other people new to the publishing community, etc. I hate to see writers make silly mistakes in query letters that stop their great manuscript from becoming a great book. I'm also hoping that people with questions can use this as a safe forum. I am completely willing to be a resource--just please read through past comments and questions before you ask, otherwise it will start to get repetitive. Maybe other people will learn from my mistakes and my experiences.

And maybe publishing professionals--agents, editors, and whatnot--will stop by every once and a while to give me a correction or a helpful hint. I'll provide links to discussions that I find interesting, important, or insightful, and maybe add my own thoughts into the mix. I hope you will too.

I plan to keep adding to the list of links on the sidebar. These should include not only useful blogs but sites that can help someone getting started in a publishing career. If you're starting a career in publishing in the NYC area, email me! I'd love to get together in person or talk via email. You can never have enough connections or enough of a support system, especially starting out in a new career. Plus, I promise I'm friendly! I can provide references. :P

So...that's it for now. Until my first post of actual substance, goodbye, dear readers, and I hope to see you here again.