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Hi everyone,

I’ve spent some time cross-referencing the comments on my MeeGenius contest entry post with the results post to determine who wanted which prizes.  Here is the list of the prizes and recipients.  Some of you left your email addresses in the comments and some did not. Whether you think you have already given me your email address or not, PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT ON THIS POST WITH YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS INCLUDED so I can contact you offline for prize distribution.  At this busy time of year, it would be helpful to have that information all in one place so I don’t have to check multiple posts.  Thanks!

A few people who commented on the first post did not elect a prize.  If this is you, please do so by December 31st, as I would like to wrap this up before the new year.  The agent list and writing critiques are available on an unlimited basis.  I have one IndieBound gift card left and two picture books.  If I do not hear from you by December 31st, I will assume you do not want a prize.  Thanks!

A couple of you left comments on the second post but not the first.  In order to keep it fair, I could not enter you for the monetary prizes.  However, please let me know if you would like the agent list or a writing critique.

iPOD SHUFFLE: Ellen (tannawings)!

INDIEBOUND GIFTCARD: Sabrina Martinez

PICTURE BOOK OF CHOICE: Deborah Cavitt

AGENT LIST: Joanna Marple, Jennifer DuBose, Donna Martin, Tanya Konerman, Jennifer Kirkeby, Cathy Mealey, Jodelle Brohard, Jennifer Rumberger, Lori Mozdzierz, Stacy Jensen, Louise Behiel, Coleen Patrick, Jarm del Boccio, Jenny Sulpizio, Penny Klostermann, Darshana, Robyn Campbell, Ellen Ramsey, Sharon Mayhew, Elizabeth Stevens Omlor

CRITIQUE: Erik, Nancy Hatch (whenever you have something ready); Also, Susanna Hill and Renee Tullipe – I’ll be happy to trade manuscripts sometime this year.  Let’s plan on choosing one of our 12 x 12 drafts at some point during the year!

FOLKS WHO ARE ELIGIBLE AND HAVE YET TO SELECT A PRIZE: Kaitlin, Diane Estrella, Debbie Allen, Patientdreamer (Diane)

FOLKS WHO ONLY LEFT A COMMENT ON THE SECOND POST (Can choose critique or agent list): Loni Edwards, Kate Kresse,

If I am in error on any of these, please let me know and I’ll check again.  As a reminder, the agent list will be distributed by December 31st.  Critiques will be completed by January 15 (unless we’ve specified otherwise).  The tangible goods/prizes will be sent as soon as I get contact information.

PLEASE remember to leave your email addresses on this post so I can get prizes out efficiently.  Thanks!

THANK YOU again to everyone who participated.  I know there were many people who voted and promoted who did not enter the contest too, and I am just as appreciative for your help!!  You all know I am here when you need assistance in return.

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CLICK HERE TO VOTE

Special post today.  Gratitude Sunday will be back next week.

ETA: IMPORTANT! PLEASE LET ME KNOW IN THE COMMENTS IF YOU ARE ENTERING THE CONTEST. Some people may vote just to vote (not to enter), so I want to make sure I count everyone who does.  Thank you!

Alright everyone, I may not know a ton about marketing, but I do know when to pull out the big guns.  Luckily I have one of those in my arsenal.  Her name is Laura Barnes at Laura B Writer.  Laura is a marketing consultant and children’s book writer who helps authors build their online media presence.  A while back, I signed up for one of her blog critiques through her Monday series From A Marketing Perspective, and she scheduled it for this week.  While evaluating my blog, Laura noticed that I was in the middle of promoting my entry for the MeeGenius Children’s Author contest, and offered to help with that instead.  I’m sure she could see me sweating, struggling and even floundering straight through the Internets.  Needless to say, I jumped on her offer.

Be sure to visit Laura’s blog tomorrow because she’s providing the juicy details behind all of the suggestions she gave me (awesome).  Meanwhile, I am using this post to implement one of her suggestions – to run a contest to help me spread the word about my story. (For background on the MeeGenius contest, please visit the How It Works page.  For background on my entry, please read this post).

Why I Need to Reach Out

People within my own Network, both offline (friends and family) and online (blog followers, Facebook friends and Twitter followers), have been immensely supportive, and a great percentage of them have voted for my story.  I’ve been in the Top 50 (out of 400+) since the contest began on November 28th.  While this is fantastic (THANK YOU), Laura pointed out that for marketing to be truly effective, you need to reach beyond your own network.  In other words, you need people to help spread the word to their networks.  One way to do that is to run a contest with prizes that are of value to the people you are asking to help.  I wouldn’t want to ask for help without offering something in return, so that works perfectly for me. Here goes.

The Contest: What’s In It For You?

Grand Prizes

I know that many of my blog followers are writers, so I am offering up what I call the Big Kahuna.  For the past 18 months, I have kept a spreadsheet to track children’s book agents, especially those who represent picture books.  On this spreadsheet, I have the agent’s name, company name, website (both personal and corporate), email address, Twitter, Facebook and blog information (if applicable), submission guidelines, which genres they accept and any notes I’ve taken on who they represent, specific interests, etc.  There are more than 100 agents on this list who are currently accepting submissions.  This will be one of the Grand Prizes.

I also wanted to have a Grand Prize for non-writer followers and/or writers who already have agents and therefore would not benefit from my spreadsheet.  So the second Grand Prize is a brand-new iPod shuffle.  I figure everyone could either use one or find someone on their list to give it to this holiday season.  If not, it would make a great donation to a Toys for Tots-type organization.

Note: If both Grand Prize winners want the spreadsheet, I am willing to give two of them.  I can only provide one iPod shuffle, however.  The first GP winner will get first choice.  If that winner chooses the iPod shuffle and the second GP winner also wanted that, they can be moved to a First Prize position and I’ll draw another GP winner.  To speed this process along, if you plan to participate in the contest, it would be helpful (although not mandatory) to leave me a note in your comment letting me know which GP you would prefer if you win.  Make sense?

First Prizes

I will give away two first prizes, which will be the winners’ choice between a critique (of a complete Picture Book manuscript or the first 10 pages of a manuscript in any other genre) OR a $25 IndieBound gift certificate.

Second Prizes

Three lucky winners will get a brand new picture book of their choice.  That’s right. ANY picture book the winner wants will be theirs.

I will ship any prize internationally.

What is the Timeline?

The contest starts today – GO! – and will end when the MeeGenius contest ends, at midnight EST on Sunday, December 18th.  I will give myself a day to sort out the winners (selected from Random.org), and will announce them on Tuesday, December 20th.  Happy Holidays! 🙂

How to Enter

You may pick and choose from the following activities to enter the contest.

  1. Vote for my story on the MeeGenius contest page. (2 points – one time only).  You do need a Facebook account in order to vote, but even if you don’t have one, you can do any or all of the other activities.  I know many of you have done this already, and I am aware of most of them.  If you left a comment with your vote and I replied to you (via Facebook), you do not need to take any additional step.  I will be able to count your vote.  If you simply “liked” without leaving a comment, please let me know that you voted in the comments of this post.
  2. Promote my entry via Facebook. (2 points – one time only) Note that this step can be combined with #1.  If you leave a comment with your vote promoting the story, that comment will appear on your Facebook Wall.  I am checking these regularly, and I will reply to each and every one.  That way, you will know your FB promotion has been counted toward the contest.  Same for those of you who have already taken this step.  There is no need to repeat it (unless you want to of course!).  If you voted anonymously and would now like to promote via Facebook for the points, you can do so by sharing a link to my entry and urging people to visit and vote.  Here is an example of the type of comment that’s most effective, left on my entry from my daughter’s teacher.  “Please “like” this story to help a parent in my class get her phenomenal children’s book published.”  If you are promoting separately from your entry vote and we are not connected on Facebook in any way, please leave a link in the comments section of this post.
  3. Tweet to your followers asking them to vote.  (1 point per day, starting today, for a total of 8 possible points) In order for these points to be counted, you MUST use the hashtag #JHMeeGenius with your tweet.  That is how I will track and count them.  You must also provide a link to my entry in each tweet.
  4. Blog about the contest. (3 points – one time only) In your post, you must provide a link to this post, a link to my entry, and a link to my post providing background on the story.  In order to receive the points, you must leave a link to your blog post in the comments.

Comments on this post should be used for letting me know you are entering, your Grand Prize preference, informing me of previous MeeGenius votes you need counted, and/or providing links to blog posts or Facebook promos.  The comments section can also be used to ask any questions you may have about the contest.  However, comments on this post do not count as points for the contest.  In order to enter, you must take at least one of the steps outlined above.

In Conclusion

Laura refers to her blog as an “experiment in author marketing.”  I think this blog contest is also an experiment to see how much of a difference social media can make in marketing and promotion within a tight time-frame.  As of this writing, I have 186 votes and my entry is ranked #48 overall.  It will be fascinating to see what happens to those numbers over the course of this week.  Of course I realize that if nothing much happens, it will be a bit embarrassing for me.  But it’s a chance I am more than willing to take.  Regardless of the contest outcome, I will write a post next week detailing my “lessons learned” from marketing and promoting for my MeeGenius entry.  Hopefully we can all gain from that.

So followers, start your engines!  Off we go!

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Today, please welcome Jean Reidy, another terrific Colorado author, to the How I Got My Agent series.  This is an especially exciting week for Jean because her book, LIGHT UP THE NIGHT released on Tuesday.  I’m honored to be part of her blog tour celebrating the book.  I met Jean at last year’s Rocky Mountain SCBWI conference, where she discussed the craft of writing picture books.  I bought her second book, TOO PICKLEY, for my son whose eating habits seem to get pickier and pickier even as he gets older.  I laughed when shortly after I brought the book home and read it to him, he said he didn’t want his bread one night at dinner because it was “too crusty.”  TOO PICKLEY is a companion in style to TOO PURPLEY, and the third in the series, TOO PRINCESSY, comes out in 2012.  If you’ve ever wondered how to write a compelling story in less than 100 words (TOO PURPLEY is a whopping 40 words long), GET THESE BOOKS!

LIGHT UP THE NIGHT has been released to rave reviews and is a story every child can relate to.  Jean is a master at taking everyday activities for kids (eating, getting dressed, going to bed) and turning them into adventures.  Without further adieu, please welcome Jean.

Jean, how long had you been writing before seeking an agent, and what made you decide it was time to look for one? What kind of research did you do before submitting?

I’m afraid my answer isn’t very direct. Are you ready for a long-winded and winding story?

Of COURSE we are!!

Okay, here goes.

I’d been writing articles for magazines and newspapers for quite a while. But it was on a family road trip about ten years ago – after listening to a Sharon Creech recorded book – that I decided to write for children. On that trip, I actually brainstormed my first middle grade novel; however, I soon realized I didn’t know what I was doing. So when I got home I began to explore the craft of writing children’s books in earnest.

As part of that exploration, I attended a workshop in which I wrote my first picture book manuscript. It was both challenging and fun. That first manuscript actually won an award at a writer’s conference and I made the mistake of thinking it would be snapped up quickly by an editor or agent. Silly me. I queried it widely, yet that manuscript still sits in a file waiting to be reworked.

While I was querying agents and editors with that first book, I focused on finishing my middle grade novel.  I only dabbled in picture books whenever an idea struck me. Knowing that fewer and fewer agents were taking on picture books, I approached agents with my middle grade novel instead. One of those agents – my dream agent – was Erin Murphy.

How did I know it was time to get an agent? First of all, I’d been getting positive feedback from a variety of readers in the profession including editors. I had a hunch that I had a few “very close” manuscripts. Secondly, after studying the ins and outs of publishers and editors and imprints, I could see that marketing my manuscripts was taking precious time away from writing them. I’m a ferocious follower of editor and agent websites and blogs as well as the publishing trade bulletins. But there was no way I could keep up with all the nuances, preferences and movements in the industry. Erin does that masterfully.

Why was Erin my dream agent? I’d been reading message boards and interviews and chatting it up with a few of her clients and they all just gushed about her. Plus, she represented children’s literature exclusively, including picture books. Finally, Erin is an editorial agent, she works with her clients to put the best story out there. Her feedback on my drafts is amazing.

But Erin only considers potential clients from referrals or from writers she meets at conferences and she happened to be attending our Rocky Mountain SCBWI conference that fall – YIPPEE! -on the same day as my niece’s wedding – SHEESH! Anyway, I wrote to her and explained the situation and she very kindly agreed to read my novel. So I sent it off to her – with fingers and toes crossed – pronto.

During that same fall, I wrote TOO PURPLEY!  I read in the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Bulletin that a veteran editor was moving to Bloomsbury and that her specialty was books for very young children. Bloomsbury was open to unagented submissions, so I sent the editor my manuscript, which her intern pulled from the slush pile. Within a few weeks of submission, the editor asked for companion manuscripts to go with TOO PURPLEY!  So I wrote three additional books, one of which was TOO PICKLEY! and another was TOO PRINCESSY! which comes out in 2012. We were going to acquisitions and I was TOO excited!

Meanwhile, back at Erin Murphy Literary Agency, Erin was in the process of reading my middle grade novel when TOO PURPLEY! was on its way to acquisitions. With that contract in sight, I signed on with Erin and she has negotiated and sold all of my picture books.

The dreaded questions: How many queries?  How many rejections?

I had great luck landing a home for TOO PURPLEY! and TOO PICKLEY! and signing with Erin all within a matter of months. Now if you want to talk about my picture book manuscript that won that contest – hah! – I’ve tried to block out those rejections. Too many to count.

Some may think that since landing an agent my life is rejection-free. Hardly. I have one picture book manuscript that both Erin and I love, but it’s had trouble finding a home. I’ve even revised it for an editor to no avail. I’ve also had manuscripts that have been rejected by my own agent. But I know Erin is always looking out for my career and I trust her completely.

That is such a great point.  I think those of us on the “other side” of the agent equation imagine that life is all tap dancing in the tulips after you get an agent.  Writing and publishing is a tough business for everyone.  We have to be in it for the love.

Your first two books, TOO PURPLEY and TOO PICKLEY are rhyming, and we always hear that agents and editors don’t want rhyming manuscripts.  How did you break that particular barrier?

As a matter of fact LIGHT UP THE NIGHT (Disney Hyperion), is a cumulative verse which also uses rhyme. TOO PRINCESSY! (Bloomsbury 2012) follows the same rhyme scheme as TOO PURPLEY! and TOO PICKLEY! and ALL THROUGH MY TOWN (Bloomsbury TBD) is a rhyming story about community. TIME (OUT) FOR MONSTERS! (Disney Hyperion 2012) is my only picture book that doesn’t rhyme, so far. So I guess you can say I sort of love rhyme. I feel that when rhyme is done well, it can facilitate a child’s own ability to read and enjoy a book. And editors know that.

Before I use rhyme, I ask, “Why does this story need to rhyme?” I often read manuscripts that have fantastic premises but are restricted by the rhyme. Or they grow to be hundreds of words too long for the sake of the rhyme. I think rhyming writers need to honestly assess if the story is better because of the rhyme.

Once I’ve decided to rhyme, I line up loads of fresh readers for my story. And I ask them to read the text out loud, noting where the rhythm or rhyme trips them up. So often rhythm artificially perfects itself via repetitive reading. And as writers we can trick our own ears quite easily. But with fresh readers, I only get one chance.

Stories need to rhyme perfectly on the first read. Natural accents and beats need to roll off the reader’s tongue. The rhyme must essentially disappear and not call attention to itself. It’s a bit like background music in that regard. Bad rhyme jolts readers and listeners out of a story ─ which more or less ties in to my best advice for picture book writers. Remember, the best picture book experience is the magical interaction of the reader, the book and the child. Make sure your writing doesn’t stand in the way of the magic.

I am totally guilty of tricking my ears with rhyme and reading it with the rhythm I intended.  I love the suggestion to line up lots of fresh readers!

In addition to the “rhyme” factor, lately it seems like many agents who do represent picture books are looking for author/illustrators. Was it difficult to find an agent who wanted to represent an author-only focusing solely on picture books? How did you know your agent was “the one?”

There are fewer and fewer agents that seem to be interested in picture book authors. And I completely understand the economics of why agents may prefer author/illustrators. But thankfully, Erin does take on picture book authors. She believes in representing a writer’s career, not just a book, and when she sees your potential as a children’s author, she works right alongside you to build your career – whether it be in picture books, middle grade, young adult or a combination of multiple children’s genres like mine.

Has your writing process changed since signing with an agent?

Since signing with Erin, I’ve not only acquired a kind and inspiring mentor in the business but a “family” of Erin’s clients. Her agency is rather unique in this regard. We have an agency listserve on which we bounce ideas off of each other, celebrate good news and offer one another support. Participation is completely voluntary.

Oh, but you asked about process. My process hasn’t changed much. I sometimes run ideas by Erin before I dive into them and other times I’ll send along a polished final manuscript that I haven’t shared before. I find having an agent has allowed me mental freedom to delve more deeply into my writing and take more risks. Knowing that I have someone who will be receptive to my work allows me to stretch myself without fear. Granted, Erin may not always love what I give her, but she’ll always read it with interest.

Great answer!  Being able to stretch your writing knowing you have a receptive audience with a professional perspective is a unique benefit agents provide.

What advice would you give to picture book writers looking for agents today?

Elevate your understanding of the craft and industry first. Attend conferences. Connect with picture book writers and industry professionals online and in person. The picture book writing resources available online are endless. If you have a computer and a library, you have no excuse to be uneducated about the market. Worry less about your pitch and more about your product until you’ve grown the support of several tough and trusted readers all saying, “You have GOT to send this to an agent.” If you need a fresh read of your picture book manuscript, check out my Picture Book Peek Weeks on my blog at http://jeanreidy.blogspot.com/.

Hmm… I may be sending one over to you soon! 🙂

If you could go on a writer’s retreat anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?

My agent has an annual retreat with all her clients. I have yet to be able to attend. They recently held their 2011 retreat in Austin to coordinate with the Texas Library Association conference. I wish I could travel back in time to attend that one with them. It sounded like a perfect combination of business, inspiration, friendship and fun – hanging out with kindred spirits in children’s literature. Hopefully next year.

Wow – I was totally expecting Hawaii or someplace else completely exotic.  Just goes to show you how community is as important, if not more important, than location.

What’s up next/what are you working on now?

I have five picture book manuscripts in the works and I have a middle grade novel I’m revising that I’m really excited about. I just got the F&Gs for TOO PRINCESSY! and TIME (OUT) FOR MONSTERS! and they are so fun. Genevieve LeLoup and Robert Neubecker, the respective illustrators, connected perfectly with these texts.

For any of our friends in Colorado, Julie, I’ll be reading and signing LIGHT UP THE NIGHT on November 12th at the Tattered Cover in Highlands Ranch at 10:30 A.M. Be sure to bring your kids and grandkids along with their favorite blankets and stuffed animals. We’re gonna have some fun!

I SO wish I could go with my family, but my daughter is performing in a musical that day.  However, Coloradans – make time to attend this event if you can!!

I’m always blogging, tweeting and updating my website and I love visitors. So please visit me at http://jeanreidy.blogspot.com/ or my website at www.jeanreidy.com or follow me on Twitter at @jeanreidy for all the latest.

Finally, I’m working on a very special launch for LIGHT UP THE NIGHT. I’m holding an online auction November 7-18 called LIGHT UP THE LIBRARY which benefits the library at Musana Children’s Home in Iganga, Uganda where I worked last summer. I’ll be auctioning loads of fabulous items for writers at all stages of their careers and other gifts and services just in time for the holiday. You can find the all details at the auction website at http://lightupthelibrary.blogspot.com/. I hope everyone has a chance to stop by.

I can’t wait for your auction! I’m so inspired by what you are doing.  Note to readers: I’m donating a special item for the auction, so I’ll announce it once the event goes live.

Thanks so much, Julie! Happy writing!

Thanks to YOU Jean, for such thoughtful and comprehensive answers and congratulations on the release of LIGHT UP THE NIGHT.  You’ve given us lots to think about.  You can check out the rest of Jean’s blog tour at the links listed below:

October 10 – 14 (THE WHOLE WEEK) – Picture This! http://robsanderswrites.blogspot.com/

October 11 – Sharing Our Notebooks http://www.sharingournotebooks.amylv.com/

October 13 – Literary Friendships http://literaryfriendships.wordpress.com/

October 14 – Write Up My Life http://writeupmylife.com/ – That’s Me!!

November 4 – Writing for Kids While Raising Them http://taralazar.wordpress.com/

Are you a picture book author with an agent?  Want to share your story?  Contact me so we can include you in this series!

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Thanks again to Linda Ashman and Jennifer Mattson for last week’s giveaway and How I Got My Agent interview.  Please mark your calendars for this Friday, October 14th when another Colorado author, Jean Reidy, will be here both as part of the How I Got My Agent series and her blog tour for the release of her newest picture book, LIGHT UP THE NIGHT.  Light Up the Night releases tomorrow, so you heard it here first.  Go out and order your copies!!

I also spent a day in Austin over the weekend, courtesy of the Austin SCBWI, learning as much as I possibly could about digital storytelling and publishing.  I’ll share some tidbits on the blog this week so keep an eye out.

Now, without further adieu, here are the winners of Linda Ashman’s amazing new books!  Drum roll…

NO DOGS ALLOWED! goes to Beth MacKinney!!!!

THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS IN COLORADO (which wasn’t on the original giveaway list, but Linda has it and this reader wanted it, which enabled us to draw more winners, so…) goes to Stacy Jensen!!!!

SAMANTHA ON A ROLL goes to BOTH Joanna Marple and Julie Musil (Turns out we have an extra copy, so we were able to give away two of these)!!!!!

Congratulations to the winners.  Please email me at jhedlund33 (at) yahoo.com with your mailing addresses and who you would like the books to be signed to and we’ll send them on their way.  Woo Hoo!

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I am so excited to present my first-ever author/agent duo for the How I Got My Agent Series.  Thanks to Jennifer Mattson for agreeing to go under the microscope participate alongside Linda. I decided on a She Said/She Said format, with their pictures as the indicator for their responses.  Of course I couldn’t resist sprinkling in a few of my own comments, which appear in italics.

Linda Ashman is the award-winning author of more than two-dozen picture books.  She has had three books released in the past three months, and you can enter to win one of them (details below).  Yesterday’s post includes my reviews of the books, and you can earn double points in the giveaway if you also comment and share that one.  Linda lives right here in the great state of Colorado with her husband Jack, son Jackson, and dog daughters Stella and Sammy.

Jennifer Mattson is an Associate Agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency.  Before joining ABLA, Jennifer spent nearly five years  reviewing children’s literature as part of the Books for Youth staff of Booklist magazine. Prior to Booklist, Jennifer was an Associate Editor at Dutton Children’s Books. She represents authors across all children’s genres – picture books, MG and YA.  Jennifer is also the co-author of THE OFFICIAL EASY-BAKE COOKBOOK, which we happen to own! (although I hide it because truthfully, I dread the days my daughter asks me if we can “Easy Bake.” Same thing with Play-Doh actually, but enough about me…)

Let’s dig into the questions shall we?

Linda, when did you seek an agent for the first time, and how/why did you know it was time to look for one?

I signed on with my first agent around 1999, after selling seven manuscripts on my own.  Although I wasn’t actively looking at the time, a writer friend spoke highly of her new agent and suggested I talk to him.  Since I’d been “negotiating” my own contracts (as in, “Where do I sign?”), it made sense to work with someone more knowledgeable about contracts — and the business in general — than I was, and who had relationships with more editors and knew their particular tastes.

Jennifer, the first question this audience will have is: Are you currently accepting submissions from picture book authors and/or illustrators?  If so, what kind of manuscripts are you looking for?

Yes, of course.  I am accepting text-only picture book queries and queries from author-illustrators, but at this time I’m not looking to sign up illustrator-only clients.

It impresses me when an author knows how to develop a character and tell a complete, satisfying story with extreme concision, with 750 words as a target maximum, and under 500 words much preferred.  I’m not looking for issue-driven/teachable moment stories, stories with historical settings, fairy tales or fairy tale retellings, nor, as a rule, nonfiction picture books – though I’ve been known to take a shine to nonfiction that illuminates some truly surprising corner of history or science with strong kid appeal (I loved The Day Glo Brothers, for instance – wish I could have represented it!)  What excites me most, though, are humorous stories that turn on universal conflicts resolved in memorable character-specific ways.

Since poetry is Linda Ashman’s specialty, it’s clear that I’m open to rhyming manuscripts. Having said that, I now have a few clients who primarily write in verse, so for the time being I’ll be most active about adding writers-in-narrative to my roster.

Note, in a few months I will be taking a hiatus from reading queries for a while because I’m going on maternity leave (my e-mail autoresponse will be clear about when that goes into effect).

What an excellent reason for a query hiatus. Many congratulations!! One more voracious reader of children’s books is about to enter the world…

Linda, Jennifer was not your first agent. What have you learned from working with three different agents?

I’ve learned that it’s really important to get a sense of how an agent works.  When you send her a story, will she read it within a matter of days, or does she, for example, devote one week a month to reading clients’ work?  Does he have an overall submission strategy for your manuscript, or does he send it to one editor at a time and wait for a response?  Does she notify you right away when she hears back from an editor, and — if it’s a decline — discuss with you the next plan of action?  Is the agent a one-person shop, or part of a larger organization?  (Neither is necessarily better than the other, but I really appreciate the support Jennifer gets from her colleagues at Andrea Brown.)

In order to avoid annoyance on one side and frustration on the other, expectations are everything.  Be very clear about communications.  How often should you expect to hear from him — only when there’s news, or will he check in periodically?  Is she accessible by phone or email if you have questions?   Beyond that, make sure you like this person, and feel comfortable asking questions.  This could be — hopefully will be — a very long relationship.   You don’t need to be best friends, but respect and compatibility are important.  And, above all, make sure the agent is genuinely enthusiastic about you and your work.  This is a tough business, and it helps to feel you have a professional ally looking out for your interests.

Wow, that is such a great answer.  I so often think that in this competitive market, writers think any agent is better than no agent and forget that it’s a business relationship that should benefit both the agent and the author.  Thanks for giving us some great questions to ask!

How did you find Jennifer and then come to the conclusion that she was “the one?”

I met Jennifer when we both were on the faculty at the “Big Sur in the Rockies” writing retreat in Boulder in May 2010.  I really liked her, and was impressed with her thoughtfulness and intelligence.  I knew she’d worked with Meredith Mundy, my Sterling editor, so I asked Meredith about her.  I really trust and respect Meredith, so when she gave Jennifer a ringing endorsement, I decided to contact her to discuss working together.  I’m so glad I did — Jennifer has been a dream to work with.

I’ve met Jennifer at two different ABLA events, and she is so knowledgeable, but also so friendly and approachable.  Readers, query her if you think your stories are a good fit!

Likewise, Jennifer, what drew you to Linda’s work and made you want to sign her as a client?

I’ve known Linda’s work for a long time, because when I was an associate editor at Dutton Children’s Books in the late 1990s, she would regularly submit (and be published by) the head of our imprint.  The publisher would bring promising manuscripts to an editorial board meeting, so I recall seeing Linda’s work and being impressed by her professionalism and her gift for poetry.  Later, Linda went on to publish with a former colleague and friend of mine, Meredith Mundy at Sterling.  The degrees of separation kept getting a bit smaller over time – and finally Linda and I were faculty members at the same writers’ workshop, Big Sur in the Rockies in Boulder, CO, cosponsored by our agency and the Rocky Mountain Chapter of SCBWI.  In a way, meeting Linda felt like greeting an old friend, partly due to our professional connections, and partly because I had spent so much time reading my daughter her board book, BABIES ON THE GO!  I was thrilled when, several months later, I received a note from her asking if I’d like to discuss working together.  Honestly, it didn’t take much thinking!

BABIES ON THE GO is great! But you guys have probably already figured out that we’re big Linda Ashman fans in this household.  By the way, at that very same Big Sur in the Rockies meeting, I was fortunate to have Linda as one of my faculty members.  From that experience, I can tell you that her manuscript critiquing service is well worth the price.

Linda, the picture book market is tough right now, and it seems many agents don’t take PB clients only.  I know your situation is a bit different because you had already sold many books before signing with Jennifer, but what advice would you give to a pre-published PB writer seeking an agent today?

Sometimes, in our eagerness to get published, we send our work out there before it’s ready.  I certainly was guilty of this when I first started writing, and I cringe when I come across old manuscripts which should have landed in the recycling bin instead of on an editor’s desk.  So before even thinking about editors and agents, I’d advise writers to become students of the picture book.  Reading them to your kids or your students — or recalling old favorites from childhood — isn’t enough.  Study the really good ones, especially those published in the last five years or so.  Start with year-end “best of the year” lists from ALA, School Library Journal, Bankstreet, the children’s blogging community, etc.  Really look at what makes these books successful and appealing (or not; this is highly subjective, after all).  Pay attention to the voice, the pacing, the escalation of the drama, and how the story is resolved.  Then make a dummy of your own manuscript and see if your story fits the picture book structure, if you’ve cut out every extraneous word, if your voice is distinctive, your story dramatic and visually interesting, and your ending satisfying.

Once you’ve got several strong stories, and you’ve followed the manuscript formatting requirements (and a meticulous friend has checked for typos), then you can turn your attention to agents.  Here again, research is key.  If you can go to conferences and meet agents in person, that’s great.  But it’s not necessary.  Fortunately, you can find tons of information on the internet.  Study agency websites, and make a list of agents who appeal to you and seem open to your writing style and interests.  Then google them.  Many have been interviewed on blogs, and a few have blogs of their own.  The more information you have, the easier it will be to target your submission and write an informed and personal query letter.

I’m chuckling as I read this because Linda shared one of her early manuscripts with us at a rhyming workshop she gave. Don’t worry Linda – I won’t name it here! Suffice it to say it’s inspiring to see how much a writer can grow if they truly commit to studying the craft.  And now, for a shameless plug of one of my own posts: If you want more information on how to research agents and editors, go here.

Jennifer, Linda writes almost exclusively in rhyme, yet we hear agents and editors say (often) that they don’t want to see rhyming manuscripts.  What separates a saleable rhyming story from one that is not?

That’s a great question.  I think that there is a note of inevitability communicated by the best rhyming manuscript – in other words, one barely notices the rhyming, except to be delighted by it, and one can’t imagine another way of expressing the same idea.  It’s a combination of perfect rhythm / scansion and absolutely perfect end rhymes:  I’m never fond of slant rhymes.  (When I was a kid, I used to hate reading British poems that rhymed things like “again” and “rain”!)

Apart from technical perfection, to be saleable in the picture book market, editors need poetry to be more than just gorgeousness and musicality.  Linda and I have had the same comment on a number of manuscripts recently, and it’s not uncommon at all:  “This needs a stronger story arc!”  So, writers of verse face an exceptionally high bar.  Their manuscripts must be technically flawless but also must advance a storyline.  It is so rare for a writer to have mastered all of those elements simultaneously that I think many editors and agents have simply found it more efficient to put the kibosh on rhyme preemptively.  For whatever reason (perhaps the prominence of Dr. Seuss?), it seems that amateur writers gravitate to verse before trying their hand at anything else.

This might be some of the best advice I’ve seen on what makes a rhyming manuscript work – thanks!

Given how tight the picture book market is these days, what advice would you give to PB writers looking for agents on how to stand out?

An exquisitely professional query letter that references specific, comparable, recent titles on the market always catches my eye.  We receive tons of queries from people who clearly don’t read much in the contemporary picture-book marketplace, so it’s nice to include any sign that you’re engaged in the industry in an active, ongoing way (it’s also nice to mention membership in SCBWI and critique groups).

Other aspects of your submission will convey the professional level of your work, too.  It helps when a project reflects the typical length of a frontlist picture book (rather than the typical length of a published-long-ago classic, like Robert McCloskey’s wonderful but 2000-words-long TIME OF WONDER…).  I also look for writers who know how to creatively anticipate the contribution of an illustrator, e.g., by not overwriting description and, when appropriate, leaving certain key beats of story development to the visuals.

I always recommend that authors of picture books line up three or four projects that they feel are ready to share with an agent before first submitting.   Agents usually ask queriers to focus on one manuscript, but if an agent is interested in continuing a discussion, normally he or she will ask to see more of your work.  You’ll want to be ready for that.

Linda, dogs are frequent characters in your books, including your latest release, No Dogs Allowed!  Can you tell us one of your favorite real dog stories based on one of your own pets?

Sammy, our Lab mix, is very smart and has an impressive repertoire of tricks.  When appropriately bribed, she’ll fetch the paper, wake Jackson (our son), deliver canned goods from the kitchen cabinet, jump like a kangaroo, roll over, speak, whisper, dance, spin (once, twice, or three times, as directed) and more.  But she has a lot of attitude, and feels that this sort of performing is really beneath her.  And she has a way of showing her resentment.  After every meal, she goes on a raid and finds a sock — on someone’s dresser, in the laundry basket, in a closet — and runs off with it.  She never actually chews it.  She just likes to hold it hostage for a while (usually until we tell her how funny and cute she is, thereby rewarding her for her naughtiness).

Awww, too cute! I want to give her a hug just reading this. If I’d thought ahead I would have asked you for a picture of her.  🙂

Jennifer, please complete this sentence:  “If I could take just one book with me to a remote desert island, it would be….”

I hate to compromise the children’s-lit focus of this blog, but I’d probably choose something lush and long-lasting, like George Eliot’s MIDDLEMARCH or Thackeray’s VANITY FAIR.

Nope. I totally get that.  If you’re stuck on a desert island, you need something a bit broader in scope than a children’s book.  My own choice would be A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY, by John Irving.

Let’s all give it up for these two lovely ladies for this great post!  I hope you learned as much as I did.  Also, don’t forget that Linda Ashman is giving away a personalized, signed copy of both SAMANTHA ON A ROLL and NO DOGS ALLOWED for two lucky winners. You must be a follower of the blog to enter (new followers welcome!).  Here are the ways you can enter:

  • Leave a comment on this post and/or yesterday’s post.  Be sure to say which book you’d prefer if you win. – 1 point
  • Tweet this post (include link in your comment) – 1 point
  • Like this post on Facebook (include link) – 1 point
  • Blog about the contest (include link) – 2 points

THANKS AGAIN to both Linda and Jennifer. I had so much fun putting this post together, and I hope you did too!

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Here I am with the lovely Lindsay Eland, author of Scones and Sensibility. The "strings" on her hat are pictures of books by Colorado authors.

My gratitude cup doth indeed runneth over this week.  Not least of what I have to be grateful for was attending the Rocky Mountain SCBWI annual conference.  This is my third time attending, so I now have a whole circle of people I look forward to reconnecting with every year.  You could not find a group of people anywhere with a greater generosity of heart and spirit.

Quotes on Gratitude

“Thankfulness is the beginning of gratitude. Gratitude is the completion of thankfulness. Thankfulness may consist merely of words. Gratitude is shown in acts.” — Henri Frederic Amiel

“What if you gave someone a gift, and they neglected to thank you for it – would you be likely to give them another? Life is the same way. In order to attract more of the blessings that life has to offer, you must truly appreciate what you already have.” — Ralph Marston

“Deficiency motivation doesn’t work. It will lead to a life-long pursuit of try to fix me. Learn to appreciate what you have and where and who you are.” — Wayne Dyer

Gratitude List for the week ending September 17

  1. Em had homework this week to make a newspaper about herself called “All About Me.”  She put a write-up about me in the “My Hero” section.  THAT is what makes it all worthwhile!
  2. The amazingly generous blogger and online friends I have.  When I asked for help choosing between two posts to submit to a travel anthology, so many of you jumped at the chance to give assistance.  Thanks again!
  3. I signed up for group coaching with someone uniquely qualified to help me get a “secret” project I’m working on off the ground.  I can’t wait to start!
  4. Friends and family who listened to me talk ad nauseam this week about said project and offered ideas, advice and encouragement.
  5. Getting a meeting with one of my personal heroes to discuss how we might work together to publish one of my books!
  6. Hanging out with my Rocky Mountain SCBWI tribe for three days at the annual conference.
  7. Author/illustrator Adam Rex’s gut-busting and inspiring keynote speech.  Seriously, I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard.
  8. I had a major epiphany during the writer’s intensive, not just about my current WIP, but about a writing “tic” that I have.  Now I’ll know to look out for that every time I write something.
  9. I got to sit next to the brilliant and hilarious agent Kristin Nelson at the banquet.  We reminisced about favorite Saturday Night Live skits (Buckwheat, Coneheads, “YOU UGLY” cheer, Mr. Bill…).  I so wish she represented picture books.  If you write YA, you MUST query her.  She would be a dream agent.
  10. I won two books as door prizes, including one by Lita JudgeYellowstone Moran: Painting the American West.  I was ecstatic to get this book because years ago, I wandered into a Moran exhibit quite by accident in Seattle and was absolutely blown away by his painting of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.  I had recently been there, and looking at the painting was just like standing on the edge of the canyon.  I bought a poster that day which has moved with me from my single days to now.  The fact that I won this book is further proof of a belief I’ve long held: that books choose their readers.

What are you grateful for this week?

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After waffling back and forth for ages over whether or not to include information about my books on this blog, I decided to go ahead and take the plunge.  You will now see a shiny new page on the blog called “Books.”  On this page, I included the titles and pitches of my two completed children’s books.  For one of the books, I included the first two stanzas.  I was hesitant to include part of the text, but because that book is rhyming and agents so often say they don’t want to see rhyming manuscripts (read: bad rhyme), I wanted to demonstrate that I do in fact know how to rhyme well.

There are three main reasons I took this step:

  1. These two books are completed.  They have been written, revised and revised and revised, vetted by countless fellow writers, published authors and even editors and agents.  I am actively seeking representation for them, and you never know who might wander over to the blog one day and take a look.  I know it’s unlikely, but it could happen.  Plus, my pitches have been polished to a shine thanks to WriteOnCon.
  2. I want to show that I am a serious writer.  I don’t just write about writing, I actually write.  Sometimes I even finish things.  🙂
  3. It makes me feel more like a “real” writer.  Real writers have information about their writing on their websites.  A LOT of work went into these books, and I am proud of the finished products.  Therefore, I want to share them.  Just like real writers.

In addition, I revised my “About Julie” page.  My focus has changed since I started writing the blog, and after reading umpteen posts about how important the ABOUT page is, I decided to dust mine off.  I’ve made a mental note to check it every quarter or so.  Things do change, and that page should reflect the most current me it can.  If you have time, check it out and let me know what you think.

Where do you stand on the “To Writing Sample or Not To Writing Sample” debate?  There are good reasons for both, so I’m curious to know how other writers have made their decisions on the subject.

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*ETA – This list is a compilation of my thoughts after reading loads of articles and dozens of draft queries in different venues (including critiques of my own queries).  It is NOT based on any one particular query I may have seen in a particular venue.  🙂

That’s right.  I couldn’t stop at ten, so fifteen it is.

I’ve been thinking nonstop about queries lately, both because of WriteOnCon and because I am at that stage with a couple of my manuscripts. After reading many “how-to” articles and draft queries on countless blogs, forums and writing boards, I’ve come up with my own list of don’ts.  Some of these are common sense and you’ve probably seen them elsewhere.  Some of them are my own.  Keep in mind that querying is personal and subjective.  You may disagree with some of these or be able to point to examples of queries that led to contracts even though they made use of a “don’t” on this list.  That’s fine.  Always trust your gut.  These are the ones that work for me.

  1. DON’T misspell the name of the agent/editor.  Most agents say a misspelled name is not a deal-breaker for them, especially if their names have an unusual spelling.  Still, I say no excuses here.  Check, re-check and check again.  This information is readily available online.  You only have one shot to impress this person, and misspelling his or her name is not the way to do it.
  2. DON’T make any spelling, grammar or punctuation mistakes. Unlike #1, most agents are not as forgiving about careless mistakes.  If you make them in a one-page letter, they’ll assume you’ve made them in your manuscript too.  These people work long, long hours and read thousands of queries every year.  They are looking for a reason to reject you.  Don’t hand it to them on a silver platter.
  3. DON’T mention the fact that you are unpublished (if applicable).  They’ll assume you’re not if you don’t include pub creds in your bio.  If they love your writing, it won’t matter to them.  So why point it out?  Instead, focus on the credentials you do have that relate to your writing (writing associations, critique groups, awards, etc.)
  4. DON’T say “so and so” was the inspiration for this story unless it is a nonfiction biography.  The reason?  They don’t really care that your daughter said this cute thing one day and the rest is history.  They care about the story.  You’re wasting precious real-estate in your query letter to convey something that isn’t important to them.
  5. Likewise, DON’T mention anyone who loved your book unless that person or organization is highly respected and well-known in the industry.  Of course your kids love your book.  So might your second-grade class.  And your mom.  Unfortunately they don’t make publishing decisions, so their opinions don’t count for much (sorry!).  On the other hand, if you’ve written a book of poems for kids and Maya Angelou loves it and is willing to go on record and help promote it, then by all means…
  6. DON’T say how long you’ve been working on the manuscript.  Doing so is almost certain to hurt you either way.  If you admit it’s been ten years, an agent will wonder why it took so darned long and if you will ever be able to write a book again.  If you say it took ten days, they may assume you haven’t taken it as seriously as you should or you are querying prematurely.
  7. DON’T send gifts of any kind with the query letter.  Seriously.  Just don’t.  It’s creepy and it will make you stand out in all the wrong ways.
  8. Don’t say your story will be an instant best-seller or make any other promise that you don’t know for certain you can make good on.  Not only with the agent/editor not believe you, they probably won’t believe anything else you say about your manuscript either.
  9. Don’t say your book is awesome/thrilling/a page-turner.  This is similar to #8, but more nuanced.  Here you’re not making a claim about potential sales, but you’re breaking another cardinal rule of writing – “show, don’t tell.”  Your query needs to show the editor/agent how great your story is.  If you simply tell them it is, they have nothing to base it on but your opinion.  And I hate to say it, but you’re not exactly unbiased are you?
  10. DON’T use the words, “I believe…”  In my previous job, I did tons of persuasive writing, and using the words “I think, I believe, I hope you will find…” is the number one mistake writers make when they are trying to be convincing.  As writers, we are supposed to project confidence.  You want your readers – in this case agents or editors – to trust you.  Make sure they know they are in good hands.  Why should they believe what you say about your story if you’re not even sure yourself?  Luckily, this error is easy to fix.  Before:  “I believe this story is timely because the World Cup will take place in Brazil in 2014, which will spark interest in Brazilian culture.”  After: “This book is timely because the World Cup will take place in Brazil…”  Which one sounds stronger?  I know we’re all trying to be polite and respectful in these query letters, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be sure of yourself when it comes to your story and your writing.
  11. DON’T use a question in your pitch.  I once made this mistake in a query of mine, and when I got a critique from the awesome query-ninja Elana Johnson, she called it “weaksauce.”  When I asked why, she said something to the effect of, “People will either know the answer or not care, or maybe both.”  Example: “Will Prince Fancy Pants slay the dragon and make it back to the castle in time to save the princess before the hourglass runs out?”  Answer: “Yeah probably, but now I know how the story ends so why bother reading the book?”  MANY of the agents and editors commented on their distaste for questions as pitches during WriteOnCon, making me eternally grateful that Elana gave me this advice more than a year ago so I could stop making that rookie mistake.
  12. DON’T send form letters or mass mail.  The “Dear Agent” letter doesn’t work and it’s just plain lazy.  If you can’t come up with a reason why you want to query that specific agent, why would even want to be represented by that person?  Another reason to avoid mass mailing is that you also give everybody the opportunity to mass reject you.  Then what?
  13. DON’T discuss your ideas for marketing tie-ins like plush dolls, toys, etc.  Don’t we all wish our writing would lead to a TV/movie/retail franchise?  It’s not going to happen to most of us.  If you spend your precious space in a query letter going over all of your great ideas for just such a campaign, the agent will be left to wonder how important the writing is to you.  Here’s the other thing: the only stories/characters that turn into a franchise are from books that are bestsellers.  See #8 if you’re starting to think it’s a good idea to back up your marketing plans with the statement that your book will be a bestseller.
  14. DON’T lie or stretch the truth.  Just because you met one of your prospective agents’ clients or colleagues at a conference does not mean that person is a reference.  Don’t say, “I got your name from…” or “I was referred to you by…” unless it was crystal clear that person intended to refer you.  Otherwise, you will burn bridges both with the agent and with the author or colleague (because they will follow-up).  Unless a person actually says the words, “You can use my name,” or s/he makes the introduction for you, it is not a referral.  I once wrote a query where I mentioned that I had worked with one of this agent’s clients on the specific manuscript I was querying (true).  That was how I personalized the query.  I also made it very clear that I was not implying a referral.  Although that query was rejected, it came with a personal response and an invitation to query other projects.
  15. DON’T let all the dos and don’ts of querying paralyze you into never sending out any queries.  This is the most important and probably the most difficult “don’t” on the list.  It’s hard enough trying to decide when a manuscript is “finished,” much less add in the stress of writing the perfect query letter.  At some point, you just have to go for it.  I still get butterflies every time I hit the “Send” button on a query, but I also know the work isn’t doing any good sitting on my hard drive.  Sure, if I don’t send any queries, I’ll never get rejected.  But I’ll never get accepted either…

Now for a bonus round.  If you haven’t heard of the Query Shark (Janet Reid from FinePrint Literary), get thyself over to her site at once.  These two titles came from her and gave me a laugh (even though they’re based on actual queries!)

“Don’t quote rejection letters in a query.” Uhh.. okay?  *scratches head in bewilderment*

“Don’t query if you’re dead.”  I will surely try not to.  If I’m dead, I might have bigger problems than the fact that I’m unpublished.

And here’s an article worth reading from the title alone…

25 Reasons Your Query Letter SucksWrite It Sideways

Finally, some query resources you can’t afford to overlook:

Agent Query

Query Shark – The Shark does bite, but only if you deserve it.

Query Tracker

Writing a Query Letter – Posts from the aforementioned Elana Johnson, who is also the author of an e-book on the subject called From the Query to the Call.  I own it, and I can tell you it’s very helpful.

And a couple of my own posts on the subject:

How to Write a Winning Query – notes from Elena Mechlin’s (Pippin Properties) conference talk

A Good Query Letter is Like a Skirt – from Andrea Brown’s talk at Big Sur in the Rockies

And now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go compulsively check my inbox every five minutes check my email to see if I have any responses yet…

Agree or disagree with my don’ts?  Any other resources you want to share?  Let us know in the comments.

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I am very late to the promotion game with this one, but just in case you are a children’s book writer and you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of months and weren’t aware that WriteOnCon starts today, now is your chance to get on over there and register.  Three full days of online sessions led by bestselling authors, top agents and editors.  Topics range from perfecting the craft, how to write a query, seeking an agent, and marketing and promotion.  And MORE!  There are sessions on picture books, middle grade and YA and critique forums for each.  All of this is provided by the lovely organizers for the incredible cost of — FREE!

Finally, if you enjoy the conference, consider making a donation to WriteOnCon of any amount so they can continue to bring us this unsurpassed opportunity to learn, grow, and make amazing contacts.  Even $5 makes a big difference.  You can go here to donate.

As for me, now you know why my blog will be silent for the next three days…

P.S. Many of the agents participating in WoC also accept work for the adult market, so I would encourage all writers to check it out even if you don’t write for the children’s market.

So, are you going to be there?  Let me know so I can look you up!

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FOODOO, my entry for Brenda Drake’s Show Me the Voice Blogfest, was selected as one of the 20 semi-finalists whose entries will be given to agent Natalie Fischer.  She will now choose three who will win critiques from her.  THANK YOU to everyone who provided comments and encouragement.  I have been working on this manuscript for a long time, alternating between loving and loathing it and suffering many crises of confidence along the way.  Getting positive feedback on the piece at this stage is a balm to my writerly soul.

Agent/author Mandy Hubbard wrote a great post last week about celebrating the small (and big) victories along the path of a writer.  She keeps a large vase on her desk, and whenever she gets good news – a book deal, sells foreign rights, etc. – she pops open a bottle of champagne and writes what she is celebrating on the bottom of the cork.  Then, when things aren’t going so well, she can go to the vase and remind herself of her accomplishments.

Since it is so easy to get discouraged in this business, I thought the “vase of corks” was a great idea.  So I am going to christen my own vase this weekend by celebrating this little milestone.  I am unpublished and unagented, so getting an agent to look at my work in any capacity is most definitely something to celebrate.  Next time I want to shred FOODOO, I’ll pull out that cork…

Congratulations to everyone who entered and to the other semi-finalists.  If you haven’t already done so, go read the entries.  They are amazing!  Thanks, too, to Brenda Drake for hosting such a fun contest.

P.S.  I just love how I can Google “Mandy Hubbard” and “champagne cork” and find the post I was looking for.  What DID people do in the days before the Internet???

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