Writing Goodness

How I Found My Agent

Yes, you read the post title right. I have an agent! Not sure I’ll ever get tired of saying that. 🙂
I love reading “How I found my agent” stories, reading others stories kept me going when I felt like giving up. So I thought I’d share mine since I finally have one to share.

Back in the fall of 2010, I finished writing my first book – a young adult paranormal. Now that I look back on it, it needed SO much work, but I didn’t see that then. As a middle grade librarian, I’m a big fan of Margaret Peterson Haddix so I looked up who represented her — Adams Literary. That was it. That’s who I wanted as my agent. (hee)

Not more than 2 weeks later, I got a post card in the mail about an SCBWI Conference in Pittsburgh where one of the speakers would be Quinlan Lee from Adams Literary. Well, I took this as a sign. I was meant to take my book to Pittsburgh! So my mother-in-law joined me and we drove the 4 hours to the conference where I would have a 15 minute critique on my first five pages from Quinlan (it was kind of a crap shoot on who would critique your first pages, but somehow I ended up with Quinlan.) Ummm… I believed that was sign #2!

She was so sweet and personable. After the 15 minutes I was convinced that she was my dream agent and I was meant to be repped by Adams Literary. She told me to take my time and send her the ms when it was ready. But that’s not what my ears heard. You know when you were a kid and you used to play the telephone game where you say one thing, then it gets whispered to like 20 kids and when it gets to the end it’s a totally different thing? Well, that’s kind of what it was like because I heard “I love it, send it to me quickly.”

Poor Quinlan got my first query letter ever. And I’m such an email packrat that I saved it. It’s hideous. It starts with a rhetorical question. Then I tell her it’s 50,918 words. Everything they say NOT to do in your query letter, I did it in that one. A month later I got a very sweet personalized rejection. I was crushed. But I moved on and ended up getting 10 requests out of the 100 queries I sent out for it. They all ultimately ended in rejection and I convinced myself that 100 was the magic number to move on.

I spent the next year writing another novel that I half finished. An old friend (Renee!) contacted me about forming a critique group around the same time I got the idea for THE CHAOS SHELTER. I spent 2012 writing that and put the finishing touches on it during this past Nanowrimo. But right before I finished it I went to another SCBWI conference in Cleveland. I signed up for another agent critique, but not with Quinlan, even though she was going to be there. I didn’t want Quinlan to think I was an Adams Literary groupie or something, following her from city to city. LOL Not to mention it’s been two years and I knew she wouldn’t remember me.

I was wrong. I was leaving the conference after it was over and she stopped me in the hallway when we passed each other. She said “Hi! How are you doing?”. She asked how my kids were doing. We talked for a bit, and then I left. I was kind of floored and majorly impressed.

January 1st came and I sent out my first 15 queries. From almost everything I’ve read, they say your second book almost always gets more requests than the first. Well, in a week I’d gotten back 12 rejections and NO requests. Now, I’m usually one of the happiest people you will ever meet but that depressed me.

I gave up after those 15 queries.
I stopped checking my query email box and I didn’t send out any more. I started to think of ideas for something else I could write instead. It was obvious that this book just wasn’t going to appeal to anyone.

The month of January went by.
Then for some reason I thought to check my query inbox the second week of February. There was an email. It was a full request. WHAT? SERIOUSLY?
And that gave me hope.
That weekend I sent out around 25 queries and the full ms to the requesting agent.
After a few days I had 2 more full requests. Then after a week I heard back from the agent who had sent the first request. She loved it, but had some ideas and wanted to know what I thought about them. I spent all weekend and wrote up my thoughts. She emailed the following Wednesday and asked if we could chat on the phone and ultimately offered representation. I loved her, but with so many queries and some other fulls out there I knew I’d have to at least let others know and give them a chance. I told her I’d let her know in 9 days.

I ended up with 3 offers of representation, more rejections and even more nice notes letting me know they loved the pitch but didn’t have enough time to read or consider it. Remember when they say “Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it?” That was my week. Having to decide tore me up inside. I liked all 3 agents for very different reasons. What it all came down to was my gut. I would’ve been in good hands with whomever I chose but I realized that from the beginning of my journey, my dream has always been to work with Adams Literary. Today Josh Adams became my agent and I couldn’t be happier!

I have two pieces of advice if you’re still agent hunting.
1. Don’t give up!
2. SCBWI Conferences (or any other event where you can network with industry people) are invaluable. Go to every one that you can and don’t be afraid to chat with people! You never know where it may lead.

Here are the final stats for those of you (like me!) who like them:

Total queries sent: 44
Rejections: 26
No response: 8
Full requests: 7
Offers of rep: 3

OK, now for the GOOD STUFF!

Over a month ago I was one of the fastest tweeters to Brenda Drake and won a free pass through the submission window round of her upcoming Pitch Madness contest. Now that I can’t use it, Brenda was sweet enough to let me give it away as a prize on my blog. So if you want to enter Pitch Madness and don’t want to mess with the submission window, etc. just post a comment on this post saying “I won’t give up!” and I’ll draw a random winner for it from everyone who posts their comment before noon on Sunday, March 10.

Thanks for reading my story and good luck! 🙂

The “Do You Like Me” Note – Literary Agent Style

I was in first grade. The year was 1980. I remember very little from first grade, but this is the one thing I do remember: I had a crush on a boy named Mike. So, I did what every kid in the 80’s probably did at least once in their life. I wrote him a “Do You Like Me?” note. Three check boxes. One for the “Yes” (please, please, let him check that one!), the “No” (heartbreak sure to ensue), and the “Maybe” (not what I wanted him to check, but I could live with it.) I signed my name to the bottom, and ran over when no one was looking to shove it in his mailbox.

Then I hid. I can’t remember where. Behind the bookshelf across the room, maybe? I remember sweating when I saw him heading in that direction. True love at last! He pulled it out. He unfolded it. His nose scrunched up in a position I’ve never seen before (does love look like that?). He crumpled it up and threw it in the trash can.


Lesson learned, it was the last “Do You Like Me” note I wrote.

Well, until I wrote a book 31 years later. Then I had to write more notes. Lots more. This time in the form of a query letter to an agent. Every time I would hit the send button on one I’d think “Didn’t you learn this lesson already?” The good thing about it being emailed is that I don’t have to see what happens on the other end. The agents may scrunch their nose when they read it and hit that cute little trash can image to toss it in the virtual garbage or reply with the dreaded form rejection, but I don’t have to see it happening.

Well, I’ve gotten a few replies marked “Yes” (full requests), a lot marked “No” (rejection), and a few “Maybe” (partial requests).

There is one thing I can tell you — for me, the anticipation, excitement, and fear is still the same after all of these years. When I see that little (1) next to my query inbox telling me I have a new reply I cross both fingers, my legs, and hold my breath while I open it.

The best news is that for now (and hopefully forever!) I never have to send out another “Do You Like Me” note. I’ll post again this week with my happy ending story! 🙂

Knee Deep in Urine and Swagbucks

I’ve been writing, writing, writing. I was halfway through my current novel and was happy with the progress. But then a few days ago



I had an idea for a novel that I can’t not write. I can’t fall asleep at night without thinking about it. I can’t drive my car without thinking about it. I can’t take a shower without thinking about it. I hate to abandon the other novel I’ve been working on, but my brain won’t let me work on it anymore. I’m just going to put it on hold for a little while until this one gives my brain a rest.

I love doing research and this one is making me do lots. Internet research does wonders for my Swagbucks account and my Nook account balance, so I’m a happy girl right now.
Since I’m not too far into it yet, and it could change I hate to say what the books about so soon. But I thought it might be fun to post a few of my internet searches while I’m working on it to give you a few little clues. So here goes – two of the search terms I’ve done today…
1 – What year did the Vietnam war end?
2 – How to hide the scent of urine.
Oh yes, because of the title of this blog post you knew the word ‘urine’ had to be in here somewhere. Have a great weekend – I’m heading back to the book holding me prisoner at the moment. I get to meet with my critique group tomorrow and I can’t wait to hear what they think of the first chapter! Until later…

Back to My Super-Secret-Double-Life

So if you got here via my website you will know that I’ve always had a slight obsession with Wonder Woman. With a maiden name of Wendling, I’ve kind of always been stuck with a “W”. So “Wonder Woman” just kind of worked, you know?

And now, with the third week of school safely under my (gold) belt, I feel like I can slide back into my super-secret-double-life.
See, I’ve got this ultra-cool job that lets me take my girls to school and work there until 10:30. Then I have until 3pm to do WHATEVER I WANT! No one tugging on my shirt, “Mom! Play Lego’s with me!”, or little hands leaving the milk out on the counter before disappearing so I have no choice but to shuffle out to the fridge and put it away before it spoils. And the WHATEVER I WANT! is typically writing. It’s my afternoon-super-secret-double-life.
Yes, you heard me right. I like to write. LOVE to write. (Notice how its another “W”? Of course you did!) Having my fingers flying over the keys on my keyboard, creating life (well, close to it!). It’s about as close to heaven as I can get right now. I love falling in love with these people I create, adore putting them in crazy situations and figuring out how to get them out without killing them.
And I’ve found inspiration at school to get back in the swing of it…in the form of an 8-year old girl named Cara who happens to be my daughter’s BFF. I write a lot, but I think she’s been out-writing me! She wants to be the next J.K. Rowling and I love watching her energy and excitement about writing – so much that she makes me want to get back to my 2,000 words a day.
Now if I can just finish this blog post…right. NOW.

Anatomy of a Writers Business Card

Next weekend I’m excited to be attending the Central Ohio Scarlet & Gray SCBWI Writer’s Conference! I can’t wait to soak up the information and hopefully stay far away from embarrassing situations this time (previous post).

The last time I went to a conference I made some print-your-own business cards the morning I left. When I ripped them apart, the sides left perforations and ultimately I was too embarrassed to give more than one out. So this time, I was more prepared and designed some professional looking ones to print cheaply through Vistaprint. But I hit a bump – what information do I need on them? A Google search for “writer’s business cards” didn’t wield me many results or helpful examples. So I pretty much winged it and thought I’d share the results.

A – Name
Don’t forget it. And don’t forget to make it stand out – CAP it,bold it, throw a different color on it, stick it at the top. Your name is one of the most important things you have going for you. Use it and make it look GOOD!
B – Title
So what are you? Writer seems pretty general, I’m sure you could probably think of something more creative than I did. But I’m a simple girl (hubster’s nickname for me is “mashed potatoes without gravy). Whatever it is you do – be sure to put it on there and let the world know.
C – Picture
I was on the fence about this one. I HATE pictures of myself and normally don’t use one if I don’t have to, but the point of the card is to help people remember/recognize me. Like it or not, my mug is one of the best ways to do that. It’s so much easier to put a face with a name, isn’t it?
D – Book Name
I hesitated on this one. If your book is already published or at least agented I would say “Go for it!” because its a smaller chance of you wasting your cards. But I’m still working on those two things for SOPHIA. So say I order 100 cards, give out twenty then decide to trunk the novel down the road. I’ll have to throw the other 80 cards out, won’t I? But I want people I meet to remember the book, so I made the (possibly silly) decision to put it on there. If SOPHIA doesn’t end up getting published then I’ll just use the backs for doodling in my art classes.
E – Contact Information
No questions on this one – you NEED this. The person holding the card needs to know how to get in touch with you, that’s the whole point of the card, right? I figured I didn’t need my snail-mail address but did include my website and email addresses. I also put my phone number (that I erased for this posting).
F – Extra Goodness
Make it look like you! Or in my case, I made it look like my website. Same colors, design elements, fonts, etc. If someone has been to my website before, chances are they might look at this and think “I’ve seen this before.” Branding is huge and having coordinating marketing efforts help establish your “brand”. Even if you can’t do the same design, using the same colors would help.
And last of all – you want to make your business card (and you!) stand out. Just something as simple as flipping the card 90 degrees will do that for you. Now don’t get me wrong – don’t go printing your card on toilet paper or something crazy like that. Like your query letter, synopsis, ms, etc. it still needs to look professional and presentable. Sometimes it just needs a little something extra to make them remember your card (and you!).

Phases of a Critique

My adorable and very expressive five-year-old is demonstrating my second phase of a critique.


I know critiques are a necessary evil. I get that.
But that doesn’t mean I have to like them. I still get the clammy hands as the feeling of dread washes over me. It’s so hard for me to click on that email that I know is going to tell me things about my ms I’m not going to like. I know the phases I’m about to go through, and while I hope I get through them fast – sometimes they seem to take forever.
PHASE 1 – Wait, what? (Disbelief)
They say love is blind. If you love your manuscript as much as your own children, then there are problems in it you’re just not going to see. Like when you don’t notice that your significant other hasn’t showered in three days (OK, well maybe you’ll notice that one).
I had a critique on my ms once that said, “Geez this girl faints at the drop of a hat. NO NO NO. I’ve got to say you’ve maxed out on the fainting business.” My first reaction: “Slowly step away from the crazy juice”. Then the second phase kicks in.
PHASE 2 – Meet me in the parking lot in 20 minutes (Anger)
“She faints twice. TWICE! And its a quirk!”
If I’m lucky I morph from disbelief to anger in the matter of a few minutes. Sometimes it takes me days. Some people may never even reach phase two, they just plain don’t believe it even if it is a valid point. At this phase I feel like yelling, screaming (see photo above), and the “for better or for worse” part of my marriage vows kick into effect because luckily I don’t take it out on who critiqued it. I take it out on my husband. My husband, the quiet man who brilliantly listens and nods his head like the best of them. He’s been around me enough to know that he should just ride out the storm, agree with my screams and hope that phase 3 gets here super-quick.
PHASE 3 – Oh! Pounds head against the wall (Comprehension)
Once I read through my manuscript again I noticed a pattern I hadn’t noticed before. Yes, my MC fainted twice, but the intruder in her room got knocked unconscious in chapter two and her love interest got knocked out in chapter four (and that was just the beginning of the book). I was taking the easy way out again and again and didn’t realize it.
I think that’s the major reason not everyone can get out of this phase – some critiques are very hard to decipher. When I first read her comment, I assumed she meant my main character. But you need to have the ability to think outside the box. Could they have meant something other than what you thought they meant? Sometimes this phase takes me the longest. But once I put my anger aside long enough to realize the true meaning of the comment, its an easy transition to the last phase.
PHASE 4 – Butt in chair (Revise!)
Once I get through the first 3 phase, phase 4 is like heaven. Luckily I’m the fix-it queen. Once I know the problem, I can hunker down and get it fixed. Life is GOOD! (Well, until the next critique hits the ol’ inbox throwing me back to phase 1 again).
You’re not going to agree with every critique. I’ve gotten a few that I just flat-out didn’t get through phase 3 with, and I’m OK with that. I know I’m not going to agree with everyone. The bottom line is that its YOUR book and you need to make the changes YOU feel comfortable with. Wait, another email? THAT’S why the hubster went down in the basement to drum. Smart man.

What NOT to do at an SCBWI Conference

I’m a big fan of Dear Teen Me, and believe me – there are about a million things I wish I could go back and tell the me of {bleep} years ago. But sometimes I’d just be happy with talking to the me of six months ago.

Dear Holly,

Just a few last-minute tips before you hop in the car and drive six hours to a conference where you don’t know a soul.

HAVE A PITCH READY. Don’t know what it is? It’s called Google – USE IT! When the uber-talented super-agent special guest asks you for it, you’re going to kick yourself in the butt for saying “Ummm, I’m not sure, didn’t really think of one.” Really? REALLY?

DON’T BOTHER TO PRINT OUT THAT SYNOPSIS that you wrote in a half-hour if you’re too embarrassed to give it out to anyone. You just wasted cardstock and ink, dummy! At least you can turn them over and let your kids doodle when you get back home.

WHEN YOU GET TO THE HOTEL early and want to figure out where you’re supposed to be so you’re not late, and the girl at the front desk tells you the conference starts at 6:00 with dinner in the restaurant instead of the 8:00 that is written on every other piece of information you have – DON’T BELIEVE HER!

WHEN YOU DO BELIEVE HER and head to the hotel restaurant at 6:00 and there is only one other person there, tell me the truth – any bells going off? Any whistles?

WHEN THE WAITRESS TELLS YOU TO ORDER ANYTHING YOU WANT BECAUSE IT’S ON THE HOUSE remember back to when your momma told you that nothing is ever free. She’s smart. She knew what she was talking about. Do you really think that the organizers of the event are going to pay for you to eat/drink anything and everything you want? Yeah, yeah, I know you’re nervous. Sweating so hard you’re about to slide out of the seat, nervous. But just calm down long enough to use the brain you did NOT leave back in Ohio.

WHEN TWO OTHER PEOPLE FINALLY ARRIVE, talking about traffic from the airport and start name dropping names you’ve only ever seen on the shelves of your local library, put the that fork full of shrimp pasta down long enough to catch their names and what they’re talking about so you can figure out that you’re not supposed to be there.

WHEN YOU TELL THE LADY ACROSS FROM YOU that you feel so out of place – think on that a minute. Is there a reason you should be feeling out of place? MAYBE BECAUSE YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO BE THERE?

WHEN TWO OTHER CONFERENCE GOERS WALK IN THE ROOM, asking if this is where they should be for the conference and the lady next to you tells them “No,” that it starts at 8:00 down the hall – OH NOW YOU GET IT? How’s that for a delayed reaction? Ummm…hello! That’s not just Sally Q. Conference-Goer sitting there to your right, its Miss Big-time editor of power-house children’s magazine that’s going to be sitting at the long table on the stage tomorrow with the other special guests. The same person teaching the class you signed up for tomorrow.

DON’T EXCUSE YOURSELF TO RUN BACK TO YOUR ROOM and call your husband in tears – he’s a state away and can’t do a single thing to console you. But I bet you a hundred dollars he’s glad he stayed home to watch the kids.

WHEN YOU DRY YOUR TEARS AND GET TO YOUR AGENT CRITIQUE and she so kindly lets you know what you need to work on and tells you to take some time with it before sending it to her, don’t change things in the hotel room and send it to her two weeks later. Let it sit, silly. Let it simmer. Look over it again, then again, and again. Then once more for good measure. When she said she won’t forget your unique concept, she really meant it. Even if it is months and months later. Don’t send it to her in two weeks. It’s not ready and you’ll get a rejection faster than ants on a gumdrop.

Don’t worry, you’re going to make mistakes in this whole publishing adventure you decided to take on. I’m sure every one does. One day I’m sure you’ll look back on this conference and laugh at how naive you were. One day.

Create Your Own Book Cover

After two years and twenty three ms edits you’ve finally convinced yourself to submit your novel to an agent (or two…or three…). Now the agonizing wait begins.

HEY! Stop checking your email again and get back here!
You need something to keep you busy. One thing you could do is play around with a book cover. It’s actually pretty fun and there are quite a few different ways you can create one.
Step 1
Find a background image.
There are a few routes you could go as far as finding an image to use.
  • Take your own picture. This is a fun option, especially if you love photography as much as I do. However you really have to know what you’re doing. You don’t want a mediocre picture with harsh shadows or washed out with a flash that’s too bright. You want your book cover to look as professional as possible. Any image you associate with your novel reflects on you and the novel itself, good or bad.
  • Buy a royalty-free stock image. There are plenty of royalty-free stock image websites out there with a fabulous array of images to choose from. If you have been to my website, http://www.hollyvandyne.com, the notebook image in the background was an image I purchased from http://www.istockphoto.com. Each image is a certain number of credits depending on its size. I purchased enough credits for a medium size version of the notebook image for $18.25. The benefit of buying the use of a royalty-free image is that the user has the one-time right to use the photo without restrictions. I didn’t have to give credit to the photographer to use it.
  • Use a free stock image. There are free stock image websites out there as well. I got the stock image photo of the notebook I used on my book cover at http://www.sxc.hu/. Once you find an image you want to use be sure to pay attention to the use of the image as listed by the photographer. The one I chose asked that if used, please just let the photographer know where and how you used it.
As I said before, just be sure that you choose a professional looking image and one that fits your novel. The Talented Hand of Sophia is about a girl who writes so a notebook was one of the best images I could have used. Think about it, search through lots of images (not just the first one that comes up as a match to your search), and once you find the perfect one to use you are ready for the next step.
Step 2
Resize and Add Text
For this step you’ll need a photo editor. Again, there are a few different routes you can take.
  • Buy photo editor software. There are all sorts of them, you may have one on your computer already. Most printers, scanners, digital cameras come with a CD that has either a full version or trial version of image editing software. You can install this to use or buy a copy in just about any store that carries software. Adobe Photoshop Elements is a great one and is only $99. You can also buy it online at http://www.adobe.com. Or if you want to try it out they allow you to download a free 30-day trial version of the software.
  • Use a free photo editor. There is an awesome free program at http://pixlr.com/ that you can use directly on their website without having to install any software on your computer. I’ve used it a few times, it is pretty easy to use and a lot of the features are similar to Photoshop. Not bad for a free program!
When I did my book cover, I made the image 1000 pixels wide by 1500 pixels high. Once it was created I sized it down to about 10% of that to fit on my website. I suggest looking at different books in your genre and try to keep yours the same style. For mine I found a simple image to make my title stand out and used a simple font so that it didn’t distract from the style I was trying to achieve.
Play around with it! This was the second one I created, my first try ended up looking a little too childish for the subject matter and age range of my novel so I tried again until I got an image I was happy with.
Now you have my permission to go check your email again (my fingers and toes are crossed for you!) If you make a fake cover of your own novel please post a link in the comments here, I would love to see how it turned out!