I'm a teacher for the visually impaired and blind, and a children's book author. Most often I can be found either with my nose in a book, a pen in my hand, or laptop before me, depending on the stage of my work in progress.
I don’t usually post philosophical expositions, but I have been preoccupied with what makes a life well-lived, so I’d like to open it up for discussion.
I thought about how our lives are defined; our jobs, where we live, where we came from, our interests, our schooling, etc. They are part and parcel of how our lives are apportioned, but they don’t speak to whether a life is or was well-lived.
What are your thoughts? What do you feel makes a well-lived life?
Maya Angelou said, “At the end of the day, I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
I can relate to the myriad of emotions displayed in the pictures above. Painful memories I do my best to bury deep, loving, joyful ones I play on repeat.
For most of us, our lives contain a mix of positive and negative memories of interactions with others.
If we intentionally work to make the ratio of interactions higher on the positive side instead of the negative, is that the path to a well-lived life?
To say that writing a query isn’t easy is an understatement, a huge one.
A query involves introducing yourself to potential agents or editors, pitching them your story in a way that will make them want to read more, providing a synopsis of the plot and your characters’ development, as well as offering a sample portion of your manuscript. A query is painstakingly worked over by an author and many times within their critique group.
In this post, I’ll share a discussion of the ins and outs of a query from an agent’s point of view with my daughter, Grace Milusich, literary agent with the Irene Goodman Literary Agency. I’ve benefited first hand from her keen editorial eye and concise constructive criticism. Her input has always helped to make my work stronger and I’m excited to share with you her perspectives on what makes a stand out query.
Q&A with Grace Milusich
What are a few important things you would suggest authors do when querying?
First of all, make sure the query is addressed to the right agent at the right agency. It’s your first chance to make a connection with an agent, so make sure to do your research to find an agent who you think will be most receptive to your work. It’s also always good to refer to something that drew you to that particular agent. It could be something that was on mswl or on the agent’s social media.
How can an author catch your interest when querying you?
I like to be hooked right off the bat. The best way to get my interest is to send me something fresh and unique. I’m specifically looking for YA, upper YA and adult fiction and fantasy, and those markets are very competitive. If you can pitch me something that is different from anything else already out there, you’ll get my attention.
Do you have a format you prefer for authors to use when querying you?
I like to use a Query Tracker form in which authors can copy and paste their pitch, query letter, synopsis and first chapter into the form. I also have a link for authors to upload a moodboard, specific to their submission, if they’ve done one.
What is it you want within the query letter itself?
Within the query letter, I like to find out about the word count, a description of the story without the ending being given away and without each plot beat summarized, those are for the synopsis. I’d also like to know a little bit about the author, and what drew them to submit their work to me.
What are you looking for when you read the bio of a writer?
I want to know where you are within your writing career. Have you been published before? Have you received any awards? I’m also always interested to know what writing groups you might be involved with, if your story has an ownvoices focus, and then a sentence or two about who you are.
Are you looking for any particular ownvoices?
I’m openly seeking diverse protagonists and authors from all walks of life.
On Query Tracker the tab description for a pitch identifies a paragraph length pitch. What is your ideal pitch length?
I prefer a one sentence pitch, because it tells me the takeaway of the entire piece.
Do you have any suggestions on how best to write a pitch?
It depends on who you’re submitting to and what their preferences are. I like a pitch that can tell me a small bit about the world (especially if the genre is fantasy), the characters and the stakes.
Can you give us an example of a well done pitch?
I have an example of one written by Rimma Onoseta for her book, How You Grow Wings. “Two sisters in a small village in Nigeria want nothing more than to break free of their oppressive home. When one sister is given the opportunity to live with her wealthy aunt, she takes the chance and escapes, starting off a chain of events that leads the sisters on different paths.”
Are any portions of the Query more important to you than others?
No, the query letter tells me in general what the project is about, and if it captures my interest enough I will often jump to the pitch to see if I want to go further with it. If I do, I will have a look through the synopsis or I will skip the synopsis and go straight to the first chapter submission sample, so they’re each just as important.
Is there anything that would make you stop reading when you’ve opened a query?
One thing that would make me think I’m not sure if this is the project for me, would be if the word count was wildly above genre standards, also I won’t accept AI generated queries or submissions. I believe this is a generally accepted rule among most agents.
As a new agent, would you pass on a submission to another agent that you knew might be interested in it?
Would you walk us through your day?
The first thing I do is clear up administrative responsibilities, such as following up on preexisting projects, arranging calls with other authors, reading ongoing projects, scheduling calls with editors, checking in with publishers in order to make sure they are keeping up with publication or post-publication requirements, the list goes on.
Once I know what’s on my plate for the day, I can go through my queries. I have to put on my creative thinking cap for that. I find it’s best for me to look through queries in bursts so I don’t get reader fatigue; that wouldn’t be fair to the authors. I want to give their submissions my best energy, so I set aside about two hours a day to go through Query Tracker. That’s where the majority of my queries are coming from. I go through them in chronological order.
You’ve only just recently open to queries, have you found anything you’re interested in?
Yes, and I’ve requested a few full manuscripts.
That’s exciting! Thank you so much for taking time out of your schedule to share your take on queries, Grace.
Below is the mswl link for anyone interested in finding out more about the submissions Grace is looking for.
In today’s post, children’s author Lee Y. Miao will share with us a little bit about her newest book in the Ellie & Co book series, as well as some perspectives on her writing process.
Thank you, Jan, for asking me to do a guest post on your lovely blog. I’m delighted to discuss my second middle-grade novel, It’s a Rhap, Cat.
This book continues the Ellie & Co book series. However, the setting, primarily in the Los Angeles area, actually takes place about six weeks before the first novel, Wei to Go! Readers can also enjoy each book as a standalone with some recurring characters.
When twelve-year-old Cat, a history nerd, discovers her look-alike in a portrait by Raphael, she can’t wait to research this mysterious lady from the 16th century. But sparks fly when she signs up for the Renaissance History and Art Project (RHAP).
To win, Cat needs to ask her one-time rival, Trey, to team up with her. She’s distracted by softball. He’s distracted by lacrosse. They’re both distracted by the class diva.
Will she find clues in old letters handed down over generations? Or will the lady’s secrets in a Rome art gallery remain undeciphered? It’s up to Cat to solve the riddle. If only more than five hundred years didn’t stand in her way!
Writing Process Perspectives–TheOuter Line of Defense: Indispensable Characters
The job of a main secondary character is to help propel the protagonist’s goals forward. These characters get oodles of credit, often being named in book descriptions or a synopsis or even on a coveted book jacket. An entire slew of lesser secondary characters may also appear who are not as prominent but still indispensable. First, I’ll digress into my rookie mode in spectator sports.
Baseball infielders put out runners attempting base hits. Outfielders, though, play a valuable role backing them up as well as catching long-fly balls. In football, aside from the defensive heavyweights, the secondary line is trained especially to thwart long passes. The lacrosse defense is aided by versatile defensive midfielders in transitioning the ball to offense.
In this spirit, I added an outer line of defense in my novel to further assist both the protagonist and the main secondary characters. The scenes with this cast provide depth, tension, and humor.
Let me introduce my line up:
Fun Chum’s Little Brother: Ellie from book one is the to-die-for bestie. This quirky friend is the sidekick encouraging Cat to follow her instincts about a mysterious painting by Raphael. Additionally, Ellie’s little brother, a lacrosse player, provides comic relief when Cat confronts the antagonist and when she faces up to her feelings about a crush.
The Crush and His Bros: Speaking of the crush, Cat has to persuade her classmate, a lacrosse player with awesome art skills, to get on board in the school’s Renaissance project. Except, well, middle-school social dynamics make a linear path impossible for puppy love. Forced to go the zigzaggy route, she leans on two athletic bros in the crush’s orbit to ease the way and lend a hand in related subplots.
A Mentor and One More: Cat’s history teacher provides wise counsel on the school project. But when she throws down the gauntlet to “study history to learn about yourself,” Cat struggles to dig deeper. Just in the nick of time, the teacher introduces her art historian sister who becomes a second mentor, both in Rome and back in Los Angeles.
Family Ties Plus: Amidst the school drama and mystery of the painting, Cat aims to get closer to her workaholic, weekend-only mom. In this regard, her normal home life centers around her dad and her aloof teen sister. The tangles among the three provide both a spark and unexpected key assists integral to Cat making headway in the book’s plot.
How do all the heavyweights and outer line of defense converge to support Cat in the mystery? Read the book!
Lee Y. Miao grew up in a small Pennsylvania town and lives in New York now with her family and a tireless dog. After working in financial jobs and writing K-12 educational material, she turned to middle-grade fiction. Her stories are about contemporary characters who discover connections to their cultures and families from their pasts.
Lee’s novels are published by Clear Fork Media Group and illustrated by Penny Weber. Please sign up for her email newsletter at her website, http://www.leeymiao.com, for updates and announcements about her writing life.
Here are some bookseller links if you’re interested in purchasing It’s a RHAP, Cat.
January is over and February has begun. The groundhog has seen his shadow, and it’s a perfect time to hunker down in front of a cozy fire. There’s no better time to take a second look at all the picture book ideas I came up with and pick one to turn into a story.
Before I do, I’m going to re-read some of the many excellent posts that were shared during Storystorm’s month of creative encouragement. There were so many ideas and perspectives that could help me generate even more ideas or help me focus my writing. Kirsten Pendreigh’s post on “Ideagrients” was definitely one I’m going to refer to when honing in on exactly the story I want to tell.
Ideagrients™: distinctive fragments and descriptive sparks that elevate ideas. May include—but not limited to—gorgeous words, evocative images, sensory details, original names, and clever language devices. According to experts at PBIU (Picture Book Idea University), good ideas require a minimum of five Ideagrients before story writing can begin.
Kirsten’s suggestion is to search for specificity and clarity in who your character is, what they want, where their setting is, and what the language is that you want to use all before you commit to any writing time. She recommends assembling your ideagrients in order to have an easier time creating a compelling pitch, enjoy a smoother writing process and create a better end product. Who’s ready to sous-chef up a story? Me!
Another great post, this one about finding ideas to make into a story, was provided by Ebony Lynn Mudd who suggested literally scrolling for them. Here are some of the scrollable accounts she suggested.
It’s the mid-way point of Storystorm 2023! And so far, so good, I’ve been keeping up with this month long picture book brainstorming challenge created by Tara Lazar.
To me, brainstorming is like like taking a journey with a somewhat vague destination in mind, but no set directions for getting there. Since I’m a big LOTR nerd, that idea connects me immediately to Bilbo Baggins’ warning to Frodo about embarking on a journey, “If you don’t keep your feet, there’s no telling where you might be swept off to.”
Storystorm, in order to encourage participants creativity, provides daily blog posts written by a multitude of picture book creators.
One of the posts that captured my attention, this Storystorm, was written by Kathleen Doherty. Her post was about intertextuality. Though I had never heard it called by that title before, I was familiar with its theory which says that whatever you create is influenced by something you’ve heard, seen or read before.
Kathleen embraced intertextuality in each of her picture books. Her first, Don’t Feed the Bear, came from her memories of watching Yogi Bear and Ranger Smith’s cartoon high jinx.
It’s a super fun read that demonstrates the power of written communication and it definitely tickles the funny bone.
Kathleen described her second picture book, THE THiNGiTY-JiG, as a reworked version of The Little Red Hen with a dash of creative BFG word-play added to the mix. I think it’s so much more!
The THiNGiTY-JiG has a pleasant repetitive refrain that gets the story going and keeps its transitions flowing. The prose is active, full of onomatopoeia. Each attempt of the main character to achieve what he has set out to do, cleverly builds upon the one before it. Lastly, it has a very satisfying ending. I’d recommend this book to children, as well as to picture book writers in search of mentor books.
There is more Storystorming left to do in the remaining weeks of January, and I’m up for the challenge. I’ll let you know how my efforts pan out at the start of February.
Jan, this was a lovely post. I don’t know the answer to a life well-lived, but what makes me happy…