Publishing Insight: Why Your Manuscript Might Get Rejected

Information taken from a panel at the JRWC 2014 featuring literary agents: Kaylee Davis from Dee Mura Literary Agency, Katie Grimm from Don Congdon Associates, Kimiko Nakamura from Dee Mura Literary Agency, and editor Stacy Whitman from Tu Books.

Ever wonder why your manuscript isn’t making it past either a.) querying b.) an agent partial/full request c.) publisher submission requests?

Industry insiders provided the following top TWELVE things that might make them say: it’s not me, it’s your manuscript.

# 12:  You’re not following directions . Come on…do the simple things–sending your manuscript (MS) to the wrong person who doesn’t represent that category/genre, etc.

#11:The manuscript doesn’t include enough conflict.

#10: Your dialogue is: not authentic, sparse, dense.

#9: Your manuscript is lacking causality. You should have a domino effect. Each action–> leads to another action.

#8: You should try to read more in your style/genre–easier said than done but FIND THE TIME. Use websites like Goodreads and go to Indie bookstores to find out what books are in your style/genre.

#7: Whatever you do…do not include ANY flat Stanleys! All of your characters should be well-rounded.  Create dynamics and relationships between your characters through dialogue and action. Write bios for every character–even if the reader doesn’t know all of that info, YOU should know.

#6: Beware the cliched beginnings. This speaks for itself (you know: waking up from a dream, protagonist staring at his/her reflection, etc., etc.) Rules, of course, are meant to be broken, though. But it should be GOOD if it’s gonna be cliched.

#5: You’re in everybody’s head. Try not to include too many POVs. If you are, make sure it’s clearly delineated (chapter breaks, page breaks, use the character’s name, etc.)

#4: The manuscript is boring. This is VERY subjective and there wasn’t much discussion here but…if you’re boring yourself and your beta readers, you’re probably gonna bore the agent/editor.

#3: You need to make sure the plot doesn’t plateau. Try to have enough going on. The rule of thumb is to try and to have at least 3-4 things happening in a novel and to resolve at least ONE thing by the end, leave some things up in the air.

#2:  You might have too much exposition–try to cut back and add a little more dialogue. But see # 10 🙂


#1: Don’t bury the lead. Don’t try to trick the reader, unless of course you’re working with an unreliable narrator. If that’s the case, make sure the character isn’t flat and the others around them are amazing, too!

That’s all we got. What’s something that was left off this list?


It’s All About the Risks

Risky Song of the Day: “Risk” by The Deftones

This past weekend me and Pam attended our regional SCBWI conference in Dulles, VA. We drove over four hours (traffic was a mean, cranky bee-yatch) and endured getting lost about three times to hear people like Meg Medina, Jennifer Rofe of Andrea Brown Literary Agency, Quinlan Lee of Adams Literary, and Han Nolan speak. And the torturous ride was definitely worth it.

There were three different panels with agents, authors, and editors. We learned plenty about how to market your book, what agents look for when going through submissions and what YOU should look for in an agent, as well as what editors think about characterization and voice.

But perhaps the most inspiring part of this conference was when Han Nolan gave her keynote address, entitled “Risky Business” and omigod, did this hit home for us.

Right before Han Nolan gave her speech, me and Pam had lunch and we discussed some of the things we’d heard earlier in the conference, as well as other things that we’ve heard/seen around the web. Two of those things were: the agents don’t like “angsty” teen books, they want lighter, more humorous materials, and historicals are hard to sell. And I immediately thought, that’s what we write. We write stories that are hard to tell–about murder, drug use, kidnapping–the ugly parts of the real world. And I also write historicals. I told Pam, “I think I should change my NaNo idea. Write something lighter.” She told me not to listen to what anyone says, to write what I wanna write…but I still had my doubts.

Then we sat down and Han Nolan spoke. She told us about her first novel, If I Should Die Before I Wake and how it got bad reviews but eventually became a huge success. She told us that despite all of her hardships, despite naysayers, she stuck with writing. With this risky business. Amongst many other things, she told us it’s a risk to strive for excellence and excellence only comes through hard work. So, sure I’ve been working on both my angsty and historical manuscripts for two years, but that’s the hard work–that’s the risk. And my first drafts are AWFUL–but that goes with another thing Han told us, allow yourself to be terrible and don’t stress over failures. When you fail, it makes your successes that much better.

It was very inspiring to say the least. And me and Pam both have vowed not to shy away from the risks. We’ll keep writing about the dark and scary sides of YA if we feel the need to tell the story, and if those stories are failures, so be it. At least we know we’ve taken the risks.

What about you all, are you willing to take the risks involved with the business of writing?

Time is on Your Side (SCBWI:Take Two)

Informing Song of the Day: “Time is Running Out” by Muse

Yesterday we showed you what we did at the SCBWI LA Conference through some very professional cell phone photographs. And we promised we would share some of the highlights today. There were sooooo many major moments that we witnessed, keynotes from Libba Bray, Gary Paulsen, and Richard Peck. Sessions with editors Jennifer Hunt from Dial, Alessandra Balzar , and authors Sarah Stewart, Bruce Coville, and Laurie Halse Anderson. And although EVERYTHING we did this past weekend was full of awesome, perhaps the most awesome was Laurie Halse Anderson’s session on making time for writing.

I must admit, I’m a little biased. I went into the session KNOWING I was going to adore whatever came out of her mouth–she is one of my fave writers after all. But when me and Pam entered that room and became engrossed with the talk, (just like the other people squeezed in the tiny room with us) I knew Ms. Anderson was giving us some truly GREAT advice. Okay, I’ll stop teasing and get to the deets.

Before that session, we were quick to say things like:

“But, we don’t have any tiiiime to write!”

“We can write after So You Think You Can Dance goes off.”


“Who can maintain a full time job, a family, and writing? Only a super hero!”

Now, after listening to her speak (no pun intended) we understand that using all of those excuses was our way of masking the fear that we have about writing. Ms. Anderson said that when we write about teen emotions we’re usually revisiting those times in our lives, leaving us vulnerable. That vulnerability leads to fear.

How do you get rid of that fear and stop making excuses then? Ms. Anderson had us do two quick activities where we list our “Top Five Time Consumers” –we had to put the top five things that take up our time on a daily basis. TV showed up on both mine and Pam’s list. Then we had to write the five most important things to us…TV showed up on my list again. I had to be honest. This made Pam and me realize that we spend WAY too much time watching TV. So, as soon as the session ended, me and Pam scurried to our room and did this:

**If you look real closely,you can make out the titles…what do you see that you’re guilty of watching, too :)**

That is the list of every TV show we watch during a given week. We went through and scratched off the shows we were willing to give up, made a note of “maybes” –the shows we would give a trial run, and then checked off the gems we knew we couldn’t stop watching (Supernatural, Boardwalk Empire, anyone??).

And then we felt a weight lift off of our shoulders. Now, we won’t fall back on those old excuses and we will do what Laurie Halse Anderson quoted from William Faulkner: “Don’t be a writer, be writing.”

Tell us, what are some of your time wasters? And what are you willing to give up???

SCBWI International Conference–Summer 2011 in Pictures!

Remembering Song of the Day: “This Photograph is Proof” by Taking Back Sunday

So, we promised you some info and highlights from the magnificent SCBWI 40th International Conference. Instead of trying to write everything that we did, we decided to demonstrate the weekend through pictures.

First of all, we arrived to LAX on Thursday, August 4th, 2011…after midnight 😦 We were some sleepy mofos!

Friday August 5th, 2011:

Right away, we find out John Green (who was one of the major reasons why we had to attend the conference this year) wasn’t coming…waaah!

BUT, it gets leaked that in his place JUDY BLUME…wait, did you catch that? JUDY FREAKING BLUME would be in attendance!!!!

Picture courtesy of Lisa Yee (Twit Pic)

Talk about an awesome first day! Not only do we hear Bruce Coville give a great opening keynote, but we also got to meet Laurie Halse Anderson!!!!! She gave a great session on making time for writing and also signed our books!!!

Me and Pam with THE Laurie Halse Anderson…the pinnacle of YA!!!

Saturday August 6th, 2011:

Pam meeting her idol, Ellen Hopkins! She even bought a book that she already had at home because she HAD to get Ellen’s signature.

Pam and her agent sister, Shana Silver (they met for the first time IRL!!).
The 40 Winks Pajama Party:

Pam sporting the nightgown look

Quita, always choosing pants 🙂

Sunday August 7th, 2011– Last Day 😦

Dessert at the Golden Kite Luncheon. So creative!

One of the many AWESOME surprises was legendary Richard Peck! He gave a speech at the Golden Kite luncheon on August 7th that was one of the many highlights of the weekend 🙂

We got books signed by the hilarious and incomparable Libba Bray (far right and she’s talking to me!!!!) and she pretty much rawks!

Bruce Coville demonstrated how to make plot and character meet…by jumping on a table.

And the magnificent Laurie Halse Andeson gave a motivational, informational, and all around engaging final keynote speech to close things out on Sunday August 7th.

Of course there was much, much more…but we didn’t bring our camera and was limited to taking pics with a BlackBerry 😦 However, tomorrow if you come back, we’ll have some more goodies to share with you from the Summer SCBWI conference. See ya then 🙂

We’re Goin’ Back to Cali!

Traveling Song of the Day: “Going Back to Cali” by Sevendust

By the time you read this, we’ll be on a plane heading to LA for the SCBWI 2011 Summer Conference. We got to attend this conference last summer, and it was one of the BEST times we’ve ever had. Everyone was so friendly and inviting, and we learned so much. When we found out that this year was the 40th anniversary, we had to hop on the chance to attend again (our wallets still haven’t forgiven us for that). We can’t wait to give you all a recap next week, but until then we give you…
The Top 5 Reasons We’re Stoked for the SCBWI Summer Conference!!!
5. That West Coast Weather! Here in VA, we’ve had a MISERABLE summer. Heat indexes have reached over 100 degrees. Humidity like that does not do great things for African-American hair. I checked for the temperatures in LA and saw nothing above the lower 80s. Woo to the hoo!!
4. The 40 Winks Anniversary Poolside Gala! That’s right–we’ll be attending a pool party with some of the publishing elite…in our pajamas! At last year’s extravaganza, we saw an accountant-type man rocking the mic to old school hip-hop–not to mention seeing Jay Asher prance around in a cupid costume. What will be in store this year?
3. Manuscript Consultation! This year, Quita signed up to have the first 10 pages of her manuscript critiqued. By whom, you ask (or is that “who”? I could use a critique myself). Who knows? It could be an agent; it could be an editor…it could even be an award-winning author. Either way, we’re sure the feedback and the one-on-one time will be valuable.
2. Networking, Baby! Last year, we collected so many business cards from fellow writers. I even rode an elevator with Ellen Hopkins (of course, I was too paranoid to say anything to her). I can’t wait to rub elbows with more authors–both aspiring and established. It’s so refreshing to be surrounded by others who know both the pains and joys of writing.
1. Um, Can You Say John Green and Laurie Halse Anderson?! That’s right. Two of our absolute, favorite authors will be attending the conference–and we think they’re signing books! Words can’t even express how much they’ve influenced our writing–and to think we’ll soon see them in person just boggles our mind. But there are a TON more awesome folks that’ll be attending this year as well. Just check out this list of the faculty.
It was hard narrowing it down to just 5 reasons, but we did the best we could. Can’t make it to the summer conference this year? Never fear! You can catch the action on the SCBWI Conference Blog! Also, if you’re on Twitter, just follow the #LA11SCBWI hash tag (Quita and I will also be tweeting live–just click on our tweets on the sidebar).
Any of you able to attend? Drop us a line–maybe we could meet up! 🙂

While We Were Away…Plus ANOTHER Contest!

Revising Song of the Day: “Back Down South” by Kings of Leon

Hey, all! Fancy meeting you here…where have we been this past week, you ask?
*Working on MFA requirements (still doing that a little…)
*Revising our YA WIPs and completed manuscripts.
*Attending an awesome SCBWI Novel Retreat in Shenandoah National Park!!!

The last item on the list was probably the most fun and informative and we would love to share that experience with you. After traveling on a train, a bus, and then a taxi cab,we FINALLY arrived in Shenandoah National Park Friday June 10th. We went to our room which looked like this on the outside:

And the view looked like this:

And this is what sunset looked like:

Oh, and this is us posing with the awesome bear at Big Meadows Lodge (cuz we were in bear country!):
Then we proceeded to have dinner and after that was our FIRST (out of four) sessions with the amazing, super intelligent, uber literary, spectacular Cheryl Klein from Arthur A. Levine Books (an imprint of Scholastic). In the first session Ms. Klein gave us general ideas about what we’d be discussing later in the weekend, and probably gave one of the coolest pieces of advice ever. Ms. Klein told us how she has her clients write a letter to her when it’s time for revisions. In the letter, Ms. Klein tells her clients to answer the following questions:

What were you trying to do with this book?

What’s the story or your vision?

What’s the book about?

What do you love most? (Characters, scenes, lines etc.)

What do you suspect needs the most work?
That was just one of the major highlights from the retreat. The rest of the weekend was full of peer reviews (with problem scenes and first page critiques) and insight on revising novels from Cheryl Klein. Ms. Klein gave sessions on character, plot, and voice with specific outlines, questions to ask, and exercises to complete in order to make your novel better. Most of her talk is featured in her writing resource: Second Sight: An Editor’s Talks on Writing, Revising, and Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults

We stood in a line like this to get our books signed:

Now…there was a limited number of these excellent books, and essentially me and Pam are one person. So…we decided to get one signed for us:

And then get the other signed for one of YOU!!!!

Okay, since we just finished a big contest (winner will be announced Wednesday June 22nd) this one will be easy. To win all you have to do is be a follower of the blog and comment on this post with your e-mail address. Simple, right??
We hope that you all will enter because Ms. Klein’s book is a priceless tool that we guarantee will only make your novel better. Good luck! You have until Wednesday(June 22nd) at Midnight EST to enter.

In the mean time, do you have any revising tricks you’d like to share??

We Answer YOUR Questions

Q & A Song of the Day: “Question Existing” by Rihanna

We asked and you…well, asked. Last week, we opened up the comments for any burning questions you may have for us. Why? Well, we’ve been blogging together for almost a year and we wanted you to get to know us a little better. Oh, and we also had no clue what to blog about today, but that’s besides the point! Let the Q & A begin…

Alicia Gregoire wanted to know…why did we choose a picture with Elmo last week? Well, to give you nightmares, darling, of course. 🙂

Tracey Neithercott had two questions:

1. Is there ever a bad time to use a Charlie Sheen quote? Hmm, we would suggest using them sparingly…or Chris Brown may get mad and throw a chair out of a window. Sorry, we couldn’t resist. We think they’re BOTH jerks.

2. What’s your writing process like?
Pam’s Answer: Slow and steady wins the race. Yes, I am an EXTREMELY slow first drafter. In fact, I was surprised that I actually “won” NaNoWriMo last year. Usually I plot a little, then write. Then whine. Plot a little, write, whine. And so forth, and so forth. I’m a perfectionist and I fight everyday to turn off the dreaded internal editor. However, I find it productive for me to set goals for myself–like finish a chapter/scene a day–or finish 3 chapters by the end of the week. Oh, and my muse always seems to attack me while I’m at the day job. Shh, don’t tell.

Quita’s Answer: I basically plot a little bit, then I write…then I change some of the plot based on what I wrote. Then I finish it and let Pam read it before revising and sending it to other beta readers. Simple. (and now Pam’s wringing my neck).

Abby Stevens wanted to know some tips and tricks we learned at the CNU Writers’ Conference.

Well, we sat in our one of our favorite sessions at ANY conference–and that’s the First Page Critiques. Here’s some tips based off that panel (which featured Michelle Wolfson and Mitchell Waters):

  • Sentences don’t need 3 adjectives
  • Do NOT ask rhetorical questions
  • Do NOT use intense verbs in rapid succession (pounding, pummeling, etc.)
  • Read the story aloud–or, even better, have someone read it aloud to you
  • “Telling” is sometimes okay on the first page, but make sure to transition to action soon
  • Put the readers inside of the story

There, those were the basics. Oh, and Michelle Wolfson also mentioned that when pitching (whether in person or through a query), try to make it as conversational as possible.

Jamie (he’s a guy, btw) also had 2 questions:

1. For Pam, how did you know your WIP was ready for agent queries? How did you know it was good enough?
Confession time: I didn’t know my WIP was ready when I first started querying almost 2 years ago. In fact (gulp), I even started querying even before I was completely finished. I know…the horror. Needless to say, an awesome agent ended up asking for a full–which means that I had to spend a week actually finishing the manuscript (and if you read my response on the writing process, you know this was quite painful for me).

Thankfully, that agent didn’t just laugh in my face. She rejected, gave me great feedback, and opened the floor to send me the revised version (note–this was NOT my awesome agent, Sarah LaPolla). So, I stopped querying, incorporated her feedback, and sent it off to some beta writers. Then I revised again, attended workshops, revised again, got a revise and resubmit request from Sarah, revised again…then months later, magic happened. As you can see, LOTS of work. I highly recommend actually having a completed manuscript before querying. Scratch that, have a completed manuscript that’s been butchered with a red pen by at least 3 awesome beta readers. 🙂

2. Why didn’t we invite him to the conference? Oh, Jamie. We will roll out the red carpet for you at the next conference we attend–especially since you’re about to be a published author, you rock star, you. 🙂

So, that was fun–we need to do this again. But let’s get to know you all better, lovelies. What do you think is the best book to read during the summer (we’d love the recommendations!)?