Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Agent Rachel Letofsky from Cooke McDermid

Welcome to Inside the Publishing World Wednesday! Today I am spotlighting another amazing agent that I met at the Seattle Writers Workshop, Rachel Letofsky.

Who is she?
Rachel is a graduate of the Humber Creative Book Publishing Program and the University of Toronto, where she specialized in English literature. She joined what was then The Cooke Agency in 2010. She frequently travels throughout North America to writers’ festivals and literary events to moderate panels, take part in quick-pitch sessions, and host workshops for authors. She is currently an agent at Cooke McDermid.

What does she want?
Rachel is actively seeking: ground-breaking and heart-breaking middle grade and YA titles in all genres. She is drawn to works with a whimsical nature or a grounded, gritty edge in equal measure, though in either instance, unforgettable characters and original concepts are a must. She also has a natural soft spot for exquisite literary fiction. In nonfiction, Rachel is looking for narrative-driven memoirs, and anything quirky, life-affirming or mind-blowing.

Specifically, Rachel told us that her agency is a boutique agency. Nine agents who each do a different genre. Her niche is MG and YA and some adult literary fiction. Also, some Non-Fiction narrative or memoir. She told us to do our research and make sure if we submit to the agency, that we submit to the right agent. You can look at all the agents of Cooke McDermid HERE.

Do's and Don'ts-
1. Do your research.
2. Have a well-written query letter. Mention why you chose to submit to that particular agent.
3. Use #MSWL on Twitter. (Manuscript WishList), but DON'T pitch on twitter unless it is for a pitching event such as #Pitmad.
4. If she asks for a synopsis, be sure to include the whole story, including spoilers.

Other Advice-

1. She likes a good voice. If the voice grabs her it has the "lift factor" that brings her into the experience.
2. Social Media is about authenticity. An agent might recognize someone's name. So be engaging and cultivate good online relationships.
3. January and September are busy months for the slush pile. Summer is less busy, but a lot of agents take vacation then too. "So, send it in when it is ready for you." They process all queries in the order they receive them, so they will get to it.
4. Be patient. Getting published can be up to a 2-year timeline after you are signed.

Want to Submit?
Cooke McDermind has an online submissions page for the entire agency. Check it out HERE.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Silent Lee and the Adventure of the Side Door Key by Alex Hiam

Welcome to MMGM, Middle-Grade Monday! Today I am reviewing a newer release, Silent Lee and the Adventure of the Side Door Key by Alex Hiam.

The Story-
Silent Lee lives with her Aunt Generous, a peculiar woman who has a side door that leads to the past and an alternative universe.  Silent goes to school there learning magic and alchemy. Her mother only visits on occasion, and as the story begins, her mother has picked Silent up for a weekend visit. To Silent's dismay, when they return, her mother tells her Aunt Generous has passed away and that Silent will have to pack up her stuff and move in with her cousins. Her mom is selling the house ASAP.

As soon as her mother dumps her with the unknown cousins, Silent is thrown into a modern day school, where her knowledge of alchemy is seen as a joke. She tries to keep to herself, but a boy name Raahi notices that she is different but in a good way. He follows her around until she gives in and they become friends.

Meanwhile, Silent's mother is busy searching Aunt Generous' old house and is hunting for a special key. A key which Silent wears around her neck and that opens the magic side door. Feeling that her mother is up to no good, Silent keeps the key a secret. Everything changes when Silent gets a note from her Aunt asking for help.

Now Silent knows something nefarious is afoot and believes her mother is involved. Silent and Raahi will do anything to find Aunt Generous and to protect the Side Door World from strangers.

My Thoughts-
The plot of this book grabbed me right away. A young girl who is able to travel to an alternative past and learn about magic and alchemy. Love! The only problem is that this book did not deal much with the Side Door World. We hear about it and Silent talks about it, but in truth, she and Raahi only visit it for a few minutes while hiding. I was so disappointed not to actually see the school of magic she attended and meet other students from that world.

The story itself is action-packed. I felt right away that something was wrong when Aunt Generous just suddenly dies while Silent is away. She is then treated horribly by her mother and placed with cousins who leave on vacation and rent their house out without telling her. The author does a great job of throwing Silent into awful situations. The reader is able to watch as Silent breaks some rules and uses her magic to find her Aunt. It's all very fun.

I really want to read the next book in the series because I'm hoping to see more of the Side Door World and also hear the secret that Aunt Generous is keeping. SPOILER- Silent's mom isn't her real mom, but Aunt Generous won't tell her the real story until the next morning. Which of course, is after the book ends.

A fun romp for middle-graders. I'm giving it 4 stars!

Monday, June 10, 2019

Flowers for Sarajevo by John McCutcheon

Welcome to Middle-Grade Monday! Today I am looking at the book, Flowers for Sarajevo, by John McCutcheon and illustrated by Kristy Caldwell.

The Story and my Thoughts-
In the market square of Sarajevo is the flower stall of Milo. Drasko is his son and trains with his father to sniff out the best roses. Milo teaches his son that despite all the differences between the people that live in Sarajevo, that just like flowers, they can live side by side and be beautiful.

When war comes to the country, Drasko is left alone to tend the flower stall while his father goes to fight. People become bad-tempered and poor Milo is pushed into the worst corner of the square. The only bright spot is that he is near where the orchestra practices, and when they leave their windows open, he can hear their beautiful music. His memories take him to happy times spent with his father.

One day, as the church bells ring out at ten o'clock, a bomb is dropped in the market, hitting the bakery where people are standing in line for bread. Twenty-two people die. The next day, Milo finds the market square still and empty. Until 10 O'clock, when the door to the orchestra hall opens and a man steps outside, a cello and folding chair in hand.

The man walks over to the rubble of the bakery and sets up his chair to play. (At the end of the book you learn this is Vedran Smailovic and a brief bio is given of his life.) He plays his cello and all, regardless of race or religion, stop to listen. He does this every day for twenty-two days.  Each day, the market begins to return to life, and soon, Milo is selling flowers again as people begin to look forward with hope.

This is such a beautiful story, and when I got to the end of the book and found out it was inspired by real events I felt awe. The back pages contain several items, including a map of the Balkan area and how it has changed over the years because of war. Then, there is the author's note, which explains the true story of Vedran Smailovic playing in the market and why it inspired him to write the book. The following pages contain the bio of Smailovic and an original song written by the author entitled, Streets of Sarajevo.

This is definitely a topic for older children since it involves war, death, and loss, but also hope. The illustrations range in color, expressing the feeling of the people. At first, they are bright and the flowers compliment the market. However, as war happens, they become mostly gray and depressing, except for the images of the flowers Milo tries to sell. When hope is brought back to the market, color once again takes its main place on the page.

This is a thought-provoking read that I think parents and kids need to share together. I'm giving it 4 stars!



Friday, June 7, 2019

Q&A w/Katia Raina author of the YA release, Castle of Concrete

Welcome to YA Friday! I've been a bit hit or miss as I've been in California helping my mom after the death of my dad. So, I'm sorry if I haven't been as active as usual. Today though, I have a great YA to talk about, Castle of Concrete by Katia Raina.

The Book-
Soviet Russia in the early ‘90s—a time of political upheaval, demonstrations, and divisive prejudice against Jews. In the midst of this turmoil, Sonya Solovay, a timid Jewish girl, leaves her babushka in Siberia to reunite with her once-dissident mother now living near Moscow, and to begin her New Life. When Sonya starts school, she finds herself drawn to Ruslan Valentinov, a mysterious muddy-eyed boy who may be an anti-Semite.

A Star of David from her mama starts Sonya on a journey to learning what it means to be Jewish. For a Russian Jew, that is a lot to learn. She begins to discover more about her people and their religion, along with its history. She sees the way they can be tormented by others in their daily lives. On her journey, she makes a connection with Misha Aizerman, a Jewish boy who helps her in Chemistry class, and teaches her guitar, life lessons, and so much more.

The Author- Katia Raina
When she was a child, Katia Raina played at construction sites and believed in magic mirrors. During her childhood and early adolescence, Russia was going through a tumultuous time. As the communist regime crumbled, the Russian people rose up against political oppression. Sometimes their anger turned on those in their midst, those they considered different -- like the Jews. Like her family. Katia emigrated to the U.S. from Russia at the age of almost sixteen. A former journalist and currently a middle school English teacher in Washington, D.C., she has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives with her family just outside of D.C., and still believes in magic. Castle of Concrete is Katia Raina’s debut novel.

Connect with Katia Raina:
Twitter: KatiaRaina1
Instagram: katiawrites
Facebook: katia.raina
The Interview-
Castle of Concrete is your debut novel, how has the experience compared with your expectations and were there any surprises along the way that you didn’t anticipate?

Real life is never quite like we expect, but so much more complex, so much richer, more flavorful, and in my experience, somehow, always better. The same has definitely been true of the publishing experience. I haven’t quite expected how nerve-wracking it would be as well. Before, all my creative struggles were private. Now, suddenly everything is magnified. It feels very much like stage fright, which, as long as you don’t let the nerves paralyze you, can be the best kind of tension. 

As a writer, I’ve shared the manuscripts for my works in progress plenty of times. But those were works in progress, which meant you could always make changes. Now suddenly, this is it, and there is something especially scary and exciting about that. There is nothing I can do to this story anymore. Just hold my breath, rock on my toes, and wait to hear what more of my readers think, understanding that not everyone might love this story. That too is perfectly okay!

What do you hope readers will take away from reading Castle of Concrete?

I love books with deeper meaning and substance. As a passionate English teacher, I am a big fan of profound themes. But when I wrote and revised this story, I didn’t really have a moral or a lesson in mind. I just followed Sonya on her journey. Sure, Sonya had a lot to learn in these pages: facing the truth, courage, self-acceptance. But I started this story with questions, not answers. Questions like: what does it mean to be a Jew? Why do people hate and judge those they had never even met? Where does hate come from? Can love be the bridge and the solution to everything? Or is it not that simple? How do we make our way to freedom?

From reading Castle of Concrete, I hope you take away hope. And magic. Beyond that, I’d love to hear what you get out of it. This story is in your hands now! You are the one with the answers, not me!

In general, what inspires your writing/where do you get your ideas?

First, let me tell you that there is not one right place to get your ideas. And there is no wrong place. I’ve just read Ann Patchett’s book of essays and musings, and I love how she talks there about this concept that ideas don’t even matter that much. You could get a story idea from a road sign, a wish, a question. 

For me story ideas often start with...well, me. For Castle of Concrete, it all actually started with a memory of a boy I liked. I was thirteen years old and we went out for a very thrilling bike ride. The thrill ended for me when the boy used an anti-Semitic slur against a stranger.  I never asked him about it. We continued going out. I never learned whether that word was just a careless curse, or if it went deeper. Over the years, I’ve often wondered, what would have happened if I’d confronted him? What if I’d explained how his use of the slur made me feel dirty? It was too late for me to answer these questions in real life, so I answered them in the story that became my debut novel.

Some of my other stories were inspired by childhood settings, composites of people I knew. For example, one character in one of my stories was inspired by someone I never got to be friends with in real life. But oh how I enjoyed creating that friendship on the page! I’ve also written stories inspired by my own kids, and the things they were dealing with or interested in, at various points in their lives. Sometimes, I might set a story in a fantasy world, but give the character just one thing in common with me. It could be that they were boy-crazy like I used to be as a teen. Or that they loved their grandmother like I did. I just zero in on the memory of that one part of myself, then have the best time letting it play out in outrageously different circumstances.

What kinds of books were you drawn to when you were in middle school or high school? Please share a few of your favorite books (including any classics) from childhood and why they resonated for you.

My love for reading really took off with fairytales, which I continued to read well into my adolescence. Well, really I never stopped. I still remember those thick Hans Christian Andersen tomes that I just had to devour: there is so much more to him than The Ugly Duckling and The Little Mermaid, guys! I also very quickly fell in love with Ray Bradbury, both his short stories and The Martial Chronicles took hold of my imagination and I was gone. Pushing the limits of what was possible in my mind, these stories promised tantalizing possibilities. 

But I wasn’t just drawn to the fantastical or the supernatural. I loved French romance. I devoured Georges Sand, though today all the details of her stories are hazy, sadly. I just know they kept me engrossed and hopeful for days. At the age of 11, I re-read Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers six times and wept every single time. What can I say? Love has always been a big deal!

Buy it Now/Pre-Order-
Castle of Concrete: A Novel
Katia Raina – Debut YA Author
Young Europe Books, an imprint of New Europe Books
On Sale June 11, 2019 // $15.95-Paperback // ISBN: 978-09995416-3-0
Ages 12-16 // 304 Pages

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Agent Thao Le from Dijkstra Literary Agency

Welcome to Inside the Publishing World Wednesday. Today I am highlighting an agent I heard during the agent/editor panel at the Storymakers Spring Conference, Thao Le. (fourth from the left)

Who is she?
Thao Le is a literary agent at the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.

What is she looking for?
Picture books, middle-grade, and YA. In the adult realm, she is looking for romantic leaning Fantasy and Light Science Fiction.

Her wishlist right now is a Contemporary Fantasy in the vein of the films About Time and Your Name, Diverse Middle Grade like Aru Shah and the End of Time and Amina’s Voice, Foodie Magic like Chocolat and Garden Spells, and Unique Reimagining/Retellings that is LGBT inclusive.

What she is NOT looking for?
Thao is NOT looking for: non-fiction, adult literary fiction, adult general fiction, mystery/thriller/suspense, memoirs, poetry, religious/spiritual books, screenplays, or short stories.

Her advice to writers-
1. In YA, have an immediate hook to grab her. "First page is prime real estate."
2. Don't open with action and then go straight into backstory.
3. Watch redundancy in your writing.
4. If you are writing middle-grade make sure you have a middle-grade voice.
5. She likes tight pacing.

Query Advice-
The query is where you get us to see the commercial value of your book.
"I don't write anything off. I'm so willing to read. We're looking to say yes."

How to submit?
"Do not send your query to multiple agents at SDLA. If you have submitted to an SDLA agent and she has passed, please do not submit the same project to other agents at SDLA, unless the SDLA agent who passed has invited you to do so."
Thao uses Query Me Online.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Anne Tibbets of D4EO Literary

Welcome to Inside the Publishing World Wednesday. Today I am highlighting a lit agent I met at the Seattle Writers Workshop, Anne Tibbets.

Who is she?
Anne is a literary agent with D4EO Literary.

What is her publishing experience?
Anne began her career as a screenwriter, author, and literary agency intern at D4EO, becoming a full-time agent in 2018 at Red Sofa Literary. Anne joined D4EO Literary in 2019.

What is she looking for?
Adult and Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy. Adult and Young Adult Thrillers. Adult and Young Adult Horror. No Middle Grade, Chapter, or Picture Books. No Non-Fiction. No scripts. No self-published works.

In her own words...
 Adult science fiction: “Give me your dystopia, your utopia, your bloody, bomb-ridden, and gun-blazing shoot ‘em ups with hearts of gold and threads of hope. Earthbound or in space. Bring on your new planets and aliens of all sorts. I’m not afraid of grit, but I do detest sexism. Blow my socks off.”

Adult and young adult fantasy: “Give me your twist on magic, urban or high fantasy. Give me a unique kingdom or city to conquer, and I will be your greatest champion. Bonus points if female-driven.”

Adult thrillers: “Innovative thrillers only. Can’t stress this enough. ‘Just say no’ to alcoholic detectives investigating dead girls. Give me something fresh and well researched. Historical a plus. No redemptive Nazi plots. Anything else? Bring it on.”

Adult and young adult horror: “I want demons, ghosts, ghouls, vampires, werewolves, zombies, aliens, or just really awful human beings – perhaps not all at once. Think early Stephen King mixed with Gillian Flynn. Scare me. Make me sleep with the lights on and marvel at your creepy word choice. My soul is ready.”

Her advice to writers-
1. Make sure your word choices go with the genre you are writing.
2. Verify your historical details.
3. On the first page, she likes to see plot, not an entire page of description. "Plot! Let's get to the action. We can find out more details later."
4. Show, don't tell me.
5. Each time a new character speaks make it a new paragraph.
6. Watch your tenses. Don't switch around.

Want to submit?
Check out her guidelines HERE.
Email Anne at

Where else can you find her?
Twitter @AnneTibbets
Her blog Writer for Coffee.

Monday, May 27, 2019

The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast by Samantha M. Clark

Welcome to Middle-Grade Monday. Today I am spotlighting The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast
by Samantha M. Clark.

The Book- (blurb)
A boy washes up on a mysterious, seemingly uninhabited island with no recollection of who he is or how he got there. his only "companion," is the bullying voice in his head and the only clue he has is a piece of fabric in his pocket. There are two things the boy knows: if he attempts to flee via the water, the monster in the sea will drag him under; if he attempts to flee through the forest, the beast will get him.

But then a blanket washes up on shore, bringing memories of a life to him, voices that sound familiar, and he remembers: he has parents! Surely they must be looking for him! A light flashes in the distance, and the boy resolves to head toward it, to find his parents, to go home. Setting out, he treks along the shore buoyed by this new found hope until his path is cut off and only one option remains- the forest.