Category Archives: Stacey

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Defining children’s categories

I often get asked what the differences are between a middle grade and young adult novel. I think with the success of the children’s category in general over the last decade or so, those answers have changed. There is a lot more overlap now between upper middle grade and younger young adult, and with older young adult to adult crossover. The books that work best in both categories are the ones that become widely read by boys and girls, children and adults. Think blockbuster series like Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Divergent and our own Maze Runner.

I found this article from my favorite source, writersdigest.com, about defining middle grade and ya fiction. While there is some really good basic beginner advice here, I do think that some rules were made to be broken. Don’t get caught up in word count to stick to category norms. Then again, don’t submit a manuscript that’s 150,000 words either. But straying 10k in either direction is totally fine.

Another important point to consider is that the majority of middle grade is third person, and the majority of young adult is first. You might think of this as children’s books 101 but I’ve had authors try to do third person YA and then find switching to first works a whole lot better for the book and the category.

I think that children’s books are opening up in many directions and kids today are able to digest a lot more than ever before. I see it with my own girls, two of whom are reading and two are about to be as they enter Kindergarten. Their minds are so open to the many adventures that await them in both middle grade and young adult novels. I can’t wait to share it with them! Please let us know about your favorite MG and YA novels, and if they follow the guidelines set forth by Writer’s Digest.

Writer’s Digest x2

Coinciding with my turn to blog this week, I was fortunate to realize that one of my wonderful clients was kind enough to write a guest blog post on Writer’s Digest about the author-agent relationship, and share her experience at finding an agent and publisher.

There are a couple of reasons I wanted to link to the WD piece. First, I thought this post might be useful to aspiring authors. I think it gives a unique perspective that is just that – personal and individual. I always find stories of how authors got their start fascinating because they are all so similar in terms of the process but so different in terms of how it plays out. And there is something to be learned from each and every story. Beth talks here about how she got 32 rejections before she got to me. Persistence can certainly pay off, but so can paying attention to your rejections and learning from the feedback. She also talks about researching agents before you submit, a very important part of the process if you want to target an agent that is right for you and your work.

Second, I spent most of the day this past Saturday at the Writer’s Digest annual Pitch Slam conference at the Roosevelt Hotel in NYC where the several hundred attendees took turns pitching the many agents who volunteered to be there. Each author waited in line for the agent they wanted to pitch to, and then had 3 minutes to share their story. The day was broken up into 3 one-hour pitch sessions where they split up the attendees to make the room less crowded (I’m told it was the first time they did it this way, and it worked really well).  I really enjoy meeting aspiring authors in the trenches and seeing motivated people who are looking to improve their craft and network with professionals. It was a very fun, productive, exhausting day for authors and agents alike!

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Boost your traffic

Today I bring some smart and simple advice on growing your website or blog traffic from the always entertaining Chuck Sambuchino. In his column for thewritelife.com he offers tips for growing your platform. This has become widely applicable not only for nonfiction authors, for whom a large following is mandatory, but also for writers of fiction who need to engage with their audience as well.

It’s also worth paying attention to the comments section of the piece because there’s some good additional advice scattered throughout there as well, both from the editors at thewritelife.com and from authors who’ve tried things not included in Chuck’s list.

From an agent’s perspective as we are considering a new author, it’s so helpful to be able to confirm that the author has a good sense of social media and how to effectively run a website or blog. Even if the numbers aren’t huge, a successful site is one that’s professional, informative, and provides consistently updated content. Good luck, and let us know if you have any tips not included here.

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Developing a nonfiction “slam dunk” book concept

We have many ways in which books become books. Each title we sell has its own history and path to print. I thought it might be an interesting exercise for you to hear about a recent project of mine and how it came to be.

I represent Amar’e Stoudemire, best known as an NBA basketball star, but also the co-author of the just-published  COOKING WITH AMAR’E, which he wrote with his personal chef, Maxcel Hardy. Max and I got together initially in February of 2012 to talk about book ideas that he and Amar’e could pursue together, and he was initially thinking about a Kosher cookbook. We went through a list of ideas and the one that seemed most interesting to me had the two of them in the kitchen together doing informal cooking lessons, Max teaching Amar’e how to cook for his family and friends. It felt very commercial to me, and very accessible for a broad audience.

After finding a writer, Rosemary Black, to help them develop the proposal, which was a process that took some time, we sent it to publishers and hosted a lovely cocktail party for interested editors with recipes and cocktails from the proposed book. We sold the book to It Books/HarperCollins just over a year ago and everyone worked tirelessly to produce the book in time for Father’s Day of this year.

The publication was a whirlwind of media events for Amar’e, including appearances on Today and The View, and several book signings in and around NY. A picture from a midtown B&N signing below of yours truly with Amar’e and Chef Max (good thing Amar’e was sitting down or we wouldn’t have fit together in the photo!).

So, what I’m trying to get at with this post in addition to showing you some fun behind-the-scenes insight into the publishing process, is that there are many ways to develop a book and no matter who the author is or what the book concept is, it is a process that can take many turns and a long time from soup to nuts. Being in the business of ideas allows for a lot of creative brainstorming and you never know when that next great one will present itself.

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Counterintuitive advice – what writers should not do

I mentioned a book I sold recently by Amy Morin based on her viral article 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, which resonated with so many people from around the world. One of the things that people mentioned was how she positioned the piece in the negative, from the perspective of things people don’t do, which highlights a different thought process than what we are used to when we think about things we should do to make ourselves better.

When I found this Writer’s Digest piece that offers advice with a similar interpretation, focusing on 15 things writers should not do, I thought it was worth sharing. In fact, there is overlap between Amy’s article and Zachary Petit’s. For example, Morin suggests mentally strong people should not resent other people’s successes, and Petit claims writers should not be spiteful about another writer’s success. Take those positive success stories and use them to motivate you, to try and learn something from them so you can apply them to your own work and eventual success.

Some of these traps are easy to fall into, like not wanting to give up on a particular piece that isn’t working, but if you can think about breaking the patterns, focus your energy on positive thoughts of looking ahead and learning and growing, you will be a better writer, and ultimately one with greater mental strength.

Are there any things in this piece that you struggle with? Personally I think there are many negative ideas in here that we’ve all experienced at one time or another. If you have any thoughts on how to take this advice to heart, please share. I’m sure there are other writers who would benefit not only from knowing what not do to, but learning more about how not to do it (therapists, feel free to chime in)!

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Actors and writers, a mixed breed

I might have mentioned at some point on the blog that I was a child actress. It’s a part of my past I don’t talk about all that much, but I started auditioning when I was eight and worked pretty steadily until I was almost eighteen. Sometimes it feels like another life, it was so long ago now, but I was a professional actress in commercials, films, on stage, and I was even on a soap opera for a year. During that time, I had the opportunity to work with many great actors, some of whom have gone on to write books (I would love to sign up a client from my acting days, and recently had coffee with a woman I auditioned with when we were kids!). One of those actors is Andrew McCarthy. We did a cute television film together called The Beniker Gang. I think you can still occasionally find it on cable somewhere.

I was happy to see that Andrew has gone on to become a prominent and well-regarded travel writer in his older adult years. He also published a critically acclaimed travel memoir in 2012 called The Longest Way Home. So when I saw this article with him doling out writing advice on Writer’s Digest, I thought it was worth sharing.

There are a couple of reasons I wanted to pass this on. First, he offers some solid suggestions for looking at the world through a creative and unique lens. And the advice he dispenses for travel writers is more widely applicable for any genre. Ideas like find your hook in the details, and focus on storytelling, are useful tips.

But more broadly, I like the emphasis on seeing where creativity can take us. Actors and writers have a lot in common. They hone their craft with the intention of engaging an audience, whether it’s a live audience at the theater, or a person curled up on their couch enjoying a good book. The goal is to enlighten, entertain, and elicit a reaction or feeling of engagement from the audience or reader. So, even though it’s been years since Andrew McCarthy and I worked together in a film, we still have a lot in common in our publishing careers. He tells stories, and I sell those stories with the purpose of sharing ideas with others. We’ve found a creative process that works for us.

My takeaway of this is that we should all listen to our inner creative voice, and be willing to go wherever it might lead us. What other outlets do you explore that help to keep your creative juices flowing?

Offer to do first page critique

I just returned from the Henderson Writer’s Conference in Las Vegas. It was a lot of work, but also a lot of fun. One of the best parts was finally meeting my amazing client, Nicole McInnes. We had a great time doing two unscripted panels describing the author-agent relationship. There was little time for gambling until the conference was over (or late into the night!), but there was plenty of time for the attendees to spend with the faculty pitching their books and learning about the business from a select group of seasoned professionals.

 One section of the event consisted of an American Idol-style critique where the first page of an attendee’s work was read out loud and a panel of agents would raise their hand at the point they felt the material went off track. Then, each panelist would share their thoughts on strengths and weaknesses of the first page.

As an agent, it’s a challenging but interesting exercise. I personally prefer to have the page in front of me rather than relying on the auditory cues. And then there are the differences of opinion that inevitably arise from our subjective views in that setting. On the other hand, it was interesting to hear a variety of ideas about what other agents respond to when considering a submission. In the end, no major shouting matches ensued and I think the attendees found the honest feedback useful.

So it got me to thinking this could be a fun exercise on the blog. If you are interested in hearing my first page thoughts on a finished book or work in progress, and you’re willing to share the page on this space, please send a comment by Wednesday, May 7th, and I will pick one person at random to do a critique. Obviously it won’t be Idol-style, but it still should be an entertaining and productive exercise. Thanks in advance for participating!

Read this piece (aka more on Stephen King)!

I am really not obsessed with Stephen King. I do think he’s amazing and a genius, and I’d like to spend a day living inside his brain, but I really don’t follow his every move. Which is why it’s kind of funny that I’m doing another post about him.

I recently shared a link with what I thought was some great advice from Stephen King, and now I want to share with our readers an article I came upon this week while cleaning out my bathroom (I store much of my best reading material there!). It’s from an August, 2013 issue of the New York Times Magazine, and it goes into some detail about the immediate King family, all of whom have storytelling in their blood. I find it beyond fascinating that this entire clan lives and breathes books and writing, stories and ideas. Not to mention they genuinely seem to have a strong affection for one another, despite some very rough and rocky times.

One of my favorite anecdotes is about how when King’s kids were little and he needed books to listen to while driving, he’d have them record the books he was interested in hearing. It’s brilliant! I’m going to get my kids to start recording books immediately. I can’t think of a better family activity.

I also loved reading about King’s daughter in-law, Kelly Braffet’s, entrée into the family. Can you imagine being an aspiring writer (she met King’s son at the Columbia MFA writing program in 2001) and meeting your future in-laws named Stephen and Tabitha King for the first time?

And yet another great anecdote comes from King’s son, Joe, who struggled as a writer for years unwilling to use his dad’s name to sell books. He went beyond using a pseudonym, Joe Hill, refusing to even admit who he was to his literary agent for 8 years (a time during which he did not sell a book)!

The stories go on. Anyone interested in writing should read this article. To me, it illustrates how important it is that the environment we create for ourselves and our families be one that allows for thoughtful and creative thinking. If you surround yourself with smart people who have similar interests and ideas, you will naturally find yourself gravitating in that direction.

I hope you enjoy learning more about the King family, and that they inspire you to be better writers, readers, and storytellers.

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Life (or writing) lessons from Stephen King

Who doesn’t like to take advice from a master? I’d say Stephen King falls into that category. Despite a terrible accident which almost caused him to retire from writing in 2002, King has produced a staggering number of books, including classics like Carrie, The Shining, Misery, and the list goes on. No one does it better, and there have been few that have managed to compete with his mastery of prose and plot. His category of fiction should just bear his namesake!

He’s offered much advice to many over the years, and his 2000 memoir/writing guide called On Writing is widely admired. This recent piece from openculture.com shines a light on King’s top 20 pieces of advice for writers, and it’s worth taking a fresh look at how to implement them in your writing process today.

His advice is so straightforward, and some of it is really simple. One wouldn’t necessarily think that turning off the tv would be a tip that Stephen King would consider in his top 20, but it speaks to the larger issue of a distracted culture and the need to pay attention to the task at hand. It reminds me of my parents always telling me to turn off the tv when I was doing homework as a kid. They had a point, even if I didn’t want to hear it at the time.

The suggestion to finish a draft within 3 months is also interesting. It’s like he’s in your ear screaming “Stop procrastinating!”.

And there are inspiring tips for writing here that are entirely applicable to life in general, so this list does not solely apply to writers and writing. A few to ponder: Don’t worry about making people happy (a ubiquitous but smart piece of advice that my client Amy Morin talks about in her piece “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do”), The magic is in you, Stick to your own style, and Take a break. Good thoughts for writing and life. Enjoy!

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Books as gifts

I’m always trying to think of clever ways to give a book as a gift. Sometimes it might seem too impersonal or like it needs a little extra something to go with it, depending on the occasion or the person on the receiving end. I find this particularly true when giving books as gifts to kids. For birthday parties, I’ll often give a book along with something else – a little toy or craft, or a painting set with Christie Matheson’s Tap the Magic Tree, or a box of crayons with a copy of The Day the Crayons Quit. And sometimes when I’m inspired I’ll buy multiple copies and give them away until they run out.

I was pleased with my latest book gift inspiration when I decided to give copies of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to all the kids attending my daughter’s upcoming 9th birthday party. Since we’ll be watching the movie (not sure which version yet) and doing a candy/dessert-themed party, I figured giving a copy of the book with some sort of confection was a good idea for a favor. And so I ordered 19 copies of this adorable illustrated paperback edition. When the box arrived, we all grabbed the books like they were filled with golden tickets (which they were since there is one inside each copy)!

 

It has been such a pleasure seeing my older girls enjoy the book, and I dipped into it again myself and fondly remember reading it when I was young. All these years later, and the book still entertains and delights. It really is a timeless treasure. And speaking of books as gifts, I think I’ll order the Roald Dahl boxed set for my daughter’s birthday so all my girls can enjoy them, even the ones who are not yet reading!

I’d love to hear how you give books as gifts. Do you wait for specific holidays or birthdays? Do you buy books you love? New ones or classics? What categories? Do you pair them up with anything else? There’s no right answer here. Just a fun thing to think about – giving books as gifts. It really is the gift that keeps on giving as they can be savored for so many years to come.