Pen Friends ~ Today’s interview is such a treat! Debut YA Author, Hanna Howard, shares about her upcoming novel, IGNITE THE SUN and her beautiful (and somewhat painful) journey to becoming an author. Don’t miss the blurb to her novel. The premise is entirely captivating!
Pen friends ~ Another fantastic interview from debut author, Dante Medema, talking about her upcoming book, The Truth Project, coming out with Harper Teen this fall! She also shares about her querying journey, her 5-editor 6 figure auction dream acquisition story (& the crazy event that followed that news!), and her thoughts on dreamy Alaska settings.
SP: Hi Dante! Thanks for joining us! Before we get into book stuff, we’d LOVE to know a bit about you and your writing journey?
DM: Thanks for having me! I’ve always loved writing. I took a creative writing course in college and I remember thinking “I can’t believe how much fun this is!” Then after my husband and I started our family, I stayed home with the kids, and it became my outlet. Somewhere in there I thought “maybe I could try to do this for real” and I made a go of it! Continue reading
Pen Friends ~ Today we have a very special guest, Hannah VanVels, once an acquisition editor for Harper Collins Blink, and now a literary agent. Don’t miss her thoughts on publishing, tips on querying, thoughts on the slush pile, and her current wishlist!
SP: Hi Hannah! First, congratulations on joining the Corvisiero Literary Team! I’m excited to have you on the Spinning Pen for our first ever AGENT interview!
As I mentioned, Hannah has worked as an acquisitions editor with Blink YA Harper Collins, and now as a Literary agents, which means, we get double insight, yay! Before we get started can you tell us something about yourself & how you got into the publishing/book world to begin with?
HV: Yay, thanks SO much for having me! I’m a former archaeologist and academic who came into publishing kind of by mistake. I had finished graduate school, had a mountain of student loan debt to pay off, and thought, I don’t want to stay in academia, so what do I do now? I always LOVED reading, so I got a job at my local Barnes & Noble. I worked there for a few months, and I loved being surrounded by books, but customer service is HARD. A position opened up at Blink for an editorial assistant. I applied and that was my first professional dip into publishing. I moved up from there and started acquiring for the imprint a few years later!
SP: As you transition from Editor to Agent, what are some of the major differences you are seeing between acquiring a story ready to submit to a publisher and an acquiring a book ready for publishing to give to the world?
HV: That’s such a good way of putting it. One adjustment is where I’m standing on the front lines. As an editor, I could look at recent deals and use that to see where the market was going. As an agent, you have to trust your gut a lot more since there really isn’t a “rights report” for writers signing with agents. I absolutely love it so far. I love being able to put together my own diverse list of writers, and I’m so excited for the world to meet them.
SP: What is one thing you loved about being an acquisitions editor? And now, what is your favorite part of being an agent?
HV: I loved being a book’s champion. From reading it on submission, to pitching it at acquisitions, doing edits, giving cover direction. I loved working with authors to put their best foot forward to make their story come to life! I especially loved working with debut authors and sharing in their excitement. Now as an agent, I live in that excitement all the time. I also love working in different age categories. As an editor, I worked mostly in YA, and now as an agent, I’m excited to work in picture books, middle grade, YA, and adult.
SP: What is it about a manuscript/story that makes you scream YES? What turns you off?
HV: I’m a sucker for a character-driven story! An immediate turnoff is a story filled with nothing by clichés. It’s okay to use clichés as a starting point, but turn them on their heads and give us something fresh.
SP: Are you open to submissions? If so, which genre/story line are you currently dying to find in your inbox?
HV: Yes! I’m actively building my list now. First and foremost, I’m building a diverse list with authors and stories from a variety of backgrounds. I keep my MSWL up to date, and I am always tweeting about what I hope to read!
SP: What’s your view on the slush pile?
HV: I find it very therapeutic to go through the slush pile, if I’m being honest! Perhaps it’s because I’m still a green agent, but I’m always hoping to find a hidden gem in there! On the other side, there are some things that are easy passes for me. First is not knowing your comparable titles. Publishing is a business, a very personal business, but it’s still a business. Because of that, I expect writers to understand the market and where their book fits in. Related to that is wordcount. Knowing the expected length of the genre you are writing in is a necessity to understanding the business-side of publishing.
SP: Is there anything you are tired of seeing?
HV: Retellings that add nothing fresh. ☹
SP: How hands-on are you with a client? What’s your M.O.?
HV: I’m very collaborative. Maybe because I was an editor before an agent, but I always love doing a big-picture edit and polishing up that manuscript until it shines. I love brainstorming solutions, pointing out what I loved, showing what needs a bit of finessing, and, in general, being my authors’ biggest fans.
SP: What do you want to know about a prospective client? What should authors ask you (or a prospective agent who is offering representation)?
HV: I want to know what other projects you’re working on! I’m hoping to help you build a career as an author, not just sell one book for a million dollars (though, to be real, that would be fine too ). Mutual trust is important as well as respect. Being a writer can be stressful and personal, and I want my clients to feel comfortable enough with me to freak out to me and know that I’m here for them. Authors never have to sign with the first agent who offers rep, so I would really encourage them to go with the best fit for them and their goals in terms of what the agent reps and how they vibe together.
SP: Are you the kind of agent/editor that must be grabbed by the first line/first paragraph/first page?
HV: As an editor, I would sometimes give manuscripts the benefit of the doubt. After all, it made it through the intense screening process of finding and agent, and I trusted my agent friends. As an agent, I just have way too many manuscripts in my inbox to keep reading if something doesn’t grab me. Giving myself permission to DNF gives me the time to find the stuff that does grab me.
SP: Now to lighten things up: (optional)
SP: Hannah is an early bird/night owl? Last minute / week early? Tons of RED/lots of smiley faces? Katniss or Princess Buttercup?
HV: Early bird! Week early! SMILEY FACES! Katniss!
Current dream vacation spot?
HV: I’m in the cold Midwest right now, so bring me somewhere warm with palm trees and a drink with an umbrella in it.
Would you rather be a professional: Marine Biologist? Spy? Opera Singer? Brain Surgeon?
HV: Marine biologist. Fun fact, I love sea creatures. I was able to feed stingrays on vacation last winter in the Cayman Islands, and I’ve been obsessed with stingrays ever since.
Current fictional crush?
HV: Poe Dameron
Favorite childhood book?
HV: The Animorphs series!
SP: Thanks so much for sharing with us, Hannah! You can connect with Hannah here: @hannahvanvels on Twitter
Thank you Hannah, we can’t wait to see which new clients & books you bring to the world!
Nova, YA Author
Pen Friends ~ Get ready for a stream of amazing interviews this coming week. We’ve got Agents, Editors, and a bunch of mega talented debut authors!
Next up is Middle Grade Author, Sarah Allen, my dear friend and fellow 2016 Pitchwars Alumni. Her book, What Stars are Made of, will come out with Macmillan in March, fyi, its open for preorder now. (link above!)
SP: Hi Sarah! I’m so excited to have you on the Spinning Pen to talk about your debut, What Stars are Made Of! Before we get to all the book questions, can you tell us a bit about yourself and writing journey?
Thank you so much for having me here, it’s such an exciting honor! STARS is my fourth book, so it’s been quite the long journey! I grew up in Utah, and have known I wanted to be a writer basically my whole life. I majored in English in college, and started writing my first novel around that time. I started querying agents with that first novel in 2012, and it was (very deservedly) never picked up. I moved around a bit, went back to BYU for a masters degree in creative writing, all the while writing new books and querying agents. Hundreds of rejections and several books later, I signed with my incredible agent in early 2018, and then after even more revisions, we sold the book later that fall.
SP: Now, about this lovely Middle Grade book, What Stars are Made Of. It will come out March 31st 2020, and you can preorder now. For those in the Seattle area, there will be a book launch at the University bookstore, 6pm. Here is a blurb:
Twelve-year-old Libby Monroe is great at science, being optimistic, and talking to her famous, accomplished friends (okay, maybe that last one is only in her head). She’s not great at playing piano, sitting still, or figuring out how to say the right thing at the right time in real life. Libby was born with Turner Syndrome, and that makes some things hard. But she has lots of people who love her, and that makes her pretty lucky.
When her big sister Nonny tells her she’s pregnant, Libby is thrilled—but worried. Nonny and her husband are in a financial black hole, and Libby knows that babies aren’t always born healthy. So she strikes a deal with the universe: She’ll enter a contest with a project about Cecelia Payne, the first person to discover what stars are made of. If she wins the grand prize and gives all that money to Nonny’s family, then the baby will be perfect. Does she have what it takes to care for the sister that has always cared for her? And what will it take for the universe to notice?
SP: How did this idea come about?
Like Libby, I was also born with Turner syndrome. Obviously I never saw this experience represented in any of the books I read, or movies I saw. I always new I wanted to write a character with Turner syndrome, but didn’t quite know how to get a handle on it, and didn’t feel confident in my abilities. When I went back for an MFA, I was working with the incredible Martine Leavitt, and thought, if there’s anyone who can help me get this right, it’s her. So I jumped in to this idea that had been floating around in my mind for years, and finally had the tools to tell the story of my heart!
SP: Was this your first book? How long did it take you to write?
STARS is my fourth book! I’d tried writing adult and YA before this, and hope to keep writing all kinds of things, but once I started STARS the voice just flowed, and it felt like I’d finally figured out where I really fit, and what I really wanted to say. I wrote the first half of STARS in my last semester in my MFA and then finished it about three or four months after that.
SP: You mentioned once you LOVE sister stories. Can you tell us why?
Yes indeed! My 2021 book is also a sister’s story. I’m the oldest of eight kids, so I have four younger sisters myself and that probably has something to do with it! Really though, I just think sibling relationships and family dynamics are such fascinating areas to explore, because it’s such an all-encompassing aspect of a kid’s life, with people who may or may not be like you. You don’t choose your siblings, and yet you love them so completely, and would do anything for them. It’s such a colorful kind of love, and a palette I just find so interesting to paint with.
SP: Why do you write Middle Grade?
Honestly, I can answer this question in one word: voice. I absolutely adore middle grade voice, and always have. You can deal with any situation, any difficulty or hardship in middle grade, but somewhere in that voice there always seems to be hope. Even effervescence. You never (or at least I haven’t so far) leave a middle grade novel feeling existential dread, that the universe is cold and heartless. Quite the opposite. I think if everyone was more middle grade at heart, the world would be a happier place.
SP: Your instagram stories have a TON of witty, beautiful poetry…can you tell us more about that?
Oh gosh, thank you! I was obsessed with Shel Silverstein as a kid, and have always loved poetry. I started a weekly poetry prompt simply as a way to keep those cogs turning in my mind, and just keep myself motivated to write poems on the regular, and keep them flowing, and hopefully to maybe help other poetry-minded folks keep those words flowing too. It’s all in good fun, for anyone to join in, because I don’t believe poetry is a stuffy, exclusive thing. It’s a party!
SP: Since we met via PitchWars class of 2016 (yeah, go team ’16!) why don’t you tell us about your experience?
Woohoo Pitchwars! I entered PitchWars in 2016 with a different novel. I actually got in by the skin of my teeth, because all the mentors had picked their mentees, and the PitchWars head honchos did a drawing where a small handful of mentors could pick one additional person, and the incredible Ellie Terry (who wrote Forget-Me-Not, go read it now!) got picked, and then picked me! She was so incredible to work with, and I still use what I learned from her. Agent round came, and I got ten requests. Not the most by any means (this was the year of Tomi Adayemi, if you’ll recall!) but I was absolutely thrilled. And then responses to those requests came in, and they were rejections, every one. So I didn’t get my agent through PitchWars, but I still wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. Like you pointed out, WE met because of PitchWars, and I met tons of other incredible mentors and mentees who I still am close friends with today. I still bug Amanda Rawson Hill and Cindy Baldwin with newbie author questions all the time. What I learned from being mentored, and the incredible community that was built up, all absolutely worth the experience.
SP: Let’s talk agents. How did you end up with Brianne Johnson of Writers House?
After all the online contests I entered (like Pitchwars), after all the conferences I’d attended and live pitch sessions I’d done, it was the good old fashioned slush pile that finally did it for me. After writing STARS I kept it on query rotation like a good girl, but wasn’t getting much traction. Several months after I sent my initial query, Brianne emailed to ask for the full. A few weeks later she emailed and said she was in the middle of reading, and was really loving the book, and hinted she would likely want to talk soon. I about had an aneurism! We had an absolutely amazing phone call and I could just tell how savvy and whip-smart she was. I let the other agents who had the book know I had an offer, and I ended up having three more phone calls! It was insane, finally it all seemed to be happening! Every agent I talked with was incredible, and so smart, and cared so much about the book. In the end, I just felt I really clicked with Brianne, and could tell how passionate she was, and wanted to get this powerhouse woman on my team. I still feel so incredibly lucky!
SP: Being on submission to publishers. What was it like for you?
I went through several rounds of revisions with Brianne before we sent the book out on submission, and that was a really interesting process. It was the first time I’d worked with an industry professional, and absolutely loved getting that take on how work was pitched and presented. Once we had it sent out, I definitely got into the whole refreshing my email every five seconds phase! I also tried to keep working on new things, to keep myself occupied! I was out grocery shopping with my mom when I got the email from Bri saying we had an offer. It was late Friday night, but she told me to call her anyway and while she told me the details I just sat in the Fred Meyer parking lot and cried.
SP: What is it like working with a major Big Five Publisher like Macmillan? And what have you learned about the writing/publishing journey so far?
Honestly, I’ve felt so ridiculously lucky about this whole thing! I’ve had such an incredible experience with Macmillan, and they’ve been so supportive. It’s been so phenomenal to see how much these people care about sharing Libby’s story, too. And one of the biggest things I’ve learned is that professional editors are professional for a reason. Man are they good! Honestly I’ve had edit letters that make me sit back in awe. I’ve also learned how many aspects of this an author doesn’t have control over, and I feel even more lucky at the support I’ve gotten from my publisher. But the thing is, I’ve also learned how positively publishing responds to kind enthusiasm! When I’ve pitched them marketing ideas or told them things I wanted to do from a promotional standpoint, they’ve wantedto work with me, and were excited at the things I was doing!
SP: What’s your philosophy on revision?
I just turned in edits for my second book, so right now my philosophy is “the editor was right!” For real, though, I think writing is so much putting ourselves on the page, and because it’s so much ourselves, we need other people to mirror back to us what is beautiful, and what is a mess. I think if you really dig down, an author knows what the heart of a story is, and it’s good to fight for that heart. But a good reader/editor alsoknows and can see what that heart is, and their notes are there to pinpoint that heart even more, and take away distracting randomeness, or moments where your attempts at cleverness are only obscuring that heart. Know where that line is, where the heart things are, and listen when editors tell you which things are getting in the way.
SP: Months before you got your book deal, you picked up your life and moved to Seattle (to my and Seattle’s delight). Where did this dream come from???
Good question! It was kind of a random move (though I’ve been a Frasierfan for years and always loved the idea of trying out a Seattle life!). Essentially, one of my best friends from college lives in the area and since my goal was writing, it didn’t necessarily matter where I got a job. So I moved up here with her, ready for an adventure!
SP: Now to lighten things up:
SP: Sarah is a — plotter/pantster? Early bird/night owl? Last minute / week early? Loves/dreads feedback?
Something that is always in your fridge? Yogurt and berries
Cat or dog? Dog, though I love both!!
Lion or Ant? Lion
Camel or Zebra? Camel
Last book you read? Currently reading Beginners Welcome by Cindy Baldwin that comes out next month and it’s PHENOMENAL.
Current dream vacation spot? Finally visited London, so next dream spot would be Kenya or Botswana!
Favorite childhood book? Witches by Road Dahl, the Narnia books by CS Lewis, or the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary.
Gardener or Fisherwoman?
Would you rather fight with FIRE or ICE?
SP: Thanks so much for sharing with us, Sarah! We are eagerly anticipating your book!
You can pre-order What Stars Are Made Of here: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9780374313197
ADD STARS on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/44222238-what-stars-are-made-of
You can find Sarah here:
Signing off, Nova McBee YA Author, Film writer, and Interviewer of amazing people 🙂
Pen Friends ~ You are in for a treat! We have the lovely Caroline George, both an agent and YA author, with us today for an inspiring and insightful interview talking about her upcoming book, Dearest Josephine, her 3 book-deal with Harper Collins/TN, social media, agent life and the hardcore pursuit of writing!
SP: Hi Caroline! I’m so excited to have you -for the second time- on the Spinning Pen! And, with more amazing news! Congrats on your 3-book deal with Harper Collins/TNZ! Before we get into all the new juicy book stuff, here is Caroline’s new bio: Continue reading
Find your VOICE by writing these three exercises: Continue reading
Finish this sentence in the comments below:
“I hadn’t expected it to be snowing when…”
Here are a few that were sent in already…
I hadn’t expected it to be snowing when my wife Gina put her swim suit on and said, “C’mon.. lets go”. It was an ‘ugly christmas’ suit like the sweaters but built for the water. We were actually going to do it. I put my matching trunks on, grabbed my beach towel and followed her down to the lake. “This can’t be good for humans I murmured.” Nobody seemed to hear me. The other three couples seemed apprehensive, Gina stood determined and unswayed by the 30 degree weather and the ice around the edges of the lake.
I hadn’t expected it to be snowing when I stepped off the plane at Miami International. Fat flakes drifting in blinding sheets. It’s a wonder we landed. This was supposed to be my escape…uneventful. I flicked a reluctant glance at the thick gray sky, then dropped it to my phone. Twelve missed calls. A shoulder rammed my own, followed by a mumbled sorry. The guy staggered on a few steps before stopping. He was staring at the sky too. Everyone was.
I hadn’t expected it to be snowing when I arrived. I didn’t know how to feel about it, seeing snow for the first time. It was cold, really cold. My fingers hurt and my ears and nose had gone numb… But there was something about all those bits of bright white transforming what once was a great expense of greenery into building sheets of frozen water. I tried to catch a few snowflakes, but they melted the instant that they touched my skin. It was really uncomfortable how beautiful and uncomfortable it was all at once. At least then I had an interesting story to take back home. But I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to return home, thought that maybe I should stay.
I didn’t know…
I hadn’t expected it to be snowing when our submarine emerged from the depths of the Arctic Ocean…
I hadn’t expected it to be snowing when it was finally time to escape from Dexter Wellington, otherwise known as most despicable human ever at East High. Of course he asked me to stay just one more minute. Snow, ironically, was the reason we’d met in the first place and unintentionally discovered each other’s secrets.
After teaching on Storyboarding Monday night a few of you asked me to put my notes online. Here they are! If you want a more comprehensive teaching on Storyboarding, plus access to the template I use, and more, sign up for my newsletter on novamcbee.com 🙂 I’ll be sending this out and more.
(Note: my template is not online. This is a generic one.)
The Basics of Storyboarding
~It’s an outlining & plotting tool.
~It’s a calendar-type template that has an outline of 25-50 Chapters. Each row has 5 boxes. * I always print on both front and back because my novels are more than 50 chapters.
~Make sure there is a turning Point every fifth chapter.
~Black Moment in 23-24
~Realization in 24-25
~Build your scenes from notes and/or synopsis
~Illustrate Character Arc, can show both internal & external conflicts and resolutions
Here is how I optimize Storyboarding
It’s December 3rd. Many of us just finished NanoWrimo. Fact: I almost never get 50 thousand words. But I do get 30 thousand words.
In general, I outline the plot and character arcs and all major things I think will happen before I sit down to write. Then I write and play. In that way I am both a plotter and pantster. I write and write until the first draft is done. THEN, I storyboard. I write again. Then I storyboard a second time, and revise again. Let me give you more detail.
What I love to write & how Storyboarding relates:
•First lines, first paragraphs
•Hooks, inciting incidents
•Last lines & pay-offs
The way I write that first chapter, even first few chapters is crucial to get readers to turn the page. So, after my first draft, I use storyboarding asa way to check my scenes and overall pace of the story and story arc/character arc to see if it has that first chapter standard. Is the scene telling me something new? Moving me forward? Is there tension? Pay-offs? Did I foreshadows enough?
Another cool aspect isthat I can see if there are scenes that slow or sections that have far too much intense action or mystery. I can rearrange the board to fit better. I can move scenes and events, and then I can plan better pay-offs.
Overall Visual Representation
Then I read over those 50 boxes in about 20 minutes and I see the story as a whole in a very short amount of time. It’s very useful.
I always do this exercise with a pen and paper.My friends do it on their computer. Both are fine. I do all my novel writing on my laptop, but all my brainstorming is on messy notebooks and even messier storyboards.I love them, and they help me get a clear plan. Then, once I sit down to write, I accomplish much more, much faster. And I hope you can too.
Let me know if you have any questions.
Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!
I’m so pumped to announce that The Spinning Pen & Nova McBee are now selling original, custom-made “Spinning Pen” gift cards!
Our first sale begins today! Discounts from 28th-30th!
Check them out via our new Shop page!
“Spinning Pen Girl in Asia”
Nova, signing off
Pen Friends~ I’m super excited to introduce you to a new book (and the author with an interview soon!) Blood Heir, written by YA Author Amelie Wen Zhao comes out today which means you can now buy it and read it and love it!
In the Cyrilian Empire, Affinites are reviled. Their varied gifts to control the world around them are unnatural—dangerous. And Anastacya Mikhailov, the crown princess, has a terrifying secret. Her deadly Affinity to blood is her curse and the reason she has lived her life hidden behind palace walls.
When Ana’s father, the emperor, is murdered, her world is shattered. Framed as his killer, Ana must flee the palace to save her life. And to clear her name, she must find her father’s murderer on her own. But the Cyrilia beyond the palace walls is far different from the one she thought she knew. Corruption rules the land, and a greater conspiracy is at work—one that threatens the very balance of her world. And there is only one person corrupt enough to help Ana get to its core: Ramson Quicktongue.
A cunning crime lord of the Cyrilian underworld, Ramson has sinister plans—though he might have met his match in Ana. Because in this story, the princess might be the most dangerous player of all.
For those of you who don’t keep up on YA, it’s also a kind of miracle that we get to read Blood Heir, because we almost didn’t get that chance. Amelie & this book went on a crazy journey to get where it is today. Imagine this: from seeing your dream realized to dream book deals at auction to twitter mobs slamming you and pulling your book from publishing…but that wasn’t the end of the story. She did NOT GIVE UP. And, tomorrow is proof of her courage and integrity.
Amelie recently spoke on NPR about this journey. Check out her interview here:
Below, I’m also including her bio (she’s a total global girl!) and a quote from Amelie’s insta post. Readers, this book is going to be so good. Grab a copy and support 🙂
Bio from her website:
Amélie (yes, like the movie!) has adored putting pen to paper since she was in kindergarten. Born in Paris and raised in a multicultural community in Beijing, Amélie has a bone-deep love for traveling and immersing herself in new worlds and cultures. She lives in New York City, working as a full-time financial professional by day, and writer at night.
She hopes to empower young readers with messages of acceptance, strength, and courage through her works, and to continue to push the boundaries of young adult literature by exploring new, cross-cultural themes.
Quote from her Instagram:
“Among the many topics I set out to explore when I wrote BLOOD HEIR were the historic instances of indentured labor and the modern-day crisis of human trafficking. These continue to exist and impact millions of victims today. My fiancé is himself a descendant of a Chinese indentured laborer.
Literature should confront difficult truths and authors must be allowed to make their statements. I’m glad my perspective will shed light on these global issues, and that readers will have the chance to read my book, form their own opinions, and hopefully learn about new topics from my perspective as a Chinese woman living in the United States.”
Nova, signing off.