Thursday, May 17, 2018

Synopsis Critique #21: YA Contemporary

And now, it's time for this week's synopsis critique! The author of COMPLEX SOLUTIONS, a YA Contemporary novel, submitted this synopsis. My in-line comments are [blue and in brackets], and I'll include a summary at the end. Feel free to comment below!

If you'd like a primer on how to write a synopsis, see my posts here and here. And if you want your synopsis critiqued on this website, fill out the form here, or email your 1-2 page synopsis to me at (NOTE: I'll email my critique to the author as soon as I'm done, so the author won't have to wait to see his/her synopsis on the site). Thanks for participating!


After the car accident that should have killed her too [1], sixteen-year-old LEXI THOMPSON lives with her grandmother. She wants to be accepted, to feel she’s not a freak. [2] Her response to cruel taunts and bullying from classmates is to cut herself, providing temporary relief from her emotional pain.

While she dreads the school scene, she loves math. She loves it the way her parents did. [3] The bonus is JOE BIONDI, a fellow math whiz, is in her AP Calculus class. He’s drawn to her shy, quiet nature, love of math and dedication to running. Running is the one thing—outside of cutting—that makes Lexi feel good. [4] Her relationship with Joe deepens, but her past secrets and continuing self-harm prevent her from getting too close. [5]

Lexi receives a letter from The Clay Mathematics Institute, a prestigious non-profit foundation, regarding a secret her parents kept while alive. Lexi discovers they likely proved the legendary Riemann Hypothesis, which she learns is a 150-year-old theorem regarding the behavior of prime numbers. The Clay Institute is offering one million dollars to the person who proves it. [6] With her parents gone, the whereabouts of their proof is unknown. Lexi is her parents [7] only hope of finding and submitting their proof, of saving their legacy and, in her mind, finally doing something that would make them proud. [8] It would also relieve some of the guilt she feels for surviving the accident. But she’s not the only one who knows their secret. DAVE EDISON, her father’s college buddy and later, his legal advisor, seeks the proof for his own glory. [9]

Lexi tells Joe about the lost proof and about Dave stalking her. [10] His [11] support helps her confess her self-harm and her past suicide attempt as well. Instead of pushing him away, Joe draws closer to her [12] and encourages her to seek help. She promises to do that once the research has been found and delivered to the Clay Institute.

Lexi and Joe finally find the proof on a USB stick, hidden in a photo album, but Dave Edison learns of their discovery and chases Lexi a few nights later on the beach. She outruns him, but afterward, is so rattled, she cuts herself too deep and Joe rushes her to get stitches at the local clinic. Without her knowledge, Joe gives the doctor at the clinic her grandmother’s number to call and consent to treatment. When Lexi is confronted by her grandmother afterward, she’s furious with Joe [13] and sneaks out the next morning to catch the bus to the Clay Institute to deliver the proof by herself.

Lexi runs into first, Joe, then Dave Edison [14] on the streets of Cambridge and ultimately, with the help of the local police, delivers the proof to the researchers at the Clay Institute [15] and Dave Edison is arrested.

All that remains is confirmation the theorem has been proven by Lexi’s parents and for Lexi to get the help for the underlying issues which cause her to self-harm. [16]


[1]: Should have killed Lexi in addition to who? Who actually died?
[2]: Why do people think she’s a freak? Because she was in a car crash (seems like she’d get sympathy for that, not bullying)? Or another reason?
[3]: Did her parents die in the car crash?
[4]: I thought math also made her feel good?
[5]: This paragraph is a list of things Lexi likes. Work this into a few sentences that advance the plot. Describe how she and Joe grow closer. Describe how that impacts her character development. If running, is a part of that, then weave it in to the plot details.
[6]: Did the Clay Institute know that Lexi’s parents proved the theorem? Why are they writing to Lexi now? Do they want her to bring them the proof? It sounds like they’re still looking for someone to solve it, so this confused me. Clarify this a bit.
[7]: Parents’
[8]: How would submitting her parents’ proof make them proud? It doesn’t seem like Lexi is actively doing anything here: she’s not solving the theorem herself. She’s just finding their proof and sending it in. I get the part about preserving their legacy, but it doesn’t seem like it would make them proud of her, because they’ve already done the work.
[9]: If he’s not also a mathematician, how would he derive glory from the proof?
[10]: When did Dave start stalking Lexi? Describe how this happens. Physically stalking her, stalking her online, etc.
[11]: Joe’s
[12]: This is confusing as written. Reword to something like, ‘Instead of pushing him away, Lexi allows herself to grow closer to Joe, who encourages her to seek help.’
[13]: Why would she be furious with Joe? It seems like he wouldn’t have had a choice in the matter, since Lexi’s a minor.
[14]: Reword to something like, ‘On her way to the Clay Institute, Lexi runs into Joe’ and then describe what happens during that encounter. Then, pick up with ‘They see Dave…’ and describe what happens with him. Detailing what happens is the most important element of a synopsis.
[15]: Make ‘Dave is arrested’ a separate sentence.
[16]: This sentence is a bit confusing. Also, it makes it sounds like these things don’t actually happen in the book, and you’re setting them up for a sequel. If they do happen in the book, then say something like, ‘Lexi helps the Clay Institute confirm her parents’ proof by [describe how she does this].’ Then, ‘Finally, Lexi goes to her first therapy appointment to get help for the underlying issues causing her to self-harm.’ Also, I want a resolution to her relationship with Joe.


This is well-written, but it feels more like a long query than a synopsis. Take a step back and map out your main plot in terms of ‘who does what’ and ‘how does it advance the plot.’ Make sure you’re tracing all the significant events through the beginning, middle, and end of the story, and if you want to keep the synopsis at one page, delete the details that aren’t important (such as Lexi’s love of running). Also, make sure you keep your eye on your antagonist and track what he’s doing throughout the course of the story.

Best of luck with this!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Meet April Snellings in this Debut Author Spotlight

Debut Author Spotlight from @JLenniDorner on @OpAwesome6

Ghoulish: The Art of Gary Pullin

Welcome, April!

I want to thank you for the questions. I’ve followed this site for a while, especially the Debut Author interviews. It’s really exciting to be one of those writers.

You're very welcome. Glad to have you here. On with the interview! 😊

1- How did you get a book about Gary Pullin to come to life?

For Ghoulish, we were lucky enough to have a terrific publisher onboard before the first word was written. I’ve known Gary for years now—we met when I was writing for a magazine called Rue Morgue and Gary was its art director. Another member of the team back then was Dave Alexander, who was Rue Morgue’s editor-in-chief during my tenure there. All of us have since moved on, but we’ve maintained those friendships and we find our paths crossing pretty frequently. When Gary and Dave started talking to 1984 Publishing about a coffee table book of Gary’s art (Dave is Ghoulish’s editor), they asked me to come onboard to write it. I said yes immediately—I’m a poster collector and Gary is one of the foremost artists of the illustrated movie poster art revival, and I loved the idea of telling not only Gary’s story, but also the story of that art movement. So the project had a “getting the band back together” feel to it, and it was a delight to work with Gary and Dave again, and to find a great new partner in 1984 Publishing.

2- What five words represent your most notable characteristic or values? #In5Words

Curious, loyal, dedicated, perfectionist, hopeful

3- What ignited your passion for writing?

I was a pretty introverted kid (which makes sense, because I’m a pretty introverted adult), and I generally preferred to hang out by myself and read when other kids were doing sports or whatever kids do. I’ve always loved stories any way I could get them—books, movies, comics, TV, whatever—so I think this ‘writer’ thing was pretty much inevitable. I write full-time now, but there’ve been many jobs along the way—I’ve done everything from selling timeshares (don’t hate me) to building alternators on an assembly line. My first byline was a book review in a tiny newspaper in 2008, and one small thing has led to another slightly less-small thing ever since.

4- Who is your favorite character from The Facts of Life?

I have to go with Mrs. Garrett. She can solve everyone’s problems, bake a strudel, and rock a bouffant, so she’s pretty much perfect. We all need an Edna Garrett in our lives.

5- Would you share a picture with us of the book with your seven-foot animatronic werewolf named C. Thomas Howl?

seven-foot animatronic werewolf named C. Thomas Howl - Meet April Snellings in this Debut Author Spotlight - Ghoulish: The Art of Gary Pullin #book

6- What are some of your short and long term writing goals?

My short-term goal is to finish the YA novel I’m working on now, which is sort of a queer, feminist riff on Frankenstein—there’s mad science, monsters, and LGBT romance, so it’s a fun world to play in. Which leads me to my long-term goal, which is to focus more on my fiction. Right now nonfiction is my bread and butter, and it’s wonderful! But ultimately I’d like to spend more time telling my own stories.

7- What is your favorite book (by someone else), and what do you love most about that book?

I flirt with other favorites, but I always come back to Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. I love that it’s both creepy as hell (the Dust Witch still gives me chills) and a sweet, moving story about friendship and growing up. Also, no one has ever put October on the page as evocatively as Bradbury.

8- Who is currently your biggest fan? What does that person love most about your debut non-fiction book?

It’s a tossup between my mom and my wife, but when it comes to Ghoulish, I think my mom wins. She’s a big fan of classic horror cinema, and she loves that the book features art for films like Psycho, Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Abominable Dr. Phibes, and Frankenstein.

9- What most helped you to improve your writing craft?

Working with great editors. I don’t have any formal writing training/education beyond studying screenwriting in film school, so working with experienced, talented newspaper and magazine editors is what taught me the craft of writing and the business of publishing. It’s been invaluable.
Meet April Snellings in this Debut Author Spotlight  - Ghoulish: The Art of Gary Pullin #book

10- Could you give a tip to someone who wants to get in to selling ghoulish art, crafts, and stories?

Become an active part of the genre fan community, and get your work in front of people as often as you can. Engaging with creators and fans on social media is a great place to start, and if you can, go to a convention and talk to creators—most of them will be eager to talk about what they’re doing. Some of my coolest gigs came about that way.

11- #WeNeedDiverseBooks What's your favorite book with a diverse main character?

A few come to mind by authors who aren’t with us anymore, but I love promoting writers who can still benefit from being discovered by new readers. So may I cheat and name mention a few recent favorites?
  1. Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country, which centers on a black family tackling cosmic horrors and racism during the Jim Crow era. I love that it doesn’t simply ignore or redact the racism inherent in Lovecraft’s work—it tackles it head-on.
  2. Edgar Cantero’s Meddling Kids, which is a really fun, completely bonkers twist on Scooby-Doo and other teen detective stories, with a queer MC and a really lovely queer romance at its center.
  3. Dawn Ius’s Lizzie, a contemporary, queer retelling of the Lizzie Borden story. It’s creepy, affecting, and heartbreaking.

12- Which of Gary's works is your favorite?
Scream Poster - Meet April Snellings in this Debut Author Spotlight  - Ghoulish: The Art of Gary Pullin #book

Probably the Scream poster he did for Mondo a couple of years ago. It’s a truly gorgeous piece of art, and it’s so clever—by referencing Roy Lichtenstein in such a fun way, it gives pop art the same meta treatment that Scream gave slasher movies.

13- Did you ever figure out what this is? (

I’m told it’s a spiral slicer and that it’s used for garnishing things, but I remain skeptical. Don’t you just put some parsley on something and hello, it is garnished?

14- Does your book about Gary hold a mirror up to society, and in what way?

Maybe in a roundabout way. Horror is a social barometer—you can tell a lot about a culture’s anxieties by looking at the horror movies or books it’s producing. Ghoulish features art inspired by a wide range of horror films, from classic Universal monster movies to recent fare like The Babadook. I think it’s fascinating to see how horror has evolved over the decades and to consider what that tells us about ourselves.

15- Can you think of any small change in the world you could make to benefit hundreds of other authors or readers potentially?

Taking every opportunity to amplify the voices of other writers. Every month I volunteer my services to a writers’ organization that helps authors promote their new releases. Hopefully I’m helping writers get their work in front of people, and helping readers find new authors to support.

16- As a reader, what most motivates you to buy a new book to read?

I always pay attention to recommendations from trusted sources, whether it’s a friend or a reviewer, and I’m a sucker for a great cover. Once a title is on my radar I read the first couple of pages, either in the bookstore or via an online sample. I’m also a very loyal reader; once a writer has my heart, it’s hers forever.

17- How will you measure your publishing performance?

Wow, I need a better answer for this. At the moment I’m mostly thinking in terms of whether the publisher wants to work with me again. (They do, so yay!)

18- What was the deciding factor in your publication route?

I’m not sure I have it in me to self-publish—I do my best work as part of a team, and I thrive on collaboration and feedback from editors, artists, publishers, and other writers. As for this project landing at 1984 Publishing, there couldn’t have been a better fit. 1984’s founder, Matthew Chojnacki, is a writer, pop culture historian, and a collector, so he understands this stuff on a molecular level. He was always committed to making sure Ghoulish was something special.

19- What's the best book marketing strategy you've come across?
Meet April Snellings in this Debut Author Spotlight  - Ghoulish: The Art of Gary Pullin #book

We’ve had a lot of success by engaging directly with fans, either on social media or at conventions and other events. Also, our publisher, 1984 Publishing, specializes in beautifully produced art books, and they turned Ghoulish into an event. For instance, they released two special 3D editions that came with branded 3D glasses and a limited edition 3D art print. (Both of those editions sold out!)

20- What is one question or discussion topic which you would like the readers of this interview to answer or remark on in the comments?

I’d love to talk about book covers! One of the topics that comes up in Ghoulish is the idea that a book cover or movie poster can become as iconic as the story it represents. An example is Jaws; most of us can’t hear that title without thinking of Roger Kastel’s terrifying cover illustration, which was also used on the movie poster. I’d love to hear readers’ thoughts on a book cover that made an indelible impression, whether it was 20 years ago or last week.

That's a great topic! I keep a Pinterest board for just such a reason.

21- Anything else you would care to share about your book and yourself?
Meet April Snellings in this Debut Author Spotlight  - Ghoulish: The Art of Gary Pullin #book

We have a fun blurb from Guillermo del Toro, writer/director of The Shape of Water and Pan’s Labyrinth, so I pretty much have to share it: “Like a modern Frankenstein, Gary reanimates nostalgia and unleashes it to bite your ass!” I’d also like to mention that the book has a beautiful introduction by filmmaker/Glass Eye Pix founder Larry Fessenden and a lovely foreword by Grammy-winning designer and Mondo co-founder Rob Jones. There’s even a very limited edition that comes with a 12-inch vinyl single by legendary soundtrack artists Goblin, who created the scores for Dawn of the Dead and Suspiria.

Finally, I love to connect with readers and other writers, so please get in touch via any of my social media things, or contact me anytime through my website.


Meet April Snellings in this Debut Author Spotlight  - Ghoulish: The Art of Gary Pullin #book

Thanks for reading, and thanks again for the interview, J!
Meet April Snellings in this Debut Author Spotlight  - Ghoulish: The Art of Gary Pullin #book

Ghoulish: The Art of Gary Pullin

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

A Note on Critique Partner Relations

I believe that good critique partners are absolutely vital to the writing process. A good critique partner gives valuable insights into improving your manuscript, and will also cheer you on as you go on your writing journey.

When I figured out that I needed critique partners to improve my writing (side note: sometimes I look at 2013 Kara and slowly shake my head at her nonsense), I was delighted to find that two women I already knew were writers, and they were interested in forming a critique group! We were all kind of newbs at the offering feedback part of writing, but we dove into it anyway.

At the beginning of that summer, I let my new CPs know that I was going to pursue publication, and I wanted their help getting my book into shape. They both agreed to read for me, so I sent the book on.

And then I waited. For almost three months. One of the women suggested that we add new people to our critique group and move it online. I said I would be okay with that, but if we were going to invite new people, we should be clear on when we expected people to get back to us so that no one got upset, because my feelings were hurt that neither of them had said anything about my book the whole summer.

Now, they both had a lot going on that summer. They were scheduled things that we all knew were going to happen. But they had agreed to read in spite of that, and it bothered me that neither of them had even said so much as "Hey, sorry I haven't gotten to this yet."

One CP apologized, read the book within a week, and returned notes that were very helpful (including pointing out that I wasn't doing my em dashes correctly, which was great because I had no idea that em dashes and hyphens were different!). We're still friends to this day, and I still value her input on my work.

The other got snippy, unfriended me on Facebook, and hasn't spoken to me since even though we live in the same small town.

I hope you take away a number of things from this story. One: if you are unhappy with something in your CP relationship, speak up promptly. Don't let it fester for months. You'll know which CPs are worth keeping based on how they respond. Two: if you find that you've screwed up? Apologize and make it right. If your CP forgives you and can still take your critique without getting defensive, then you guys are a good match. And finally, clear communication and honesty are crucial to a good CP relationship.

Friday, May 11, 2018


Friday is here again, and that means you have the opportunity to win a query critique! Comment on this post--along with one other blog post from this week-- in order to be eligible to win. You have until noon EST on 05/13 to enter by, with the winner announced in the comments section later that afternoon/evening. Also, please note, that if you do not leave your email address in your comment, do not have it listed on your Blogger profile (or somewhere that I can find it easily on your own blog), I will then pick someone else as the winner. The rest of the rules can be found here.

Good luck, and have a great weekend!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Synopsis Critique #20: YA Fantasy

And now, it's time for this week's synopsis critique! The author of WINGS OF DAWN, a YA Fantasy novel, submitted this synopsis. My in-line comments are [blue and in brackets], and I'll include a summary at the end. Feel free to comment below!

If you'd like a primer on how to write a synopsis, see my posts here and here. And if you want your synopsis critiqued on this website, fill out the form here, or email your 1-2 page synopsis to me at (NOTE: I'll email my critique to the author as soon as I'm done, so the author won't have to wait to see his/her synopsis on the site). Thanks for participating!


In the kingdom of Albyn, men who can shapeshift into dragons rule the land. Princess Kianna, the witty, ambitious, sometimes socially awkward heir to the throne, has always wished that she too could be a dragon but, since women lack the ability, she must marry one instead. [1]

During the final banquet of a festival, Kianna’s beloved father is poisoned. He falls into a temporary coma and, despite her grief and worry, Kianna is forced to begin searching for a husband sooner than she planned. [2] She enters into a careful courtship with Alun, a dragon from a family of scholars, whose love of books and humor intrigue her.

When Kianna’s father wakes, he lacks his previous strength. He encourages her to agree [3] to marry Alun and he [4] soon proposes to Kianna in the castle’s library. Even though she [5] never expected to fall for him, Alun’s expressed desire for her to rule as his equal ignites a growing affection within her.

As the soon-to-be Queen, Kianna is assigned two siblings as bodyguards [6]; one, a secret sorceress, befriends Kianna and offers to teach her forbidden magic, while the other, a stubbornly loyal dragon who doesn’t just guard but lurks, makes Kianna question her feelings for Alun. With this odd pair in tow, Kianna embarks on a visit to Alun’s family estate to get to know his relatives.

While there, Kianna spends time with Alun’s younger sister, intimidating older brother and his brother’s equally vicious wife, Raena. One night, the two older couples [7] spontaneously decide to go out for a clandestine flight and come upon the younger sister’s body washed up on shore. It appears to be an accident but at the sister’s funeral pyre, Kianna uses her budding magical abilities to determine that the sister’s life force has been drained from her body. Kianna knows that only someone well-versed in dark magic could do such a thing, and soon she starts seeing disturbing connections between Alun’s family and a dangerous cult that has been linked with disappearances across the kingdom.

Worried for Kianna’s safety, Alun insists that she return home immediately. Kianna and her sorceress bodyguard set out with a small group of dragons but when they stop for the night at an inn it catches fire and Kianna is kidnapped [8] and left to die in the remote canyons. She fights for a way out, pushing through the dangers of exposure and using magic against the even more dangerous creatures that live there. Just when Kianna has won herself a brief reprieve in battle with a monster, her second bodyguard swoops in and flies her safely back to the castle.

They arrive to the news that Kianna’s kidnapping was planned to lure her father into danger and he was killed while searching for her. Alun’s older brother, who was present when the king died, gives a testimony that casts the family of Kianna’s bodyguards as the main suspects. After her father’s funeral, Kianna is forced to preside over a sham trial that convicts her closest allies [9] of treason and sends them into exile. Before they leave, she secretly meets with her bodyguards to arrange magical means to keep in contact. Kianna’s grieving mother moves up the date of her wedding to Alun, and Kianna must swallow her pain to step up as the leader of her country.

Alun and Kianna marry and are crowned in the same day. When they retire for their first night as a married couple, Alun slips a drug into Kianna’s drink. She wakes up to find not Alun, but his sister-in-law Raena, waiting for her. Raena explains that she is a powerful priestess serving one of the old gods of Albyn who has been imprisoned for a millenia. Alun was supposed to kill Kianna, not drug her, but he bargained for her life and now Kianna has a choice [10]. She is taken to a secret lair where the old god offers her a deal: he will grant her deepest desire, to be a dragon, in return for control of the kingdom so he can re-establish a tyrannical reign over Albyn’s people.

Though the word, “yes”, [11] longs to trip from her tongue, Kianna refuses the offer and the priestess [12] attacks her, trying to spill her blood as the last necessary sacrifice to free the old god. Kianna is injured but combats the priestess with magic, escaping as the old god bursts free. Kianna’s bodyguards are waiting for her [13], having tracked her location, and they ferry her out. Kianna looks back just in time to see the priestess [14] emerge, transformed into the first female dragon.

The priestess, the old god, and Alun set up a false government in Albyn, with Kianna’s mother as their prisoner. Meanwhile, Kianna takes refuge in a neighboring country where she can build new alliances and raise a rebel army. Alun sends Kianna a message begging her to forgive him and come back to be his queen, but his betrayal destroyed any love or trust she had with him. She responds with a declaration of war, and vows to take her kingdom back by force.


[1]: Why must Kianna marry a dragon? Is this ordained by her country’s tradition, her parents’ wishes, or is this something she wants for herself so she can get as close as possible to being a dragon?
[2]: Why does her father’s coma force her to search for a husband? Is this a partiarchal society where women can’t rule in their own right?
[3]: Delete ‘to agree’
[4]: Substitute ‘Alun’ for ‘he’
[5]: Substitute ‘Kiana’ for ‘she’
[6]: This reads a little confusing: at first, I thought you meant that two of Kianna’s siblings were assigned as her bodyguards. Instead, unless it’s significant that they’re siblings, just say ‘two bodyguards’
[7]: Who are the two older couples? If it’s Alun, Kianna, and Alun’s brother and sister-in-law, I’d just say that
[8]: Kidnapped by who? For what purpose?
[9]: Who are her closest allies?
[10]: In the next sentence, you introduce the choice, so you don’t need to refer to it in this sentence also
[11]: Delete the commas around the word ‘yes’
[12]: Since you’ve already named Raena, use her name here, too
[13]: I thought they were exiled?
[14]: Raena


Overall, this is a very strong synopsis. I was able to follow the main plot throughout, and it’s clear how Kianna changes over the course of the story. This is a rare instance where you may want to name a few more characters – maybe Kianna’s two bodyguards, since they appear to be very important characters and they’re present throughout the synopsis. Most of my comments were small questions and quibbles; you’re very close. Best of luck with this!

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Writing Conference Reflections

Last week I gave a list of all the things I was excited to do while in Utah for the Storymakers Conference. It was a blast! I had a great time and learned so much. I'm home now, and have been reflecting on the conference for a couple days. It was my third time attending the conference, and my experience at each one has been so different.

In 2014, I was in the middle of querying my first ever novel, and had received nothing but rejections. I had a pitch session with an editor, and was looking forward to hearing Orson Scott Card speak at the keynote dinner. Having never been to a writing conference before, I literally thought those two things would be the only benefits I got out of the conference. (shakes head in shame at past Kara)

The pitch session was great, not because I was invited to send material to the editor (I wasn't), but because it was what I finally needed to let go of that first terrible manuscript and move forward with my writing. I got to meet OSC, which was cool, but even better was meeting the person in front of me in line to talk to him: Amy Wilson, who became my friend and someone who I swap work with!

Last year, I went to the conference as a freshly agented writer with a highly polished manuscript. Most of the classes I gravitated towards dealt with plotting a new book. And I have to say, not having a pitch session took away ALL the stress I felt at the first conference!

I used the plotting techniques I learned last year to plot a new book, and finished my first draft a month before this year's conference. The classes I chose this year were all tools that I could use while working on the second draft. In fact, during almost every class, I found myself scribbling notes in the margins of my notebook with specific ideas of what I could do to improve this draft. It was awesome.

Whether you're a newb or a seasoned writer, a good writing conference will have something for you. I highly recommend Storymakers. If you go in 2019, I'll see you there!

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Dear OAbby: How Do I Address an Agent in a Query Letter?

Dear OAbby is a new feature on Operation Awesome where we answer your questions! It's an advice column by writers, for writers, chock-full of information about writing, querying, the publication process, etc. If you have a question you'd like answered, just send it to All questions may be edited for clarity and/or space, and will be posted anonymously, with no identifying information.

Dear OAbby,

When submitting a new book to an agent from whom we got feedback in the past, should we address them with Ms./Mr. or first name?

Address Unknown

Dear Address Unknown,

When querying an agent for the first time, the general rule is to use Mr. or Ms. with the agent's last name. If you're not sure of the agent's gender, it's fine to use their first name. I'd advise against anything like 'Dear Agent' or 'To Whom it May Concern,' because those greetings make it look like you haven't done your research.

As to your question, you've already gotten feedback from this agent, so I'd look at the earlier email to see how the agent identified themselves. Most likely, they signed the email with their first name. If that's the case, then it's fine to open your next email by addressing them with their first name (since they opened the door to that relative informality). If they didn't sign the email, or if they signed it using something other than their first name, then I'd stick with Mr./Ms. [Agent Last Name] to be on the safe side. Either way, as long as you use either their first name or Mr./Ms. [Agent Last Name], and not something generic like 'Dear Agent,' you should be fine!

Happy Querying!

Yours truly,
Dear OAbby

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

I'm going to a writing conference!

I'm headed out to Utah on Thursday to attend Storymakers '18. This will be my third time attending this conference, and I am stoked for SO MANY REASONS:

(in no particular order)

-time off from my 24/7 job as MOM
-no cooking!
-meet Twitter friends and make them IRL friends
-meet three! agents who have participated in Pass Or Pages and thank them in person for helping us
-learn new writing craft tools
-feel like I'm not alone in this publishing game
-listen to SHANNON HALE give the keynote address
-treat ma self to some new books from the conference bookstore
-hang out with the members of my writing group who are local
-visit my non-writing friends in the area
-spend time with my sister (who of course moved to Utah AFTER we moved away)

For the comments: What is your favorite part of attending writing conferences? And if YOU'LL be at Storymakers '18, too, hit me up on Twitter so we can sit together at lunch!

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Y is for Yellow: An Interview with OA Blogger Jaime Olin #AtoZChallenge

Operation Awesome's #AtoZChallenge theme for 2018 is... 
OA to Z! We'll be correlating our usual posts with the challenge letters, plus, each weekend, you'll get a chance to get to know one of our bloggers better.

Hi Readers! I'm your final OA blogger interview. I'm Jaime Olin, and I post the synopsis critiques, the Dear OAbby column, and various other posts.  

1- What's your passion in life? 

Would it be cliched to say reading and writing? Let me generalize a bit more and say 'words.' I don't think in numbers, pictures, or symbols. I have always thought in words. This means that, aside from being a bookworm and a writer, I'm also a crossword puzzle fiend and am my trivia team's go-to person for word games.

2- Would you share a picture with us of Yellow Flowers? 

Of course! I picked this one because yellow's always been my favorite color, and yellow flowers never fail to make me happy.

Image result for yellow picture

3- What are three of your short-term goals? 

(1) To finish writing this dual-perspective, time-hopping novel I started last month (I'd like to finish a draft by the end of the summer). It's a tough book, structurally, and finishing it will be a big accomplishment!

(2) To write synopses for the 4-5 ideas I've got rolling around my head so I can pick one of them and hit the ground running when I finish my current manuscript.

(3) To, once and for all, determine definitively when to use colons, semi-colons, and m-dashes!

4- What tip can you share to improve someone's writing craft? 

READ! Read in your genre, read outside your genre, read non-fiction, read magazine articles, read cereal boxes. As humans, we really do learn by osmosis sometimes, and the more we read good writing, the more we become better writers ourselves.

5- What is one question or discussion topic which you would like the readers of this interview to answer or remark on in the comments? 

Now that we're four months into the year, how are you doing on your New Year's writing resolutions?

Jaime Olin writes YA contemporary novels, and shes represented by Jordan Hamessley of New Leaf Literary. She blogs weekly about writing and the publication process at the Operation Awesome website, and has acted as a mentor in the last two rounds of Author Mentor Match. Jaime grew up in South Florida, found her Xanadu in San Diego, then somehow ended up in Dallas instead, where she continually borrows from Texas geography and culture for her books’ settings and characters. Jaime is also a lawyer, an animal welfare advocate, a New York Times crossword puzzle aficionado, and a die-hard proponent of the Oxford comma. Beware: She’s never met a pun she didn’t like.

Twitter (@jkolin27)

Friday, April 27, 2018

X is for X Marks the Spot & Xylophone: #QueryFriday & #AtoZChallenge

Today's #queryfriday is pretty specific, because of the letter X! If your manuscript is about pirates or music, then leave a comment below in order to win a query critique (must also comment on one other blog post from this week). The winner will be picked via random number generator and you have until noon EST on 04/29 to enter, with the winner announced later that evening in the comments section.

Also, please note, that if you do not leave your email address in your comment, do not have it listed on your Blogger profile (or somewhere that I can find it easily on your own blog), I will then pick someone else as the winner. The rest of the rules can be found here.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

W is for Who, What, When, Where, Why (and How): A Query Shortcut #AtoZChallenge

Operation Awesome's #AtoZChallenge theme for 2018 is... 
OA to Z! We'll be correlating our usual posts with the challenge letters, plus, each weekend, you'll get a chance to get to know one of our bloggers better.

As I critique queries and synopses, I try to focus on the five Ws (along with the H). Answering the questions Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How will give you a jump-start on summarizing your novel for queries and synopses. For example:

WHO is your main character? Give the reader a quick description, including age (if relevant), situation (princess, student, etc.), and notable characteristics.

WHAT does your main character want? This is so important. 'Want' is the main source of conflict in your novel, and it needs to be clear to the reader right upfront.

WHAT happens if your main character doesn't get what they want? Also vital. These are the stakes. Does your main character lose a scholarship? Lose a war? Die? Spell it out!

WHEN does the action take place? This is really only important in a historical novel, or if you're working in sci-fi or fantasy and the action takes place in the future.

WHERE does the action take place? Give the reader a hint of your setting.

WHY does your main character care? Again, this goes to stakes. It also goes to your main conflict, and the person or entity that opposes your main character. Who's stopping your main character from getting what they want?

HOW does your main character proceed? In a query, you don't want to give away the ending (though you do in a synopsis), but you do need to explain what your main character has to do. Whether it's a decision or an action, make sure that's clear.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

V is for viewpoint on ASD #autism - Meet Rebecca L. Brown in this Debut Author Spotlight #AtoZchallenge

Debut Author Spotlight from @JLenniDorner on @OpAwesome6

Flying at Night by Rebecca L. Brown

1- What's your speed-reading WPM?

I've never actually calculated it, but I read very fast. When I'm not writing I can easily read a novel a week, but I've been doing a lot of writing for the last few years.

2- What five words represent your most notable characteristic or values? #In5Words

loves hard and laughs hard

3- What ignited your passion for writing?

I've always loved to read and since I was a child felt like I had my own stories to tell. My grandma (now passed away) held on to a page turner I wrote about a naughty leprechaun in second graded and said that was the moment she knew I would be a writer!

4- Would you share a picture with us of one of your DIY projects?

Meet Rebecca L. Brown in this Debut Author Spotlight

5- What are some of your short and long term writing goals?

Short term writing goal: to finish the rough draft of book two by 4/15! thirty pages to go! Long term writing goal: to make a career out of writing!

6- What's one thing about the autism spectrum you want more people to know?

I want people to know that it truly is a spectrum. My own son would have been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome not that long ago, but now his diagnosis is High Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder. No two people with ASD are the same. There is no "normal". My son is emotionally intelligent, but rigid in his thinking. He's articulate, but has had periods of fixation on certain subjects (when he was younger). Please know that if someone seems a little socially awkward, blunt, or uninterested in you, it may be a huge success that they are talking to you at all. My son sometimes comes off as if he doesn't care about the person he is talking to, but actually the nuances of conversation are difficult for him.

7- What is your favorite book (by someone else), and what do you love most about that book?

I have so many favorite books that it's so hard for me to pick one! I'll go with an unpopular choice: We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. This book is hard, tough, gritty and disturbing with a capital D and I've read it three times. I started marking up my copy whenever I found a perfect sentence and stopped when every page was covered in yellow highlighter. The writing continues to blow me away. The characters range from sometimes awful to always awful (plus one innocent that you know isn't going to make it to the end of the book!). No matter how awful they are, they're crafted with such precision and perfection that I continue to read and read over again.

8- Who is currently your biggest fan? What does that person love most (or "ship") about your debut novel?

I have been so lucky to have so many friends and family that have fallen in love with my little book. I'll go back to the beginning. I started this book in a summer novel writing intensive with author Susanna Daniel and a group of other unpublished authors. There was a writer in the group and we instantly connected. Curt Hanke was the book's earliest and loudest cheerleader. When I started querying the book and got rejected he offered to start up a printing press to print himself because he believed in it so strongly. Every writer should have such love and support!

9- What emotions do you hope your book will evoke for the reader, and is there a particular scene you hope will resonate with readers?

I hope that the reader will feel a lot of things, including conflicted! I wanted to write characters that weren't perfect and sometimes did things you didn't agree with. I wanted to write characters that would make your feelings about them confusing. For instance, Isaac, nine year old Fred's father and Piper's husband is an absent father who is away doing great things for people who have been convicted of a crime they did not commit. Can he still be considered a great father if he is never around? Does his work on behalf of those less fortunate excuse him? Is Piper right to resent him? I love tricky questions!

10- What most helped you to improve your writing craft?

There are a few things. First this is the 4th book I've written and the first to get published, though I had an agent for another. I believe that I've become a better writer with each one simply because I've got more words under my belt. The class I took with Susanna Daniel was a wonderful learning experience. I would recommend that if possible writers seek out writing programs or classes in their area. Lastly, I read a lot. In Stephen King's book "On Writing" he says that one of the most important jobs of a writer is to read and I take that very seriously. Every time I read a book I try to learn something from it, even if it's not my favorite. Some writers are amazing at describing a place or time period. Some writers strength is dialogue, some it's plot pacing or character details. There's always something to learn from other's writing.

11- Would you tell us something about the dog in FLYING AT NIGHT?

Chuck Yeager! What a dog! He doesn't die at the end. I am a huge lover of dogs. We have two rescue dogs and if I had my way we'd probably have ten. I'm one of those people who can't read a book where the dog dies, so I'll always write about dogs but they won't die. Chuck Yeager is a composite of several of the dogs we have owned. Dogs that were quirky to the point of being annoying, but you couldn't help but love anyway. We did have one dog who walked into a rental vacation home and promptly lifted his leg and peed on the couch!

Meet Rebecca L. Brown in this Debut Author Spotlight

12- What is the most memorable trait or visual oddity of one of your characters?

I think I would have to say that the most memorable trait is Fred'stream of consciousness style of communication. He will go on and on about WW II or something but then right at the end circle back around to something relevant to his own experiences.

13- In what ways are the main characters in your book diverse? #WeNeedDiverseBooks

The diversity in Flying at Night comes from the subject matter of people with disabilities. I hope to put a human face on a condition that many people don't know much about. Some people have told me that they thought autism was "Rainman", they didn't know there was a whole very diverse spectrum. It was important to me also to include an adult character with ASD because I feel like so much of what we hear about ASD concerns children. I wanted to show what life might be like for one individual on the spectrum. My own experience with ASD and the experience portrayed in the book represent just one person's understanding and viewpoint, so I don't purport to speak for the ASD community in any way. I just want to bring understanding to ASD and show that children and adults on the spectrum feel, love, hurt and laugh too. They are people just like anyone else. When we had to explain my son's diagnosis to him we told him it meant that his brain worked differently and somethings would be harder for his brain, but some things might be easier too and every person on earth has the same experience: strengths and weaknesses.

#atozchallenge V

14- Which character has your favorite Personality Contradiction?

Fred of course! On the surface, in the way he talks and some of his physical actions he may seem flat and lacking affect, but inside he is incredibly emotionally aware and deeply in tune with other people, though he may not have relationships with many people.

15- Does your book hold a mirror up to society, and in what way?

Hmmm. Interesting question. I think that it does in a small way. The three main characters are coming from very different life experiences and already have preconceived notions about each other in some cases. Are those preconceived notions wrong? Can someone change? How do you love and care for someone that had always treated you badly? I think the book asks a lot of important questions about topics that go beyond the scope of one family.

16- Can you think of any small change in the world you could make to benefit hundreds of other authors or readers potentially?

Mandatory time every day to create, no matter what you make! I think being a "maker" in some way is satisfying in a way that a lot of work isn't. Also mandatory time every day to read! There's so much to be learned from reading and everyone could benefit from that!

17- As a reader, what most motivates you to buy a new book to read?

I'm a very visual person. I love art and color and am very attracted to beautiful things, especially artfully done beautiful things. I hate to contradict the old adage, but I am most likely to pick up a book because I am attracted to it visually. There are book covers that are pieces of art themselves and I'll be drawn to pick them up. I love interesting typography and I'm pretty certain I was a graphic artist in a past life. Then I read the inside jacket copy and if that looks interesting I read what other authors say about it on the back cover. I also rely on recommendations from people I know have the same loves and interests as I do.

18- How will you measure your publishing performance?

It's been a dream of mine to publish a book for so long. I've always wanted to put a book into the world that meant something to people and reached a good number of people. I'm a perfectionist who's very hard on myself so I'm trying to think about the success of this book as touching one person at a time. If someone feels moved by the book in some way I feel like it has succeeded. Reading reviews makes me obsess over why I can't please everyone, so my husband reads them for me! I would love to reach a lot of people with this book because I really believe in it, but at the same time I feel like just getting to the point of publication alone has been such a huge success for me! I don't want to forget that!

19- What was the deciding factor in your publication route?

I was always determined to see my book on a book shelf in a book store. For some people that's not important and it may make for an easier and shorter process not to care about being on a shelf in a physical store. I grew up in book stores and libraries (my mom was a librarian for almost thirty years so I was always reading and perusing books.) The writers who had their names on the fronts of those books were celebrities to me, heroes and it was always my dream to be among them.

20- What's the best book marketing strategy you've come across?

I have been so incredibly lucky to have a marketing team at Berkley that has worked overtime to get my little book on the radar. I'm not even sure how they work their magic but I've been so happy to have them on my team. I really do think that talking to as many people as possible about your book, in person, in media, on social media is the best way to spread the word. Opportunities like this to talk about my book are wonderful ways to get readers interested which leads to them reading it which hopefully leads to them recommending it to others which hopefully makes the cycle continue!

21- What is one question or discussion topic which you would like the readers of this interview to answer or remark on in the comments?

I can't think of a single one. I hope that everyone finds something to relate to and think about after they read this book and interview. My biggest hope for the comments section is kindness! Kindness to the author, the interviewer and most importantly to other commentators. In the last year I've tried really hard to not jump to conclusions about comments I don't like/agree with, even the particularly unkind ones. I'm trying to view them with kindness in my heart and understanding that you never know what someone may be going through at any time. Kindness always wins!

22- Anything else you would care to share about your book and yourself?

I can be found on twitter @rlbrownbooks, on the web at and on facebook as rlbrownbooks (rebecca brown)

Meet Rebecca L. Brown in this Debut Author Spotlight Meet Rebecca L. Brown in this Debut Author Spotlight

Flying at Night by Rebecca L. Brown