Monday, October 19, 2020

Query Questions Interview with Megan Barnard

Writers have copious amounts of imagination. It's what makes their stories so fantastic. But there's a darker side to so much out-of-the-box thinking. When a writer is in the query trenches, their worries go into overdrive. They imagine every possible disaster.

Here to relieve some of that endless worrying is a series called Query Questions. I'll ask the questions which prey on every writer's mind, and hopefully take some of the pain out of querying. These are questions that I've seen tossed around on twitter and writing sites. They are the type of questions that you need answers from the real expert--agents!

I'm so happy to bring Query Questions back from the dead with new interviews. Since I stopped doing interviews, a whole new crop of agents have settled into the business, and I'm sure people would like to know more about them.

Thanks to Megan Barnard with The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency for starting us off!

Is there a better or worse time of year to query?

Not for me! I tend to look at queries in batches--and that’s usually just when I have time. I might be slower to respond during the holidays, but I always respond to every query and submission I receive.


Do you look at sample pages without fail or only if the query is strong?

I would say 80% of the time I look at sample pages--I know how hard it is to write a query! The only time I wouldn’t look at the pages is if the book is in a genre I don’t represent, or it totally disregards my guidelines.


How open are you to writers who have never been published?

I’m totally open to unpublished writers! I love working on debut novels and helping guide new writers’ careers, so send your debuts my way!

The dreaded rhetorical question in a query. Are they as taboo as the rumors say?

I don’t reject queries because there’s a rhetorical question in the query. A lot of agents don’t like rhetorical questions because we get them so often, and I think there’s usually a more interesting way to put the question, so I would just really think about whether you need that rhetorical question before you send your query.

How important are comp titles? Is it something you want to see in a query? Are movie/tv reference okay as comp titles?

Comp titles are really helpful for me because it helps me picture where your book would sit on a bookshelf. Movie/TV references are fine as comp titles, though you do generally want at least one book (published within the last 3-5 years) as one of your comps. 

Do you prefer a little personalized chit-chat in a query letter or would you rather hear about the manuscript?

I don’t really care either way! If you comp to a book I recently tweeted about that can be nice especially since I usually say if I’m looking for something similar, but I don’t reject queries if they’re not personalized.


How do you feel about writers nudging on full/partial requests? At what point is it appropriate? 

I answer all queries and submissions. I try to respond to all queries within 6 weeks, and full/partials within three months. After that, it’s totally fine to nudge and never bothers me. I’d say give most agents at least three months with requested submissions (but check their guidelines first!) but tell all queried agents about offers of representation as soon as you get one.

When a writer nudges with an offer, what length of time is helpful to give you enough time to consider? A week? Two weeks?

I’d say at least 10 days, but two weeks is great as it gives agents a bit more time to read.

Many agents say they don't care if writers are active online. Could a twitter account or blog presence by a writer tip the scales in getting a request or offer? And do you require writers you sign to start one?

I don’t care about social media for fiction writers. Platform is really important for nonfiction, so you do want to be active on social media if you’re writing nonfiction. I think it’s important for fiction writers to have some kind of social media as it can help them connect with readers, but it’s something we can work on and build slowly. 


If a writer makes changes to their manuscript due to feedback should they resend the query or only if material was requested?

I’m always happy to get read a new query if the manuscript has been significantly revised. 

Do you look at trends or editor wishlists when deciding to sign a manuscript?

If I love something, I’ll sign it. Trends and wishlists change so quickly in publishing that only trying to rep books that fit certain molds would be a nightmare! I do look at wishlists when thinking about what editors to submit to, but that’s after I’ve offered representation.

Do you consider yourself a hands-on, editorial type of agent? Does a manuscript have to be sub-ready or will you sign stories that need work?

I’m an editorial agent. I have a background in editing, so if I love something but think it needs work, that wouldn’t necessarily turn me off. It just depends whether I have a specific vision for what a revision would look like.  


What is your biggest query pet peeve? Is there anything that automatically sinks a query for you?

I automatically reject queries for books in genres and categories I don’t represent. I’ll also reject them if I don’t get an actual query, like just a synopsis or pages where the query should be. Otherwise, I don’t reject things for minor typos or small things like that.


What three things are at the top of your submission wish list?

·         Historical fantasy like Circe or The Snow Child.

·         Nonfiction that combines memoir and nature writing like The Outrun or The Salt Path.

·         Lyrical literary fiction like The Island Child or The Good People.


What are some of your favorite movies or books to give us an idea of your tastes?

Books: The Lake House by Kate Morton, Circe by Madeline Miller, The Island Child by Molly Aitken, Inferno by Catherine Cho, I’m Telling the Truth But I’m Lying by Bassey Ikpi, A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson.

Movies/TV: The Office, Schitt’s Creek, The Crown, New Girl, Downton Abbey, Top Chef, La La Land, The King’s Speech, Pride and Prejudice, Anne of Green Gables, About Time.

Megan joined The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency as an Associate Literary Agent in 2020, after interning for nearly three years at several top literary agencies, including P.S. Literary Agency and Folio Literary Management. She has worked as an editor and copywriter and has a BA in English (with a concentration in Creative Writing) from Hollins University. When not working, she runs, drinks coffee, and travels widely. Her favorite places to read across the globe are Île Saint-Louis in Paris, Pacific Grove, CA, and Portmagee, Ireland. In reality, though, she spends most of her free time shuffling her towering stacks of books around so they don’t kill her or her husband.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Pandemic: When You Feel Sick, The Beginning

So I've started journaling about my experiences during the pandemic of 2020. This is the second post and covers the period I became sick.

I started the second week off work about the same as the first week, cleaning. People at home were either cooking or cleaning. I'd picked cleaning and had already washed all the throw rugs and the downstairs curtains. There had been some changes in our state. The governor had closed schools officially on March 19th. At this point they were shut down until May 1st. Of course, that didn't last either.

Everything was up in the air during this time. It was the time of rapid changes. Governor Holcomb announced on Friday, March 20th (my daughter's birthday) that all nonessential businesses would close on the upcoming Tuesday. Nobody knew for sure what an essential business was. Some things were obvious: healthcare providers, grocery stores, and pharmacy. But it included a lot of other things, including building trades. My husband and his boss and co-workers were trying to decide whether that included them. 

Together, they voted to work on Tuesday, the day of the closures. Parts of the county were closed down to all but essential travel, other parts were open. People were learning slowly what they should do and what they shouldn't. Could we go for drives if we stayed in our cars? Could we go to the parks if we kept apart? Playgrounds were closed. State parks became free as nobody now manned the gate.

Our school preschool playground taped closed.

The term social distancing became a thing. What had been allowable, groups of fifty became groups of ten and then no groups at all. Stay six feet apart. Grocery stores put marks on the floor to show us where to line up to keep apart. 

Everything was uncertainty and fear. Stories of covid-19 survivors had yet to float around social media to remind us that most people weren't going to die. If you caught the disease at this point, everyone assumed the worst would happen.

Tests seemed to be things for famous people. Actors like Tom Hanks got tested. NBA stars got tested. Politicians got tested. Ordinary people not so much. As I found out first hand.

Tuesday March 24 we started shelter at home. My husband, as an essential worker, went to work.  I read the paper and started washing the bedroom curtains. I worked a puzzle. I ate lunch. At home. Alone.

Soon after lunch, I felt different. I got that feeling behind my eyes, my head felt hot. How do you describe a fever? You just know when you have one. We'd thrown out our digital thermometer a few weeks ago. It just wasn't accurate. I put in a new battery, but it was too hard to use. Too hard to get an accurate reading because you had to hit the exact right spot on your temple. Impossible.

Instead we had an ancient mercury thermometer I inherited from my parents. There weren't any left in stores.

I got out that blast from my past and checked. Well, waited three minutes for the reading to take and then checked. That little silver line had shot up to the 1 in 100. 

I had a fever. 

I texted my husband as I considered what to do. Feeling sick not just from the fever. I'd had a dry cough all winter. I always have a dry cough all winter when I first get up. That cough had lately been kind of an all-day thing. Just there. Not really bothersome. Now with a new meaning. 

I'd felt a weight on my chest for a few days. Probably everyone had. It was stress; it was panic; it was too much time listening to the news. Or was it.

Those were the three symptoms given at that time to watch for. Fever. Cough. Shortness of breath or pressure in the chest. I had all three. 

My husband texted me back. The frantic fear coming through the three short words: On my way.

All his co-workers packed up. That's what the word "fever" did. It had power. They got their tools and went home. They would stay home for the next two weeks, even though they had never been near me.

News reports said symptoms began to show from five to twelve days from point of contact. It had been eleven days since I worked in an elementary school full of children.

As our doctor had retired this year and we hadn't found another, I called one of the three hotlines for our county for those without providers. They answered promptly. I wasn't put on hold. Things went fast and I had a tele-medicine appointment with a doctor for three o'clock. I'd get an email with a link.

I put on some zen meditation music and went back to my puzzle. I got the curtains from the dryer and hung them up. My husband came home and felt my head, hugged me. I took my temp another million times, using the oven timer to record when three minutes had passed. The silver line stayed at 100. (I remembered you did have to shake the thing down and it still went to 100.)

Three o'clock came and I followed the link and clicked the prompts. I waited for the doctor to show. Words can't describe the emotions. Nerves. Fear. I was hot and cold at the same time, another symptom. My head and body hot. My hands, arms, and back cold.

The doctor came on. Asked about my symptoms. I could obviously carry on a conversation at this point. I had the breath to speak in complete sentences. The video showed my cheeks were red. More signs of the fever. I coughed a little. Told them it was dry cough. No, I hadn't coughed anything up. No, I didn't have any phlegm or congestion. No vomiting or diarrhea. 

He asked if I'd traveled. No. Had I been in contact with anyone who tested positive for Covid-19? Not that I knew, but I did work in a school. He told me tests results were taking five days to return. He said I would be well before the results came back. He said call back if I have trouble breathing. That was it. No test for me.

Honestly, I didn't want to be a bother. I didn't want to be around the health workers who were risking their lives and maybe make them sick. Take their time away from sicker patients. I let it go and took some Tylenol. 

I was feverish all day and evening. I stayed on the couch with a blanket and watched Love Island and then probably a movie. My husband kept me company. That night, I woke feeling hot, yet craving more blankets. It was the kind of hot that felt good. I wanted to be hot to kill the virus. I remember being sweaty. I slept well.

The next morning and all day Wednesday no fever. I began to notice that I felt winded after talking. I could still have conversations but now I felt breathy. The pressure on my chest was still there. It didn't come and go as my stress levels grew or diminished. It stayed constant. The cough didn't get worse. It really never bothered me.

We stayed home. We did some things. I got up and showered and acted like normal. I had more appetite than normal. I felt hungry all the time. I wandered around the yard and looked at the plants starting to poke up from the dirt. My husband cleaned up leaves and I picked up a few.

That night I woke at 3 am feeling like I couldn't breathe. I was breathing but it didn't feel like it was doing any good. There wasn't enough air. The panic I felt certainly didn't help. The humidifier running in the room wasn't helping. I got some water, walked around. It didn't get better. I have a history of stuffy nose at night. It is something that happens to me every night. Having plugged-up nostrils didn't help either. I tried counting my breaths and paying attention to each one. Telling myself I was obviously breathing. It didn't help.

Then I remembered we had a full bottle of Vicks VapoRub. The home medicine my grandmother had put on us when we were little. She used to rub it on our chest at night and then safety pin a wash cloth to our nightgowns to keep them clean. My mother would put it under our noses when we were sick. We had a bottle my daughter had bought for a cold and left here. She liked to take off the lid and sniff the vapors. 

I got the bottle. Put some under my nose. My stuffy nose opened. I started to relax. The scent of Vicks VapoRub was safety. It was home. It was family. I thank God for that bottle of Vicks. I have used it every night for the last weeks and still use it as my symptoms sometimes persist even three weeks later. Somehow with that and counting my breathing I got back to sleep.  

Then next day, Thursday the fever returned in the morning. It stuck around all day and that night. It was under 100. I decide to call the hotline again. This time I got a different doctor and I didn't have to wait two hours. She video chatted with me inside of 15 minutes. She had a lot more sympathy. I admit I broke down describing how I had felt unable to breath the night before. How I felt winded when talking. Admitted it was scary. She asked the same questions. What was my cough like? Had I traveled? Had I been in contact with anyone positive. Same answers. She said it was now taking eight days to get results. Same script. I would be well before results came in. I appeared to be mild. How many deep breaths could I draw in fifteen seconds. I did four. She said that was good. Call back if it gets worse. 

That was the last time I tried to get tested. 

The fever kept on all Thursday. Just noticeable. Not as bad as Tuesday but ever present. Again I moved around my house as normal. Got dressed. Followed my routine but staying inside. Rested on the couch. Watched TV. Several times I woke in the night feeling unable to breath, but not as bad as the first time. I had my Vicks now.

Friday morning started out with more fever. That vanished by lunch. The doctor had said to isolate until my symptoms disappeared. That seemed too vague now. Until my cough went away? But I had a cough all winter. It always lasted until the furnace got turned off and the air had more humidity. Turning off the furnace was weeks away where we lived. We were getting short on food.

My sister risked herself to go to the store and get us some groceries. She left them outside our door and we talked to her through the window as she stood way back. 

Saturday the fatigue hit. No fever. Little cough. Still a weight on my chest. Still sort of breathless when I talked. We tried to take our dogs for a walk. Something safe to do as the streets were deserted and there's lots of open space. Something we usually do two or three times a day for at least a mile. We are big walkers. I'm not in bad shape. The elementary school a block away was always deserted now. We headed there. I began to get tired. My heart beat faster than normal. I struggled. I couldn't talk. We headed back and I wondered if I could make it. Inside our gate, I dropped into a deck chair, exhausted. I would sit there ten minutes before I recovered enough to go inside. I had gained a new symptom.

Another came a few hours later as we watched a movie. I didn't share it with my husband as it was too scary to talk about. My neck felt thick and tender. It gradually occurred to me I had swollen glands in my neck now. Not going to lie, that freaked me out all over again.

The fever never came back, my swollen neck was mostly gone the next morning, but the drastic fatigue lasted several more days. I continued to wake up at night, feeling like I couldn't breathe enough. It wasn't until like a week later that I drew in some really deep breaths and realized that I hadn't been doing that for days and days. I hadn't noticed that I really wasn't able to breath deeply. When the doctor had me count my deep breaths that first week, they were actually pretty shallow. Breathing is something you take so much for granted that I wasn't able to compare how I used to breathe to how I was now breathing. 

The shallow breathing was gone and I hadn't figured it out until the deep breathing came back. 

Day five and then day eight passed, days when people's breathing often got worse as reported on the news. Mine didn't. I was able to remind myself this must be a mild case. I wasn't going to die. That was a big thing toward my recovery.

The pressure vanished from my chest. When I woke with a stuffy nose, I was able to go back to sleep quickly. I could take our lonely isolated walks without needing to rest afterward. I felt almost normal at times.

But it didn't leave entirely. Whether it is from stress or from whatever I had, I still have episodes when the pressure comes back. When I feel winded. Even over three weeks out, where we are now, it still happens.

Now I wonder about anti-body testing. Would it show I have anti-bodies if I could get one? Am I maybe immune now? As far as I know, there aren't any tests for that in our part of Indiana yet. Or only for critical care workers. Will I ever know? I don't know. I could be out helping, possibly immune.

When I think about it now I feel angry. Really angry and I don't get angry often. I had all the symptoms and still was denied a test. Because there weren't enough tests. Now I am left to constantly wonder. 

Am I immune and don't know it? Though no one really knows how immunity works or even if it truly exists yet. People in South Korea had relapses after testing positive and became positive again. Nobody knows. Maybe immunity only lasts a week. Maybe I have it. Maybe I don't. Maybe I'll never know.

In the three weeks since I got sick, the world has spun out of control and also stabilized. Staying home and hearing bad news has become the normal. Events unfold a little more slowly without all the drastic closings, though the Summer Olympics were rescheduled for a year from now. Indiana schools lost the entire rest of the 2019/2020 year. All the stores except essential services are closed now. Basically that means just the retail clothing stores are closed. Hardware stores are still open. Car repair. Oil changes. I did a drive-up drop-off for my dog to get his shots. No contact. Just a masked worker taking my dog away, pay over the phone and talk to the vet, and then my pet returned. We wash our hands after getting the mail. We wash our hands after getting the newspaper. We put packages in the basement for a few days to "cool" off. 

We go to get groceries once a week (try to only go once anyway) and pick up my mom's prescriptions by drive through. We wipe down the ATM with Clorox wipes before inserting our checks.

After two weeks we considered my symptoms gone. My husband's small group of four went back to work, nervously, but they started a new house. 

Wisconsin was forced to vote in person by the Supreme Court and stood in long lines to exercise their rights. I cried for them. I cried for essential workers and medicals experts. I cried for our mail woman. I cried for the people on Twitter announcing they lost family members. I told grocery workers thank you with new feeling. It is easy to cry during these weeks. Not just for me. For a lot of people.

The state park campgrounds closed and I will miss camping. Seniors lost their graduations and their proms.

Bernie Sanders dropped out of the race by video and Biden stands alone. Democrats talk about voting by mail in November. The president refused to fund a failing postal system--at least at this point. Bad news after bad news, though we still share good news. 500,000 recovered, maybe including me. I enjoy people sharing their Animal Crossing stories (Can't get my own game. There are no Switch to be found.) Christopher Walken reading Where the Wild Things Are as only he can. A singalong show of stars singing Disney songs. Those are the things that entertain us.  

Stimulus money of $1200 per person is starting to arrive. I pray for the people suffering without jobs and the people suffering who have lost loved ones. The people who have gotten sick and the people who will get sick.   

The numbers have risen drastically. Over 600,000 infected in the U.S. Over two million world wide. Deaths nearing 30,000 in the U.S. New York maybe reaching their plateau. The virus is in two local nursing homes and the retirement convent of nuns at the college I attended thirty years ago. There are six deaths in our county and over 300 who have tested positive. 

Protesters march in Michigan who want to get their hair done and buy fertilizer, virus be damned. 5.5 million more unemployment claims. Over 6 million unemployed in the week before this. So many I can't keep track of the totals. The stock market is up and then down. It's April 16th and everywhere is talk of re-opening, despite not having testing. 

For me, I don't want to re-open yet. It's too soon. I want an anti-body test. I want to know. Perhaps I should have tried harder. Perhaps I did the right thing by staying home. We are in the nobody really knows stage. Nobody really knows if they are sick. If they are immune. What will happen next. I don't think this world will get any easier anytime soon.

They are also studies that we will have to social distance until 2021. That there will be no concerts or in-person sports events for a year or more. That this could last a long, long time. I don't want that either.  

It snowed yesterday in the middle of April. Today the snow is gone and the sun is shining. The sky is a summer blue. The grass is growing and will need mowed soon. The flowers are coming up despite the cold. I think our cold snap will pass and we will stand up again someday, too.   


Friday, April 10, 2020

Pandemic: The Beginning, A Story of Three Polls

The covid-19 epidemic of spring 2020, it seems that everything happened in a blur of speed, yet at the same time crept up as a series of gradual changes. Somehow the days now feel like both were true. We saw it coming and yet we didn't. For me what stands out wasn't being furloughed from my job--first for two weeks, then for two months, then for the rest of the school year, but the results of three polls.

It all started with short news stories of a sickness in China in January and February. Barely a thing to be marveled at. Entirely too far away to be meaningful to people going about their lives or concentrating on the impeachment of the president. But then the sickness hit in other countries. Iran. South Korea. Italy. And the story got bigger. We began to hear wash your hands, use hand sanitizer, avoid crowds.

By the time we thought to buy hand sanitizer, the stores were all out of them. After working at a school for year and years, I searched my dresser, my desk, my purse, and came up five travel-size bottles. Some still full. I had friends who are kindergarten teachers with stock piles of the stuff in their classrooms and borrowed a pump-sized bottle. We felt rich, but most people hadn't noticed the disease yet.

At work, school went on as normal. Co-workers were beginning to wonder if they should cancel their plans for Spring Break in April, to skip that trip to Florida. I saw a tweet from Hillary Clinton in late February from Scientific America that mentioned stocking up for two weeks of groceries. We stopped going out except to the grocery store. I bought frozen food, canned chicken, extra snack, and paper towels. I grabbed one of the last containers of Clorox Wipes. Notably: I didn't grab toilet paper.

There were cases popping up in the U.S. in some states, but not everywhere.

And on Friday, March 6th, I created my first Twitter poll. 

It asked one simple question: How often are you going out? Are you moving about as usual? Taking only needed trips? Or have you become the world's newest hermit? It was funny. A joke. I never thought it would get real.

Here were the results from March 6th:

72.2% Going out as usual
24.4% Only taking needed trips
3.3% Were hermits

As most of my followers are writers and writers are often introverts, I thought the poll might have a slight lean toward hermits. I was surprised most people were going out as usual. After all, coronavirus had hit the US now. People were dying in Washington state. It was starting to appear in other states. Testing had started and was entirely too limited. Many people hadn't notice. The president had called it a hoax. Had said it would disappear. My stuffed pantry said I wasn't so sure.

The week of March 9th we made more visits to the groceries stores. Three or four people wore masks. We had been using hand sanitizer heavily after we left any public place. We washed our hands when we got home. We stocked up, more. Shelves began to empty. I got one of the last packages of toilet paper at Meijers--Angel Soft Lavender Scent. I just took one because this is America. Why would I need to keep extra in my basement when someone else might need it?

Italy went on lock down. The epicenter had moved from China to Italy. 

This is the week colleges told students to go home. They pulled classes and put them online. University after university followed suit. They'd brought foreign students home the weeks before, from China, from Europe. I remember Purdue closing, then Indiana University, followed by Michigan State, our own local Notre Dame went next, followed by Saint Marys. All closed within days. Public schools in other states began to close for two weeks. Our school librarian had grandchildren in Portland and there was a case at their school. Another co-worker had her sister's Indianapolis school close for cleaning after a case.

Events closed: the NBA shut down their season, high school sports went without an audience, spring training stopped, concerts cancelled. The local theater stopped the Broadway showing of the Lion King. Movie theaters tried to spread out patrons and then gave up and closed. Sport after sport cancelled. No more, college basketball, no March Madness, goodbye hockey, everything but some golf events shut down. Writing conferences were cancelled. Music concerts gone. On and on. So many cancellations.

Another co-worker came in and said stores were empty, no toilet paper to be found. We hurried to the store yet again and found this:

Ramon Aisle

It began to hit home that normal was out the window. When we went to the store I took pictures of the empty shelves. Frozen fruit, vegetables all gone. Nothing in the water aisle. Little flour, sugar, and no yeast, few eggs. Some cleaning supplies were gone but others plentiful. Few tissues, paper towels, and little toilet paper. Canned food gone. Feeling scared or anxious became the normal state.

Water Aisle


Paper products

Last time we saw cleaning wipes
On one bright spot our son in Chicago got a work from home notice from his company. Something he could easily do as it's a software design company.

The next day, Thursday, March 12 Governor Holcomb gave schools a 20 day waiver. They could miss 20 of our required 180 days and not have to make them up. Our first local school system closed that afternoon. It wasn't mine. We had our first positive test case in our county. I spent the evening texting my boss with the closing I was seeing on Twitter because she wasn't on social media. Ohio closing all their schools. Michigan closing all their schools. We were still open.

Friday, March 13, I was afraid to go to school for the first time. We had cases here, in our county. Not just in Indianapolis. Teachers didn't follow their regular schedule. We expected to be closed at any moment. They were instructed to send all math and reading work books home with students. All Chrome books for the 6th graders to go home. Teachers were frantically copying packets of worksheets to send home. Our media tech frantically printed up step-by-step instructions on logging into important learning systems for parents and then stapled every child's password and login to the back, an incredible task that I don't know how she managed. Word was we weren't closed because we had so many at risk kids. Kids who needed our lunch and breakfast services. They were working on a solution.

At 2:00 they called all time card staff to the office. Fill out your time card for the rest of the two weeks and bring it down. We were told not to report on Monday. Only the cafeteria staff and custodians would now be the only ones working. Students would be expected to do two online learning days a week. They could drive up between 11 am and 1 to pick up a hot lunch. The plan was to close for two weeks. That wouldn't last.

All evening we got emails from administration, sometimes with conflicting information. We would all be paid during the closure. (Huge sigh of relief) Teachers would switch to on-line learning. Students would be required to complete assignments and report attendance two days a week. 

That night, I did my second twitter poll. There were around 1700 cases in the U.S. The same poll as before. Just one week from the last. The results were a lifetime of difference. We were the same, but everything around us had changed.

23.9% Going out as usual
59.7% Only taking needed trips
16.5% World's newest hermits

Several people said their usual was being a hermit or only needed trips so the results are what they are--unscientific. Still the difference from the last week was stark.

The week of March 16th is the week Governor Holcomb finally closed all schools--just for two weeks. It was my first week at home. My husband's work was slow and the weather uncertain so he stayed home. We made quick trips to the store to get what we could. Everyone now sheltering at home was cleaning A LOT. Doing puzzles. Baking. People posted funny memes about being home. Our pets became our co-workers. People learned how to use Zoom to teleconference and laughed as pets and kids wandered though. We shared our favorite isolation movies. Celebrities did videos of singing from their basements. Nobody wore pants and we laughed about changing from day pajamas to evening pajamas. We were scared, but still had our sense of humor.

We also went to the local craft store and bought two puzzles. We were the only ones in the store and used hand sanitizer and washed as soon as we got home. We put the puzzles aside for days in a sort of quarantine because no one knew for sure how long germs could stay on surfaces. We washed our hands after handling the newspaper or the mail. Oh, and gas prices dropped under $2 a gallon. Way under. First down to $1.80 area and then lower. 

A week and a new escalation. The governor closed restaurants and bars on March 16th. My daughter's fiance lost his chef job. They fired everyone the moment the announcement went live. Most restaurants did. Those with drive-thru or carry out stayed open, but dine-in options were gone. Unemployment was huge, but just getting started. We already hadn't eaten out for weeks. We went nowhere but the grocery store and that one trip for puzzles.

That Friday I did my third and last poll. People were no longer unaware. They were scared. There were 18,000 cases in the U.S. California had gone on lock down. Deaths were being reported. Congress was trying to come up with a relief plan to help. The changes in the poll results again were drastic.

1% Going out as usual
54% Only taking needed trips
45% World's newest hermits

Things had changed, but the worst hadn't begun. Not even close.

The next week I got a fever.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

The PB Party Showcase is Open!

Thank you again for another wonderful PB Party! You picture (and chapter) book writers know how to have a good time. Mindy and I are once again in awe of your talents. Below are some things to remember and the link for the agents and editors and all of you to find the entries.

Commenting on entries is for agents only. If you'd like to cheer or rave about a favorite, please hop over to twitter at the hashtag #PBParty. The party continues there as we celebrate and support our fellow writers. Mindy will continue to have fun prompts for you for a few days.

We are thrilled to have an illustrator's art showcase for the second year. We hope the agents love all the entries and go crazy with their requests. 

Again the entries will be seen on my website, not here on the blog.

Here is the link to the 28 entries and on Thursday at 8 am the art showcase will be added to the group.

Notice once you get there, there is a link to the left in the sidebar (Picture Book Party Spring 2020) which will take you back to the entry start at any time.

Thanks to everyone who entered. Stay tuned to the blog or sign up for my newsletter for future contests. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Announcing the Finalists for the PB Party 2020 Agent/Editor Showcase

Welcome back, everyone!

Make sure you read to the end for the list of winners of another great contest from our rhyming expert, Lori Degman. 

Just like last year, Mindy and I gave this much thought and fought for a good variety of stories and artwork. We kept an eye out for diversity, but also for unique concepts or interesting methods. We consult with the agents on what they are looking for and what might not be selling at the moment. We found entries that made us laugh and those that made us cry. You, the writers, are amazing!

There were way more fantastic entries than there are spots. We had so much trouble narrowing down the field. In fact, we were making the last picks just this morning. 

And we did increase our "budget" of entries because we had so many agents and editors signed up this year. Plus everyone needs a dose of happy right now. So we will have 29 entries! 

Before the reveal, I just want to remind everyone that contests are for fun and meeting other writers, building contacts. In no way are they a reflection on a story. There are only 29 picks out of 526 entries. Maybe people have entered contests and gotten no love, only to get an agent from the query slush--like me. For one thing, we are limited to the number of picks we can showcase, while an agent is not. So keep querying, keep writing those adorable picture and chapter books.

It's very tough. I know the disappointment. Hugs. Use it to keep going.

Please if your title is on the list, watch my blog early on Wednesday and check your entry for typos or formatting problems. Let me know as soon as possible what needs fixed either commenting here or @ me on twitter. All the writer showcase posts will be up before 8 am.

So here are the 29 picks for the Writer Showcase, listed in no particular order and color coded like a rainbow just for fun.

Little Robot's First Day
Into the Deep : The Mysteries of the Mariana Trench
Magnificent Mary: The Story of Olympic Boxer M. C. Mary Kom
Moon Bug, The Spotted Zebra
Luna's Green Pet
Cecy Speaks Spanish
A Pair of Plastic Bags
Iggy Crane: The Case of the Missing Bolt
Arabella's Space Webs: The True Story of a Space Spider
Ashe on the Outside
Hannah's Hair
Say Goodbye Hairy Fly
Chicken Coupe
Massimo: The Mighty Thundercloud
A Weed's Worth
Sergeant Diggs and the New Recruit

Arlette Best, Magical Pet Sitter
Diwali Away from Home 
Let's Go Adventuring
Lord Fluffington
Sky Pie
The Loud Librarian
The Underwater Guide to Starting a Rock Band
Dear Human
Always Be Yourself
Sincerely, Seahorse
Firefly Surprise

For finalists only, if you want your entry deleted after the agents/editors are done, please leave a comment below so I have a nice neat list of what to take down. If you want to leave your entry that is great too, as others can read next year and get an idea of what works. (All non-finalists will automatically be deleted from our files.)

But wait, there's more! 

Here are the picks for the Illustration Showcase (artwork only), also listed in no particular order and color coded like a rainbow just for fun. These 12 will be posted before 8 am on Thursday. 

Hilda the Aqua Chick
Hector the Inventor
A Different Kind of Nut
Finding Zero
An Otter Failure
As Young Groundhogs Do
Let Me Out!
Wild Wanda
The Go Away Rain Dance
Deal with a Dragon
Belle and the Dancing Robot

(All of these will be removed a few days after the showcase ends.) 

Congrats to the finalists! 

I hope everyone will stick around #PBParty to cheer during the showcase, which lasts three days and starts tomorrow. Mindy and I are going to keep the party flowing with more daily questions each morning. 

Lori's contest winners!

We’ve had so much fun reading your PBParty entries, chatting with you on Twitter…and seeing your hilarious and witty monster manner tips for the giveaway with our PBParty 2020 rhyming pro, Lori Degman. If you are a winner, please DM Lori on Twitter. 

Here’s Lori with the winners:

Let me start by saying thanks to everyone who entered!  These were all fun entries, which made it so hard to choose.  Now, without further ado, here are the winners:

Best Monster Manner and winner of a critique – Heather Kinser @hethfeth

I chose Heather’s entry because it was clever, with fun rhymes and perfect meter!  I liked the extra rhyming line at the end!

Monster dear, do not be rude, when camping in the park
and commandeering hikers’ food discreetly in the dark,
compose a friendly thank you card, explain “it was delicious!”
Before you go, it isn’t hard to wash the dirty dishes . . .
You wouldn’t want your victim to believe you were malicious.

Monster Manner Runner-up and winner of TRAVEL GUIDE FOR MONSTERS – Shira Zwiren @ShiraZwiren

I chose Shira’s entry because it was well-written rhyme and the surprise at the end was subtle and funny!

When coming inside, your feet may track mud,
Or garbage or leaves or animal crud,
But no matter what, if you catch my drift,
Don’t enter a home without bringing a gift!

Honorable mentions – 

Brenda Whitehead @Brenda@_Prof

Monsters, take care not to stare, we can’t all have 3 eyes.
Or purple horns, or 16 arm, or feet of massive size.
Celebrating differences is both polite and fun!
So look your new friend in the eye, say hi, then play and run!

I chose Brenda’s entry because it was imaginative and a timely “be kind” message!

Elizabeth Pagel-Hogal, Author @ElizPagelHogan

Monsters should be seen . . . and heard.

K. Marcus found comp titles! @kmarcuswrites

Monsters please remember to pick up any fingers and toes that may have dropped on the floor while you were eating.

I chose Elizabeth and K. Marcus’ entries because they were both simple, yet funny!

Friday, March 6, 2020

Introducing The Picture Book Party Submission Forms!

Hello! Mindy and Michelle are so happy to welcome you to the last post before submission! You've seen our amazing agents and editors, now it's time to share the Entry Forms!

Please read everything carefully and take your time!

Remember that the submission forms will not unlock until 3:30 pm Eastern time on Monday, March 9th. The forms will stay open for two hours until 5:30 pm Eastern time on March 9th.

If you are unable to access a computer during that time, please don't hesitate to ask a friend or relative to load your information for you! Getting help is not against the rules. With that said, we also suggest you have someone else read your query and excerpt before you send. 

You can not revise your entry once submitted so check, and double, then triple check everything before you hit submit.

After you hit submit, there will be a message saying thank you for entering. That is your confirmation. There will not be an email confirmation. 

Below you will find the links to the entry forms and a repeat of the rules and information you will need to enter. Please check out the FAQ post for answers to other frequent questions.

I will post the chosen finalists a day before the agent round starts. I've no idea what time I will post the results on March 17th, because I'm unsure how many entries we will receive and thus how crazy busy we will be. So stay tuned to hear how many entries we receive.

Also please scroll to the very end of this post where you will find our Twitter Party topics. The Twitter party will start on Monday, March 9th and go through March 17th. This is where we hang out and have fun and talk about our love for picture books! Please join us there at #PBParty!

The Links:

Please note there are links to two different forms to load your information to PB Party: one for author/illustrators to include a place for images and another for everyone else. Do not use both!

PLEASE SLOW DOWN and read this again! Do not pick the wrong form. Take the time to get it right.

Please note there are two different forms to load your information to PB Party: one for author/illustrators and another for everyone else. Do not use both!

For author/illustrators only use this link:

You MUST have a Google account to use this link. Make sure you have one (and know how to log into it) before the short submission window opens. This is ONLY for author/illustrators who are including illustration samples!!!

For EVERYONE ELSE use this link:

(Note: this link will NOT allow you to include illustrations.)

The Rules:

Please follow this blog by clicking the "Follow" button in the left sidebar under the Followers app. Or if that is stubborn and won't work, you can subscribe to Michelle's newsletter or follow @Michelle4Laughs and @MindyAlyseWeiss on Twitter. If you aren't on Twitter, Mindy will have updates on her Facebook. Or do all four options. We will be tweeting hints and advice as well as partying!

NEW THIS YEAR: You may send ONE entry and only one entry. We got so many entries last year (818!) that we need to scale down this year. Only one entry will be chosen per person, meaning if you are picked for the story part of the contest, you will not be picked for the illustration showcase. Any attempt to cheat will result in entries thrown out (and sadly it has happened in the past.) 

On March 9th at 3:30 pm Eastern the submission window opens and the Google form will go live for two hours. 

You will see a thank you for submitting as a confirmation of entry.

1. This contest is for unagented writers and writer/illustrators with finished and polished manuscripts. They must be ready to submit if requested by an agent or editor. 

2. Also, if you have had an agent in the past, but no longer have one, you may enter. Or if you are traditionally published without an agent. 

3. If you have submissions, including fulls out, with other agents or editors, you may enter PB Party. But please let us know if you receive an offer during the contest time. This happened last year-we celebrated the great news and made room in the final round for a couple more dazzling entries!

4. If you have self-published other stories--but not this one--you may enter.

5. If a manuscript or illustration was featured in PB Party or a previous contest showcase anywhere in the last year--congrats--but we'd rather not see it. Send us something agents haven't already seen in a contest. 

Info you need for the Submission Form:

In Order as they are on the form:

1. Title

2. Sample/Excerpt

Include your first 50-60 words for a picture book, 100 words for chapter books. Do not stop in the middle of a sentence. We will go by the word count given by Word. 

Do not go over 60 words/100 chapter book. (Entries in the past were disqualified for going over.)
Single space and put spaces in between paragraphs. 

For shorter picture books, less than 50 words may be submitted. *Do NOT enter a PB if over half of it is in the sample—you don’t want that much of your work online, even for a few days.

Please use all caps for titles as the form strips out formatting like italics and bold type.

Art notes count toward your 50 words

Michelle will delete parts of entries after the contest ends for those writers uncomfortable with their work being out there for all to see. Please request this directly to her on Twitter.

3. Query

Your entire query letter. Include everything, including your comps, bio, greeting, closing. Please be sure to note diversity and ownvoices in the query as well. (You may use whatever you want for a greeting. Dear Agent. Dear Michelle and Mindy. But do not address your query to a specific agent or editor.)

Here's the chance to make your entry shine and make the agents and editors fall in love with your words. Dazzle us with your plot and characters, don't just list themes.

Don't worry about including personal information like names, as that will not be copied into the showcase. If you include links in your bio, we will assume those can be made public.

The form scrubs out all formatting. Don't worry, it does this to everyone so all is equal. But for italics you can use all caps for titles (comps). 

4. Word Count (round to nearest ten, hundred for chapter books)

5. Genre Please check all genres for your manuscript—and be sure to let us know if it’s diverse or own voices. If you’re not sure about genre, maybe one of these will help: humor, character driven, metafiction, concept, STEM, STEAM, rhyming, lyrical, board book, fantasy, bedtime, historical fiction, contemporary.

If it’s non-fiction, what type of non-fiction (biography, narrative, etc.) 

There will be a place to check Other and add your own genre.

6. Name In case we need to contact you.

7. Email Address 

8. Twitter Handle This is optional, but we suggest Twitter is a great place to learn craft information. And a quick way for us to locate finalists.

On the Author/Illustrator Form Only

9. Upload Two Image Files 

Author/Illustrators may upload two illustrations to show an example of your artwork. They should be from the same manuscript and must be illustrated by the author. Please no storyboards.

You will need a Google account to use this form. You might make sure ahead of time that you have one. 

Now for the #PBParty Fun Topics:

Reminder: Don’t forget to include the #PBParty hashtag!

Monday, March 9  All day: Great parties require great food! What’s your main character’s favorite dish or sweet treat? Even if it isn’t in your book, this can help you know your character better. Dig deep and share!  

PM: Congrats and good luck to those who entered PBParty! Tell us what genre you submitted and what other genres you write. How do you make time pass faster while waiting for news?

Tuesday, March 10  AM: Do you listen to music when you write? Have word count goals? Set aside BIC time (butt in chair)? Share your daily writing routine. 

PM: Which authors and illustrators have influenced your manuscripts the most? Tag the authors to make others aware of their amazing books.  

Wednesday, March 11 AM: How do you handle writer's block or your bossy internal editor? How many drafts do you write before you consider a project finished?  

PM: Share your best tips and resources for writing picture books. What were you surprised to learn about the process?

Thursday, March 12 AM: Tell us if your MC is human, animal or something else. What surprised you most about your manuscript?  

PM:  What are your top tips for getting your word count down and making your manuscript sing?

Friday, March 13 AM: Share a favorite line from a story you wrote.

PM: How have contests helped you or your CPs?

Saturday, March 14 AM: What picture book character would you like for a best friend? 

PM: How many manuscripts do you work on at the same time and how do you decide what feedback to use when revising?   
Sunday, March 15 AM: Are you the type to have a book spring into your head, write it down quickly and then take a long time editing your words....or do you spend a long time meticulously planning and drafting?  

PM: Who has helped you through the writing and querying process? Time to share your thanks and spread the gratitude. 

Monday, March 16 AM All Day: Share your favorite picture books and chapter books, current and from childhood. We hope agents and editors will share their favorites…and ones they’ve worked on, too!

PM: What are some great conferences, workshops, classes, and other events for picture book and chapter book writers and author/illustrators?    

Tuesday, March 17  All Day: The finalists will be announced today! Congrats to them…and everyone who entered. You worked hard on your entry and sent new hope out—that definitely makes you a winner in our eyes!

If a ‘no’ gets you down…what helps take the sting away so you can dive back into writing, revising, and submitting?    

Good luck and have fun everyone! If you have any questions, please leave them as comments on this post.