Agent Questions Volume Seven- Comp Titles


Comp Titles


“Comp” titles, or comparable titles, are often requested or required from agent in their queries. Mostly, I believe, because comp titles are important to publishers. Unless it is required, you do not NEED to have comp titles in your query. Let me be clear here, even if you don’t research and find comp titles for your query, you will be asked at some point by a publisher, a fellow author, and/or your agent. If you are asking how many titles you need, the answer is: from one to three titles should suffice.


First, why do agents even need comp titles? The titles you give your agent are going to tell them: A. if you did your research B. if you know the industry C. what editors might be looking for a book like yours. (Editors meaning “acquiring editors” at publishing houses. They are the ones who choose your book and offer it to the publishing house for a decision on publishing it or not.)

Publishers want to know your comp titles because they tell your team who your audience is, and how big your book’s potential might be. Your marketing team will consider sales trajectories, and your sales team (who has about thirty seconds to convince a rep to take your book), can relate your style of writing, or similar plot, or characters by saying, “Fans of Lucy’s Diamond by Scott Hildengarten will enjoy this book because…” Or they can say, “This book is a cross between (or like) Lucy’s Diamond by Scott Hildengarten and Shimmer by Jamie Hassenphlatt.” This gives your book the attention it deserves and shows it possible sales potential.


Okay, it’s important. So how do I choose my titles? Any tips you can share?

  1. Choose a recent title, published by an industry publishing house between one and three years ago.
  2. Choose realistic titles. Books that have had relative success, to show that you are on to something. But avoid big brands (i.e. Harry Potter, Divergent, etc.) and classics (i.e. Moby Dick, Catcher in the Rye) as comparable titles.
  3. Make sure to actually read your comp titles! Industry people will know if you haven’t.
  4. Choose titles that are in the same genre, same form (paperback vs. hardback), and same target audience (unless you are stating that your book is the “teen version” of a certain book).
  5. It is even better if you can add a description of how your book is different (and/or better) than the comp title(s).
  6. Use the tools available to you. Goodreads has an option to put in characteristics of a book and it will show you similar titles. You can also use Amazon’s advanced search function, or look at the bottom of a book listing for “people who liked this also liked…”
  7. You can use authors themselves as comps. i.e. “My writing style is similar to John Green, but my book includes the edginess of Jennifer Wilson’s stories.”
  8. Tip* Movies and tv shows can also be used as comps, but I would refer to the book it came from, and include one other solid comp.


I hope that helps you with the subject of comp titles. Have you chosen your comp titles yet? Did you add them to your query? Do you have any great tips for new authors? Let’s discuss.

All my best,


Agent Questions Volume Six- 7 Do’s for Writer Success


7 DO’s for Writer Success


The bad news is that some writers begin their literary careers doing all the wrong things. How do you know if that’s you? Well, the good news is that making mistakes is important and even beneficial to moving forward. You are going to make mistakes, the question is, are you willing to learn, adapt, and flourish with new skill sets that will catapult you to the finish line?!


  1. So many writers think that calling yourself a writer, makes you a good one. In order to succeed at your publishing goals, you must learn the craft. Am I talking about how to conjugate an adverb? Maybe. I am saying that it can’t hurt to understand the basics of sentence structure. Learn from other writers, read books, soak up all the writing advice you can get. There are great books that can tell you how to do this. With a sense of humor, even. Try this one: It Was The Best of Sentences, It Was The Worst of Sentences by June Casagrande


  1. “I’ll learn as I go.” These people are the kind who think all the advice they need to query can be found on Twitter. To be honest, you can find a lot of information on Twitter, if you are paying attention. Read editor and agent posts, find out their pet peeves, along with their advice on how to do things the right way. Let me make this clear: the right way is to be professional, and do your research. You need to know how to query, but it’s just as important as knowing WHO to query. When you are trying to kill a spider, do you hit it with a tennis racket? (And I’m not talking about those handy, electric ones made for killing bugs.) No. You target your spider, to get the best possible chance of squishing it. You need to know what agents are looking for and where to send your query. Who wants extra rejections from agents who don’t even accept what you’re writing. It’s a waste of your time and theirs. Do your homework. Try making a list from, then go to and record your list of queries.


  1. “That’s a great agency. I’ll just query every agent in that office, someone’s bound to like my book.” No! Never query more than one agent per office. Some agencies will let you query another agent if one says no, but in some agencies, a “no” from one agent equals an office-wide “no.” Only one agent can take your book, and if more than one agent is interested, they are in competition for your book. No one wants to be competing with a fellow officemate. You could possibly lose out on all your queries by querying people in the same agency. Don’t query every agent name you wrote on that cocktail napkin at the writer’s happy hour. Be organized! Know who you queried, their company name, where you contacted them, and what the date was. That way, when you get a response, you can record the response and date. Plan your strategy. By knowing what agents expect of you, you can make the best plan.


  1. Don’t be gullible. Writers are largely emotional people. It fills our cup to hear someone say they love our book. When a publisher says you’re the next thing since J.K. Rowling, and all you have to do is pay a measly $1200 to get published, run. There are dangers all through the industry. Marketing, editing, and publishing scams; people are people, no matter their business, so you have to be smart. Are you seeing a trend in this advice? Educate, inform, teach yourself, and ask intuitive questions. I know it feels good to have someone “love” your work, but you must also have honest writing partners. Look up a “” writing group that meets near you, and join a group that will give you honest critiques. You must hand in a finished manuscript to agents. Not a first draft, not the draft your Nana loved the most, not the book your mom edited for you, unless your mom is a professional editor, without bias. Try this book: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King


  1. “I am going to write a space opera, seven books long. Here’s book two, but I haven’t written anymore.” Um, nope. Pass. Do you know why? First, no one, agent or acquiring editor, will take a book out of series. Whoever publishes book one owns its rights. So, the publisher of book two won’t own the rights to the beginning of the series. They won’t take it. And forget trying to go from a small publishing house to one of the Top 5, it just won’t happen. Though there are always exceptions, don’t hang your career on the hope of being an exception. You are welcome to write series, but plan them out. Have synopses for each book ready for the agent/publisher who wants to know what the whole series entails. Once you understand the “rules” and consequences of the business, though, don’t limit yourself by thinking that books can only be in a series. (Or think that only single books are acceptable.) Challenge your own beliefs, challenge your writing, your editing, push yourself as an artist of words.


  1. “I’m the next L. Ron Hubbard.” / “My book’s not very good, but will you review it?” Which attitude is the correct one? Answer: Neither. You need balance to be a good writer. The most arrogant people often overlook their own mistakes; but will publicly humiliate the authors they know who make their first misstep. They don’t learn because they think they have nothing to be taught, or they don’t know anyone they would take advice from. Conversely, those with too little confidence don’t reach out and take chances. Sometimes they are too timid to submit; and are unable to handle the amount of rejection that every author faces, taking those declines very personally. Your book baby is important to you, it is your child, the art you created from nothing. The piece you have been toiling over for the past five years of your life, through your divorce and your kids’ birthday parties, it almost has a life of its own. For you, querying is personal. Agents seem callous and uncaring. But for an agent, your book is business. It is one of the fifty queries they’ve received so far this morning. If it isn’t a well-written original idea, edited, professionally queried, thought out, and backed by your confidence and passion, it isn’t going to sell. And an agent will know. Most agents can only take on a certain number of books at a time, a certain number of books a year. They must decline up to 98% of their queries. That’s a very narrow window of opportunity. They are looking for the book that is one revision away from going to a publisher and obtaining an advance with a great contract. It’s a business, don’t forget.


  1. “My publisher is going to make sure that I am the most popular book ever.” At this time, it doesn’t matter if you are self- or traditionally published, you need to be prepared to market your own book. Small publishing houses may offer a blog tour of their own existing authors; or have them swap reviews. A large publisher may help you get into brick and mortar stores, and libraries. But book signings, national book clubs, book subscription boxes, literary bloggers, book tours, author swag, anything and everything that you can do for yourself, you will be called to help with, if not do yourself. Use your website, make spreadsheets of contacts/names/dates, call people, spend time on the web… there are two gazillion ways to market/promote yourself. Think outside the box! Try this book: Your First 1000 Copies by Tim Grahl


Good luck on your publishing journey! Be strong, be sure, be wise.


Agent Questions Volume Five- Prologues


The Truth About Prologues

I was asked this week for the truth about prologues. I gathered up what I had to say, but what I came up with was most easily summed up by the following article by Michael McDonagh. So, this week, your agent advice is not by me, but another author. I apologize. But I think everyone will benefit from this retweet.



The Truth About Prologues

The second rule in Elmore Leonard’s ten rules of writing is “Avoid Prologues.” At first this sounds like Mr. Leonard is telling us not to use prologues. Until you realize that the Rule 1 and Rule 3 don’t start with the word “avoid.” They start with the word “never.”


Avoid means steer clear of, think twice about, shy away from. Never means, well, never. Ever. Not even once. That’s a big difference. Particularly when Mr. Leonard’s comments about that rule consist largely of John F***ing Steinbeck brilliant use of a prologue.


The entire prologue situation (both the problem itself and the extent to which writers exaggerate that problem) was summed up beautifully by Angela James, an editor for Carina Press (a Harlequin digital first imprint). She said:


Of course, I’m an editor, and if you’ve heard it once you’ve probably heard it from an editor or agent: we’re not always fans of prologues. I think this has morphed into authors saying that we HATE prologues, but that’s not true. What’s true is this: we see a lot of stories come through our slush pile that start with prologues, and 9 out of 10 times, they’re not necessary.


I’m willing to bet she speaks for virtually every agent and editor in the business when she says it begins – and ends – with “We’re not always fans of prologues.”


That’s far from “never do it or you will immediately burst into flames and the souls of your loved ones will be doomed for all eternity,” which is how a LOT of writers tend to treat the issue. Still, it’s a really good idea to avoid them if you can.



Prologue Problems

Prologue problems come in two flavors: Problems with the prologue itself (which we will call problems with other people’s prologues, because, seriously, I’m sure yours is wonderful) and problems intrinsic to having and querying a novel with a prologue (which we will call the real problems with having a prologue).


Problems with Other People’s Prologues:


  • They are often used as info dumps, with all the attendant problems of info dumps.


  • One of the most common agent/publisher complaints about beginner novelists is that they start the novel two or three chapters too early, before the story really gets going. A prologue adds a fourth chapter of “too soon.”


  • Readers imprint on the first MC they meet, like baby ducks imprint on the first thing they see and follow it around assuming it’s their mama. The prologue MC usually isn’t the book MC, so readers feel cheated when you switch to your real MC.


  • Many readers skip them, which means they need to literally be prologues — the story needs to stand on it’s own, completely independently from the prologue. So, by definition, it has to be extra stuff.


  • If it’s not an info dump, it’s probably backstory, and backstory is generally a very bad way to start a novel.


Compared to working the prologue information in through flashbacks or directly through the narrative, a prologue is an easy way to get it out there (which is why the info dump/backstory concerns are so valid).


Chapter One has to manage to introduce characters and setting and lay a lot of groundwork for a story. That’s hard to do without being boring. Some people use prologues to throw something exciting on the table first, in an attempt to “hook” the reader.This often fails — it comes off as a gimmick, then you leave the reader with your boring Chapter One (possibly more boring, since you think you’ve taken the pressure off) and the reader goes from exciting prologue to boring chapter and thinks “the first real chapter of this book sucks.” It’s like having a date show up in a Ferrari but then having him drive you to Taco Bell.


There are certainly more, but that gives a decent idea of why, as Ms. James put it, “9 out of 10 times, they’re not necessary.” Worse than not necessary, the things those other writers are trying to do through the prologue – provide backstory and worldbuild, start with something interesting, etc., are the things that separate great writers from the good. Great writers build incredible worlds and provide deep, rich backstories throughout the narrative core of their books.



The Real Problems with Having a Prologue

The real problem with having a prologue, even if it’s both necessary and brilliant, is: Seriously, prologues are tricky.


For starters, they present logistical problems. You’re ready to query and the agent you are querying asked for the first three pages or your first chapter or whatever. Does that mean your prologue, or Chapter One?


According to literary agent extraordinaire, Janet Reid a/k/a the Query Shark, “your first five pages” or “first chapter” obviously means the first part of the novel, not your prologue:


The five pages you attached don’t mention either character or any of the plot you cover in the query letter. It’s as though you sent five pages that have nothing to do with this query.
That’s one of the (many) problems with prologues. When you query with pages, start with chapter one, page one. Leave OUT the prologue.


Nathan Bransford, on the other hand, says that “first 30 pages” obviously means the first 30 pages that are part of your book:


I want to see the first 30 pages as you want me to send them to the editor. If that involves a prologue… let’s see it.


Oops. Those are agents (well, in Nathan’s case, now an ex-agent) who blog a lot about what they expect and want to see, and the advice is diametrically opposed. If I had to guess, I’d say more agents probably agree with Nathan, but that’s a guess. I doubt Janet is completely out in left field, so it’s safe to assume a significant portion of agents agree with her take as well. [They do. **Interjected by Jenn] Either way, having a prologue creates a new, possibly unnecessary problem.


There’s also the issue of Pavlov’s agent (or, worse, reader). Imagine having 200 queries and sample pages to wade through in a day. Ten of those had prologues, and all ten treated you to worldbuilding, backstory, and info dumps. You open your 200th query, and discover it’s the eleventh to start with the word “Prologue.” At this point, you expect it to suck. There’s a 90% chance you’ll be right. You’ve been conditioned to expect it to suck. Maybe even conditioned to think it sucks.


It’s not your prologue’s fault. It those ten other, stupid, needless prologues that came before it. But you’ve been tainted by association. Now, at best, the reader is looking to see how much of an info dumpy, backstory filled piece of sh*t your prologue is, not objectively looking at how good or bad it is. Prejudice is an ugly thing, but it’s also a real thing.



The Bottom Line on Prologues?

In this case, it’s also the top line. Prologues are tricky. If possible, you should avoid having one. I don’t think agent’s and editors hate them, I don’t even think most readers skip them (although I’d bet that’s more of an issue with YA readers, for example, than with lit fiction readers). But I do think they bring a host of new problems to the party, even if they don’t suffer from the problems that are endemic to prologues generally.


Put differently, there is the way you dress for a job interview, the way you dress on your first day of work, and the way you dress when you’ve been working the same job for a few years. Prologues are a pair of shorts and a T-shirt. Even if that’s how you’ll be showing up the third week, when you’re interviewing and it’s probably best to clean things up for one day. It certainly won’t hurt.


UNLESS, you absolutely understand exactly what I’m saying here, see the problems, are positive you aren’t providing background, worldbuidling, info dumping, garbage, and know that your story really, really needs a prologue for a very specific reason that can’t be handled through the body of your narrative.


Because there are some jobs – lifeguard, surf/snowboard/skateboard sales, marijuana dispensary clerk and/or gardener – where you just look like an idiot showing up for the interview in a suit.
Prologues fall into the huge category of writing issues, ranging from adjectives to introspective monologue, where the shorthand “DON’T” is inaccurately used instead of the accurate “MAKE SURE IT’S REALLY NECESSARY.” If a prologue is the best way to execute and it’s executed well, there’s no option other than using one. The confusion arises because they are often tacked onto the beginning of novels where they aren’t truly necessary and there are better ways to accomplish what the writer is trying to accomplish through a prologue.

Michael McDonagh lives outside Boise, Idaho.


Happy Writing! And have a great week!!


Agent Questions Volume Four- Submissions


Why do agents ask for a query, plus a synopsis and a sample of my manuscript? Isn’t one enough?

I have had a lot of questions about submissions, so let’s back up and get into some detail. First, and I can’t stress this enough, you need to run your story through beta readers and/or an editor before you submit to an agent. Your writing partners are the ones who will be honest with you about what you need to fix, etc. Agents won’t take a book that needs a lot of work. It is not the agent’s job to fix your book. They don’t “see the potential” and sign you. They are looking for a book that is one revision away from going to the publisher. And publishers want perfection.


If you are querying all the agents in query tracker, that’s your first mistake. You are wasting your time and energy on sending out to people who are not looking for what you have written. My advice is, and I will probably tell you this over and over, go to and, then search for agents who are looking for your specific genre. You can click on the “agents” box, and then click on your genre, and it will bring up a list of agents who are looking for your type of work. Read through their wishlists to make sure yours fits. On their page, they should tell you their submission guidelines, or where to find them, along with their contact information. The most up-to-date wishlists are on Twitter at #MSWL.

When you have a list of people who are looking for your style of story, and a polished manuscript, send your queries to those people only. Up to eight agents at a time. Agents can be rude if you send them things they are not looking for. They want to see that you have cared enough to look them up, and you know what they want. They want to know why you picked them. There’s a very personal relationship between author and agent, and you need to start out on the right foot. Also, NEVER query more than one person per agency. Only one person can represent you, so if two agents in the same company liked your book, they would be in competition with each other and that’s a bad place to be. They could possibly both reject you for that reason. In some agencies you can resend to another agent after one has declined, but some agencies (like mine), say that rejection from one agent, is a “no” for all their agents. You really need to do your research. Spend your time on the preparation, not on querying random agents.


Each agent has their own way of sorting queries, and they all have different submission guidelines, even inside agencies. Rule number one, follow submission guidelines to the letter, no matter what they are. For myself, I ask for a query, one-page synopsis, and first 50 pages as a sample of the author’s work. The reason I do this is because each component has a different purpose. Let me explain.


A good query letter is important. Even if the agency has Query Manager (in which the author fills out fields labeled: query, synopsis, and sample), it is in the author’s best interest to have a formal query written, that they can copy and paste into the fields.

What is a good query letter? More on that in Agent Questions Volume One.

The query letter itself tells me your concept. Do I like what you’re selling? Is this a fresh idea? Does this new book fall into the current publishing trends? If I am attracted to the concept, I read on to the synopsis.


Your synopsis is a list of the events that take place in your book. I generally tell people to get out that outline that you used to write your book, if you have one, and put those scenes into sentences. Now you’re on your way. The synopsis tells me the bones of your story. Are there plot holes? Is there rising action? Is there a climax and resolution? In the synopsis, you need to include the ending. The query letter is your hook, where you do not give the ending away, but your synopsis needs to show the agent that you can tell a good story from front to finish.

How do you write a good synopsis? More on that in another post. It’s kind of annoying, isn’t it? Sorry.

Once I have read your synopsis and I know the “story” to your manuscript, I will go on and read your sample. In the sample, your first page is the most important. Readers will either keep reading, or put it down right away, if you are not snagging them pretty quickly.


The sample of your work is where I see for myself if the author will be able to pull off the complicated synopsis I just read. Is there a strong voice? Am I sucked into the story right away? Do I enjoy the writing style?

Put a lot of thought into your first line. Do not begin a book with someone waking up. Not the dream, not the mode of alarm, not looking in the mirror. Try not to open a book with someone speaking, because the reader knows nothing about the speaker yet and doesn’t know how to picture them or get the sub-context of what they’re saying. There are exceptions to every rule, but let’s face it, we probably aren’t one of them. Narrating to oneself, or thinking, is also a form of dialogue, so it’s wise not to begin with a character ruminating, either. Another wrong way to open is with a weather report. That’s just boring, unless you are a meteorologist. A description of the setting, is nearly as slow. An unspecific, general statement, that is true for most people, will not entice your readers to continue. Basically, anything that is not a puzzle-piece, or intended to make the reader curious enough to plow on, just won’t work. Make the reader ask who/what/where/why/when? Use an interesting, or unique detail of your theme, character, or setting that captures your reader from the first line.



If your submission has checked off each of these items on my checklist, I will ask you for the full manuscript. I need this because, after sending the first three chapters to agent after agent, and revising over and over, your first three chapters are going to shine! However, many people would be surprised at how many manuscripts go quickly downhill beginning with the fourth chapter. When you are given advice by agents and /or critique partners, make sure to carry that advice all the way through your story. I have also gotten all the way through a manuscript to have the climax fizzle out, or the ending mangled. Some have no ending at all. They abruptly end mid-scene. There MUST be a resolution. Even if it’s half a paragraph long, each story requires an end that satisfies the reader’s curiosity enough to feel that the book is a complete story, but curious enough to continue, if it is a series.

So, you see, each part of the submission is necessary for an agent’s judgement concerning which books they will represent. Because we don’t just represent books, we represent our authors. They are our clients, business partners, the writers of books we are passionate about, and friends. And don’t you choose your friends wisely, and with thought?


I hope my information makes it easier for you to find the agent of your dreams, and make them all come true! Happy submitting!


Agent Questions Volume Three- Twitter

B6BnyMwIQAAs5z9.pngWhy should I use Twitter and what do I tweet?

This is a page that I give to my new clients when discussing the importance of having a social media platform. The entire literary world is on Twitter. I did not like that at all last year (2016) when I made up my account. At the time, Twitter scared me. I didn’t “get” it. My profile page did not resemble Facebook at all, and I thought, “I don’t have anything quippy to tweet, and I’ll never get this off the ground into anything resembling a platform.” Then, I got started and I figured out a simple way to do it. My account has grown exponentially from 18 followers in January to over 2K by the end of the year.

Step one: either go make a site with a fun and kitchy name, or find and activate yours if you are one of the many of us who made an account 2 years ago, got your best friend to follow you and never posted a thing.

Next step: “follow” me. @Haskinauthor 

To get the ball rolling, troll the homepage until you find someone who posts about writing and/or your specific genre. When you see a post you like, simply retweet it. You don’t have to write anything, it will show up on your page as it is. After a while, add little comments to your retweets, or type someone’s name to direct it toward them. Try to make sure you are choosing tweets from different people. Go down each person’s page and it will suggest other people to “follow” who have similar things in common, so check out their pages for good posts to retweet. All I did in the beginning was retweet what I liked. When I got comfortable, I tried to add some things of my own. If I’m on another site and read a good article, I look to see if there is an option to “tweet” it.


People will follow you if you retweet their posts and/or like the things they say. I began with the policy to only follow people who followed me first, but I follow them all (unless their page is written totally in Japanese, Arabic or Swahili, or some other language I don’t understand). Lots of people will turn around and “unfollow” you just to have gained you as a number, and that just irritates me beyond all words. Eventually, I go through my “followers” and unfollow the ones who have dropped me as well, but it’s a pain when your followers reach higher numbers. That’s what they’re counting on.

 Have I thoroughly confused you? I’m sorry. It really is suuuuper simple. Retweet. Follow back.

Check out my Twitter page, from bottom to top, and see what I retweeted. When my other clients join and they don’t know what they’re doing, a lot of them just follow whomever I am following. I don’t necessarily advise that, because I follow anyone who follows me first and there are some creepy guys on there that know I’m happily married, BUT “they’re waiting for me.” Ugh. Like 65-year-old widowed, supposed military men with teenagers at home, who are all conveniently in Afghanistan on “peacekeeping missions.” I can see a handful of men with that job description, but I am counting in the hundreds. Even their stories sound the same. And every one of them, black, white, purple, or Pakistani, calls me “Dear.” I hate that. You will find, as an author/public figure, that this comes with the territory. Just DO NOT REPLY.


I digress, most of these wonderful, unique people are contacts. They are part of your platform. If you have 2K followers, when your book comes out and you announce it on your page, that’s exposure to 2,000 people. If any of them “like” it, the announcement goes on their feed for even more people to see. Then, when everyone on our team shares it to our pages, each of our 2,000 followers see it, as well. Does it drive up your sales? Maybe. Does it make you a household name? No. Does it give you exposure? Absolutely. Does it make your book recognizable? Yes. Do people buy a book they know a little about, versus one they know nothing about? You betcha.

Plus, you will find other writers in your genre to connect with on Twitter, groups to join, people to critique for you, read for you, provide services, and more writing advice than you can shuttle to Mars. It’s worth your while. In no time, you will be setting daily time limits for yourself, not to get sucked in. LOL.  Let me know if you have any problems-you know where to find me!       

–jenn (The Helpful Agent)


(**The following information is from an article I was given at a conference and I do not have the author’s name. If you know who wrote this, please let me know, so I can cite my references.)  

7 ways to smarten-up your book promotion on Twitter:

1. Longer tweets get more clicks. Internet marketers like to tell you to keep things short. But a tweet is only 140 characters, so it’s one of the few cases online where you actually benefit from using all the space you’re allotted.

2. Use more verbs. Less nouns. We’re emotionally stirred by action! So make your tweets sing, screech, punch, and dance.

3. Tweet in the afternoon and evening. After 2pm, Twitter traffic increases fairly dramatically. Maybe folks feel like they’ve got enough work done for the day that they can afford to sneak in 5 minutes on Twitter. So schedule your tweets with those people in mind.

4. Tweet closer to the weekend. As the workweek draws to a close, Twitter traffic soars — with Friday being the busiest day. So your heaviest Twitter activity should be on Thursday and Friday.

5. Ask for the retweet (“pls RT”). A lot of times in life the simplest way to get something is to ask. The same goes for Twitter. People are far more likely to retweet your content if you ask them.

6. Spread tweets out by at least 1 hour. You want to get the most people possible to see your tweets. By spreading out your Twitter activity by at least an hour, you’re increasing the likelihood of different folks seeing your activity. Plus you’re not annoying your followers by cluttering up their news feeds all at once.

7. Try putting the link towards the beginning of the tweet. Sure, 60-80% of your tweets should link to interesting content. But there’s also evidence to suggest that you should place that URL towards the beginning of your tweet. In many A/B tests between similar tweets, the one with the URL up front performed better.


Go start your platform, and happy tweeting,


Agent Questions Volume Two- Author Websites

What do I put on my author website?


  1. Newsletter sign up- Your newsletter is not just another thing you have to do to maintain status as an author. Many authors will attest to the benefit of having a mailing list, and will tell you that a majority of direct sales come from that venue. Think of a captive audience, don’t we all love to get mail? What if it’s got cute stationary? If it’s hand written like someone actually cares about them as a customer? How many people would be happy to receive a coupon, or an invite to order your book, getting an exclusive gift-with-purchase? Are you seeing the possibilities?
  2. Blog- things you’ve learned as a writer, your publishing journey as a diary, snippets of your personal life, info that corresponds with the subjects in your book, education on issues that your characters face, think outside the box. Look at other author blogs and get more ideas.large-10.jpg
  3. Novels page- list all your writing. Once you’ve published a handful of books, or even one, this is the place where you will list your book, add the hook (info on the back of the book), and its link to Amazon for purchase. Until then, call this page “Writing” and list all the writing you’ve done, especially any published works. You can list here any education you’ve had in the writing field and what you’ve been writing. Tell us about the book you’re trying to publish, get us excited.
  4. About the author- put anything about yourself and/or your writing process that is appropriate.                                                                                                                                                                                large-9.jpg
  5. Guide for study & book clubs- Have you made a study guide for your book to use in book clubs? Research this topic and create one to post here. Then, if you happen to know of book clubs reviewing your book, list them here as well.
  6. Contact info- Whatever information you are comfortable sharing as far as contact goes. Many website templates come with a “contact” page that requires the visitor to fill out their own information for you, and sends you a message to contact the reader. This could give you more reader contacts for your newsletter. You can also answer questions on your blog as FAQ, for everyone.18948-To-Read-Or-Not-To-Read.jpg
  7. News and events- mention favorite conferences you’ve been to, or are going to; classes you are taking, or would like to take (tag people); book signings that you will be having, or that you will be present at. Again, use your imagination. If you’ve just found out writing news that is about someone other than yourself, this would be the place to put it, until you have enough information about yourself to share.
  8. Book reviews of your favorite books– in your opinion, add reviews of others’ books. Maybe contact other authors and make a deal to review their book on your site, if they will review your book on their site. Or review other books in your genre, books that you think are good matches for yours. Kind of like an “if you liked this book, you’ll love mine” type of deal.wanatah-public-library.jpg
  9. Contests- really think out of the box here. What contests could you do? The chance of a prize for anyone who reviews your book in a specific month? Gift with purchase for all customers in a certain month? Like, share, and follow to receive the chance at a free book? Search other author contests to get creative ideas.
  10. Reviews of your work, awards won- this is the page where you will list the reviews you get for your own book. One of your best friends is “the book blogger,” and Instagram has regular bookstagrams made by book bloggers. Whenever, or wherever, or from whomever, you can get a book review, post it here.


Happy posting…




Agent Questions Volume One- #MSWL, Queries, Fulls, What NOT to DO, and More


#MSWL- How Does it Work?

The link is to a Twitter grouping. Agents and Editors list what they desire to see in their inbox (their ManuScript Wish List), and mark it with #MSWL. These tweets show authors what an agent is looking for, sometimes on a daily basis. Some agents change their list by the direction of the wind, others remain static. You can also look to the following websites for more detailed lists, though not revised as often: or

When you see a tweet that seems to ask for just what you have written, speed yourself to that agent’s site to find their submission guidelines and how to contact them.

Do include in your query, any of the #MSWL traits that that they desire, and how those relate to your book. (More about this later.)

You will get to know people as you continue to read their tweets. If you really like an agent, but they are not looking for what you’ve written, keep watch on their #MSWL thread and hopefully it will change in your favor. In the meantime, query the agents who match with you now.

*Do not query agents over Twitter- if they answer you at all, it will most likely be a form response to query them according to their submission guidelines, so start there.

*Do not tell agents, “I know you’re looking for zombies, I don’t like zombies. My manuscript is about vampires, but it’s okay, because they’re both undead.”


What Agents Look For in a Query:

First, I want to talk about what I call, the query “formula.” Occasionally, I give authors help with queries and I begin by telling them this:

A query, after all the formal addressing at the top, consists of sections. The first section is the intro. You’re going to have researched your potential agent on http://www.manuscriptwishlist,com where you can see what agents are looking for exactly what you’re writing (the most current wish lists are on here at ). You are going to say, “Dear Mr./Ms. Smith, I noticed from your profile on _________, that you acquire steamy romances with a dash of horror (quote something from their wishlist). As such, I thought you might enjoy my 86,000 word romantic thriller titled GUNS AND ROSES. (Make sure you capitalize your title and the names of your characters, the first time they appear.) Feel free to embellish this paragraph a little, but make sure that all this information is there: title, genre, word count, and why you chose this agent.  

The second section is the section where you will summarize your novel.  Don’t use more than 2, possibly 3 (if they’re small), paragraphs explaining the main concept of your plot. Do not include the ending. This is your opportunity to hook the agent and make them want to read your synopsis (where you will give the entire scene by scene of your story, including the ending). Make the book really shine here, if it’s mysterious, show us, if it’s humorous, make us laugh. Showcase your work briefly.  I read the query letter to see if I like the book’s concept, the synopsis tells me if you can write a whole story, with rising action,  a climax, and resolution. Then, your sample pages tell me if you can pull off that story in your synopsis. Make sense? So each part of your query arsenal is important for a different reason.

The final chapter of your query is going to be your bio. Just one paragraph, we want to know anything that has to do with your writing experience. Did you write for the school paper in high school and it began your love of prose? Were you a Young Author Award winner? Do you publish poetry in your spare time? Do you write songs for your church? I do not need to know the names of all three of your cats, and yes, that does happen. Your five kids’ names and favorite sports do not go here, leave that for your bio in the back of your book. Make sense? That is not to say you can’t make it personal and tell me you like writing journal after journal by firelight in your mountain cabin, that you share with your family, or that the scenery inspires you to create your colorful fiction, but make sure you are letting me know about you and how you got to be writing this query.  That’s what your agent is interested in.  Make sure to follow up with a “thank you for your time and consideration,” then Sincerely, and your name.  All this should fit onto one sheet of paper. Single spaced, with paragraph indentions.  With the advent of email queries, if your query letter is a LITTLE over one page long, the agent will not be able to tell when you copy and paste it into an email. However, if it is two pages, or so dry that it drags on and on, the agent will lose interest and that is not to your benefit.

I hope this helps you a little when it comes to forming your query letter. There are many excellent articles about query writing online. Writer’s Digest ( has every article under the sun for aspiring authors. Make sure to use your resources.



What Are Publishers Looking For in 2018?

This is kind of a loaded question. Lately there is a huge push toward books with all things diversity: dealing with social and economic oppression, anything LGBTQIA+, cultural books that deal with real-life issues, and #ownvoices (Which is a book about people of a non-white ethnicity, writing about and through their culture).

I’m also seeing lots of witches on wishlists. And normally light things like mermaids and faeries, with dark twists. If you are keeping your eye on the current wishlists, you will eventually see the patterns. Agents will be asking for the current trends, because that’s what editors are looking for, and they acquire books for publishers.


How Long Does it Take to Read a Full Manuscript Submission?

Chip MacGregor takes two to four months, and has readers.

Janet Reid tells us on her blog that she has had fulls and partials for a year or more.

Mary C. Moore admits to holding on for too long, like many of us, because she believes she might miss a gem if she doesn’t give each book a fair chance at being read and responded to.

This is a personal question whose answer changes from one agent to another. We all have different amounts of queries coming in, but believe me, there is always a full box. Your full box may have thousands of queries, and my box may have hundreds, but they are both full boxes depending on the agent. If you want to see current patterns of reading time for your favorite agents, check out

Many authors do not realize that a lot of agents have full time jobs outside of agenting, which only pays when we successfully contract an author with a publisher. We all have families and friends, like you do.

I recently read an article by Janet Reid, where she explains:

The first question is what you really need to know though: how long does it take an agent to read your work. And the answer is a whole lot longer than you think.  Remember that she’s going to read your whole manuscript AND give you notes, or at least feedback. In other words, she’s not just skimming along with “do I love this, can I sell this.”  That kind of read takes time. (Read, not reading for my eagle-eyed proof readers out there)
Agents prioritize their reading. The rule of thumb is: the closer you are to the money, the faster you get read.
Thus, things I read right away are: contracts. Contracts trump everything.
Next: books on editorial deadline. Those books have contracts and production deadlines. I read those as close to instantly as I can. Often getting that book to the editor triggers a payment and we like that a lot.
Next: books/proposals ready or close to ready to go on submission. Revisions to books on submission are here too.
Everything else comes after those three categories.  Your book isn’t under contract, and it’s not on editorial deadline. It’s not on submission. That means you’re probably not going to be read as soon as you wish (or your agent wishes either–trust me, I’d love to have eight eyes and a robot brain most days.)
What will surprise you here is often I’ll read queries and requested fulls before some client manuscripts. That’s because I can often get them an answer pretty quickly. I don’t have to do more than say yes/no and I don’t have to read the entire manuscript on a request if by page X I know I’m not going to take it on.
It can feel good to get something done, and off the to do list at least once a day, even if it’s not the most important thing on the list. Sometimes mental health requires that. (At least it does for me. Other agents might be more mentally balanced.)
And just to make sure everyone is having a good time here, there’s the really fun moment when you’re just about to read something that’s eight weeks overdue, and a client pops in with a manuscript on editorial deadline. Or a contract for a short story they sold. Or an editor calls with an offer to be negotiated.
Sayonara reading plans.
With manuscripts like yours I have to respond in detail and that means time.
Blocks of time are increasingly hard to find. Any kind of schedule is a fervent hope at best.
Bottom line: don’t get on the rodent wheel of panic. Don’t assume your agent is a slacker nincompoop. Do not assume she’s lost interest in you.  Stay in touch with her gently. Have patience. Keep writing.

Finally, Fiona Mitchell gives us advice on What Not to Do When a Literary Agent Asks For Your Whole Novel:

It’s going to be a nail-chewing, neck-tensing, grumpy-mood-inducing time, so here’s some tips:

1. Don’t start monitoring the literary agent.

Googling her name, looking up other people who she’s offered representation to. Sound familiar? Force yourself to look away from the screen, and stop logging onto Twitter every five minutes to see if she’s posted. Put your energy into starting something new. A short story. A new novel. Read or collect ideas for future work.

2. Don’t bombard the agent with emails.

Coo-ee, just wondering how you’re getting on with The Masterpiece? Then two days later: Me again. And, don’t phone. That’s the equivalent of repeatedly ding-donging someone’s doorbell when all the lights are on, but no one’s opening up. Reading a full takes time. Some agents take about three months to reply to an initial submission of three chapters and a synopsis, so how long is it going to take to read your 90,000 words? A few weeks ago I read an account by a published author that went something like this. I wrote to a literary agent and 24 hours later she offered me representation. Two days after that, she negotiated me a three book deal with Penguin. I lay my head on the desk and almost muttered the words, I’m unworthy. I ate a scone instead. Thing is, it doesn’t happen like that for most writers. Exercise patience, distract yourself, keep writing. Agents who’ve requested a full can take anything from one month to six to reply.

3. If an agent who requested a full hasn’t replied after three months, do email and say you’d welcome some feedback.

Sometimes when an agent requests a full they don’t reply at all. Yep, this happened to me with an early version of my first book. It’s happened to other writers I know too. Try not to take it personally, it’s more of a reflection on the agent than on your writing. So there!

4.When the agent turns your book down with feedback, don’t do anything apart from flaring your nostrils and swearing.

Don’t bash out an instant reply. ‘Thanks for your patronising comments, but…’ Step away. Go for a run. Punch that pillow. A rejection usually comes with pointers. ‘The narrative wasn’t taut enough,’ for instance. ‘The plot lost direction halfway through.’ File the email somewhere other than in your inbox, so it’s not staring out at you for the next few miserable mornings as your damp cornflakes slap onto your keyboard. When you’ve calmed down, read the email again, process it and adjust your manuscript accordingly. Send it to an editor too – you might think that’s a waste of money, but the fact that anyone has requested your full means that there’s some magic to it. An editor could be just the genie you need.


5. When the reply doesn’t contain any feedback, write back saying you’d welcome some.

Most agents will be more than happy to give you their thoughts. Don’t expect compliments. Do expect constructive criticism.

6. When an agent reads a full, and asks for a second read once you’ve made changes, definitely send it back to her.

Once you’ve made changes, you could send out more submissions too – to up to eight agents at a time – after all, by the time your MS has risen to the top of the slush pile, your almost-agent might have signed or rejected you anyway. Alternatively, you could stop sending your book out. But remember, this is limbo land – an exciting yet anxiety-ridden place. Do whatever feels right for you. But whatever you do, eat scones, don’t cyber- stalk, and keep writing.

The Maid’s Room by Fiona Mitchell is published by Hodder & Stoughton on 16th November 2017.


How Can Authors Increase their Chances of Having Submissions Read?

The best thing you can do is have a great book.

What I mean, is to have the characteristics of a good book.

Isn’t that a bit subjective? Different people like different things in a book.

Bingo. Every agent has a different set of credentials, but many of them are similar across the board have: strongly voiced characters, detailed world-building, no plot holes, unique plot or familiar storyline with a twist, correct word count, good grammar usage, dynamic first sentence and page, and grips you emotionally somehow from the start.

After they come to the table with a quality manuscript, I enjoy kind, respectful business people in my clients, just like in any job; but here I get to choose my coworkers. I like friendly people who understand my time constraints on top of family, my other jobs and hobbies, not chewing me out for having a family emergency and not getting to your query on time. Lol.

Other things I look for personally, are: completion of the manuscript, editing, clear genre, revision, character development, a full synopsis (generally 1 – 3 pages), uniqueness, follows current literary trends, has lots of action, and no prologues. It’s not as easy as just making a list, though. Agents and editors who have been in the business will tell you that it is an indescribable ability to read a query and inherently know that it is acceptable or not, according to your own tastes.

Agreeing with me and elaborating on the subject of needing to have a great story to win at the publishing “game of chance,” is the website:

I hate to tell you this, but there are no outside forces at work in the publishing business other than the simple economics of the business. The publishers want to sell books. If they think your story can do that, they won’t care whether you’ve sold twenty books or none. Remember: every established writer out there, all of those multi-published authors, once had to sell their first novel or their first story. They managed it. You can too. If your manuscript can’t find a home, then I am suggesting that the best place to look for the problem is in a mirror.
Let me repeat: the publishing business is not a lottery and there are no odds. If it were a lottery, the editors would dump all the slush manuscripts into a big bin, give it a good spin, and reach inside to pluck out a single manuscript, proclaiming “Here’s the one we’re going to publish this month!” That’s not how they do it. They actually read the slush, at least until they know they don’t need to read any more…
Nor is it a closed club for the glorious Previously Published: if it were, the markets wouldn’t even bother to allow unsolicited manuscripts or even agented ones — why bother to go to all that trouble, time, and expense if the only people you’re going to publish are the ones you’ve already published?
Here’s the truth: If your manuscript is poorly presented — if it isn’t in proper manuscript form, if it has five mistakes in the first paragraph, if the prose is riddled with cliches, if the characters are wooden and the dialogue forced and the plot obvious, if you can’t write a complete sentence or you switch tense and viewpoint at will — then you have 0% chance of being published.
It won’t matter how many times you send out that manuscript to the professional markets. Your story will never sell… because it isn’t good enough. Period. Note that many of the qualities I’ve just cited are simple technical aspects that anyone can learn, like ‘proper manuscript form.’ I’ve heard from editors that a surprisingly high percentage of the manuscripts that come in over the transom ignore that one little rule, and as a result get bounced. In fact, I tell my students this: want to learn how to substantially increase these mythical odds’? Then learn how to do proper manuscript form. It’s easy. Honest, it is.


That’s all I had for this week. Tune in next week for more questions, I hope. If you have publishing questions that you’d like some candid answers to, send me a message, or join my tweet- in- progress. Before we leave though, I wanted to share with you the following list of reasons manuscripts are rejected, so you know NOT to do these things!  Have a great week!




17 Reasons Manuscripts Are Rejected by Editors and Agents

After I list the reasons manuscripts are rejected, I offer several writing and publishing tips from a literary agent and a book editor. Julie Scheina (Little, Brown editor) and Haile Ephron (writer and book reviewer at the Boston Globe) joined Janet Reid for a 90 minute session about sending queries, editing manuscripts, and publishing books.

The writer uses the phrase “fiction novel.” “The writer uses the phrase ‘fiction novel’,” says Reid. Misusing the English language is why she – and many editors, publishers, and agents – stop reading and reject manuscripts.

The manuscript doesn’t seem organic or authentic. “If you’re trying to follow a trend, you’ll lose your voice,” says Scheina. “If I feel like this is something I’ve already read, I’ll put it down.” (Read How to Write Authentically From Anne Lamott for tips on better writing).

The book is too complicated to be published. “If there are too many characters and I have to make a list to keep them straight, then I’ll put the book down,” says Ephron. Your manuscript will be rejected if it doesn’t flow or transition easily.

The book is boring (immediate manuscript rejection!). “If your opening paragraph is someone driving and sleeping, I’ll put it down,” says Reid. “Most writers need time to warm up – but I don’t want to read that. Make sure your story starts in the first sentence.” (Read Grabbing Your Reader by the Throat for tips on writing introductions).

The writer offers no reason to care about the character. “Why do I care?” asks Scheina. “Each character has to be unique and special, or I’ll want to close the book.” The first day of school, moving, or packing your boxes aren’t gripping leads. “Prologues are really boring most of the time,” she says.

The writer slips into a sliding point of view. “You get one point of view character per scene,” says Ephron. “Every scene should be narrated by one character in that scene.” Don’t shift the point of view. Stay with one specific character’s perspective throughout the scene.

The writer includes too many stock characters in the manuscript. Beautiful blonde bombshells, evil billionaires, and hookers with a heart of gold are all stock characters – and Reid is tired of them! Limp descriptions are also boring. “I want complex, nuanced characters,” she says.

The book is too “moral” to be published. “Don’t send me fiction books that give moral messages, because neither kids nor adults will reason them,” says Scheina. “If you have a message, it shouldn’t be on the first page or in the first chapter.” She also says readers don’t want to be preached to; morals and messages should occur to the reader after they put the book down.

The writer keeps saying how great the book is. “When I don’t know what the book is about, I’ll stop reading your query,” says Reid. She urges writers to describe what your book is about, but don’t brag about how great it is.

The writing is too flowery. Ephron says that writers should show what the character is feeling through their physical behavior – not through phrases like “she whimpered morosely.” It’s the classic “Show, don’t tell” — and get rid of adverbs and adjectives, or your query letter will be deleted. (Read Tips for Improving Your Query Letters for help).

The writer sends illegible or handwritten queries. Make sure your queries are professional and easy to read. “When you’re sending an email query, include white spaces,” says Reid. “Don’t send big blocks of text in a query, because that’s hard to read. Remember, you have 15 seconds to catch my attention.” She suggests sending your query to several different people first, to make sure it emails properly.


The writer uses too many cliches in the manuscript. “Show emotions in a stronger way than ‘butterflies in my stomach’”, advises Scheina.


The writer incorporates graphic violence, profanity, and explicit sex. “I feel as if a writer has to earn the right to go there with me,” says Ephron. “Develop your characters, show me you can write, before we go there.” She doesn’t necessarily reject those books, but she’ll want to stop reading if graphic violence happens right away.

The writer has an unpleasant tone and attitude. Reid says she gets a lot of queries from writers who don’t like agents, and those writers are often open about their dislike. She suggests not revealing that you dislike literary agents.

The book’s pacing is off. “Don’t write your slow parts too slow, or your fast parts too fast,” says Ephron. If the pace of your novel is off, then your manuscript is more likely to be rejected.

The writer is a stalker (immediate manuscript rejection). Don’t send agents, editors, or publishers anything that’s clever or cute. Reid wants to read queries and know about your book, so you don’t need to bribe her with your gifts. “And, don’t disrespect yourself in your query letter by saying ‘I know how busy you are,’ – you’re important and busy, too!”

The manuscript has an improper word count. “Make sure your word count is around 100,000,” says Reid. Manuscripts under 50,000 or over 200,000 words don’t meet the common industry standards – so aim for the general target of 100,000 words.



*Don’t forget- you can do this! ~jenn

Christmas is over… now what?

So, the festivities continue… I am lucky enough to have four Christmases every year. My in-law’s farm, our family of seven, my parent’s house, and my ex-in-law’s. When the kids were little, they were in such gift-shock by the fourth Christmas, they couldn’t appreciate anything they got. Now that they are older, it’s more fun. We are on our way to my parents’ house for “third Christmas” today.

But my mind is already on next week. Looking for an agent (more on that later), doing my job (more on that too), and family appointments, etc. I have to stop myself to be present, aware, living my joy.

One of my big goals for this year is to live in the moment. Be happy, right NOW… and the next moment… and the next… I have been thinking all my life that one day I will be happy and appreciate my life. I will start to enjoy living. I thought, I will get married and live happily ever after… then it was, one day I’m going to have children and be happy, or one day I’ll retire and we’ll be free of stress and happy, we’ll be old and gray together.

Honestly, getting married made me happy, but it was temporary. My children give me great pleasure, but especially now that four out of five of them are teenagers, it often does not make me happy. I have a lot of stress, being an author, an agent and a portrait artist. I have to figure out how to be happy and stressed, at the same time. “Happy” is a state of mind, not a feeling. It’s an outlook-a way of positively seeing the world and your circumstances.

Yes, we will retire one day, and time flies over the good and bad, so it will seem like tomorrow. I know I will be happy, because I am learning how to be positive again. Those people you know who are always happy? They wake up and decide to be that way, everyday, so often that they probably don’t even think about it anymore. But originally, it may have taken practice, it may be hard for them some days to be happy in the face of their lives.

I don’t want to be old and happy, though. I’m not ready to be old; I mean, I could die any day, and I’m not ready. I want to have “spent” my life, really used it up. Enjoyed it, loved it, regret nothing.

I want to be so old that I get tired of life before I’m gone. I believe in an afterlife, and I know where I’m going, but isn’t it in our nature to doubt sometimes? At any rate, I want to spend the rest of my life being happy about living it. Whether I’m gone half an hour from now, or fifty years in the future, I want happiness and I am the only person who can give it to myself.

So, my wish for you all, is to find your happy places, and build your real life around them. Actually LIVE your life. Have a ggrrreeeaaaaattt day!!

Short Story Contest entry

Today I am sixteen, and a murderer.

“Name?” Bored, relaxed eyelids turn up to see me. The lady in her mid-fifties gently runs a fingernail along her scalp, tucking a tendril of hair back into place.

“Ivy,” I whisper.

She just stares at me, expectantly.

“Oh, ah, Ivy Killian.”

Her hands hover over the keyboard, dropping fingers like bombs to make each key clack, clack, clack.

“Have a seat.” She points to a chair. “Next?”

I sit in the closest chair to the door. The fabric is woven in shades of aqua and brown. It makes me think of the ocean. I wish I was at the ocean. Under the water, where my ears are filled with roughly salted water, the shoosh of waves deafening me to the orca’s song miles away.

The lady next to me picks up a magazine from the seat between us and it crinkles. Who wants to read Fisherman’s Life here? I try not to move my head, only my eyes, to see the full waiting room around me. The back of my knees sweat. Even though it’s pleasant in here, it’s like my body has a faulty thermostat. The air in here is nothing like it is on the other side of the tinted windows.

“Ivy?” She smiles. A young brunette with a file crooked in her elbow gestures for me to follow her. I do.

I can’t tell if the corridors are narrow or I am getting more claustrophobic by the second. My vision fades in and out. I do not want to be here. I have no choice. I almost giggle to myself. Having all the choices I want still makes me feel like I have none.

I walk into the tiny room, my sneakers squeak as I round the corner. The young woman slides the door closed with a click.

“You understand what I’ve told you, right?”

Oh crap. Was she speaking to me all this time?

“Sure,” I answer. I don’t. I don’t understand any of this. I don’t want to be here, but I don’t want to be at home, either. Nowhere is safe for me now. Hopelessness feels like a burlap sack being shoved over my head and tied around the neck. Tighter… tighter…

“Put this on, and I’ll be right back.” She smiles genuinely as she hands me a light blue folded paper square the size of my math binder. She turns to leave, and stops, like she has something to say, shakes her head and leaves.

I wait for the click of the door before taking off my soft purple shirt with the fabric ruffle at my shoulders. I toe off one shoe at a time, and then stack them in the chair with my shirt and underwear, and jeans. I shake out the square until it resembles a paper gown and imagine myself as Cinderella in her light blue dress as I put it on. Where is my fairy godmother when I need her? I’ve never done this before. My mother is a natural at it.

I sit on the paper covered table. Crunch, crunch, I wrinkle the paper. Two women come into my tiny room at the same time as they knock. I don’t even have time to say, “Come in.” Or stay out. I smile to myself. Nothing to be nervous about my mother told me at breakfast this morning. My father doesn’t speak. I don’t want him to. I kind of hate him right now.

The ladies chatter on to each other, it’s like they know I have no desire to talk to them. One pushes my chest backward until I am laying down. While she puts a hairnet on me, the other one holds my hand.

“Ouch,” I say.

“Oh sorry. I’m new at this.” She pushes the needle into my hand and threads the plastic into my vein, then tapes it up like a pretty birthday package. She’s done. She starts to look at me with sympathy, but I glare at her. It’s the same look I gave my mother right after she dropped me off.

“I’m going to the department store, Ivy. I’ll be back in an hour to pick you up. You’ll be fine, right?” She had leaned over to see me through the window of the door I slammed.

“Sure.” I surprised myself by answering at all.

The strange woman turns away from my stare and looks at the syringes lined up on the table. She chooses one with the kind of care you take when opening a box of Russel Stover’s at Christmas. She plugs it into the tube that is an extension of my vein, and squeezes.
The liquid is cold. The air is cold, and sharp. I am cold under this light blue paper grocery sack. I hope they let me keep on my unicorn socks. I want to leave on my socks. I try to tell this to the women, but my tongue won’t move. It lies in my mouth like a dead, dry fish. No flopping. I swallow just to make sure I can.

I am rolling now. The lights pass overhead shining on my feet and traveling up my body as we go down the hall. One light, two lights, three lights, four lights, double doors. No windows.

This room is frigid. I tremble, but I don’t know if it’s from the cold, or how I feel as the darkness begins to overtake me. I am in space, cold space, flying past big bright lights that play outside my closed eyelids. A muffled voice greets me. I can’t hear it. It speaks again. Male. Soft and gentle, but male. I feel a twinge of panic, but it flows away as cold ocean waves wash over me.

They move my body. I am still conscious. Why am I awake? I don’t want to be awake for this. I don’t want to be here. I try to tell them that it isn’t working, but my face won’t move, my eyes won’t open, my mouth is taped shut. I feel the tube in my throat. I want to gag, but I don’t. A cold tear streaks down my cheek and into my ear. I pretend I am flying. I don’t care where I go, anywhere but here. I fly someplace warm. A sunny afternoon, a safe place, fire crackles, I can hear silverware tinkle as knives clink together being set for dinner, a warm blanket. I am enveloped in a warm bed. Hot tea with honey that lingers on my tongue, burns my lips. My book is cast aside, I smell burning. Must be the candles. Warm hands on my body, caressing, turn suddenly cold.

I am brought back to this nightmare by the scraping. I feel it, hear it. Soft tissue, never marred, is mercilessly cut and scraped until the blood runs hot from my body. It hurts. It hurts like swallowing a ball of barbed wire the size of my volleyball. From my throat, through my stomach, all through me, like I sat on an ice pick, the pain cycles through me. The cycle runs until I can take no more and then I let the blackness of space, and the atmosphere, void of air, take over me.

I wake in warm, downy blankets. Everyone is smiling. Men and women come to my bedside and check the machines that beep around me. I feel sick. They take the tubes out.

“Are you okay?” The kindness of a grandmother lights this woman’s face. Though I can’t speak, I smile at her. I clear my throat.

“That soreness will go away in time,” she says. I don’t think it will. Actually, I’m sure it won’t.

“Thank you,” my gravelly voice rasps.

“Of course, sweetheart.” She pats my hand and it feels warm and soft. I want to stay here with her.

They dress me in my clothes and I wonder what is happening. A wheel chair big enough for two of me is pushed up against my bed. There are tiny pebbles stuck in the grooves of its wheels. I’m not ready to go yet. It’s too soon. I didn’t want to be here, but I still don’t want to go home. I want to flip the silver lever that brakes the wheels, but I don’t.

I am wheeled to the door opening to the frigid air outside. I see my mother’s car, I see my breath billow clouds of steam, I see the dull sun shining in the winter sky. I’m not ready.

A man comes to my side, his voice vaguely familiar. “Are you ready?”


I nod.

“Congratulations,” he says. I can’t stop looking at the small spot of blood on his white coat. Is it mine?

He clears his throat and says words I never want to hear again.

“You are no longer pregnant, Ivy.”

Beware the Bones

Daniel will give a digital copy of Beware the Bones to one randomly drawn commenter.

Title: Beware the Bones

Author: Daniel Lance Wright

ISBN: Ebook: 978-1-62420-342-8

POD: 978-1977864017

Genre: Paranormal Romance

Excerpt Heat Level: 1

Book Heat Level: 3

Buy at: AmazonBarnes and Noble


Lowell Strudemeyer had a death wish. Then, he runs head-on into the bad attitude of Jasmine Chandler. Now he has a project.


Forty-three-year-old archaeologist, Jasmine Chandler, is decimated by an abruptly failed marriage and throws herself obsessively into her work. Meanwhile, several hundred miles away on the California coast, retired oncologist, Lowell Strudemeyer, struggles against his own demons by drinking and surfing with an apparent death wish. With help from her friend, Barbara Sullivan, their worlds collide over an ancient burial site and it takes a little magic for these two people, Sweetpea and The Strude, to confess their obvious attraction.

EXCERPT: Beware the Bones

Becoming concerned that the trip may have been wasted time, she backed away and thought, now what?

The only thing left to do was walk around to the back of the house and check there. But before she could take a single step the front door swung open with a jerk and whoosh. There, swaying side to side, was a man who appeared drunk, just past middle age, sporting a scruffy five or six-day growth of salt and pepper whiskers, red eyes framed in dark circles and thick shoulder length unruly silver hair. Sort of a James Brolin meets W. C. Fields look. But that silly smile is Clark Gable for sure.

Straightening to a formal posture, “I’m here to see Mister Strudemeyer. Is he in?”

The man grinned and swayed.

This guy may have broken into the Strudemeyer home and, maybe, even harmed the doctor. She took a tentative backward step.

“I’m sho shorry. The doctor is dead.” He dropped his head with a pitiful sad look.

She took another step back becoming out-right scared. “When…did he die?”

“A few sheconds after I told the hospital board I was retiring.” He snickered, blowing spit from between pursed lips. He stabbed the air with an emphatic finger. “I am a phoenix. From Doctor Strudemeyer’s ashes rose Mishter Strudemeyer.”

Jasmine flushed with anger. “Doctor…Mister Strudemeyer—”

“Call me Lowell.”

Ignoring the request, “Mister Strudemeyer, I’m here as a representative of the archaeology department from the University of Southern California. I have a release form—”

“What’s your name, darlin’?”

“My name is Jasmine Chandler and I prefer you not call me darling.” Like most men, he was rude, arrogant and, on top of that, soused. Suddenly, it occurred to her, an angry response might jeopardize getting his signature. Taking measured breaths, she closed her eyes and recomposed. “Look, all I need is for you to sign this release form. “Would you please read it and—”

“Jasmine is shuch a beautiful name.” He stared off into space over her head and leaned against the door jamb. “Jasmine…shuch a shweet smellin’ flower.” He sucked in a large breath, as if smelling the blossom.

“Mister Strudemeyer, please. I need you to hear and understand what I’m saying.”

He shook a finger at her. “Do you know what shmells better than jasmine, though? Shwee’pea…the most divine of all fragrances.”

“Sweetpea…you’re trying to say sweetpea.” Like it or not, she was drawn into an unwanted conversation. She folded her arms in the first challenge to his less-than-courteous attitude.

“That’s what I shaid. Shwee’pea.” With a finger that seemed to float unattached, he pointed toward the unkempt mass of blossoms around the fountain. “If you don’t believe me go shmell for yourself.”

She glanced back. “I just came from over there and I know what it smells like. I’ll not be sniffing it again.” She took an aggressive step forward to press her cause but his liquored breath hit her in the face before she could speak. “Maybe the stench of the fountain wasn’t so bad after all,” she muttered twisting her head to the side and returning to her beginning spot on the porch. “Mister Strudemeyer, I’ve driven over an hour to get here for a simple signature. Would you please extend me the courtesy of just one minute to explain why we need it?”

Swimming eyes that couldn’t focus was all she saw. He probably didn’t comprehend the question.

Jasmine’s rosy cheeks darkened. She bristled, moving closer to losing control. Lack of alternatives propelled a worsening attitude.

The drunkard responded out of synch. “May I call you Shwee’pea?” He leaned his head against the door jamb in a mock show of adoration.

Inevitably, it happened. She redlined and hit that point of no return, barreling toward an angry explosion.

“No sir! You sure as hell may not call me Sweetpea, or darlin’, or—or any other pet name that tumbles out of that liquored-up brain! My name is Jasmine Chandler and you, sir, are a drunken, arrogant ass!” She leaned in and got in his face. “Care for me to repeat that? You’re a drunken arrogant ass!”

Author Bio:

A lifelong Texan, Daniel Lance Wright is a freelance fiction writer and novelist born in Lubbock, Texas now residing in Clifton, Texas. He lives with Rickie, his wife of 46 years, has two children, and four grandchildren. Having spent the first nineteen years of his life on a cotton farm on the South Plains of Texas and the next thirty-two in the television industry, he has seen the world from two distinctly different angles. Daniel has received recognition for writing skills from The Oklahoma Writers Federation in 2005, 2006, 2010, and 2011; from Art Affair in 2008; from Frontiers in Writing in 2004; from Canis Latran of Weatherford College in 2011; and from The Indie Excellence Book Awards in 2013.


paranormal romance, spirit possession, spirit animal, Olmecs, archaeology, alcoholic


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