Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Would a re-query be like high school all over again?

The seventh in series of blog posts for my 8th grade students about the process of trying to publish my YA historical novel.

As the rejections come in while I revise my YA historical fiction, I wondered if writers ever resubmitted a query with the same agent even after an initial rejection. I don't know the rules--written or unwritten. Would resubmitting immediately earmark me as that guy. Blacklisted across the publishing industry because I acted like the high school boy who couldn't take rejection from the girl of his dreams.

Isn't a rejection email more than enough of a hint? If I queried an agent a second time after making significant changes to my manuscript, would friends of these literary agents start hanging out by my locker, or car, to tell me, "beat it, she's not interested."

An answer to my question came via Twitter. I follow YA authors, literary agents, and editors on Twitter. Often, I find valuable discussions or links to useful articles on writing or publishing. Yesterday, I stumbled across the hashtag #LitChatBetsy and followed it for a few minutes. A literary agent (who happens to represent the kind of YA book I am writing) was answering questions live.

So, the lesson here is that rejection, or a temporary failure, is only permanent if you let it be permanent. 

Stick with it. 

As I keep working at getting better, I still have hope and a goal in sight.

P.S. Students have been reading my posts about rejections from literary agents, and one asked, "I don't mean any offense by this but were you rejected a lot in high school or something?"

Monday, January 27, 2014

Reading the tea leaves of rejection

The sixth in series of blog posts for my 8th grade students about the process of trying to publish my YA historical novel.

Since Friday, I have received two more rejections from literary agents. I'm 0-4 and waiting on 26 queries. The more I read online and in writing magazine, four passes from potential agents is a drop in a bucket. However, I am not just sitting back. The rejections have made look at my manuscript with a new eye.

I considered what might be missing from the synopsis, the five few pages, and/or the query. And I forced myself to try to be honest and objective--or as close to objective as someone can be after spending three years on a story.

The question: what is missing? My answer (according to what agents have posted online): find a way for the fantastical to be embedded in historical fiction. Find the story in the history that raises an eyebrow, or makes a young adult forget for a moment that they are reading historical fiction.

 A raising of the stakes, so to speak.

Since the first rejection, I have added another character and subplot that blends in with what I already had--not to rewrite the story, but introduce the element that is missing.

In the world of immigrants, WWI, and starvation/rationing in many corners of Europe, enter real-life physicist Max Planck. As the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1918 (the year of my story), Planck is considered the originator of quantum theory. He was also a brilliant musician--loving the piano. Without giving much away online, Planck adds the fantastical element to my historical fiction in that quantum theory can be extended into the addition of a time travel element, and it allowed me to find a more relevant and useful role for a character who initially just disappeared in the text.

Adding the additional subplot and character has already infused another 10,000. I am over 120,000 as of today. This had put additional queries on hold for the time being.

The big target is being ready for the SCBWI conference in late February where I can pitch agents face to face.

The interesting twist would be if I received a positive reply to a query and an agent asks for a chunk of the novel. Would the addition of the character and sub plot make the difference and push me over the top, or would it turn an agent off--as in, this wasn't mentioned in the pitch.

Writing odes with 8th grade students

We are exploring odes today in Creative Writing, and took a detour to see how Chilean poet Pablo Neruda modified the traditional ode. Known in some circles as an irregular ode, Neruda stripped away many of the formal rules of traditional odes. More importantly, he wrote odes to regular, common, everyday objects.

Quite a departure from the classical odes of antiquity: Ode to Beauty...Ode to Grecian Urn...Ode to Aphrodite, etc.

Our task, after reading and discussing Neruda's Ode to an Apple, was to write our own irregular ode:

  • choose an everyday object that you adore
  • exaggerate its admirable qualities
  • specificity of description is important
  • praise, praise, praise to the extreme
  • incorporate sensory imagery
My kids have had great fun writing things like Ode to Salt, Ode to My Elementary School Cubby, and Ode to Sweaters. Our poems have taken on a fun, silly, slant. Ultimately, the challenge, as I told them, was to try to write with adoration. As we learned, simply describing the salty-sweet caramel may not be enough. In order to elevate our writing so that the reader understands how much we adore this common thing, we found three things help: simile, metaphor, and allusion.

Here is the poem I developed alongside of them as they wrote theirs: Ode to the Cupcake Pan.

My dramatic reading was probably worth a modest admission.

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Endangered Project (Day 5)

Using class time to round out our initial research today, students are submitting their worksheets at the end of class. This also gives me the opportunity to sneak in some early conferences with students. Most have settled into using the technology to find some information. Many more are using videos and podcasts today--they were surprised that so many gardeners or seed enthusiasts publish videos of so many vegetables in their gardens.

Many a-ha moments today.  We learned thatYouTube and podcasts can be for more than entertainment.

As I have collected the worksheets throughout the day, I have reminded students that this is only a starting point. We gathered some information which I will read through and add some feedback to with post-its. Once I finish that work next week, I will start conferencing with small groups of students to help them develop their ideas.

Here is a small sample of what the students are thinking about creating with their research:

Student A has roughed out everything from a possible poem, to an essay idea, to a piece of art for the Moons and Stars Watermelon. I love the care she put into her colorful sketch.

Student B has sketched and outlined a possible infographic for the Wild Galapogos Tomato.

Student C has outlined an idea for an essay for the Golden Midget Watermelon. In the rough outline you can see that he writes, "possibly from a watermelon's POV?"

Student D came up with two separate ideas. This second idea is for a narrative or journal of the Peach Blow Potato. His things to look at/focus on include the changing care and rituals of seed saving over time; what roles potatoes have played in diet over time; and discovery of disease fighting/pest deterrents.

Student E wrote of the Wild Galapagos Tomato, "What fascinates me the most about this extraordinary tomato is its skin. If held directly between a bright beam of light, you'll be able to see through the skin. The insides of this tomato can be seen all throughout its life cycle without causing any harm. Like a mirror under the sun, the tomato will reflect light if at the right angle, giving off a sparkly shine. It's like those mystical fruits you read about in fantasies and this one little tomato brings it to life. You'd expect this exotic fruit was genetically modified for its attributes, but nature still holds many wonders even technology can't achieve.

We are off to a great start. Now, I can't wait until we start having some conversations about which heirloom seeds we are going to order so that we can cultivate them in our classroom.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Rechazo Dos

The fifth in series of blog posts for my 8th grade students about the process of trying to publish my YA historical novel.

Less than a week after receiving my first rejection, a second appeared in my email inbox. As you can see, this one is much different than the first.

Not quite as nurturing as the first one.

So far I am 0-2 as I wait on 28 other queries sent to potential literary agents.

While I am looking at it with optimism, I am planning on revising my query. Perhaps I have not emphasized the guts of the story enough.

Reading about query letters as the rejections trickle in, it is eye-opening to consider just how important it is. To put it one way, a query letter is like a resume sent to a potential employer. It is your college application, admissions essay, and letter of recommendation wrapped into one page.

As it reads now, my query emphasizes who I see as the man character, a sixteen year-old boy named Giuseppi. I did not say much about the fourteen year-old female, Josephine because I was trying to be as focused as possible with my query. Yet, what I have here, now that I look at it again after a week, is a wordy, overwritten synopsis that misses the point of what I was trying to create:
Built against the turbulent backdrop of WWI Italy, sixteen year-old Giuseppi embarks on a journey to escape the war. Illiterate and stinging from his father’s death, Giuseppi is sent by his mother from his home in Turin to southern Italy. Thrust into a world full of starvation, homelessness, and violence, he comes head to head with a loathsome padrone and leads a counterculture against him and all men like him.
Giuseppi bonds with fourteen year-old Josephine whose family lives on land owned by the padrone. This man exploits poor families for their savings and their females. Promising work, food, and shelter in America, the padrone contracts families to sign away large percentages of future earnings, hand over their life savings, and invokes his own “lord’s right” with their females.
Outdoor stove, Calabria, Italy. (Family photo)
Obsessed with his father’s lessons of respect, Giuseppi chooses to help others avoid the exploitation and chaos of their restless country. Choosing a path filled with violence and deception, his first client is the young girl he is falling for, Josephine. Her adoration for her father leaves her in positions she is too innocent and blind to manage. Left for months in charge of her younger, deaf sisters suffering from malnourishment, they perish in her hands. She is labelled and hunted by the padrone as a murderer. Nursing an old grudge with Josephine’s father, the padrone would like nothing better than to exploit her family and invoke his self-imposed lord’s right upon her. Giuseppi’s goal of  helping her escape to a new home in America, free and independent, is realized. He returns to his home in Turin to learn how to read and to continue to help the poor find a home. He finds both in one place and enters the seminary.
Ultimately, my book was always supposed to be about two adolescents who could only survive by shattering the differing norms for males and females in early 20th century society. In the manuscript, each character feeds off the other in order to break those traditional expectations. Yet, my query does not mention that point. I need to revise my query before I send out any more! And I definitely need a revision before I head to the SCBWI conference in February.

Blog Series
1st Post in the series: Pitches, Queries, and my YA Novel
2nd Post in the series: Relevant Bones, or the synopsis of a manuscript
3rd Post in the series: The importance of a North Star for writers
4th Post in the series: A Lesson in Rejection

The Endangered Project (Day 4)

After having off for the Martin Luther King Day of Service and two successive days of heavy snow in the Northeast, we were able to continue our work on the Endangered Project today.

Students had time to experiment with the Google Search Tips I outlined in the Day 3 blog entry, and I directed them to two library online resources (Ebscohost, and Student Research Center).

While the goal is to have kids explore and dig for information, they are hitting roadblocks. Some of the obstacles I have heard today:

  • What if I can't tell if my plant is endangered or not?
  • I can't find any companion plants for the Black Prince Heirloom tomato!
  • Nothing comes up for possible problems with the Kentucky Heirloom tomato.
Because most searches about heirloom or endangered plants take kids to seed companies, kids are experiencing an exercise in learning when to be specific with a search and when to be general. This adjustment in search strategies will still take some time. 

The experience is stretching my students because the information they need is not necessarily readily available or on the surface. Resource books are even difficult to find!

Tomorrow, I will be sharing a Google Doc that lists some online resources that they have not explored yet: videos, podcasts, infographics, and additional blogs. In my experience, kids do not often think of a YouTube video or a podcast as a source of information. Perhaps they think of those mediums as purely for entertainment. Maybe it is because education is constantly putting up STOP signs when it comes to the validity of online resources...i.e. Wikipedia.

Learning to become a discerning young adult is valuable practice. At times, kids need the experience of learning to search online and they need the autonomy of making decisions and problem solving.

Odds are, some of my kids will be satisfied with the first pieces of information they find. Some will become frustrated with the struggle of finding the information that they want. Others will continue to search (even with enough information already gathered) until guided to stop and evaluate what they collected.

At the end of class tomorrow I will collect their worksheets, evaluate them, and make myself some notes so that I can conference with each student next week. We will confer about what they are curious about and want to explore further for a project.

Friday, January 17, 2014

A Lesson in Rejection

The fourth in series of blog posts for my 8th grade students about the process of trying to publish my YA historical novel.

Among the many experiences life dishes out at us, rejection is something we don't really discuss enough until we are mired knee-deep in it. My first rejection arrived today from a literary agent and before I share it, I want you to know two things that may not make sense at first:
  • I expected it, and anticipate more
  • I'm proud of it, and anymore that arrive
When I say I expected it, that does not mean that I devalue my manuscript. Quite the contrary, I love what I wrote, but I also understand that what I am seeking is a business relationship. While I wrote the story I wanted to read, the next part of the process is finding that person who shares in my vision of the story. And as any agent or writer will tell you, it isn't easy.

Just because I wrote something doesn't mean there will be dozens of agents waiting for me. Life doesn't work that way. I have to keep working at my craft.

Another way to look it starts by realizing that literary agents read a lot. I can't even pretend to put a number on how many manuscripts they must look at in a day. The term for the imposing pile of paper looming in their offices is called a "slush pile." That is where unsolicited manuscripts go to wait and wait and wait. It is part of my job as the writer to write my story as perfectly as I can, frame it in a strong query letter, write a synopsis that also grabs the agent's attention. It is my job to make my story (author and novel) stand out above the rest. 

Early sketch and brainstorm for the story.
Writing is hard. 

It is an art. 

And because of those truths, it is rewarding.

The reward I carry with me over finishing a novel of 110,000 words can't be measured. And while I want and need a professional relationship with an agent to take the story to the next stage, I can't let one rejection stop me just as I cannot let 500 rejections stop me if what I did has any meaning to me at all.

That book may never be published, or it may find a home with an agent in a few days. Maybe a few months. I can't be impatient. It took three years to write. It may take just as long to find a home!

Let me put it to you this way, at the very least, many of you will soon share in three common rejection experiences: rejection in friendships (or dating), rejection in sports or the arts, and rejection over college applications. (Cheery thought, eh?) Nevertheless, those rejections will not stop you from having future relationships, swinging a tennis racket, or getting an education. Why stop? 

I am proud of the work that I did, but I also understand that if an agent agrees to work with me, that I may be revising that story for months or years! Who knows what an editor might suggest. I could be asked to rewrite it in first person, or to focus more on the villain, or to downplay another character. Anything can happen when you enter into a partnership over your story. 

Be proud of your work just like I am. But understand you have to keep working. Don't ever stop, don't stop learning, and don't ever stop trying. I don't blame this agent. She knows what she is looking at and what she is looking for--I have to embrace her opinion and learn from it. And then I have to keep moving and keep working!

First rejection letter from a literary agent for my book.
And I hope that this is an attitude that you can take something from as you move on to high school in a few months. Yes, chase your talent and your dreams, but be open to the experiences. Lessons can be found in everything, even rejection...especially rejection.

So, looking at this rejection letter, I can tell it is a form letter...she addresses me as, "Dear Author." Later in the letter, the agent notes that my writing did not quite grab her attention.

From reading and talking to agents and writers I know some of the following are common reasons that manuscripts are rejected:
  • the pacing is too slow
  • sometimes an agent does not connect with the character
  • something may be too similar in what the agency has already represented
  • the character, the voice, and/or the writing all need work

Well, I need to take the lesson from the experience. I, along with many others who received this specific rejection slip, did not grab the reader's attention.

Isn't that something we work on in 8th grade?

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The importance of a North Star for writers

The third in series of blog posts for my 8th grade students about the process of trying to publish my YA historical novel.

As all of my queries are done through email, some literary agents set up an automatic reply. Usually, an email comes back stating that they received your manuscript. However, I want to take a moment to draw your attention to the following screenshot. It represents a good lesson for you.

A literary agent does not need much of your work to determine if you are a writer they will devote any time to. Think about it--all they need are the first five pages in order to ascertain if they want to see more.

Five pages.

The prevailing theory is that whatever strengths and weaknesses show themselves on pages 1-5 are going to remain on page 6 and beyond.

In the most recent SCBWI bulletin, Kim Tomsic's article entitled First Impressions points out the importance of the first line. She writes, "action in books for the young must start before the opening line." 

Think about that. Your first line must come from within a world that is already happening, alive, and in conflict. We don't have the luxury of starting with backstory, setting, and sweeping character descriptions. Take a look at some of the examples that Tomsic offers:

"I remember lying in the snow, a small red spot of warm going cold, surrounded by wolves." Shiver by Maggie Steifvater
"There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife." The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman
"They took me in my nightgown." Between Shades of Grey, by Ruta Sepetys

This is not to say that an opening line is the be all and end all of your story. Rather, I tend to regard it as a frame of mind. It put me and my manuscript in a better place. Perhaps it will be changed based on the suggestions of an agent or an editor, but right now my opening line stands at:

"The Alps are a beautiful place to die."

Quite honestly, revising the opening of my manuscript in this way made me think of another excellent piece of writing advice. YA author Irene Latham told a class of my students to figure out what the North Star of their story might be, and follow that. Of course, the North Star is what sailors use to find their way home. As it pertains to my manuscript, my North Star was the question, how does this situation, act, conflict fit the immigrant's experience?

Having this very specific point written in the margin of my writer's notebook and typed into a note on Scrivener, guided the actions and consequences of my characters.

By applying the North Star theory to my opening line and first five pages, it gave my characters something to chase and it provided a coherence to the conclusion of the novel.

The novel ends with some characters having found their home. 

And we're left with others still looking. And who will always be looking.

Blog Series Links

Blog 1: Queries, pitches and my YA novel  
Blog 2: Relevant Bones or the synopsis of a manuscript
Blog 4: A Lesson in Rejection

The Endangered Project (Day 3)

Time to explore.

As a starting point, I set up a basic resource page for the students on a Google Doc. It contains blogs of a couple of gardening enthusiasts, some seed companies, and a few non-profits.

Students are free to move to other resources, but I have found that they need a solid jumping off point. They have four days to dig into resources, choose a plant, and fill in their their worksheet from Day 2. They should come to class on Day 4 with something to work with. Day will be about teaching kids to dig deeper, and to search for more specific information online. Searching online is a skill that has to be taught and modeled.

For instance, I can assume with a reasonable degree of confidence that my 8th graders do not know about these search strategies:

  • SEARCH tomatoes site:vanishingfeast.com searches the site Vanishing Feast for information on tomatoes
  • SEARCH 1800..1900 tomatoes searches the internet for tomatoes between 1800 and 1900
  • SEARCH heirloom*tomato will search for heirloom AND tomato with any word in between
  • SEARCH tomato -hybrid -recipe searches for the word tomato and removes any sites using the words hybrid or recipe

Some of the words I will be asking to apply to searches on Day 4 include: heirloom, endangered, provenance, history, open-pollinated, hybrid, non-hybrid, determinate, and indeterminate.

I am slowly building a classroom resource library for this project.
My students do not yet fully comprehend the relationship between heirloom and endangered. My hope is that their search allows them to make some connections on their own. For instance, a student approached me at the end of Day 3 and said she is noticing that several plants (tomatoes and potatoes) from Russia are dark purple, brown, or black. When I asked, do you think there is a connection? She replied, "I don't know, but I'm curious."

We are still just scratching the surface. But everything is set up to feed and ignite their curiosity. I want to get out of the way as much as I can and let the students take their research wherever it may take them. I'd be upset if this experience validated Mark Twain's observation, "Never let your schooling interfere with your education."

To that end, I want to add that there will be no test or quiz. No assessment. No score. As I mentioned in a previous post, the endgame here is to grow some of these heirloom/endangered plants here at school and allow students to take them home to plant in their gardens...or start a garden. A boy said to me, "I'm looking forward to this project because I told my parents last summer that I wanted to start a garden but never did."

The challenge for me will be keeping the conversation going, keeping the kids writing and sharing photographs of the progress of their plants in addition to the progress of their knowledge. Perhaps in a month or two we can write an essay about one facet of the experience and use that for an assessment, but for right now, it is time to explore.

And time for me to get out of the way.

Day 1       Day 2

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Relevant Bones, or the synopsis of a manuscript

The second in series of blog posts for my 8th grade students about the process of trying to publish my YA historical novel.

Some literary agents ask for a synopsis of a completed manuscript. Some do not. However, I ask queried several who do want them and I was left wondering how long should it be? This is one of those occasions where it is OK to ask as a writer, "how long should my essay be?"

Side note: it is definitely an egregious error to query a literary agent without a manuscript that is as good and polished as you can get it. The story is done. It has been revised and revised and revised. Other eyes have seen it and offered feedback. And then you revised and revised and revised. It is why my story took three years to get to this point. A point, I have to add, that has not seen its last revision, edit, note, suggestion, or ax. I fully expect to be expected to make changes. And that is the point and the purpose of seeking a business relationship with a literary agent--they will take your manuscript, bring in the right people, and work with you to elevate it.

Back to the synopsis...

The basic definition of synopsis is "a brief summary." Now, I ask you again: how brief is brief? Fortunately, some agents will save writer's the angst of guessing and will state in very specific terms what they want: a one page summary, a two page summary, etc.

According to blogger Jane Friedman, the number one problem in a synopsis is wordiness. The writer's task is to take the story and boil it down into a series of clear, relevant statements. In other words, write the bones of the story.

This was a challenge. Not that the bones are not there, but after three years of writing and revision everything starts to look like relevant bones to a writer.

My first attempt at a summary, as I scrolled page by page, filled five single-spaces pages. I believed I was following Friedman's suggestion of the four things a synopsis should include:

  • a clear idea of the core conflict
  • which characters will we care about or hate
  • include what is at stake, what is risked for the main character
  • how is the conflict resolved
My story was inspired by the immigrant
experience of my great-grandparents.
I put the five-page synopsis aside for a day, came back to it and cut it down to two. That was very difficult at first. Inevitably, I learned that I was not able to include every plot twist or every character's wants and fears. Large details of the story get cut back like a scythe cutting a field of hay. I hacked at the synopsis and revised what was left into very simple sentences. Instead of writing, "With the weight of memory sinking in her belly, Josephine stepped into the frost-capped tide and shuddered" I forced myself to write something like, "Josephine steps into the sea."

For instance, the first two paragraphs of my synopsis read:
In 1917 Italy, GIUSEPPI runs from home and the war in the north to live with an aunt in the south. Illiterate and sixteen years-old, he holds three possessions: his father’s death notice from the war department, the compensation paid to his mother, and the desire to be respected like his father.  His mother volunteers for the war effort in Milan and promises they will find each other again someday. PAPA FERDINANDO is conscripted into the Great War. MAMA leans on Josephine and neglects the home. She is bilked by the absentee landowner, the PADRONE. Resentful of Papa, the padrone takes their life savings in exchange for finding Mama work. Josephine is left alone, and to ill-equipped, to care for her baby sisters, the farm plot, and home.  

Did you notice some of the formatting? The first mention of a new character should be done in all caps. Notice the verbs? They need to be strong and specific since I am using direct, spartan sentence structure. Just write the relevant bones and extract all of the meat, the dressing, and the jewels.

Try it. It is not that easy...although I imagine it might be easier if you tried it with a novel you read. When you don't have the emotional attachment as the author to a piece of work, chopping things out might be easier. Nevertheless, give it a try with any book just for the experience of making the decision of what stays and what goes.

Finding the relevant bones in my writing proved to be an excellent exercise for all of its challenges. At least to my eyes, it demonstrated to me that my story was complete. I hadn't left any threads unaddressed. I didn't notice any plot holes or incongruous decisions by any characters.  It helped me see the consistencies and inconsistencies. Overall, it was a great way to walk through my text as another form of revision even though the synopsis omits (what I consider) a lot of great stuff.

The Endangered Project (Day Two)

In an attempt to lead students towards the information they will need to compile, each class searched for anything they could find about one specific plant. This was practice for when I set them free to choose whatever plant they want to work with.

1st period: the Sun Belle tomato.
2nd period: the Pineapple tomato.
3rd period: the Red Fig tomato.
6th period: the Dixie Golden Giant.
8th period: the White Zebra tomato.

During the search, I had them dig for information in the following categories listed on the main worksheet for the project:
  • Name of the plant:
  • What is the provenance of the plant:
  • List some the main reasons why it is endangered or considered an heirloom:
  • What specific conditions does it require to grow and thrive:
  • What are its favorite companion plants:
  • What makes it unique/special. Consider use, flavor, texture, share, color, contributions to the natural world:
  • List/Track all of the places you learned or borrowed information/experiences:
The purpose was to do the exercise together in a large group so that I could direct them through obstacles and encourage them to dig deeper into the online resources. Sometimes a younger student will simply take the first information available and pass on the opportunity of exploring and unearthing some other gems of knowledge.

Some of the common learning experiences today:
  • discovering the provenance of a plant is not so easy in some cases
  • information about plants is scattered all over the internet
  • plants are quirky and have a variety of needs
The next step is turn the project over to them: let them dig through some pre-selected resources, choose an endangered/heirloom plant, and find the story. What needs to be communicated and shared?

Day One       Day Three

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Pitches, queries, and my YA novel

The first in series of blog posts for my 8th grade students about the process of trying to publish my YA historical novel.

As I mentioned in class, I have a manuscript (as polished as I can make it) ready for the right literary for agent, editor, and publisher. Many of you offered me such helpful feedback that I thought you might enjoy seeing what goes into trying to publish a book. I plan on posting any feedback that I receive from potential agents (good and bad). Should my manuscript find a home, I will also share the details and the process that transpires.

Currently, I am in what is called the query stage. If you glance at my query letter, you will notice that a query is basically a pitch. I am pitching my manuscript and who I am as a person and writer to literary agents who might deem me and my manuscript worthy of a shot. This is the copy of my query letter

Now, I revise the opening to make it personal to each agent, but this is the basic form of what I came up with. It wasn't easy. For this, I leaned on Mrs. Kropp's help (did you know that she was a literary agent before becoming a teacher?).

Before pitching a manuscript, a writer has to figure out who to pitch. Not every literary agent is interested in the kind of book that I wrote, and not every literary agent is even accepting manuscripts. Sometimes you have to wait until they are ready to receive new ideas. 

For instance, I had planned on pitching an agent at Full Circle Literary Agency but they note on the first page of their website that they are closed to submissions until early February. So, I bookmarked them, and made a note to myself to pitch them when they are ready.

Some great advice I found in some magazines and online is to query/pitch new literary agents. New literary agents are actively seeking clients, especially new writers.

I found some agents in a book called the 2012 Guide to Literary Agents. Other agents came to my attention through a magazine called Writer's Digest. However, many agents are on Twitter--and I follow them. Often, an agent on Twitter will share their thoughts about writing, wish lists, and the publication world. I have learned a lot just be following many on Twitter.

I am keeping a running list of the agents I pitch and when I pitched them. Many state that it takes 4-6 weeks on average to hear back from them. You can click on their names to see the kinds of things they ask for in a query letter. It isn't always the same, so you have to be careful and read the details. This is my list so far:

My first outline of the story in my writer's notebook.
Tuesday, January 7

Saturday, January 11

Sunday, January 12

Monday, January 13

To conclude this first blog entry on the process, finding a literary agent is not the end by any stretch of the imagination. It is the beginning the rest of journey of trying to publish a book. If someone wants to work with and take me on as a client, they will make suggestions and turn me and the manuscript over to an editor--that could take a long time (which is ok). And by the way, I may never find an agent. Many stories exist of writers going through hundreds of pitches and rejections before landing an agent!

The Endangered Project (Day One)

After reading the Youth Edition of Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, my 8th grade classes are about to embark on a multi-tiered project:
  • research endangered edible plants, fruits, and vegetables
  • choose one of the endangered species and tell its story through essay, poetry, infographic, podcasting, art, and research
  • as a class, we will choose some of these plants and order their seeds if accessible
  • as a class, we will plant them in my room
  • mature plants will be taken to our homes and planted in our gardens
  • some plants will be donated to our school's vegetable garden
  • our projects will be contributed to a library seed bank
  • the intention is to document the success of our plants through Google+ throughout the spring and summer, even when school is not in session
Today, we spent ten minutes freely exploring endangered plants. With iPads and Chromebooks, students started to search for them. Directed to chase ideas, words, pictures that they found interesting, we began to uncover some common themes.

Some of the more general reasons (that we discovered today) why plants are endangered are climate change and disappearing habitats. 

On Day 2, we will model the task I will turn over to them on Day 3. We will be searching for everything we can find as group about one specific plant and entering it into a worksheet I created on Google Docs.

Day Two       Day Three