I periodically interrupt my scheduled programming to probe my readers for questions that they want answered. It seems like I have a lot of new readers these days — a lot of my comments are from first timers who have never commented before — and so I want to stay on top of what you want to know.

Leave your burning questions about children’s books, the agent search, writing, querying, publishing, etc. in the comments and I will use them to spark future posts.

Also, my Writer’s Digest webinar is tomorrow! Registration is still open and I am offering a quick writing sample critique to everyone who signs up. You can register for it by clicking here. Even if you can’t make the time or date, all registered students have access to a recording and notes from the webinar for one full year. (For all of those readers asking about critique submission instructions, those are emailed to you after you register.)

31 Replies to “Questions?”

  1. What is an appropriate amount of negotiation between an agent and a first-time writer, if any? What items are reasonably negotiable? How involved is the writer in discussing the terms of a book deal, or is that essentially left up to agent and publisher?

    I’m assuming that since I’m trying to get published for the first time, I don’t have much wiggle room, but maybe I’m wrong.

  2. Thanks for opening up the floor! Question: if a writer decides to have an MS professionally edited by a reputable editor known in the biz (I dunno, an Alan Rinzler or a Lisa Rector perhaps), should the writer ever mention it in the query?

  3. Priscilla Mizell says:

    Hi Mary!

    I very much appreciated your June 14th piece on author/illustrator teams and the challenges of publishing a debut picture book. In the June post and your post on Blue & Egg, you mentioned working on “author/illustrator packages.” However, I have heard that an author/illustrator needs to first “prove herself” as an author or an illustrator before being published as an author/illustrator. Is this the case?

    What is your advice for an author/illustrator on submitting a picture book when the text and images are dependent upon one another for meaning? As the Andrea Brown Literary Agency does not accept attachments with queries, a mock-up or dummy would be out of the question. But would an agent be interested in receiving written illustration ideas alongside a text query, or should the illustrations come later, only after an agent expresses interest in the project?

    Thank you for your insight! I look forward to attending your webinar and reading your critique.

  4. I’ve been told more than once on more than one manuscript (by editors in the trade market) that I should be submitting to the educational market. The second time was this weekend and it was a light bulb moment for me…Do agents represent writers that write for that market? (I recognize they represent people like Jane Yolen who has made a nice living in the educational market…)

  5. In our writing group, we have been talking about whether or not it is harder to find an agent and/or sell our YA manuscripts if they are contemporary romance/realistic vs. paranormal or fantasy.

    What are your thoughts on this? If it is more difficult, is there anything that does happen to work particularly well or would make a manuscript more saleable within the contemporary genre?

  6. thanks for this opportunity to ask questions!

    1. is there a better or worse time of year for querying? for example, i’ve heard agents are inundated with (bad) submissions in december after nanowrimo. i’ve also heard that the summers are slow/on vacation. and then there’s the holidays. should i try to time my query to reach agents during what is an ideal period (whenever that may be) or just send it when it’s ready?

    2. i have a theory, based on the many writer blogs and forums i read, that when agents offer rep, they usually do so quickly, usually within two weeks, but often days. is there any truth to this? would you hold onto a full for 2 – 3 months and still offer rep. or if you’re offering representation do you usually do it as soon as possible?

  7. I would just like your opinion on a series for a first-time author. If I want to plan out a series, should I do it before, in the beginning of writing and hope that if/when I get an agent and then a publisher that they will have the same vision as far as how many books there should be, if any more at all? And if my book’s ending is still fairly open (although not leaving any huge cliffhangers), will this put off any agents that might be willing to represent it? Or should it be pretty much completely closed with a possibility of sequels?
    Thank you for your time!

  8. 1) I’d like to know more about agents and how they go about repping author/illustrators. I read an awful lot about query letters for authors but how does an author/illustrator query?

    2) What are you looking for when assessing an author/illustrator?

    3) I’d also like to know whether you’d turn down a story you loved but knew wouldn’t be an easy sell (I’m imagining something literary that for whatever reason didn’t suit the market at this time?).

    4) Illustrator notes in PBs. I’ve got a story that absolutely requires them but I feel amateurish including them because I’ve read you shouldn’t. Should I try to rewrite the story without them?

    5) How is Sushi? (That question isn’t really about writing, is it?!)

  9. I don’t have a question right now, but since I’m one of your newer readers, I wanted to mention how much I appreciated last December’s Revision-o-rama posts. They sparked new thoughts for me as I revised (and revised and revised).


  10. Leona Broberg says:


    Perhaps I’m the only one who wonders, but…

    I’ve often read that children’s books should be timeless. That addressing current technologies, trends and even political situations should be avoided because it dates the material. Yet, I’ve picked up a lot of books that don’t hold to this. What’s your take on it?

  11. Hopefully you’ll take two questions:

    1. Why do some editors and agents request that you not send them simultaneous submissions? It doesn’t seem to be in the author’s best interest at all, considering the time necessary for submission.

    2. If a publisher decides to run your manuscript by their editorial board and asks you not to submit to anyone else in the meantime, can you decline (or is it wise to)? In my case, this happened and my manuscript was ultimately rejected, but I had to sit on what was otherwise a simultaneous submission while I waited to find out what they wanted to do.

  12. This is related to Zoe’s question: Should I have my full MS professionally edited before even submitting a query to a book publisher? If so, how do I pick the right editor (I want to make sure they’re not only skilled, but can relate to my “voice.” Thanks.

  13. Hi,

    I have a writing question. I’m just about to start writing a new MG manuscript. I want the opening scene to be at Thanksgiving dinner. I usually avoid openings with too many characters, but Thanksgiving dinner is truly where the story begins. Do you have any advice on introducing multiple characters without getting too name-y/ confusing?

    Many thanks!

  14. I’m hoping to start submitting to agents soon with my current work in progress, an MG novel. However, I’m hesitating to send it to some agents, like yourself, who are affiliated with an agency where all the agents represent my category.

    If, for example, I send it to you and you say, not for me, would that mean it’s not for any of the agents at the agency or just you individually? It seems I might be getting a response from several agents with one submission.

    Just wondering.

  15. I’m finally nearing the end of a year of revising that debut manuscript and am facing that dreaded query letter again. I know you’ve addressed this before and offered advice on this subject, but wondered if things had changed and what the latest and greatest advice was on the “you must vs. your must never use the “My story is _____ meets _______” line, i.e. “My story is Finding Nemo meets the Matrix.” Okay, I made that one silly on purpose, but you get the idea. I’ve read books and articles on pitching that insist you must include this in your queries and others that say, “Don’t it. Don’t do it. Don’t do it!” Which is it? Is it comparing to other novels that shouldn’t be done? Is it safe to use story concepts from other forms of media?

    When I’ve gotten this far, I want to be rejected on my first ten pages or partial or full, not on making a poor marketing choice!”

  16. Thank you for taking our questions. I’m one of the newer (and very happy) readers who have discovered your blog since the last go round, so this I appreciate getting this chance.

    I have been hearing a lot of buzz lately about a new genre called New Adult for the college age reader. What is your opinion? How does a writer balance YA and New Adult titles when it comes to seeking an agent? In other words, many agents seem to work with either YA/Kidlit or adult fiction. Would this mean two agents for a writer who wants to write for both age groups?

  17. I’m so excited for the webinar tomorrow!
    Thanks for answering my e-mail question this week about technology in contemporary YA–your link was a huge help. A new question: What’s the best time to start submitting work to a critique group? Should you wait until it’s finished or submit chapters as they’re written?

    Also–and this might sound dumb but I’m new to the lingo–are beta readers the same as a critique group? How do you find beta readers?


  18. I appreciate your helpful blog.
    My question:
    Is it acceptable to send a query letter about a completely different story to the same agent who rejected a previous query?
    Thank you for your reply.

  19. Great question from Bethany. I’m really excited about the webinar too!
    I would like your opinion on writing across genres, since I am quite new to that. I have been writing picture books, but I am also just starting to re-write an MG novel. I’d love a pro’s and con’s of writing across genres.


  20. Can’t wait for the webinar! I’m relieved it’ll stay ‘live’ for a year; my toddler, who isn’t as excited as I am, may pull me away from the laptop when she’s had enough of playing by herself.

    Are you running any more competitions this year?

  21. Jen Zeman says:

    Hi Mary. I’d like to second Jenna’s question above regarding pitching a series. I’m in the process of revising my manuscript that is the first in a series (plan is for 3-4 in the series). Do I mention this in my initial query letter? If not, when should I mention it?


  22. Hey Mary-
    Thanks as always for your time on this. My first question: are you going to set up another Crit-Partner match-up this fall? It’s such a great thing, and I’ve met one person through it but would love to seek out a few others (and the July one seems to be winding down…)
    Also, I have a couple of related questions about aspiring (meaning as-yet-unrepped/unpublished) authors attending conferences. First, which 2 or 3 New England/NYC conferences do you feel are the most worth attending when you’re at this early stage in your career? And second, how do you think authors can make the most of their time and dollars when they do go to one of these events?
    Thank you thank you!

  23. Hello!

    I’ve completed an “upper YA” novel and am now going through another round of revisions based on agents’ feedback. My novel involves cursing, sex, and even drug use. I’ve had agents tell me that this is fine because YA is now pushing the envelope and my novel may be considered “edgy.” However, I have had a few others that have told me that it may be too “edgy.” What are your thoughts about “edginess” in YA? Are agents and publishers afraid of it because it’s less marketable? I’m a school counselor, so a lot of my story ideas come from actual cases I’ve seen. I think teens should be able to read something authentic to what’s occuring today.

  24. Hi, Mary.

    I don’t have a specific question, but I’d love it if you would talk about picture books more often.


  25. I’d kill for that Webinar, but alas, funds don’t permit. So I’ll wish you GOOD LUCK! I know everyone ‘attending’ will get a ton of amazing info. 🙂

  26. Mary,

    Break a virtual leg at the webinar!

    I always love what you have to say about craft, so I want to make a general call for more posts on craft issues.


  27. Hi Mary,

    I am another newer reader. I believe next month I will be seeing you speak at a local conference, and I’m looking forward to it.

    I’d love to know more about your thoughts on synopsis writing. Best tips? Best resources. For some reason that task feels more daunting to me than the query letter, and many agents require it at the initial stage. How would you compare the tone of the synopsis versus the query?


  28. I hope your webinar runs wonderfully tonight!


    Many current (fantasy) boy books start by stating a danger before the story even begins (e.g. The Lightning Thief) so that the reader KNOWS things are really going to ramp up. Is it becoming cliched or expected in that style of story now?

  29. Jackie Yeager says:

    Hi Mary,

    Thank you , thank you for the great info at today’s webinar!

    You talked about writing from different POVs in YA. Are your thoughts the same for MG?

    Also, if you have written a novel from multiple POVs but one is the most central character, should this be mentioned in my query letter?



  30. I’m so excited to hear the webinar!! I realize that it’s already past but I missed it so I still have yet to hear it. I’ve tried going to the site but it just tells me the webinar is over. How can I access it?

  31. Wahhh! Help! I wasn’t able to attend the webinar live but thought that I would be able to access it later, but when I click on the link in the email all I get is a box saying ‘This webinar is over.’ What am I doing wrong?!

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