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pagepenChildren’s book writers were treated to another fun and informative first page session this week in Princeton, hosted by the NJ-SCBWI. Editors Michelle Burke and Allison Wortche of Knopf & Crown Books For Young Readers listened to 30 first pages read aloud as they followed along with each manuscript page. Then they gave their immediate first impressions of the work.

If you’ve never attended a first page critique, it’s a quick way to get a handle on what your peers are writing. A first page session shows you what it’s like for an editor to spend two hours in the slush pile. Common themes emerge. Mistakes reveal themselves. If you listen carefully, you’ll learn how to avoid first page problems and encourage an editor to read on.

So what did the editors say? I encourage you to read on…

Picture Books:

Use varying imagery in picture books. One manuscript conveyed a lot of emotion and the editors didn’t see where the illustrator would take inspiration for art. The same scene through several page turns may lose a child’s attention.

Dialogue needs to match the age of your character. A picture book character shouldn’t sound older than a five- or six-year-old child. Their actions should also match their age.

Cut excess detail in picture books. The first page of the manuscript should reveal a clear story arc. If the manuscript is bogged down with details, it slows the story down. For example, writing that a mother is carrying a napkin to the table and setting it down next to the plate is unecessary (unless that specific action is crucial to the story, and even so, it could probably be illustrated).

Premise and conflict should be apparent on the first page of a picture book manuscript. For example, dialogue between two characters should reveal a story, not just serve as adorable banter.

Every line in a picture book should move the story forward. There’s no room for chatting or extraneous stuff.

Picture books should have a linear approach. Moving back and forth in time can confuse a young child.

With holiday stories, you automatically have to work harder. Stories about specific times of year are a tough sell. There’s a lot of competition and a small sales window.

Some picture book stories are told better without rhyme. If the phrasing is unnatural in rhyme–things you wouldn’t ordinarily say–it can be jarring to the story. One bad line can ruin the manuscript’s chances.

Middle Grade/YA:

The narrator/main character should be the highlight of the first page. One manuscript began by describing a minor character as a way to compare/contrast the narrator. However, when that minor character disappeared from the rest of the page, the editors were confused. Was that comparison necessary to introduce the narrator?

Historial fiction should tell a story. The reader should get a sense of the main character first–how he/she is affected by historial details. Too much fact will bog the story down and lose the character.

Don’t be too reptitive in a novel–get on with the story. If a main character reveals the same thing over and over again on the first page, it feels overdone. Introduce a concept and then move on with the story; don’t circle back paragraph after paragraph.

A first person narrative should have more narrative than dialogue on the first page to take advantage of this device. Plus, the narrative voice and the dialogue voice should match (unless the disconnect is for a specific purpose).

Avoid the stereotypical whiny, displaced, unhappy middle-grade voice. More than one middle-grade manuscript began with a character learning that he/she had to move. The result was a whiny narrator who wasn’t necessarily likeable. Editors warned that they see a lot of the parents-uprooting-child theme, so to rise above the slush, consider a different approach.

Be cautious in stories with several important characters. It’s difficult to write a story with multiple characters because introducing them can sound like a laundry list. Reveal their personalities in a way that’s organic to the story. It also asks a lot of the reader, to keep track of several characters.

Watch tense. The switch from dialogue to narrative in one story felt very abrupt because the dialogue was in past tense and the narrative was in present.

The difference between MG and YA is edgy, gritty. If the main character’s personality feels innocent, the genre might be middle grade, not young adult.

Balance description and dialogue. Dialogue moves a story along fast. Description slows it down. Long stretches of each create a choppy storytelling rhythm.

Make descriptions specific, not generic. One story began with vague details that could be applied to almost any story setting. It wasn’t until further down on the page that the reader learned the unique time and place, something that attracted attention. The editors suggested moving that info higher up.

YA characters should be teenagers. College YA characters and those over the age of 19 can be a tricky sell. That moves the story into adult territory. YA readers need to relate to the characters, and 20+ seems like a lifetime away to a 15 year-old.

Finally, stories should be kid-friendly, not sprinkled with adult sensibilities. One of the editors warned, “this feels like it’s about kids rather than for them.” Don’t let a parental point of view creep into your writing–kids find that creepy.

I’ve pulled together some questions and answers from yesterday’s QueryDay on Twitter. I’ve edited this slightly to make it more readable (there’s more room than 140 characters here). The questions are in no particular order and may not include every response. In fact, I’ve removed answers by writing peers to concentrate on agent advice.

I hope this helps you with your query process. Thanks to all the agents and writers who participated!

Will an agent overlook a title she doesn’t like to request proposal/chapters for a query that otherwise caught her eye?

Rachelle Gardner: It’s all about the writing. The story. Yeah, a title can help or hurt your chances, but not make or break.

What are the rules for resubmitting after lots of revision? (We’re talking years since the original sub.)

Rachelle Gardner: Most important rule on resubmitting after revision: Be honest, say it up front.

Is it best to send a query to a few agents at once or just send them one by one?

Rachelle Gardner: I don’t know of any agents who expect or even want exclusivity on queries. On requested partials, yes.

Scenario: Big publisher has full manuscript. They offer contract. How can one query an agent to represent you in this situation? Is it proper?

Colleen Lindsay: It will depend on the offer. Agents are in it for $$$ too, so if the offer isn’t big enough, we won’t care. It takes as much time to work on a $2000 deal as a $20,000 deal. Not every deal created equally. But you should always have a publishing lawyer look over the contract even if an agent won’t rep you.

Greg Daniel: If I were a writer trying to find the right agent, I’d pay for access to Publishers

Regarding requested material: What is it that ultimately kills the YES when you read a partial or full that had potential?

Lauren MacLeod: Actually, it goes the other way. I start with probably no & you can move to yes with great voice & writing.

Rachelle Gardner: TOP reason I say “no” to queries is the story doesn’t sound unique, fresh, exciting. The problem isn’t the query, it’s the book. What kills the YES? That’s where it gets difficult and subjective. Does the story grab me and not let go, or not? What about being told “your writing is good” but still no? Remember–dozens of queries in the pile. Can only say yes to a few.

I’d think it’s better not to compare your book to other books and just let it stand on it’s own, meself.

Rachelle Gardner: Listing comparable books is important, it puts yours in context, shows you know your market, helps agent “get” your book.

Would this put you off – if someone spends years perfecting one novel? Would output be a concern?

Lauren MacLeod: No need to tell me in the first place (nothing to gain), but I expect first novels to have had more polish than 2nd.

Greg Daniel: No, wouldn’t concern me.

Why do publishers/agents even bother with email partials? Why not just take the whole manuscript and stop reading if it’s a dud?

Lauren MacLeod: I ask for email partials to manage expectations. I try and write longer & more involved rejections for fulls.

Having a hard time deciding what genre my novel is, should I leave that part out of query or can you suggest a way to help decide?

Rachelle Gardner: You must include the genre. Publisher, bookstore, consumer all need to know! Find books/websites that discuss genre.

How much of it is really who you know? How much of the process relies on you receiving recommendations?

Rachelle Gardner: Referrals definitely help. That’s why you go to conferences and network like crazy. I appreciate referrals from my current clients, editors I trust, and other friends in the industry.

Elana Roth: Connections help. Half my list is from referral, but the other half is from queries.

Greg Daniel: The only recommendations that make much difference to me are writers who are referred to me by my current clients.

Are most agents from NY or CA? Is it okay to query agents in other places? Are they for real?

Lauren MacLeod: With email and phones agents anywhere can get in contact with editors. First and foremost, pick someone you connect with.

Rachelle Gardner: It’s a good point about agent location. The Internet has made it easier for publishing folks to live anywhere.

Should a fiction writer ever mention their education or academic publications?

Lauren MacLeod: It should be mentioned in your bio, certainly, esp. if you are planning on doing more, but it should be a CV.

I’m worried about being relevant to the market…will the super hero novel I’m writing now still be relevant six months from now?

Lauren MacLeod: A great story with dynamic writing will always be relevant. Write good books, don’t worry about trends.

Do I need an agent to get a great book published?

Lauren MacLeod: Not necessarily, but probably to get it in the hands of the editors at the big houses & to negotiate a fair contract.

What are you looking for when it comes to voice?

Colleen Lindsay: Authenticity.

In my YA query, would you want to know if I’ve been mentored by famous YA author?

Kate Sullivan (editor): YES, I would LOVE to know if you were mentored by a famous, accomplished or great YA author in a query/pitch.

queryfailIn early March, several literary agents, organized by Colleen Lindsay and Lauren E. MacLeod, participated in QueryFail on Twitter. They sat at their desks, inboxes open, a pile of envelopes at their side, and then read queries one-by-one, Tweeting examples from undesirable letters: “I know that I have attached a file, but please have a read even though it’s against your policy.”

Lesson #1: follow submission guidelines.

Lesson #2? Even though many writers felt QueryFail was interesting and helpful, there was a considerable backlash from those who felt it was unfair to share query letters meant only for the agents’ eyes. But listen, if you’re an aspiring author, that means you want your words to go into print someday. You have to be ready for the criticism. If you’re not confident about sharing your query letter, perhaps you should try writing another one.

QueryFail2 was all set for yesterday, but it didn’t happen. Instead, we got QueryDay. The guidelines were supposedly the same, but the tone was decidedly different. Agents opened the floor to questions from writers, making QueryDay an interactive event. And because writers became participators, I doubt that anyone who witnessed QueryDay had anything negative to say about it.

Several positive spins emerged. Elana Roth of Caren Johnson Literary Agency announced her first QueryWin of the day early on. She requested “a YA light sci-fi novel. Strong query. Good voice in sample pages.” She was also impressed with a “Smart cookie author/illustrator: did not attach art to email, but pointed me to link of her art online. Win.”

Later on Ms. Roth passed on “a 3,000 word picture book” and a “YA novel set in college. Still on the fence about that. And only 39,000 words.” Writers, you need to know the proper word counts for your genre.

Agents also provided tips. Rachelle Gardner offered, “This may be hard to hear, but I suggest you avoid being in a rush to get published. Take TIME to develop your craft.” Later she confessed, “A query that makes me laugh is a great thing! Whether or not the book is for me, it definitely gets my attention.”

Agent Lauren MacLeod shared information on her preferences: “For the record, I prefer not published to self-published. For me, self-published has to try harder. Others feel differently.” She then explained, “Why my self-pubbed position? 1) I assume it has already been widely rejected by agents, 2) might have already exhausted the market.”

Some themes and suggestions emerged repeatedly, like submitting polished work. Lauren MacLeod announced, “I assume you have edited your work, have a writers group and have shown this to someone who likes it.” Later on, Colleen Lindsay said, “A writer needs to get the manuscript into the best shape possible before querying. An agent’s job is not to handhold or coddle or boost a writer’s self-esteem. An agent’s job is to sell the manuscript.” Editor Kate Sullivan presented this caveat, “Remain open-minded and be ready to revise. You need to be open to changes every step of the way.” Even a polished manuscript can be improved.

The most important thing learned from QueryDay is really quite basic: write a sharp query and follow guidelines.

And just how much time does an agent devote to your query? Lauren MacLeod answered, “A query that is to our guidelines, within normal word count range and my genre? About 5 minutes. These are rare.”

She then summed it up: “More important than anything: WRITE A GOOD BOOK. Good writing, good plot & good voice trump all.” Rachel Gardner agreed, “Fiction writers…it’s ALL about the writing. Nothing’s as important as what’s on the page. If it rocks, nothing else matters.”

Got that? Now if only the word “good” weren’t so subjective…

I collected a number of questions and answers from QueryDay that other writers may find useful. I’ll post separately…coming very soon.

rowanofthewoodPublishing a book can be an adventure, and that’s especially true for Christine and Ethan Rose. Authors of Rowan of the Wood, the husband-and-wife team take to the road in their “Geekalicious Gypsy Caravan” to promote their book.

Released with Austin-based Dalton Publishing last November, Rowan of the Wood became a finalist in USA Book News’ National Book Award for Young Adult Fiction. Even with this recognition, Christine and Ethan knew they would have to take on much of the promotion responsibilites for the book to get noticed.

“We knew that promoting both on and offline was essential in getting our book ‘out there.’ First time authors, especially with a small, independent publisher, have a difficult time getting into bookstores. By visiting bookstores for signings, it forces books onto the shelves and creates an interesting event. We get to go out and talk to our readers face-to-face, so it establishes a connection that we hope will last throughout the series.”

Their first tour lasted three weeks as they visited Louisiana, Texas and Florida, appearing at Renaissance Faires and Celtic Festivals on weekends and at bookstores during the week. Their next planned tour, May to July, will feature stops from Mississippi to Missouri with eight weekend events and 20 bookstores on the schedule. They’re also adding libraries to the intinerary and will tell tales in the ancient Bardic Tradition, with a lyre that Ethan crafted. Ambitious? You bet. These folks are passionate about their book–and promoting it.

I asked Christine about the best part of being on tour.

“The best experience is just being on the road! I guess the highlight is when a guy stopped us in a Safeway parking lot (because of the Gypsy Caravan) and bought a book. Another highlight was when we totally sold out of books!”

I was curious about their travels, so Christine offered a tour of the Geekalicious Gypsy Caravan:

Here’s the video on How to Make a Geekalicious Gypsy Caravan with cover artist Ia Layadi. The first coat of green paint peeled right off, and one of the signs printed too short, so lessons were learned along the way.

Indeed, publishing a book can be an adventure. Never were it more true for the Roses. They are a small publisher’s dream come true–artists who are as creative with promotion as they are with their stories.

You can find the Rowan of the Wood intinerary at Follow Christine on Twitter, or check out her videos from the road by subscribing to her YouTube channel.

Are you crazy about horses? Jessica Burkhart is!

She’s the author of Canterwood Crest, a new tween series from Aladdin MIX. It’s The Clique meets The Saddle Club.

In this video, Jessica talks about her source of inspiration, shows off her extensive lipgloss collection, and gives advice to young writers hoping to be published someday. Jessica, now 22 years old, was first published at the tender age of 14.

The 12-year-old fan interviewing Jessica is my neighbor Roshni, who just happens to be my expert source on all things middle school.

Take it away, Roshni and Jessica!

UPDATE! The winner of the autographed copy of The Great Call of China is Karen Kincy! Congratulations, Karen!

Cynthea will be contacting free-tique winners directly.

Thanks to everyone who entered!

Visit for the AFTER HOURS party!


Today’s the day!


The release of Cynthea Liu’s debut novel
The Great Call of China!


And if you’ve come for the release party…
…you’ve made it to
the right place!



We’re celebrating all day long with:

  • An exclusive interview with Cynthea, answering writer’s questions
  • An autographed book giveaway
  • Free-Tique, Teeny-Tique & goody bag giveaways
  • An extended party invitation to Cynthea’s website where you can view behind-the-scenes videos, play games and win The Great “Haul” of China!

Yeah, yeah, there’s some rules. But they’re fun! (Snoop’s in charge.) And they’re after the interview. So let’s get right to it…

cynthea1If you could describe your writing style in one word, which word would it be?
~ Suzanne Young




I wish it weren’t true! Other adjectives might be commercial or funny. But that all depends on what I’m writing.


What’s your juiciest behind-the-scenes story on the making of The Great Call of China?
~ Jennifer Hubbard


The making of THE GREAT CALL was quite uneventful until the very last round of revisions. The publisher requested I shorten the book by about 15K words, and the deadline was 7 days away.  Not long after that announcement, I received my editorial letter for the last round of PARIS PAN revisions, asking for a 20K cut and I had ten days to do that. To top it off, I was a new mother, nursing a six-month-old baby about eight times a day. That’s a lot of numbers, folks!


So you can imagine that I subsequently stroked, then regressed into a six-month-old thumb-sucker myself. In the end, I managed to get an extra week, cut down THE GREAT CALL by about 10K words and PARIS PAN by another 10K. It was the toughest three weeks of my writing career.


Moral of the story? Don’t be verbose if you can help it! J


How do you find the time to write, promote your writing, and be so active in the writing community?
~ Karen Kincy, Jennifer Hubbard,
Bettina Restrepo


I have the wonderful help of a college student named Julia who comes in each weekday while I go off to work, build my writing career, and interact with all of you. Though, admittedly, the last couple of months, I’ve been working on just about everything, but the writing.


clara_taraAlso I can run on less sleep than I ever dreamed possible. Baby Liu has trained me well!


Snoop, of course, also helps out by taking on meals and housecleaning.


Do you ever sleep? How did you get to be so awesome?
~ Jennifer Hubbard


Aw, that’s sweet! Yes, I do sleep (sometimes with my eyes open). And thanks to Baby Liu and Starbucks’s Caramel Macchiatto, I only need about about 5-6 hours a night.  I do take days off though, which is great for recooperating.

What has been a rock bottom moment for you as a writer, and how did you climb higher?
~ Karen Kincy


The rock bottom moment came about two years after I started writing. It was February, 2006. I had racked up a lot of rejections, and in that time, I felt like I had been close, but not close enough, you know? I wondered if I would ever sell anything. Sure, I know, many writers go through much more rejection. But that’s all relative. When it’s YOUR dream, when it’s YOUR goal, everything is way worse. It doesn’t matter if it’s two months or 10 years. For me, I had been subbing everything from PB to MG. I thought maybe I should try something else. I put together a YA proposal for a series. What came back? A rejection that stated my writing was “generic” and “lacking pizzazz.”  GASP!


That rejection really stung even though the editor had been right about the submission. After that, I promptly made an appointment at get my hair done. I was tired of staring at my rejected-self in the mirror. I was going to dye my hair purple (a tasteful deep shade of purple), and I was confident I would walk out of the salon a better writer.


Of course, the new hairstyle didn’t improve my writing, but a group-scream on the Blue Boards helped. I tried to move on, but the rejections continued. Nine months after that, I confessed to my SCBWI regional advisor that I was ON THE VERGE (… of breaking down!) . I even thought about forming a group called ON THE VERGE so we could all drink together. Then the next month, I turned in another revision for PARIS PAN (the fifth major round of revisions), totally unsure of what I was doing.  Seriously, I was thinking I should try something else on as a new career – like becoming an agent, or maybe doing Snoop’s laundry…. Then PARIS PAN sold at auction in a two book deal to Putnam. A  couple of weeks later, the same editor who had called my writing generic bought a different series book I had pitched with my agent. That book was THE GREAT CALL OF CHINA.


What was your favorite book as a child? As an adult?

~ Nan Marino


I had sooooo many favorites that I can’t possibly pick just one.  But as a kid, I was a huge fan of any book that featured animals. Black Beauty, Trumpet of the Swans, The Mouse and the Motorcycle. The first novel I completed, actually (which is in a metaphorical drawer at the moment) is about a talking dog. 


As an adult, I haven’t read anything that has touched me as much as the books I read as a child.  But … I did read HARRY POTTER in my mid-twenties. I just had to see what the hoopla was about, and that book got me in touch with the left-side of my brain again, a side I hadn’t used much since junior high.  So thank you J.K. Rowling for reminding me that I am very much a kid at heart.


Do you dedicate a certain amount of time to marketing each day, or a certain day or week? AuthorsNow! is an incredible resource. What plans do you have for its future?

~ Bettina Restrepo


I SHOULD be dedicating time each day to marketing, but I am easily distracted! In fact, I think I suck at marketing. Seriously, I don’t really like to pitch my own stuff. The whole idea of walking into an indie bookseller and introducing myself and my books freaks me out. I much prefer to just talk to people online about nothing much. I find Facebook and Twitter—my latest time-sucks–wildly entertaining.


As for AuthorsNow!, I just answered that question on Cynsations. In short, my main hope is that the web site continues to grow as a resource, and that more and more book enthusiasts use it to help them find the books they’re looking for! 


exhausted-snoopHow old is your bunny Snoop, and where did he come from?
~ Karen Kincy


Snoop is about 6 years old now. That makes him a middle-aged bunny, maybe nearing retirement. He was adopted from the House Rabbit Society, an organization that does awesome work for bunnies like Snoop who needed homes. Little known fact: Snoop had actually been adopted by someone else before I came along. Apparently, Snoop had not been getting along with other bunny housemates in his new home. (Can you imagine that?) So he had to be adopted out again.


Now he is happily ruling my roost, and he doesn’t even mind Baby Liu all that much. Another little known fact: Snoop used to have a different name, but I didn’t think it fit his personality. He was much too forward and nosy for his old name. Can anyone guess what his old name was?


Snoop is uncommonly wise for a bunny. Are there special scientific experiments involved?
~ Jennifer Hubbard


Ha! Snoop drinks a powerful shake every morning. Packed with all that leafy-green goodness. Maybe that’s what it is.


How did you and Snoop become a critiquing team?
~ Nan Marino


It started in my first blog entries in 2005.  I had just come out to the world publicly as a writer, and I felt incredibly naked with only me blogging in my entries. So scary. Snoop stepped in and helped out.  His first spoken word on my blog was … “BURPPPPPPPPPPP!!!!!!!!!!!” He still likes to do that now and then.


Does listening to Snoop chomp on the manuscripts he critiques help you improve your own writing?
~ Roxanne Werner


snoopeatingmsGreat question.  In some ways, it has opened my mind to new ways of writing, but I’m not sure it has influenced my own that much.  Writing style is your unique fingerprint. It’s like you can’t do anything to change that unless you perform major surgery or something. My crit partner Tammi has her own fingerprint as does my other crit partner Beverly. I’ve seen many, many prints, but that doesn’t really improve the way I write. If I see something really good, I just feel depressed about it. I promptly proclaim, Why can’t I write like that?! 


So no, sadly I can’t absorb genius from other people’s writing. I can only HOPE that I learn to become that good.


Does Snoop feel rejected when you get a rejection? Vannie, aka Pooper Dude (our bunny), absorbs the anxiety of the household, and is skittish for days afterward. How do you both deal?
~ Nancy Viau


Yes, Snoop is very tuned in to my emotions. He has offered his furry shoulder to cry on more than once. We find that TV is also great way to take one’s mind of things, as is an uncommonly good veggie buffet. 


When are you going to write a story starring Snoop? Does Snoop (or a bunny) appear in either of your upcoming novels?
~ Stephanie Ruble


Awesome question. Snoop has yet to star in his own show in my manuscripts. He quite likes flaunting his stuff on the Internet without worrying about being rejected by someone else.


Also if you didn’t know, Snoop has written a couple of books about himself already. There’s The Life and Times of Snoop Bunny Bun.  And Feed Me about a Chinese girl who starves one helpless bunny into rebellion. He sold that one in a five-book meal, to Rupert Bun-doch at auction!


He is rather talented.


Do you have a big book idea inside you that you know you want to write “someday” but its time has not yet come?
~ Jennifer Hubbard



I have this image in my mind – really it’s just a picture in my head, nothing more – I hope I will write about that picture one day. But no, the time has not come.  When it does, you will know!   


How do you ensure that your writing appeals to your young audience?
~ Julie M. Prince


I guess I won’t know anything for sure until kids and teens have my books in their hands. While writing the manuscripts though, I focused on putting down stuff that entertained Snoop and me. For younger kids, that usually means something humorous. Bonus, if there’s an element of mystery.


For THE GREAT CALL OF CHINA, a young adult book, I tried to write something that reflected what I might have been thinking or feeling when I was a teen.


cyntheaxianDid you travel to China as part of your writing process for The Great Call of China?
~ Susan Lorene


Yes, I did. I went there twice as a matter of fact. Once during the proposal stage and again before I started writing the rest of the book. My brother lives in Xi’an (where the story is mostly set) and he took me around town. I got to see most of the city’s hotspots. AND I even got to interview a whole class of Chinese teens about relationships, food, school—everything!  You should have seen everyone blush when we discussed romance.


Another memorable experience in Xi’an was getting to teach English to a bunch of kindergartners. You should have seen how big the kids’ eyes got when I told them funny stories about Snoop.  They couldn’t believe a bunny likes to watch TV!


But it’s true!


When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? 
~ Kymberly Pelky


When I was really young, I used to declare to my parents that I wanted to be a movie star or a dancer. Then as I got older, somehow I had ideas like “doctor” and “lawyer” in my head. Could it have been years of lecturing from Mom and Dad? I think so. 😉


I never thought I’d become a writer until I was 28, when I realized I needed to do something wildly different than the job I had. I was a technology consultant who had spent the last six years flying back and forth between cities, 4 days a week. And if I wasn’t flying, I was fighting heavy traffic for hours on end, and I do NOT do well with long commutes.


Now I never have to leave my house unless it’s on fire. YAY!


What are your three top tips on how to succeed in this business?
~ Tammi Sauer


How to SURVIVE? Or how to succeed? Not sure I’ve got “succeed” down yet. Call me when I’ve won the Newbery, and we’ll talk. Okay, it’s not that you have to win a Newbery to succeed, but really, I feel like I’ve only just begun in this biz! There is still a long road ahead.


How to survive though?  I think I have that one covered.  You need to have plenty of perseverance, a thick skin, and a desire to grow and learn.  


What do you want readers to know about The Great Call of China before they delve into Cece’s adventure?

~ Tara Lazar


Nothing actually. Don’t even read the jacket because I think jackets can be terribly misleading. Just read it and enjoy Cece’s story! Oh, and buy more copies for your friends, and their friends, and their dogs, and their bunnies …. (see? That’s me, doing some marketing. YUCK! I feel so sleezy now!) 



Cynthea! You’re anything but sleezy! 


But hey, I’ll let folks know that The Great Call of China is available online at Amazon, B&, Borders and Indiebound, and in bookstores around the country. Get your copy now before they sell out! 


And now…the moment you’ve been waiting for…the prizes!  

Here are the rules! Take it away, Snoop! 


snoop-tallTo win an autographed copy of The Great Call of China, please leave a comment by 11:59pm (EST) tonight, February 19th. I, Snoop, will draw a winner with the help of And if you’d like to guess my original name, and you nail it, you’ll get two extra entries.  


To get a Teeny-Tique or win one of three half-page critiques…plus a goody bag…listen to this…  


You know how people say you can lose an editor or agent at line one? Well, here’s your chance to test your first line on me, Snoop. I will render a judgment with a special Teeny-Tique round of TRAFFIC COP.  This means I will render a judgment of RED (stop!), YELLOW (sketchy, and here’s why) or GREEN (You’re a go!). 

So think about your first lines. Don’t think they’re important? 


Think again, my friend.

Now, here’s how to enter: 

1. Go to and click on the “Party Favors” tab. You’ll fill out one form to receive the party favor and the Teeny-Tique. Include your name, email and mailing address. (Your contact info will only be used to send your party favor and to reply to your submission.)
2. In the Party Favor Request Form, there is a field labeled  “Please leave a comment for the Host!”   That is where you will include the book type (PB-picture book, ER-easy reader, CB-chapter book, MG-middle grade, YA-young adult) and the first line of your manuscript. (Example: PB. “This is the first line of my manuscript,” Snoop says.)
3. Click submit and you’re done. Please refrain from saying anything else in that field.




 4.  Remember your tiquee vows.  

5.  Snoop will respond as soon as possible, but it may take a few days or longer. We don’t know how wild this party’s gonna get. 

6.  To win one of the three half-page tiques, Snoop will close his eyes and chomp at a printed list of people who completed party favor forms. The first three chomped-on names with Snoop’s teethmarks in them win the half-page tiques.   

Failure to comply with the rules may result in automatic disqualification by the Snooper! *GASP!* 

And that’s a wrap! Before you leave, don’t forget to comment for your chance to win an autographed copy! Guess Snoop’s original name (and get it right) to receive two more entries!   Remember, you only have until 11:59 tonight, February 19th!


Thanks to everyone for coming!  


Enjoy your party favors! 


Enjoy The Great Call of China!

You’ve marked February 19th on your calendar, right?

I’m hosting a release party for Cynthea Liu’s debut novel The Great Call of China. And check out the great giveaways! Watch the video!

UPDATE! Cynthea is giving away more stuff! It’s unreal!

Everyone who attends the virutal book relase party (comments on the day of the book’s release) will get a mini goody bag (US only) and a Teeny-Tique! More details to come on the 19th! So be sure to visit!

toolsofchangeThis week, leading-edge technologists, social media gurus and publishers discussed the future of publishing at the O’Reilly Tools for Change for Publishing conference.

I just read a wrap-up from Publishing Trends that blew my mind. Chris Brogan, President of New Marketing Labs, suggested that publishers put their slush piles online, as a way to determine if the public would want to read it before it gets published (or rejected)!

Brogan also said that “Twitter is THE social media tool publishers should learn how to use…it’s a better marketing tool than MySpace or Facebook.” Why? It encourages discussion and allows users to develop genuine relationships.

The publishing industry has to be very careful that books don’t go the way of music before they’re ready for it. Can you imagine a Napster for literature? The Kindle 2 was just released–and its sleeker, magazine-slim design is appealing (there’s a waiting list). Publishers must embrace technology now, before clever programmers enable the public to make their own decisions about how they’ll purchase books.

I’m eager for your thoughts. What do you think about social media and publishing? How will it change the game?

greatcallofchinaOn February 19, Cynthea Liu, one of the most givingest authors in the children’s writing community, releases her debut novel in the S.A.S.S. series, The Great Call of China.

Just look at that cover! Gorgeous! Here’s a taste of the adventure in store for the main character, Cece:

Chinese-born Cece was adopted when she was two years old by her American parents. Living in Texas, she’s bored of her ho-hum high school and dull job. So when she learns about the S.A.S.S. program to Xi’an, China, she jumps at the chance. She’ll be able to learn about her passion—anthropology—and it will give her the opportunity to explore her roots. But when she arrives, she receives quite a culture shock. And the closer she comes to finding out about her birth parents, the more apprehensive she gets. Enter Will, the cute guy she first meets on the plane. He and Cece really connect during the program. But can he help her get accustomed to a culture she should already know about, or will she leave China without the answers she’s been looking for?

Join me on February 19th as we welcome The Great Call of China to the world! Yeah, it’s like a virtual baby shower!

Do you have a question for Cynthea?

She’s the author of the upcoming Paris Pan Takes the Dare and the must-have writing guide Writing for Children and Teens. She’s the brains behind AuthorsNOW, and mom to an adorable toddler and one critique-lovin’ bunny named Snoop.

Email me at tarawrites at yahoo dot com and Cynthea will answer your questions on release day.

And, if you can, please devote your blog to The Great Call of China on February 19th. Let’s give back to this writer who has done so much for aspiring authors. If you’re in, please leave a comment so I can link to you!


Yeah, I changed the name of my February blogfest. Mostly because “Children’s” didn’t fit on the candy heart generator. Oh, the sacrifices we make for our art.

 Here’s a sneak peek at the upcoming author interviews… 


Jessica Burkart, author of the brand new tween series Canterwood Crest, billed as “The Clique” meets “The Saddle Club.”




Toni De Palma, author of Under the Banyan Tree, an Association of Booksellers for Children Best New Voices pick.




katharine1Lisa Mullarkey, author of the new Katharine the Almost Great chapter book series from Magic Wagon.




steampotvilleSteve Ouch, author/illustrator of SteamPotVille, a little independent title making big Tweets.




Aaron Zenz, author/illustrator of HICCUPotamus and the groovy dad behind Bookie Woogie book reviews.



Plus authors Jennifer Brown, Brenda Reeves Sturgis, Mary Ann Scott, Corey Rosen Schwartz…and I’m working on a few more.

And now the prize announcements!

Each comment you leave in February counts as an entry to win a $25 gift certificate to the bookstore of your choice. (Be sure I can reach you via your comment link. Comment as many times as you wish, but only one comment will count per blog post.) If your choice is your local independent bookseller like The Bookworm in Bernardsville, NJ, you’ll win a $35 gift certificate. melamine

The winner will be chosen out of a hat, which may or may not be an actual hat. Probably a melamine mixing bowl like one of these:

Plus, some of our featured authors will be giving away autographed copies of their books! Woo-hoo!

I’m having a blast putting this together, learning a lot from these new authors and getting inspired. I hope you will be, too!


Like this site? Please buy one of my books! It supports me and my work!

As a children's book author and mother of two, I'm pushing a stroller along the path to publication. I collect shiny doodads on the journey and share them here. You've found a kidlit treasure box.

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illus by Melissa Crowton
Tundra/PRH Canada
June 4, 2019

illus by Ross MacDonald
October 15, 2019

illus by Vivienne To
Spring 2020

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Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
August 2020

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