How I Got My Agent with Gayle Pitman

Short version: I submitted to an agent who was at Spring Spirit!

Long version: In summer 2012, I queried an agent named

Deborah Warren Gayle Pitman
Gayle Pitman and Deborah Warren

Deborah Warren from East/West Literary Agency. She had attended that year’s Spring Spirit conference, and she was on the coveted “submission list.” The manuscript I queried about was titled THIS DAY IN JUNE, and it was a rhyming story about an LGBT Pride celebration. Several months went by, and I hadn’t heard back, so I continued to submit to other agents and publishers. In 2013 the manuscript for THIS DAY IN JUNE was picked up by Magination Press.

Shortly after I signed my contract with Magination Press, I received an e-mail from Deborah. “Please send a full manuscript of THIS DAY IN JUNE to me,” it said. I responded, letting her know that it had already been acquired (how often does that happen?), but that I’d love to submit more work to her in the future if she was open to it. She was open, but at the time she wasn’t interested in anything I submitted to her.

Fast-forward to February 2015. I’d just learned that THIS DAY IN JUNE won the 2015 ALA Stonewall Award. (Yippee!!!) Later that week, I received a congratulatory e-mail from Deborah. I seized that opportunity and asked her if she’d be interested in representing me. Within the next month or so, I’d signed with a real, live AGENT!

As we speak, Deborah is negotiating a publishing contract for a YA nonfiction book, she is shopping two of my picture book manuscripts, and she is helping me refine a third manuscript before it goes out on submission. I couldn’t ask for a better agent!

51lOr0fYHkL._SY398_BO1,204,203,200_Winner of the ALA’s 2015 Stonewall Award, this wildly whimsical, validating, and exhuberant reflection of the LGBT community welcomes readers to experience a pride celebration and share in a day when we’re all united.

Gayle E. Pitman, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and Professor of Psychology at Sacramento City College. She earned her undergraduate degree in clinical psychology at Tufts University, and completed her Ph.D. in clinical psychology (emphasis on psychology of women) at the California School of Professional Psychology. She has conducted research on the physical and mental health of lesbian women, and has written numerous articles and book chapters on gender and sexual orientation. She lives in Northern California. For more information about Gayle, visit

If you have an agent and would like to share how all that wonderfulness happened, please send your story (300-600 words) to

Island of the Blue Dolphins, New Edition

A new edition of the 1961 Newbery-winning classic by Scott O’Dell, 51nnrijt3tl-_sx331_bo1204203200_including two previously excised chapters, was released late last year. Also new in the edition, released by the University of California Press, are essays by an archaeologist and a critical piece on the historical ‘Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island’ who inspired the book.

With undertones of feminism, dystopian fiction, and questions concerning the validity of a white man writing from a Native American woman’s perspective, Island of the Blue Dolphins remains topical, despite its age.

For more information and a deeper examination, please see Laura Miller’s piece in Slate magazine.

Miller, Laura. (2016, Nov 10). Island of the Blue Dolphins and the Dream of Loneliness. Retrieved from:

Further vs. Farther: Which one is it?

How much further do you have to go before you finish your manuscript? Or, wait—writerly distraction—is it how much farther? How much farther do you have to go before you finish your manuscript? I’m so confused. In case you are too, here’s Grammar Girl Mignon Fogarty to the rescue:

“Further” Versus “Farther”

The quick and dirty tip is to use “farther” for physical distance and “further” for metaphorical, or figurative, distance. It’s easy to remember because “farther” has the word “far” in it, and“far” obviously relates to physical distance.

For example, imagine Squiggly and Aardvark are flying to a galaxy far, far away, but Squiggly gets bored and starts mercilessly bugging Aardvark. “How much farther?'” he keeps asking in despair.”

Did you hear that? Squiggly used “farther” because he was asking about physical distance.

If Aardvark gets frustrated with Squiggly, which he surely will, he could respond, “If you complain further, I’m going to shoot you out the airlock.”

Aardvark used “further” because he isn’t talking about physical distance, he’s talking about a figurative distance: the extent of Squiggly’s complaining.

More “Further” Versus “Farther” Tips

If you can’t decide which one to use, you’re safer using further because farther has some restrictions.

Sometimes the quick and dirty tip doesn’t work because it’s hard to decide whether you’re talking about physical distance. For example, Lisa asked about the sentence “I’m further along in my book than you are in yours.” You could think of it as a physical distance through the pages and use “farther,” or as a figurative distance through the story and use “further.”

And what if you stop someone in the middle of a sentence to interject something? Do you say “before we go any further,” or “before we go any farther”?

The good news is that in ambiguous cases it doesn’t matter which word you choose. Although careful writers will try to stick with the distinction between “further” and “farther,” the Oxford English Dictionary, Fowler’s Modern English Usage, and a number of other sources say that, in most cases, it’s fine to use “further” and “farther” interchangeably, especially when the distinction isn’t clear. People have been using them interchangeably for hundreds of years, and a few experts don’t even follow the distinction. For example, Garner’s Modern American Usage notes that in British English, although it’s more common for speakers to use “farther” for physical distance, they will regularly use either “further” or “farther” for figurative distance (1).

How to Use “Furthermore”

It is important to remember that “farther” has a tie to physical distance and can’t be used to mean “moreover” or “in addition.”

We’re nearly out of fuel. Further, there’s an asteroid belt ahead.

A trick I use is to write “furthermore” when I mean “in addition.”

Furthermore, I hope you locked the door when we left.

“Furthermore” is different enough from “further” to keep me from confusing it with “farther.”


Finally, if you’re interested in the history of usage, “further” is the older word and according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage (2), it was 1906 when the first usage guide called on writers to make a distinction between “further” and “farther.”

Quick and Dirty Tip

The quick and dirty tip is that “farther” relates to physical distance and “further”  relates to figurative distance. If you can’t decide which one to use, you’re safer using “further” because “farther” has some restrictions, and if you tend to get confused, try using “furthermore” instead of “further.”

1. Garner, B. Garner’s Modern American Usage, 3rd Edition. Oxford University Press, 2009, p. 346.
2. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage. Springfield: Merriam-Webster, 1994, p. 430.

Source:  Fogarty, Mignon. “Further versus Farther.” Web blog post. Quick and Dirty Tips. Grammar Girl, 22 April 2010. Web. 12 April 2016.


Ellen Oh Talks Diversity & ‘Flying Lessons’

In this entertaining and candid interview with the author and cofounder and 41hqWFNDuKL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_president of We Need Diverse BooksEllen Oh discusses diversity, the origins of WNDB, and how Flying Lessons and Other Stories happened with Wesley Salazar for Brightly.

And P.S. If you’re a fan of Flying Lessons, rejoice! A YA version is coming in 2018. 🙂 See the article for more details.

Salazar, Wesley. On Diversity in Kids’ Lit: An Interview with Ellen Oh About Flying Lessons & Other Stories. Retrieved from:

How I Got My Agent with Jennifer Laam

It’s been a year since the release of Jennifer Laam’s second novel, The Tsarina’s Legacy. Let’s celebrate with the story of how she got her agent!

The story of how I got my agent begins with my critique partners. Without their support, I never would have summoned the courage to query an agent in the first place. Writing is a solitary and often lonely business, and my group kept me going. My number one advice for anyone who wants to publish? Find a critique group. Now. (Okay, maybe wait until after you finish reading my article.)

After multiple rewrites of my manuscript, I decided the time had come to query.

Jennifer Laam

I wrote a thoughtful, concise and error-free letter. Normally, I’m not confident anything is error-free, but believe me, every phrase was shredded. Every word was agonized over and examined until I hated opening that document so much I wanted to cry. A strong query is grueling and difficult to write and anyone who claims to enjoy that process must be lying. Nevertheless, as we all know, this is your shot, and it has to shine.

My initial plans for querying agents involved elaborate spreadsheets and a promise to myself that I would not hide under the bed for a week after each rejection. This was a “good” plan, but it wasn’t necessarily the “right” plan for me since I hate spreadsheets and have the thinnest skin ever. I found it easy to procrastinate.

Fortunately, my tech savvy sister-in-law convinced me to join Twitter. This was before I understood that all writers are on Twitter. I started following Publishers Weekly, and through their tweets learned an agent named Erin Harris was actively seeking debut novelists. Erin’s interests aligned with the themes of my debut novel The Secret Daughter of the Tsar. She seemed hungry for new talent and eager to build new writers’ careers. I polished my query and the first ten pages of my manuscript one last time.

And then I froze. I was afraid. Once I started querying, I set up the possibility of facing constant rejection and perhaps never publishing. I remember hesitating over my laptop at a café in Sacramento, wanting to delay sending the query one more day. One of my critique partners sat next to me. She told me if I kept waiting, the query would never get out in the world at all. I hit send.

A few weeks later, I signed on with Erin Harris, then at the Irene Skolnick Agency and now at Folio Literary Management. Within a few months, she sold my book. She has made my dream of publication come true and continues to sell my novels and nurture my career. I was lucky to find Erin so quickly, but I had put in time beforehand to make sure my manuscript and query were ready. And I had critique partners who became dear friends to support me the entire way.

IMG_0040 copyThe Tsarina’s Legacy, released on April 5, 2016 by St. Martin’s Press/Griffin, is a companion novel to Laam’s debut The Secret Daughter of the Tsar. In 1791, Prince Potemkin returns to St. Petersburg to restore his legacy and win back the love of his life, Russia’s powerful Catherine the Great. In the present, Romanov heiress Veronica Herrera is invited to the same city as a ceremonial monarch. As Veronica encounters unanticipated dangers, Prince Potemkin provides the inspiration she needs to tackle difficult choices.

Jennifer Laam is an alumna of the University of the Pacific (History and Russian Studies). She resides in Northern California, where she spends her time writing, reading, and line dancing. You can find more about her at

If you have an agent and would like to share how all that wonderfulness happened, please send your story (300-600 words) to

Did You Know?

You’re kid lit people. You’ve been around. You know stuff. You probably know that themadeline-cover beasts drawn by Maurice Sendak in Where the Wild Things Are were almost horses (totally true), or that Dr. Seuss wrote Green Eggs and Ham after a bet (also true). But did you know that nearly everything you think you know about Ludwig Bemelmans’ Madeline is wrong? Seriously. She’s not even French.


For thirteen weird and wonderful facts about kids’s books (including the unbelievably earth-shattering and worldview-changing facts about Madeline) check out this fun piece from Buzzfeed. Enjoy!

Whelan, Nora. (2017, Jan. 30). 13 Weird and Wonderful Facts About Your Favorite Books as a Kid. Retrieved from:

Kid Lit: What Makes it GOOD?

There are all kinds of books for kids, from classics like Where the Wild Things Are to insaneimages
successes and cult classics like Goosebumps. But what makes them good? Does a book have to be socially conscious to qualify? Do you measure by book sales? Does it need to do anything other than make a child want to turn the page? Where is the line between pulp fiction and literature? And ultimately, does it matter?

Children’s author Adam Gidwitz examined the issue in October 3rd’s New Yorker. For more on the interesting discussion, see the full piece.

Gidwitz, Adam. (2016, Oct. 3). What Makes a Children’s Book Good? Retrieved from:

Finding Your Spark with Calvin and Hobbes

imgresEver wonder what inspired the character names in Bill Watterson’s iconic cartoon strip Calvin and Hobbes? The answer is philosophy.

Watterson knew that while philosophy might not be for everyone, studying it can develop one’s ability to ask meaningful and sometimes hard questions about life. And that, he believed, WAS for everyone. He called this discerning ability ‘the Swiss Army Knife of mental tools’ and encouraged hundreds of graduating seniors to give it a try during a commencement speech in 1990 at Kenyon College. It’s a great pep talk. You might want to squirrel it away for the next time you feel low, or beaten by rejections, or just like giving up on your art. Not that any of us ever feel that way…

For Watterson, it took some tough questions, years of rejections, and hard decisions about life before he found Calvin and Hobbes—who, by the way, were named after philosophers John Calvin and Thomas Hobbes. Now that’s a thing you know. 😉

For the full speech see the hotlink above. For highlights and excerpts, read this blog post from Better Humans by Charles Chu. Enjoy!

Charles Chu, “Bill Watterson: How to Find Life’s Meaning,” Better Humans (blog), Feb 4, 2017,

How I Got My Agent with Jessica Taylor

After finishing my first young adult manuscript, like many writers, I set out to see it published. At that time, I hadn’t yet made the wise decision to join SCBWI—I didn’t even know other writers! But I’d always been goal oriented, so I started by making a list of goals for my writing career. I soon realized the only way to accomplish those lofty goals was with a literary agent on my side. The first time I fired off a query letter, I was full of hope, so sure the agent would connect with the work, offer me representation, and sell my book in a career-making deal. I know I’m not alone in beginning the query process with those feelings, and I’m also not alone in the disappointment that followed.

Author Jessica Taylor

By my third novel, I was discouraged but still hopeful, and a few months into querying that book, I received that exciting I’d-like-to-schedule-a-phone-call email. I was literally jumping up and down, and for a long time, I regarded the day I signed with my agent as the happiest day of my writing career. Even though that agent sold one of my books, it soon became obvious that our union wasn’t working.

Writers love to discuss signing with agents, but what they don’t often talk about is when that relationship isn’t working, when that agent you’ve signed with isn’t the agent for you. In reality, most writers have more than one agent over the course of their career, and that means many of us go through the disheartening experience of saying goodbye to an agent. As I’ve watched my friends go down this road, I’ve seen many of them consider compromising their goals. There’s nothing wrong with publishing without an agent, but in my case, I had promised myself I would stick to my original plan.

In September of 2015, I jumped back into the query trenches and did a lot more research on who would be a great match for me. This time, I selected only ten agents. A couple weeks later, I had an offer of representation from a fabulous agent. At this point, I hadn’t heard back from the other agents, so I emailed everyone to let them know I had an offer. My next offer came from Melissa Sarver White at Folio Literary Management. While she wanted the most extensive revisions, her ideas strongly resonated with me and my vision for the book; I knew she was the agent for me. A few months later, Melissa sold my contemporary YA, A Map for Lost Girls, in a fabulous two-book deal she negotiated with Dial/Penguin. By staying true to my plan, and by acknowledging the fact that my first agent and I were not a good match, I’d met many of my goals. Now I couldn’t be more excited to bring A Map for Lost Girls into the world with Melissa by my side.

Jessica is also the author of Wandering Wild (Sky Pony Press).

22de627c-a9ba-4fbf-bf80-3fe25132cfbdSixteen-year-old Tal is a Wanderer—a grifter whose life is built around the sound of wheels on the road, the customs of her camp, and the artful scams that keep her fed. Then in a sleepy Southern town, the queen of cons meets Spencer Sway—the clean-cut Socially Secured boy who ends up hustling her instead of the other way around. As her obligations to the camp begin to feel like a prison sentence, the pull to leave tradition behind has never been so strong. But the Wanderers live by signs, and all signs say that Tal and Spencer will end in heartache and disaster. Is a chance at freedom worth almost certain destruction?


Jessica adores sleepy southern settings, unrequited love, and characters who sneak out late at night. After graduating from law school, she realized she’d rather write her own stories than read dusty law books. She lives in Northern California with a sweet-yet-spoiled dog and several teetering towers of books. Visit her online at or on Twitter @JessicaTaylorYA.





If you have an agent and would like to share how all that wonderfulness happened, please send your story (300-600 words) to

Periods & Parentheses

What the heck happens when a parenthesis (or is it parenthesi? Nope. Singular = parenthesis, plural = parentheses) occurs at the end of sentence? Does the punctuation go inside or outside? Maybe you’re already clear on this, but it’s always made me wonder.

paren.jpgWell, according to Mignon Fogarty (Grammar Girl to you and me), it depends. She says:

When a parenthetical statement falls at the end of a sentence, the placement of the terminal punctuation depends on whether the words inside the parentheses are a complete sentence.

If the words inside the parentheses aren’t a complete sentence, the period, question mark, or exclamation point that ends the sentence goes after the parenthesis:

  • Squiggly likes chocolate (and nuts).
  • Could Aardvark bring home candy (quickly)?

If the words inside the parentheses are a complete sentence, the period, question mark, or exclamation point that ends the sentence goes inside the parenthesis:

  • Bring chocolate. (Squiggly likes sweets.)
  • Buy candy. (Bring it quickly!)

There you have it! And it’s actually not as complicated as I expected. 😉

Source:  Fogarty, Mignon. “Periods and Parentheses.” Web blog post. Quick and Dirty Tips. Grammar Girl, 21 February 2011. Web. 08 April 2016.
Image: Helvetica Paintings: ( ) Parentheses, Shane Becker at Flickr. CC BY 2.0.