Pub Rants

Category: Submission Pitch Letters To Editors

And as further celebration, my original pitch letter to editors when this work was on submission. A couple of things to note:

1) As my letter reveals, UNDER A PAINTED SKY was not the original title. We have Stacey’s estimable editor Shauna to thank for that! It was a great suggestion and way more evocative than Golden Boys. LOL Titles can be tough. As an agent, I either come up with a terrific one right away for the submit or it doesn’t happen until after the book is sold etc. But editors trust me so I know they’ll read the manuscript even if the title isn’t 100% golden. Pun intended.

2) This novel has received a lot of accolades and two STARRED reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus. Over the last two weeks,  several editors have reached out to me with congratulations and a request for me to keep them in mind for future stories like this. Given how wonderfully this title is coming out of the gate, it’s easy to assume this might have been a slam dunk of a sale when on submission.

It was not.

Putnam really took a chance and with Shauna’s (and Jen Besser’s) wonderful editorial guidance and vision, Stacey worked hard to perfect the story of Sammy and Andy for the novel you get to read today. My fingers are crossed that this is a sleeper hit in the making.



It was so lovely to see you while I was in New York. As promised after BEA, I’m sending along GOLDEN BOYS by Stacey Lee, a  young adult historical western a la True Grit.

After I had offered rep and Stacey accepted, I dug in to do the slow read. I was worried that my lack of sleep caused by staying up to read the manuscript had impaired by judgment when offering rep. *grin*

Lucky for me, it was just as good, if not better, than the first time I read it! I love love love it! Get ready to hold on to your saddle because I think you are going to love it as much as I do.

After a suspicious fire burns down her father’s dry goods store with him in it, newly orphaned Young San-Li, who goes by Samantha Young, confronts the landlord she suspects of setting the fire. When she accidentally kills him in self-defense, her only option is to hit the Oregon Trail. She knows the law in 1849 will not side with the daughter of a Chinaman.

With a whip-smart runaway house slave at her side, “Sammy” and “Andy” disguise themselves as boys and join a band of young seasoned cowboys headed for the California gold rush. Sammy must evade bounty hunters and hunt down Mr. Trask, the man entrusted with her dead mother’s treasured jade bracelet. When she also falls for West Pepper, a cowboy with no tolerance for greenhorn boys let alone girls, Sammy is convinced that the trail poses more hazards than a demure violinist can handle. 

When the wild West doesn’t prove big enough to hide her, Sammy must choose–avenge her father, forsake the memory of her mother, or embrace a new identity forged in the frontier and forever lose her history. 

Stacey Lee wrote her debut novel GOLDEN BOYS because her great great grandfather was one of the first Chinese to come to California at the time of the gold rush. She wondered how a Chinese girl born in the U.S. during its expansion west would have fared.  This novel won the 2012 Golden Gate award at SCBWI Asilomar Conference. This work is also a finalist in the Chicago North Romance Writers of America Fire and Ice Contest.


All Best,


Editor Letter For The Pain Merchants

STATUS: Just survived my first crushing London rush hour Tube commute on the Piccadilly line. Talk about being up close and personal with my UK compatriots…

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WAKE UP CALL by Maroon 5

I’m having lunch all week with different UK editors—some in the children’s world and some in the adult world. I’ll start blogging about any interesting tidbits I discover tomorrow. I didn’t want there to be too much distance between when I discussed Janice’s original query and the letter I submitted to Donna. We had actually talked about this project a month or two before I submitted it. If memory serves, I was sitting at Donna’s table at Book Expo when I first pitched her this project.

As you can see from my letter below, I always like to pull out what is the most interesting facet to me. How I think this work is different from the multitude of fantasy titles already in existence. For this novel, it’s grappling with the question of whether the ends justifies the means that really stands out for me. So often, middle grade doesn’t focus on that gray area much and I think it’s handled beautifully here.

Also notice that I pulled in some pieces from Janice’s original pitch blurb—especially sentences that I thought captured the tone/voice of the story.

Hello Donna,

As promised, I’m finally submitting to you THE PAIN MERCHANTS by Janice Hardy. What I love most is the ethical question at the core of this novel. At the most basic level, this novel is about whether the ends justify the means and the main character Nya is more than willing to sacrifice a principle or two in order to save her sister.

But then where does one draw the line? Nya is already pushing the boundaries of what could be considered the “gray” area between right and wrong. Is it possible to slide across that line and down a path that will have too many consequences to allow a return to goodness?

That’s at the heart of this children’s fantasy. Here’s a peek at the storyline:

Fifteen-year-old Nya is one of Geveg’s many orphans; she survives on odd jobs and optimism—finding both in short supply in a city crippled by a failed war for independence. Then a bungled egg theft, a stupid act of compassion, and two eyewitnesses unable to keep their mouths shut expose her secret to the two most powerful groups in city: the pain merchants and the Healer’s League. They discover Nya is a Taker, a healer who can pull pain and injury from others. Trouble is, unlike her sister Tali and the other normal Takers who become league apprentices, she can’t dump that pain into pynvium, the enchanted metal used to store it. All she can do is shift it from person-to-person, a useless skill that’s kept her out of the league and has never once paid for her breakfast.

When a brutal ferry accident floods the city with injured and the already overwhelmed Takers start disappearing from the Healer’s League, Nya’s talent is suddenly in demand. But what she’s asked to do with her healing ability is beyond wrong and she refuses until her sister Tali goes missing. Finding her sister means taking on the League and to do something that stupid, she’ll need what only her “useless skill” can get her. As her papa used to say, principles are a bargain at any price, but how many will Nya have to sell to get Tali back alive?

The author Janice Hardy is a member of the Georgia Writer’s Association and is active in several workshops and critique groups. Her fiction has appeared in Dimensions (A local lifestyle magazine), Predictions (a local genre magazine) and Air Currents (The In-flight magazine for Continental Connection). She’s also an instructor with Writer’s Online Workshops—teaching Essentials of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing and Fundamentals of Fiction. Besides being a writer, she also has seventeen years of experience as an editor. Currently, she’s the editor of The Bahama Out Islands Destination Guide, and works closely with editors and authors on a variety of travel and lifestyle publications.


All Best

Editor Letter for Real Life & Liars

STATUS: Getting ready for ALA Midwinter Conference which is happening here in Denver. I have a packed weekend ahead of me but it should be fun.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? I’M YOURS by Jason Mraz

Because I think my blog readers find the agent-editor interaction fascinating, here’s the submission letter for this project.

Here are two interesting things to note about this letter. Kristina’s novel had a unique POV structure. One narrative is written from first person POV and the three children are written from a third person POV. I decided that I didn’t want an editor to be surprised by what is a complicated narrative structure so I actually highlighted it in my submit letter. I also highlighted that I thought the unique narrative was strength—thus (hopefully) setting the editors perception before they began reading.

By the way, this narrative structure is almost impossible to pull off. It takes a lot of talent—which is how I pitched it in the letter.

I also spent a bit more time talking about how this novel impacted me personally. I wanted to make it clear that this wasn’t “just another cancer” story. That what we had here was an insightful novel about family relationships and how complicated they can be.

I guess I succeeded as several editors agreed with me and Lucia Macro at HarperCollins won this novel at auction.

Hello Lucia,

I hate to be the agent who says this every time I send out a project but I do think that this time, I’ve found the perfect novel for you (and if I haven’t, you have permission to snub me). First off, the writing is just top-notch. This story, REAL LIFE & LIARS seamlessly shifts between the first person POV of Mira, the sixty-something hippie mother who has just been diagnosed with breast cancer and has decided not to fight it, and the three third person POVs of her three, very different children. This would be a mess in the hands of a writer with less talent.

But here’s the other reason why I’m so passionate about this story (besides the fact that I just couldn’t put it down). Even though the Zielinski family is nothing like my own, I just felt like Kristina had tapped into the essential truth of my own family’s dynamics, despite the fact that my mother never has had cancer and my brother is the oldest and not the middle child etc. She has tapped into the core truth of how all families interrelate. How siblings treat each other as adults (our worn and familiar view of each other) as well as all the possibilities that emerge when we realize our love and loyalty. It’s also a very piercing look at the relationship parents have with adult children. And even though the novel is unflinching in its exploration, the reader is left with nothing but optimism that despite our personal failings, our families really do form our core.

So here’s the story: As a wilted flower child, Mira Zielinski has never been one to follow orders. Not from her husband, not from her boss – not even from her oncologist. Mira has her own idea about handling her newly diagnosed breast cancer, and it does not involve hopping up on the operating table. Her grown children will no doubt object — when she gets around to telling them.

As they come home for the weekend of Mira and Max’s thirty-fifth wedding anniversary party, her kids harbor some secret trials. Middle child Ivan’s lifelong desire to be a songwriter is withering on the vine after years of futility and his dating haplessness is so familiar, it’s almost a family joke. The impulsive and very young youngest child Irina will walk in the door with a surprise groom, though she’s already looking for the escape hatch in her shiny new marriage. As for the oldest, Katya, let’s just say that it would be a relief if her husband’s big secret were just the affair she suspects he’s having. As these trials unfold, certain family truths come to light but will they shake Mira’s resolve?

The author, Kristina Riggle, is a freelance journalist and published short story writer. Her credits include Cimarron Review, Net Author’s E2K and Espresso Fiction. She is also the co-editor for fiction at the e-zine Literary Mama, named one of Forbes’ “Best of the Web.” Kristina was also a judge for the 2007 Carrie McCray Literary Awards in the short fiction category. Since she is connected to the writing community, she has already lined up blurbs from published authors such as Kristy Kiernan (CATCHING GENIUS) and Carrie Kabak (COVER THE BUTTER, A Book Sense pick June 2005).

May I send this novel your way?
All Best,

Editor Letter for Proof By Seduction

STATUS: It’s pretty early in the day so right now, everything is going quite smoothly.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? CLOCKS by Coldplay

I’m totally chuckling after reading Courtney’s blog from yesterday where she shares the query letter outtakes. The moral of the story is this: If you find yourself unable to write a decent query letter, hire Sherry!

Seriously though. Sometimes it is difficult for a writer to write his or her own query. The writer is very close to the material and can’t often see the forest for the trees. If you’ve struggled with the query writing process, I don’t think it’s playing unfair to have another person write the query on your behalf, or with you, or revise it for you. As long as you end up with a strong letter that you believe fully represents your work, I, as the agent, will not ask if you wrote your own query letter. It can be your own deep, dark secret.

The point of the query is to win an agent’s attention and get a request for sample pages. Now, your sample pages have to hold up. The greatest query letter in the world is not going to compensate for unready sample pages.

And if somebody else ends up writing your query, make sure they are good at it!

As promised from yesterday, here’s the letter I sent to Courtney’s editor at Harlequin. As you all may or may not know, agents pitch editors as well. Now Ann Leslie has known me for years so to be quite honest, she would read anything I wanted to submit to her (besides my grocery list that is!).

Still, call me old-fashioned. I never send an editor a project without formally asking if it is okay to do so and I think it’s helpful to have a pitch that orients the editor as he or she begins the read.

So, in this sense, I always pitch editors and as an agent, I have to nail that pitch paragraph just like you have to do in your query letter. Noticed that I lifted several elements from the query that Sherry (ahem, Courtney) had written.

Hello Ann Leslie,

I can hardly believe it myself but I haven’t taken on a romance author in over a year –until now. In fact, I haven’t taken on a historical romance author since Sherry Thomas and oddly enough, it was Sherry who discovered Courtney Milan and sent her my way.

Courtney had won a contest that Sherry was sponsoring on her website and the prize was the reading of her first 30 pages by Sherry. Being the great client she is, Sherry immediately emailed me and said, “You’ve got to look at this author.”

Within a day, I had read and signed Courtney for PROOF BY SEDUCTION and I’m just beyond excited to share this manuscript with you. And yes, I know you are going to kill me because I’m sending you this email right before RWA but hey, both Courtney and I will be there so let me know if you want to meet up.

Set in 1836 London, PROOF BY SEDUCTION is an emotionally complex and beautifully written story (very Sherry Thomas who, by the way, is happy to offer a blurb for the novel’s release). As the outcast bastard daughter of some unknown nobleman, Jenny Keeble earns her living by being one of London’s premier fortune tellers. In this role, she certainly knows all about lies. After all, the fastest way to make money is to tell people what they want to hear. It works–until Gareth Carhart, the Marquis of Blakely, vows to prove what he and Jenny both know: that Jenny is a fraud.

Gareth only wants to extricate Ned, his naïve young cousin and heir, from an unhealthy influence. The last thing the rigidly scientific marquis expects is his visceral reaction to the intelligent, tenacious, and–as revealed by a wardrobe malfunction–very desirable fortune teller. But she enrages him by her “prediction” of his own pending nuptials as a way to prove her ability. She tempts him to look beyond his coldly logical view of the world. She causes him to lose his head entirely and offer a prediction of his own: He’ll have her in his bed before the month is out. The battle lines are drawn. Jenny can’t lose her livelihood or her long-time friendship with young Ned; Gareth won’t abandon scientific logic.

Neither is prepared to accept love.

Courtney Milan is a … [Bio deliberately removed. It was a solid paragraph long.] She is a finalist in the 2008 Golden Heart competition (but not for this manuscript and I’m happy to explain if you are interested).

May I send this your way?

All Best,
Kristin Nelson


STATUS: I need a quiet day to read. And just read.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? MOTHER AND CHILD REUNION by Paul Simon

As promised, the general bones of my letter to the editors regarding Jamie Ford’s project. Jane von Mehren at Random House won the auction so I put her name in the salutation.

I actually had a meeting with Jane earlier this summer where I mentioned this project. She was great about emailing me every few weeks just to get an update on when I was submitting it.

She loves this novel, and we are thrilled to work with her on it.

Hello Jane,

This novel my book club needs to read right now—who cares about publication. I started HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET at 9 p.m. on a Monday night. I thought I would give it a quick look because I knew the author already had an agent offer on the table. I figured I would know within the first 50 pages whether it was right for me. Well, after 10 pages, I realized that I had to tell myself to breathe. There were sections that literally had my heart racing and I needed to skip to end of the chapter just to discover what happens. Then I would go back and read what I had missed, my heart still pounding.

And if you don’t feel this same way as the story unfolds, you’ll know this manuscript is not the right one for you.

HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET is the story of Henry Lee, a Chinese boy in Seattle who falls in love (although it is forbidden) with a Japanese girl named Keiko right after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. It is also the story of Henry Lee as a middle-aged man forty years later who, when passing by Seattle’s old Japantown’s Panama Hotel, stumbles into a news conference on the hotel steps where the new owner has discovered in the basement the untouched belongings of thirty interned Japanese families. When the owner unfolds, for the news cameras, a Japanese bamboo parasol with a bright orange koi painted on it, Henry instantly recognizes it as Keiko’s. In that moment, he can no longer suppress his familiar and never forgotten longing and he must confront the memories and the choices he did or did not make all those years ago.

Growing up near Seattle’s Chinatown, the author Jamie Ford was called “Ja Mei” by his Chinese relatives—which quickly became “Jamie” to the rest of the world. He is also an alumnus of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers and a survivor of Orson Scott Card’s Literary Bootcamp. In 2006 he took First Place in the Clarity of Night “Twin Lights” Fiction Contest, and his short-story, “I am Chinese” was a Top 25 Finalist in Glimmer Train’s 2006 Short-Story Award for New Writers. He is currently an advertising creative director and HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET is his debut novel.

This is an unforgettable story about fathers and sons. About love and the choices we make that can forever change our lives.

I can’t wait to have someone else to talk to about this novel.

All Best,

Demon’s Lexicon: Letter To the Editor

STATUS: I lied yesterday. Today I’m finishing that contract if it’s the last thing I do…

What’s playing on the iPod right now? (I JUST) DIED IN YOUR ARMS by Cutting Crew

Now that we’ve had a chance to look at the query letter that Sarah sent to me, I thought it might be interesting to see the submission letter I emailed to editors for THE DEMON’S LEXICON. [Note: this is the main bones of the letter since I often tailor it to a specific editors etc.] Since Karen Wojtyla won the auction at S&S, I’ll use her name in the salutation.

Before I share the letter, here are some interesting tidbits about this manuscript and its submission.

1. This novel sold to an editor I had never worked with before. In fact, Karen didn’t know me as an agent at all. I had to ring her up and introduce myself so she wouldn’t think I was some lunatic who wanted to send her something. Now Karen is delighted I made that phone call. We are having lunch next time I’m in New York and that will be the first time we will meet in person.

My point? Agents don’t know every editor on the planet. Now we know a good majority but not all.

2. Here’s another fun tidbit. I knew the minute an editor had finished reading the manuscript because they just had to talk to me immediately about the ending. I received some late night emails and phone calls because of that. Editors couldn’t believe that they hadn’t seen it coming (even though I had warned them in the submission letter). It’s also the only submission I’ve done where I think every editor who loved it, read it twice before the auction unfolded. They had to see for themselves that all the clues were there and they could have figured it out.

And so without further ado, the letter:

Hello Karen,

Let me tell you why I love this novel. First, it’s a story of two brothers—Alan and Nick. Think for a minute. When’s the last time you read a YA urban fantasy that was about two brothers? I certainly haven’t seen one in a long time. But it’s also the story of a brother and sister—Jamie and Mae who get caught in the events unfolding around the Ryves brothers. In fact, their interconnecting lives become absolutely essential to the outcome. Here’s the other reason I love this novel, right at the minute I think I’m brilliant and I have the novel figured out, the author turns the whole story on its head. To say there is a twist would be an understatement. But if you go back and reread, you’ll see that all the subtle clues are there.

So what is THE DEMON’S LEXICON? It’s a story set in modern-day London. It’s about two brothers who are on the run with their mother because she was once the lover of a powerful magician and when she left him, she took an important charm amulet with her. When the eldest son gets marked by the magician’s demon, the family must stand and fight and only the strong yet mysterious bond between the brothers can save them.

The author, Sarah Rees Brennan, is Irish and currently lives in London. For a short stint, she lived in New York and became involved with a wide circle of writers and publishers who encouraged and supported her, including New York Times bestselling authors [Name removed] and [Name removed] (both have already agreed to read the advanced copy for a blurb) and Anna Genoese, a former editor at Tor. She has developed a wide audience through her popular blog,, where she writes movie parodies, book reviews and some stories, and has around four thousand registered readers (she was also recently interviewed about her blog in The Washington Post). She participates in –an adult and YA urban fantasy writers’ community started by Melissa Marr (Wicked Lovely). Currently, Sarah is completing a Creative Writing M.A. with her dissertation tutor Liz Jensen (shortlisted for the Guardian Fiction Prize for her book Ark Baby).

I’m super excited to share this novel with you, and I can’t wait to talk about the ending. So call or email me when you are finished and then I can gush all I want.

All Best,