A Few Fav Blurb/Query Helps

Screen Shot 2017-03-19 at 3.19.08 PMThis is a post I’ve meant to do for AGES. I’m sure I’ll come back and edit this post as I find new ways to write blurbs, but these are my favs… for now.

Helping someone else with their blurb or query is simple. Working one up for myself? Not as simple. There was a blissful point of ignorance when I thought that after I signed with an agent I wouldn’t have to write any more “query” type letters.

I was so very wrong.

My agent needs a blurb – sometimes I send her two so she can choose. My publisher often wants a different kind of blurb. I like to blurb my books before I write, or just as I’m starting. And the list goes on…

ANYWAY. These are my few favorite tools when trying to step away from my project far enough that I can blurb it in less words than it took to write the story 😉


I find this the most effective tool to get my brain OUT of my story.

Dear [Agent name],

I chose to submit to you because of your wonderful taste in [genre], and because you [personalized tidbit about agent].

[protagonist name] is a [description of protagonist] living in [setting]. But when [complicating incident], [protagonist name] must [protagonist’s quest] and [verb] [villain] in order to [protagonist’s goal].

[title] is a [word count] work of [genre]. I am the author of [author’s credits (optional)], and this is my first novel.
Now, some agents really like to have that TITLE. WORD COUNT. GENRE at the top – check the submission guidelines!

You can find the rest of Nathan’s post HERE.

2. Elana Johnson’s Query Outline:





Very often, I’ll work up Nathan’s first, and then jump into this or Shallee’s (below). After working through these, I generally have something worth showing. You can find Elana’s query stuffs, HERE.

3. SHALLEE’s query help:

Author Shallee McArthur uses a super simple tool to get started which is similar to Elana’s but also a little different:





You can find more about this method HERE.


Yes, you can use this for contemporary, but I find that this one helps the author showcase tidbits about their world:

  1. Hint of plot
  2. Genre images
  3. MC Intro and characterization
  4. Idea of setting
  5. Hint of mystery
  6. Hyperbole (stakes)
  7. Comparison

For the full post on this method, you can go to The Creative Penn

And if you’re looking for query help, go to QUERY SHARK – for real. Read a ton of queries and you’ll see very quickly what works and what doesn’t.

No matter which method I use, I try to shoot for about 150-200 words – your short bio is not included in this word count.

Honestly, I’ve been in several conversation with agents where they say they read a line or two of the query and the first couple sentences of the MS. If they’re still interested, they’ll go back and read the whole query. That’s how much time you have to snag someone.

SO, you need queries for AGENTS, EDITORS, BOOK SELLERS/DISTRIBUTORS, and possibly for yourself if you’re like me and enjoy having your query written up as/before you write.

Good luck!!

~ Jolene

P.S. This blog post will be edited as time goes on…




the HONEYMOON phase

If you’re a writer, you probably know how this applies to writing –

That delightful time when you’ve found a shiny new idea and the character is solid in your mind and the words are flowing, and it’s MAGIC. And you really don’t want to do anything else or work on anything else because, hello, SHINY NEW IDEA!!

My best advice: Ride that wave


I see writers ALL the time get sidetracked by the project they think they “should” be working on. Or the revision they’ve been meaning to do. Or the project they put a deadline on for the end of the month/quarter/season/year. They dangle this shiny, pretty idea in front of them as the reward for doing the writing that’s hard.

But you know what happens 9 times out of 10?

By the time they’re ready to jump back in to the shiny new magic project, that initial honeymoon magic is gone.

Now, I’m not saying that the magic is impossible to get back, I’m saying that re-finding the excitement can be really, really hard.

The things is – If I’m super stoked and vibratey-excited about something, my writing and my story is going to gain the effects of that. I’ll probably accomplish more on that book in one week than I will on the other project in a month.

So, WHY do we turn away from the shiny new idea? Why do we, as people who wanna make stuff up for a living, feel the need to be responsible about our projects? (Deadlines aside…)

For those of you who have a hard time finishing projects, this post is not for you… Go do something else and know that I still love you, even though I’m telling you to go away.

When we turn away from that energy, we’re shutting the door on that awesome bit of creativity that put us behind our computers to write in the first place.


Now, if I’m on deadline or I do have another project that can’t wait, I STILL allow myself 30-60 minutes a day on the shiny new idea, OR I push off the “must do” for a week. With that honeymoon energy, I can accomplish mountains in a week. The other project is not going to disappear. Trust me. I’ve actually wished for that a time or two, and it’s never worked.

So, there ya go – When the universe gives you energy, take it, run with it, ride the wave.

Happy writing,




Reading out Loud: A story


So, I’m working on a plot-driven novel rather than a character driven novel. If you’ve ever read one of my books, you’ll know this is the OPPOSITE of what I normally do, but spreading writerly wings, remember?

Anyway. I usually read out loud to Mike just after my first draft, when most of my book is dialogue and slight action.

As we read, I make notes for myself, most of them look like this:


So, when I read out loud, all the lazy writing is slammed in my face. Because that’s what first drafts are for. So, I’m reading this scene and there was grabbing and pulling and tugging, and it was to the point where I began to snorty-laugh every time I saw one of those words, which was kind of a lot.

And then I found THIS:


So, I had to comment to myself for my next run through with this:


I mean, this is okay. For me, the first draft is like a super fat outline–I just want to see if the story I envisioned, works.

So, as I’m reading my rough draft out loud, I also pause and write stuff in ALL CAPS. Things Mike points out, or ideas I want to consider. I’ll realize a small scene is a pivotal one, so I need to flesh it out. Because I draft thin (very often just over half my final word count) I also leave ideas to flesh out the story.

The yelling to myself looks like this:


But man, getting to stop and ask questions as I go because I’m reading out loud to a real person?


Most often the questions are like –

Is this boring? Are you bored? I don’t know if I’m bored because it’s boring or if it’s because I’ve read this too many times… What do you think?

OK. I need you to tell me if this is cool or if this is dumb.

Did you get what was going on there?

Could I say that better? I think I could say that better.

What do you think will happen next?

What do you want to happen next?

Too much information? Not enough?

You might read out loud to a spouse or a friend or sibling or parent. You might ask the questions by trading chapter at a time with a critique group. You might try to find someone who is a reader and not a writer. (There’s NO point in rushing your MS. Everything in publishing takes forever).

Being able to talk through problems, generally leads me to solve the problem on my own, and then I know that I’ll be able to keep the story true to the story I wanted to tell.

(Dear spouses/friends/family/significant others, sorry, but not sorry)


~ Jo






Critique Like a Sandwich

screen-shot-2017-01-23-at-2-03-22-pmSo, my last post talked about how EGO is not for EDITING, and we got into a discussion about giving and receiving feedback, which turned into – HOW CAN I BE A BETTER CRIT PARTNER?

  1. Be Aware of Bias
  2. Critique Like a Sandwich – ALWAYS smoosh the not so great things, with the great things
  3. Author needs. Are they sending you a first draft? Or something that’s already seen a few rounds?

Critiques and Edits are designed to make a manuscript better. Keep that idea in mind as you’re leaving notes.


We don’t realize sometimes how our own tastes play in to a novel. BE AWARE OF THIS. I try and tell the author what my biases are right away – “Please know that the notes along this thread are coming from someone who doesn’t read much fantasy.” Or “You might want to have someone else give feedback on this section, because this feels similar to something I just wrote/read” Or “I know love triangles can really work, but I find that I’m super critical, so keep that in mind when you read my notes on that thread.”

This is SO helpful for the author.

Be aware of what kind of mental space we’re in. I’ve had some crits that were borderline mean. Those don’t help me as a writer, they definitely won’t make me MS better, and the process of reading my book clearly didn’t go well for the reader. If you’re not in a good mental place, just say no. That’s allowed.

There have been times when I’m reading, and I mark a particular thing – let’s say “JUST” and by the time I’m on page 300, I want to die a little when that word comes up. You know what? The author already knows from your previous notes. Make a broad note – Watch the use of X, XX, and XXX, and then stop marking those. Otherwise your notes are going to come off as rude, snarky, or will do more damage than help.


Sprinkle the good with the bad. Always.

™Specifics—explain why something isn’t working. Or if you’re not sure why it’s not working, do your best to say that the action feels wrong somehow and let the author figure it out.

™Avoid “You”—instead of “You’re not making sense here” use “This is a little confusing.”

™Phrasing—in lieu of saying “I dislike your MC,” say, “I’m not sure I understand where your MC is coming from. What is it about her/him that makes her/him behave in this way?”

™Back up opinions—prepare yourself for questions.

™Suggestions—Don’t just say, “Change this.” Give a helpful alternative. (NOTE: When I’m critiquing for people I’ve critiqued for a lot, I sometimes just say – DO BETTER, b/c they know me, and I know them. I specifically don’t like suggestions, but I’m clear with my beta readers. I’ll ask if I want specific suggestions after they’re finished reading) Very often, I’ll use “CONSIDER: And then lay out a useful alternative” – My Copyeditor at AW Teen does this, and I love it because something about that phrase makes me feel like there’s more room to it right and also to do it my way.

All of these things being said – I believe that authors should solve their own problems – the solutions will normally come much more naturally to the story, but the solution might take longer w/o help.


No one should be doing a line edit on a first draft. Make sure you ask the author where they’re at with edits.

Do they want any notes in the text of the novel? Or just general thoughts after?

Are they feeling solid in the storyline and now want someone to help them look for typos or misused words?

Are other people reading the MS? How many? I’ll never do line notes, or anything more intense than general story thoughts, if the author has sent the MS to more than just me. It is a colossal waste of time to mark missed words and commas, when someone else is probably marking the same thing.

I’m of the opinion that fine line edits and copy edits should always be done by a pro, not your crit group, unless your crit group is full of pros.

If you’re hazy on levels of edits, I chat about that HERE

More than anywhere else I’ve been, I love how writers support one another. And like anything and everything else, being a good criticial reader is a skill that needs to be practiced 🙂

PLEASE NOTE: Part of this post was inspired by a class I taught with the fabulous CASSIE MAE of Cookie-Lynn Publishing Services.

Happy Reading!

~ Jo




EGO is not for editing


I’ve seen a lot of authors struggle for years to get their books out into the world, and something that many of them have in common, is the unwillingness to accept critiques. There are a million reasons under the sun to keep something in your story the way you want to keep it, but when dealing with critique partners or editors? Check the ego. Listen. Give each comment some serious thought – the comment could be a sign of a completely different issue with your book. And you’re not going to move your writing forward by arguing.


A look at receiving critiques from reading partners and editors.

I’d like to start off by saying that only in very rare cases should your crit group do anything more than give you general story notes. I no longer ask my readers to do anything but get big picture stuff. If I want line notes, I need to pay for that stuff, or work out a trade with a pro.

  1. Keep emotions OUT of feedback and your acceptance of feedback. Even though, when you’re getting started, a critique or suggestion on a character or a situation in your novel, feels like a critique on your brain, it is NOT. Remove yourself from your story.
  2. Nod and smile. When someone says – “I don’t get why your character did X.” You make a note of that. You can tell your reader why, but don’t argue. They have an opinion. You may disagree, but keep note of your disagreement and move on. I’ve talked people through all sorts of critiques, covers, novels, short stories, blog posts… And the worst is when they ask for my opinion and then argue when I give it to them. That means they’re not going to take my suggestion (WHICH IS FINE), but it also means that the crit was pointless for both of us. A waste of my time and theirs.
  3. Ask questions. And remember, the more specific you are, the better feedback you’ll get. When I disagree with something a reader says, instead of arguing my point, I ask questions AROUND that, which gives me insight into their thoughts.
  4. Don’t send out your writing if all you want is for people to tell you how awesome you are. You’re wasting their time if you’re not willing to really listen to their critique. If you do need that ego-stroke, be up front 😉 And obviously, when you’ve hired an editor, expect your project to bleed with notes.
  5. Sometimes seemingly big problems can be solved with simple things, and some seemingly simple things require big fixes. Keep that in mind as you ponder the notes and comments.
  6. If you’re confused about things your reader has told you, ask for a phone chat–sometimes talking things out make you understand better WHERE their notes come from. If you’re confused by a note from your editor, ASK. If you come back with a retort or an argument, you’re not going to make your project better, you’re just going to create an argument.
  7. The longer I write, the bigger believer I am in this – if you don’t have one lightbulb moment after another while reading your critique notes, don’t jump back in to your MS. You won’t be able to really see what needs to be done. You will do a patch job of a revision, and that’s not good enough.
  8. WAIT FOR IT (all of you who started singing, I love you). Wait for inspiration (if you can). Wait for the changes to feel good. Wait for every decision from every character to feel natural to the story that you want to tell.
  9. ALWAYS TELL YOUR READERS AND EDITORS THANK YOU!!! I don’t care if you don’t use one thing they suggest. Their time is worth your thanks.


So, there you have it. Check the ego when revising. Don’t argue. Ponder. Consider. Move forward.


~ Jo

Spreading Writerly Wings

2016 was  a year of experimentation for me, writing and publishing wise. (yes, this post is a bit of a ME post…)

  1. I’ve branched into new areas of publishing by interning for a literary agency I have massive amounts of respect for. Yes, I’m doing this specifically to become a lit agent, but I’m taking my time, which is very unlike me.
  2. I finished my first MG novel.
  3. I wrote my first horror novel.
  4. I turned a historical I wrote 5 years ago into a romantic suspense, something I’d have NEVER taken the time to do if I hadn’t forced myself to keep these characters on my computer.
  5. I read books of ALLLL genres. Non-fic. Fiction. Historical. Magical. MG, Picture, YA, Adult…
  6. I said YES when asked to co-chair the Storymakers Conference.
  7. I’ve talked multiple authors through their WIPs.
  8. I’ve followed book sales closer than I ever have.

Even some of the simple things were harder than I imagined. Taking what I know about writing and shifting those things into different genres felt a bit like learning to ride a bike all over again – some things were there, and some things made me feel like a bumbling idiot. It’s ok. I’ve always believed that we should do at least one thing a year that makes us feel like a kid again – and not in the good way 😉

In a conversation about drafting, Kim Vanderhorst came up with this little gem:


I’ve learned a few things:

I can do hard things. I mean, I already knew this, but I don’t think we can be reminded enough.

Not everything (writing related) translates between genres, but SO much does.

I can write bigger things than I imagined. DON’T BE SCARED OF THAT PROJECT YOU’VE ALWAYS WANTED TO WRITE.

The importance of reading across genres. I knew this before, but now I KNOWWWW this.

Character is still key for me in finding motivation to finish something, and the more I talk to writerly friends, the more I see that everyone has that KEY thing to help them finish projects. Find yours.

I love, LOVE, LOVE talking authors through publication problems, careers, contract issues, and doing my best to work plotmajik – even more than I thought I would. (WHY is this so much easier to do for someone else?)

Whether or not I find homes for my new projects/genres doesn’t matter. As I’ve said before, I don’t believe in wasted words. I’ve learned SO much about myself. I’ve gained new levels of writerly confidence, and felt new levels of hopelessness, wondering if I’ll ever be as good as I want to be.

The most important thing I’ve learned? Keep pushing, keep learning, keep moving forward.

Anyone else try something new last year?

~ Jo

P.S. Is it weird that I’m kinda excited for 2020 just because I think it’ll be fun to write and type?



I don’t care if you use these before you start to write, or if you’re like me, and you puke out a first draft before you know what your book is about, but here are a few BIG PICTURE QUESTIONS to help your WIP. Or a project you’re just beginning. Or something you’ve been thinking about writing for a while. Or if you’ve been trying to sell your novel, and an agent or publisher hasn’t picked it up…

  1. What are books that are similar (ish) to mine, and what made them great?
  2. Does my book have some/any of those traits? Or my version of those traits?
  3. What are the traits of characters I’ve read and loved, and which of those traits do I want my MC to have?
  4. What do I love about my character? What do I not love so much?
  5. How do I want readers to feel at the end of my book?
  6. Am I being too nice to my characters?
  7. Am I being too mean?
  8. Is there a “theme” or a level of understanding, or a concept that I’d love for readers to pull from my book?
  9. Now that I have a rough draft AND/OR a loose outline, does my novel start in the right place?
  10. Does it really?
  11. Am I playing on my MC’s worst fears?
  12. Have I taken a trope or an idea or a situation and made it TOO familiar?
  13. Am I using stereotypes (too much)?
  14. Would my MC choose something different at the end of the novel than at the beginning? HOW DID THE EVENTS OF THE BOOK CHANGE THEM?
  15. Does my general idea have good flow? (I actually find Snyder’s Beat Sheet not as helpful as snowflake method. FIND WHAT WORKS FOR YOU. (BEAT SHEET and SNOWFLAKE – if you’re curious)
  16. Can I summarize my book in one simple sentence? (if you’re having a hard time, try a favorite book or movie, and then go back to your project. If you still can’t… might need to tighten that idea)

Wanna add something? PLEASE PLEASE DO!!

And now for one of my fav-ever writing quotes:


Now. Go forth and WRITE!

~ Jo