Wednesday, September 28, 2016

VOYA's Biphobia and My Response

The following is a guest post from Tristina Wright, author of YA sci-fi 27 Hours (Entangled 2017)

Trigger Warning: The following article contains instances of biphobia, misgendering, transphobia, and gaslighting.

Up until last week, I’d never written a letter to the editor for any reason. Sure, I’ve jumped in on conversations about biphobia and ableism and racism and more. I’ve lent my social media voice to active conversations, which has at times resulted in less than savory responses from people who don’t think these things are a big deal. I’ve learned a lot, become braver, made mistakes, and tried to speak out where I can, as my anxiety disorder allows.

Last week, librarian Angie Manfredi shared a screenshot of the VOYA Magazine review of Kody Keplinger’s RUN.

The review reads: Agnes is legally blind, and leads such a sheltered life that she cannot even take the bus home from school or attend parties. Bo Dickinson has a drug addicted mother, an absent father, and is rumored to be the town slut. Although opposites, they become good friends through their kindness and acceptance of each other. Bo’s cousin Colt is almost a brother to her; they have grown up together and are part of the family “you steer clear of because nothing good can come of getting mixed up with that bunch.” Agnes has a different problem; her parents hover over her and limit her activities so it is impossible for her to be a normal teenager, until she begins sneaking out to go places with Bo. When Bo hatches a plan to leave town to find her father, Agnes decides to go along, thinking she and Bo will live together. They steal a car from Agnes’s family and begin their road trip, along the way visiting Colt, with whom Agnes has a sexual encounter. When Agnes discovers that Bo intends to live with her father, they separate and she gets in touch with her parents, leaving Bo to a disappointing meeting with her father, and an eventual return to the foster care system. The story contains many references to Bo being bisexual and an abundance of bad language, so it is recommended for mature junior and senior high readers. –Rachel Axelrod. 304p. VOICE OF YOUTH ADVOCATES, c2016. 

Many people, including myself, immediately noticed the microaggression in the final sentence. By putting bisexuality and foul language in the same breath as the reasons for the mature content rating, Voya Magazine was effectively rating a character’s sexuality as for mature readers only.
This is a biphobic statement because it equates sexual orientation with the act of sex itself. It says that bisexuality is only appropriate for older teenagers. It places bisexuality in the same column as foul language – something to avoid and watch out for.

Imagine being an elementary-age child or a middle school student and seeing something like this written about who you are. Many children have very strong feelings about their gender and sexuality at a young age. The choice we have to make as parents, teachers, librarians, caregivers, authors, etc. is how we foster those feelings.

Or, in this case, squash them.

The review sparked conversations on social media, namely Twitter, about the inappropriateness of the idea that bisexuality was something to be warned against. How it was telling that a character merely mentioning her sexual orientation warranted a mature content rating, but there was no mention of the actual sex scene between a heterosexual male/female pairing.

I participated in the conversation online for a while, my hurt especially sharp because it was Bisexual Visibility Week. This is a week-long celebration where we educate people about common stereotypes and microaggressions. The publishing community talks about books with respectful and honest bisexual representation. It’s a week to celebrate bisexuality and biromanticism and everything that entails. To see a phobic review from a major literary magazine during that week drove home the continuing need to fight against stereotypes and content warnings.

I decided to write an email to Voya magazine.

I didn’t expect to get a response. They are a major literary publication and I’m a relatively unknown debut author. But I needed to do more than speak up on Twitter. I thought perhaps someone over there would see my email and, at the very least, take it to heart for future reviews.

The editor in chief (EIC), RoseMary Honnold, did respond to me and it was not at all what I was expecting (however, given the events which have transpired since then, I should have expected it).

It’s been long enough that I can address this email without my anxiety taking over, so I want to unpack this response.

“I am sorry that you took offense…” This is the most non-apology statement ever. Celebrities use it. News media uses it. It places the blame of hurt on the person who was hurt instead of the person perpetuating the hurt. Already this email starts out placing the burden of my hurt on my own shoulders.

Then instead of addressing my concerns, she then continues on to talk about how great VOYA magazine is for teens and librarians and how very helpful they have been. That’s…great? But completely irrelevant. You can be an absolute saint and still mess up. That was the case here. Yes, VOYA is a respected magazine – that doesn’t free them from making mistakes. Your good deeds in the past don’t absolve you from missteps in the future.

“Knowing if a book had mature content, which would include sexuality and ‘foul’ language…” There’s that double-down. Sexuality is considered mature content. But, curiously, only queer sexuality. And curiously more (as author Phoebe North discovered with some minor Googling) only queer female sexuality as far as VOYA is concerned.

She’s also insisting sexual orientation is for mature readers only. As if young children wouldn’t be exploring non-straight feelings. Our society is so steeped in heteronormativity that every child is assumed straight at birth. How many babies do you see wearing onesies that say “Ladies’ Man” or “Dad Won’t Let Me Date Til I’m 35” or “I Love Boobs” or how many times do we tell little girls that little boys hit them because they like them? We as a society perpetuated straight as being “normal” and everything else as “mature readers only” and even then there’s a hierarchy. Cis gay men are more favored than lesbians. Bisexuals are seen as stereotypes such as sluts and liars, and if you’re going to write about them, you must prove they’re bisexual. Trans narratives are seen as up and coming trends instead of real people. And any other letters of the queer umbrella exist in a literary desert where good representation is few and far between.

To add another layer, I cringe at the thought of what VOYA thinks about intersections of race and sexuality, how they would’ve reacted to this book if the bisexual character in question had been Black.

“I find it awkward that you feel it is relevant and necessary to announce and label your five-year-old child’s sexuality to me.” This was the most hurtful part of the email. Not only did she get my child’s age wrong, but she conflated sexuality and gender, which are two completely different things. When I say my child is genderqueer, it means that she (she still uses female pronouns) is exploring gender. Some days she asks all about being a boy and how one becomes a boy. Some days she refers to growing up as “when I become a daddy.” Some days she says she’s going to talk like a boy that day. Some days she says she feels like a girl. Some days she says she doesn’t feel like either. She’s exploring. She’s swimming up and down the spectrum, trying to find her place, and I’ll be damned if anyone is going to attack her for that.

Also, note the word “awkward” in that sentence. Here’s the thing about non-straight sexual orientations – people immediately relate them to sexual intercourse.

“How do you even have sex?”
“How can you be bisexual if you’re sleeping with a guy/girl?”
“Men shouldn’t do that.”
“Can I watch?”
“Can I join?”

Anyone queer is assumed to be defined by who they do or do not have in their bed at the time, which is irritating at best and harmful at the very worst. To place this on the shoulders of my six-year-old child is grossly immoral and wrong, and I’m especially uncomfortable this editor immediately considered my elementary child in this manner.

“Our writers and reviewers have various lifestyles and beliefs and that has never been a concern of mine…” That’s nice. Also, being queer is not a lifestyle. Gaming is a lifestyle. Living at a certain level of wealth is a lifestyle. Lifestyle implies choice. Bisexuality is not a choice. It’s how we were born. It’s not something that can be converted or prayed away or cured. Can it change over time? Yes, absolutely. Sexuality is a fluid thing and we evolve and learn more about ourselves as we grow (hopefully). But the only person who can dictate that is the self. No one else. So for the EIC of VOYA to not only label this as a “lifestyle” but to also say it’s of no concern to her makes me very concerned for the environment they foster at VOYA. Are queer people safe to be out of the closet there?

Based on this, my guess would be no.

“…the assumption that I or VOYA magazine might be bi- or any other kind of phobic is just that. Your assumption. A misguided one.” Note that she turns it personal. Even though it was revealed later she didn’t even write the review, she takes the idea of the sentence itself being biphobic and turns it into me accusing her and anyone at VOYA as being biphobic. This is gaslighting. This is, again, shifting the burden of hurt onto my shoulders plus accusing me of attacking her personally. How could you call me biphobic? I’m a good person.”

“Since this is Bi Visibility Week, I understand your need to find and destroy your enemies in a public forum…” Okaaaaaaaaaaaaay. So this statement is a doozy. Not only is it inflated hyperbole and paints me as a super-villain, but it undercuts my entire email by the level of exaggeration. By accusing me of looking for someone to fight during Bisexual Visibility Week, it undermines the validity of my concerns. It also insinuates I was looking to go after a big target to bring attention to Bi Visibility Week. That I was doing nothing more than starting trouble. That this was a marketing ploy. That this was nothing more than a stunt.

In the interests of visibility because the conversation was still ongoing, I posted my email and the reply to my Twitter.

The YA book community immediately responded. They were upset and offended at such a reply. Several people said they would be emailing as well. Many called out VOYA Magazine directly for their callous and offensive reply. Many authors, agents, and editors stated they would be requesting their books not be sent to VOYA anymore for review. Several librarians reached out to VOYA in alarm, asking what steps they would be taking regarding the review in question and to prevent this from happening again. There was talk of ads being pulled from VOYA Magazine entirely.

It has since been removed, but VOYA Magazine did post my email and their response on their website as a letter to the editor and then emailed me to inform me of this fact. I’m not sure if I was supposed to be flattered or what, but after an outcry, the post was deleted.

VOYA Magazine locked their Twitter account and began blocking various authors, editors, agents, and librarians. This serves two purposes. With only a block, the blocked user could simply log out and be able to read the timeline anyway. But with the addition of a locked account, they effectively kept everyone shut out. They continued to block people over the period of about a day and a half. I wasn’t blocked until sometime in the early hours of the next day, which I found amusing.

VOYA Magazine then issued their first apology on their public Facebook Page.
Again with the blame-dodging. This mentions nothing about their response to me and puts the onus on the queer community. They demanded an apology. They took offense as if it was a choice. With this apology, and even with RoseMary’s email to me, VOYA took the defensive. Amanda MacGregor, a book reviewer who’d worked with VOYA for thirteen years, then announced she’d submitted her resignation in light of VOYA’s response.

When the first apology didn’t go over well with the book community, the reviews editor, Lisa Kurdyla, issued an apology as well.

It’s a better attempt, but it still shifts blame and still makes a similar statement in the email to me in the claim that she isn’t –phobic or –ist and is a good ally. Here’s the thing: I do not decide if I’m not –phobic or –ist or a good ally. All I can do is my best and hope that those in the affected communities view me as such. To claim it in this instance is another form of gaslighting. “I’m a great ally! If you can’t see that, that’s your fault.”

Concerned readers, librarians, authors, editors, and agents responded to the two posts, asking polite questions and tackling the issues of gaslighting and blame-shifting. At this point, I still hadn’t heard anything from them. No apology, nothing.

VOYA Magazine then deleted both Facebook posts and all the comments therein and went dark. But people took screenshots of some very unsettling behavior.
I don’t know who for certain is behind the VOYA social media accounts, but in the end it doesn’t matter because they were never reined in, nor did VOYA Magazine ever disavow them or apologize for any of the commentary. A third apology appeared.

I found out about this apology three hours after it had been posted. At that time, I still hadn’t heard anything personally from VOYA. This particular apology mentioned me by name publicly, which was a start, but my inbox remained empty.

This apology, while long, also evolved into gaslighting and blame-shifting. The most egregious example is bringing up the fact that the original review was several months old and my email was the first they’d heard of anything being wrong with it. Since it went months without any push-back, the complaints now, according to them, lost their merit and reinforced VOYA’s belief that I had instigated this to attack them and bring attention to Bi Visibility Week.

They then go on to claim that they have the right to defend their staff against accusations of bigotry and biphobia and, once again, list out how great of a magazine VOYA has been for youth advocacy.
When folks discovered this third apology, many asked if VOYA had emailed a private apology to me. Many asked if VOYA would respond to the disquieting discovery Phoebe North had made about VOYA’s troubling pattern of rating F/F and queer girls as mature content while leaving M/M and M/F books alone, despite many of the latter having far more sex and explicit language than many of the former.

It was only when asked and I made a comment about it (three hours after this third apology was posted), did VOYA publish a fourth apology. This was from RoseMary herself.
RoseMary then copied and pasted the top bit from the Facebook post and emailed it to me.

I didn’t respond. My plan was to let the apology sit for a day and see how I felt about it then. But I spent several hours reading comments on the two Facebook apologies.
As of writing this post, I still haven’t responded to her or to VOYA. I’m going to do so now, here, publicly. I feel it is only fair and in the interest of visibility since they posted all of their attempts publicly as well.

Dear VOYA Magazine,

When I received the copy/paste job, which indicated you’d put it up elsewhere before sending it to me, I considered accepting it. I figured it was the best I’d get from you and maybe, just maybe, you would sit back and take the advice of countless people in the book community who gave their valuable time and words to educate you when none of them were under any obligation to say one word to you.

Then I went on Facebook and saw both apologies and the comments which followed. I saw one of your owners purposefully misgendering an author simply because they had a female-sounding name. I watched in horror as the commentary from VOYA became more and more abusive and hateful, a lot of it along the same lines as the original response to me only a few days ago.

A lot happened in just a few days.

Not once did anyone else at VOYA step in and say something. Not the other owner, no other employees, no one. The words of the owner chillingly mimicked the tone of the editor in chief to me, so how am I supposed to believe any apology is genuine? How am I supposed to think for even a moment you’re actually sorry about the review or your treatment of me or your attitude toward the book community and the queer community as a whole?

And I realized this:

You’re not sorry about the review. You’re sorry you got caught.
You’re not sorry about the email to me. You’re sorry I posted it and exposed you.
You’re not sorry about your attitude. You’re sorry people keep calling you on it.

Your email to me was unprofessional at best. You insulted me. You insulted my child. You insinuated I was out to destroy you and that my email had something to do with Bi Visibility Week. You are a major literary magazine which claims to advocate for the younger generation, yet you call things like genderqueer “Twitter lingo” and still claim it can’t possibly apply to a child. You are woefully out of touch and condescending toward the generation you claim to speak for. You were brutally hateful toward me and other authors who write for the younger generation.

So, no, I don’t accept your apology. I can’t because I don’t trust that you mean it.

Tristina Wright

While my part in the incident seems to have come to a close (I hope), VOYA Magazine continues to insult and belittle nearly anyone who comments on their Facebook posts. The other owner, Edward Kurdyla, put up a short post which basically asks everyone to back off while they sort things in house. It gives no indication anyone – especially Phoebe North or Angi Manfredi or Tess Sharpe – was even heard. They’ve also banned YA author Hannah Moskowitz from their page entirely.

As far as my role in everything…

No, I didn’t write the initial email with the agenda of taking down a literary magazine. No, it had nothing whatsoever to do with Bi Visibility Week. I would’ve reacted the same way no matter what time of year.

Part of me wishes I’d never said anything. Part of me thinks if I’d never written that email, none of this would’ve happened. All the people who’ve been hurt since then wouldn’t have gotten hurt. My oldest child wouldn’t have been insulted. I wouldn’t still be hurting and guilty over everything that’s happened since then.

Yes, I know a lot of that is bullshit and, as my friends have told me several times, I might have prevented teenagers from being hurt in the future. Prevented queer children from being harmed by a magazine that doesn’t respect who they are in the slightest.

Throughout this entire fiasco, VOYA has insisted they are the victim. They’ve apologized for somethings but not others. They’ve dug their heels in on insisting the timing is suspect and intentional. They’ve insulted YA authors and others in the industry over and over with hateful and unprofessional remarks. Every apology they’ve posted thus far has been nullified within mere hours once VOYA starts responding to questions and comments.

I don’t know how this will all end. An overturn of management, perhaps. New owners. The magazine folding. Nothing at all. Maybe they’ll just wait it out until people forget or bank on most of their subscribers not paying attention to social media. I don’t know. I don’t have any idea what I would want to happen beyond children being protected from such hate.

All I know is, for me, I can never trust VOYA Magazine again.

But I do want to address the queer teens out there who may be watching this all unfold.
I’m on your side. These fierce and giving authors are on your side. We stand with you in your high times and your low times. We stand with you in your closet where it’s safe. We stand with you outside of your closet where it might be scary. We walk with you in your halls. We give you our stories so you can see others like you and have an afternoon of pure escape like you deserve. We’re here for you. We understand you. We respect you. We love you.

And we will always defend you.
For more information, please see the following posts:

And for continuous updates, please follow YA Author Saundra Mitchell on Twitter at

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Art of Success

I’ve been asked in one way or another by almost everyone I know if my book is “a success.” 

The short, easy answer, is “of course it is.” I’ve had a lifelong dream to see my name on a book cover in a bookstore, and I’ve done that (and more are on the way).

Of course, I think the “success” of a book can actually be measured in three ways: commercial success (how many copies you move), critical success (i.e., good reviews, awards, etc.) and creative success (did you tell the story you wanted to tell). There are books that sell a million copies that are universally panned, and there are those critically-acclaimed novels that sell a couple of thousand.  Either way, I think one would say those books were successful.

However, the only measure that we as authors can really take of our own work is the last one: is it a creative success?  Did the work satisfy the artistic and creative urge that compelled it? 

At some point, we started with a story/question burning in our brain, something so important  that we were willing to spend  countless days/nights alone trying desperately to fit one perfect word after another to capture that vision or idea on the page. Being creative is damn hard work, and we do it with the expectation and understanding that some number of people (hell, maybe a whole lot of people), won’t appreciate our efforts; that they’ll never see our vision as clearly. But that’s okay, as long as we can look back at the work we produced and believe it reflects (to the best our ability) our original intentions.

Publishing is a business, but the writing itself is art, and no amount of sales or reviews or awards can or should change the satisfaction you get from your own art. 

I know when I start a new story, when I’m really in the grip of creating, I can't really rest or relax until I get that story out...every single bloody word. I’ve finished whole books knowing they were unpublishable, but I was just as thrilled when I wrapped them up as I did those I honestly expected to see the light of the day. The outcome didn’t change my need to get that story out of me, if for no other reason than as my own best audience, I had to see how it all ended!

I’ve been tremendously fortunate. My first book has sold nicely, and I’ve received some wonderfully generous reviews. But more importantly, I can still flip through that novel and find sentences and passages that I'm just as happy with as when I first wrote them. They're perfect; exactly what I wanted to say. And they're mine.

In the end, when we succeed in getting our words out and getting our stories done, that's a success worth bragging about for all of us....  

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Family Values

Two questions I try never to ask my friends and family…

Have you picked up my book? And the natural follow-on, did you like it?

First of all, I never want to put anyone on the spot about whether they’ve purchased the book or not. Although I’m the type to readily support a family member or a friend in this way (whether the item or topic is in my wheel-house or not), I understand that not everyone is, for a thousand and one reasons. Money, time, interest. I can imagine some of my friends not buying a book, any book, even mine, just because reading is not their thing.

Similarly, my book – even for those friends and family who enjoy reading – still may prove not to be “their thing,” which is why I never, ever ask if they liked it. I always thank them for supporting me, and make sure to suggest other authors I’ve come to know and books I’ve read since getting involved in publishing, but unless they open the flood gates with an off-the-cuff review or opinion, I won’t solicit one. 

I think it makes it more comfortable for both of us.

I’ve been lucky that The Far Empty has, by and large, been very warmly received. 

But I learned right out of the gate that what you do creatively isn’t going to be everyone, and if you put it out there publicly, you have to accept that. Some folks REALLY didn’t like The Far Empty, and while it’s never fun to hear (no matter how creative and witty they are in their diatribes), that’s part of the whole artistic skin-thickening process. I respect everyone’s opinion, even if I don’t share it, and if someone has spent hard-earned money on something I wrote and isn’t happy about it, I support their right to say so. 

That’s as easy stance to take, though, when that person is simply an avatar or a name attached to an email or a  review; that’s just me getting rejected solely as a writer. It’s much harder to hear from someone you know and like; someone that you may see everyday and have a personal connection with. Then, I think, it feels more like a rejection of me as a person.

Family and friends can be a wonderful support network as you slog through the writing and publishing process. All of mine were for me, but I found that's the best role for them: cheerleaders, and not critics....

Always keep writing, JTS

Thursday, August 11, 2016

12 LGBTQIAP+ Music Videos

I love music videos--they add surprising layers to songs I already loved and they can bring a brilliant, dynamic performance that jogs my brain creatively. I've been watching a ton of them this year as quick breaks in between writing and editing during my work day, which often stretches until 9pm and into the weekends.

But it can be difficult to find the inclusiveness I work toward in my writing and reading in the music I listen to and the music videos I watch. I want that inclusiveness in my music for all the same reasons I want to write and read inclusively, but also because music and my writing are so closely linked for me. It's part of what I use to feed my creativity and tune my brain. What I'm consuming needs to be reflective of what I want to write.

So here's a list of music videos worth watching that feature LGBTQIAP+ characters or storylines. Some are ownvoices, some are tragic, some are happily ever after. Let me know in the comments what ones you recommend! I'm always looking for more.

"Youth" Troye Sivan:

Broken Hearts/Bones- Parlour Tricks:

Girls Like Girls- Hayley Kiyoko:

Cliff's Edge- Hayley Kiyoko:

Ghost- Halsey:

I loved You- Blonde (feat. Melissa Steele):

Hold On When You Get Love- Stars:

She Keeps Me Warm- Mary Lambert:

The Blue Neighborhood trilogy below from Troye Sivan contains some of my favorites. Also worth noting: the 2nd video below is completely wonderful happy version of "Wild" with Alessia Cara, and it stole my heart. 

Wild, Fools, and Talk Me Down (director's cut)- Troye Sivan

Wild- Troye Sivan feat. Alessia Cara: 

Kinks Shirt- Matt Nathanson

Modern Love- Matt Nathanson

Kate Brauning: Kate is the author of How We Fall from Merit Press/F&W Books and an editor with Entangled Publishing. Kate loves unusual people, good whiskey, dark chocolate, everything about autumn, bright colors, red maple trees, superstitions, ghost stories, night skies, pie, and talking about books. Where to find Kate: TwitterFacebookPublishing WebsiteAuthor Website

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Give Yourself A Hand

The Far Empty has been out over a month now.

I went on the book tour, did the radio interviews, signed the books, watched my sales, read and fretted the reviews, searched random book stores for my book, trumpeted social media, and really did nothing but obsess over it for the last few weeks.

It’s been wild, wonderful, nerve-wracking, and honestly, so anxiety-producing, that I’m glad it’s over. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it – because trust me, I wanted to enjoy every second of it – it’s that I had to learn the hard way how little control over the outcome that I have. I wrote the best book I could, and the rest of it – where it gets reviewed, what those reviews say, which stores do or don’t carry it, how many copies it sells – are now all out of my hands. I put myself in the hands of people who know what they’re doing, and then had to figure how to let it go. It's been hard for me to wrap my head around (or pry my fingers from), but if I had done it earlier, I might actually have embraced the last few weeks more.

And still…

I had a book published! It’s in stores! People are reading it!

Those were the only goals I had when I started this journey (actually, my original goals when I began writing again were even more modest), and seeing my book published has been a lifelong dream. But when it finally happened, although I promised myself I'd only focus on the “hits,” I still found myself dwelling on the perceived “misses” as well…I learned quickly what a small window of opportunity any debut author has to catch lightning in a bottle, so I kept waving that bottle all round, redefining at every opportunity what it meant to me for my book’s release to be “successful,” and in doing so, robbed myself of the chance to simply revel in the fact that something I had written was actually released into the world at all (and there’s actually a whole another post I might do about creative, critical, and commercial success, and what those things might mean). 

Look, it’s good to push yourself and never to settle, and to always, always, set new goals, but not to the detriment of that present, oh-so-fleeting “I did it” moment. We creative types need to truly celebrate that, and I wish I had more in my case. You're a debut author only once, and although in my daydreams I imagined holding my book, flipping through it over and over again, or walking into a bookstore and grabbing a copy from the shelf just to read a few pages as if I hadn't written the damn thing, I really didn't make the time for that. I’m glad this month is over only because now I know what to expect - what I can and can’t control - and next time around maybe I’ll be a little less anxious about the whole thing, and just sit back and enjoy the ride.

So now I am an official, published author. The confetti is all swept away and I'm back to the regular grind. I got through the first pass pages of Book 2 the other day...

and I just crossed the 2/3 mark on Book 3. And THAT'S the reality of a published author. Taking the time to celebrate the book that's out, and getting right back to work on the next one...


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

So You've Lost the Spark? BUILD IT A NEST

Now, more than ever as writers, we all have to show up.

I know it's harder than ever to focus on the words that need to get down on the page in the middle of Facebook arguments with distant family members, and violence on autoplay on our Twitter feeds. But right now and more than ever, the world needs your voice.

Don't put it off. Don't sit back and wait, hoping the muse will find you.

Go out and get it. Sit down and make it come to you. Build a nest on your head, if that's what it takes.


A while ago I tweeted some trivial things into the empty vastness of Twitter and one of them was, What do you do when writing stops being sexy?

I was burned out. I'm ghostwriting blog copy during the day and tearing open my fiction projects at night. It's just writing, writing, writing from the time I wake up until the time I let myself slide back into bed.

I'm with my writing all day, every day. And eventually, like any long-term relationship, the magic starts to wear out.

I don't mean to say that magic doesn't still happen. It absolutely does for me. I get lost in new stories, new characters, new landscapes. I get whisked away by a new world. I lose myself in it and come up hours later, confused about where I was, how I got there, or what time it is now.

What I do mean is that it won't always be that way.

Magic doesn't happen every single time I sit down to write. There are deadlines to meet and word count quotas to fill, and sometimes it just has to get done, muse or not. Genius or not.

Do you read Dear Abby?

"Relationships are work," she's always telling readers. Sure, love is a rollercoaster ride at first. We fall down the elevator shaft the first time. It's falling and flying all at once. It's blowing the hair out of your face like you're on a book cover.

After a while, you return to level. The wind dies down.

Of course, Abby tries to phrase it a bit nicer than the word "work." "Learn how to give and take," she'll say, or "listen, then talk." Or: "Find things to like."

But the moral of the story is pretty clear: even our most worthwhile long-term relationships eventually stop being all magic, all the time. It takes time and concerted effort to keep it alive, and nourish the spark simmering inside.


So back to the nest on your head.

Fill it with some soft sticks. Layer on some leaves, and a bit of moss, too, just to really entice that genius to land its cute little butt there.

1. Have a space.

Like having a roaming pet cat, a place where the genius knows where to find you is a really good way to make sure it comes when you call it.

You don't always have to use this place to do your writing, but at the very least, it's a good idea to have made a connection with it as your "writing place" for when you do find yourself in the rut.

And why not put a big beacon on your head, as it were?

2. Wear writing stuff. Bring your writing mug. Put on that writing music.

Build around yourself the things that make your writing easier. Whatever your brain has started to associate with WRITE MODE, that's what I want you to surround yourself with. These are the soft leaves and fluffy mosses in your cute little genius nest.

Nice and cozy. There you go. That's great. Now blow a tad on that spark, just a gentle foosh if you don't mind, and watch your spark grow up into a quaint little fire.

3. Get there. Show up.

Without your behind in a chair and your fingers somewhere near a keyboard, how can you possibly get any writing done?

I know. It's not always easy to stay in the chair when it seems like nothing magical is happening. I've become accustomed to this way of life:

"What about the first five chapters, when I felt so fiery about this? Where is that version of me now? Is she gone forever :((("

Hey, chill, it's okay. She's probably lounging on the couch stuffing her face with chips. Look, that's not my bag to judge. But you have to give up on her, because she's not coming back right now. Maybe not even until the end of this manuscript.

That's okay. It will still get done. You'll still have a great time.

Because the writing isn't happening on the couch, it's happening here. It's your fingers on the keyboard typing out whatever silly drivel happens to pop into your head. It's making sure that nest is all pretty and prepared for when someone does decide to show up and fill you with divine intervention, or genius, or inspiration, whatever you want to call it. Whatever makes you feel better about the fact that it isn't divine intervention.

It's you.

4. Stop being so tough on yourself.

I like you and I want you to stop being so harsh.

Not every word is perfect, and gosh damn darn it, they don't have to be. That genius is never gonna land in that nice little nest we built if it feels intimidated by you—if it feels judged before it can even speak.

Remember: nourish. Coax that little spark out of there, don't crush it. Make your nest a safe place for the genius to hang out, and it will keep coming back to you.

5. Work.

It's not always magic. It's not always thrill and pounding hearts, because damn, that would be tiring.

It's diligence. It's patience. It's coming to work every day and doing the thing you set out to do.

And, shoot. It's also eventually finishing it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

5 Reasons I Acquired THE SOUND OF US

5 Reasons I Acquired THE SOUND OF US

When THE SOUND OF US came to me in my submissions pile and I started reading, it grabbed me by the heart. I just had to be the one to acquire it and publish it, and here's why:

  1. Voice. As soon as I read the opening page, I could feel Kiki's personality. Sarcastic, full of pop culture references, a little insecure with confidence occasionally bubbling over. Julie Hammerle so clearly showed the reality of coming of age--caught between so many opposites, having strong opinions but second-guessing, being a little jaded but also wildly optimistic. I felt like I was inside the mind of a real person and watching her personality unfold with every page.
  2. Nerdy girls! Kiki loves her Twitter. And if you follow me on Twitter, you know I love that. Kiki also is a wonderfully passionate and analytical fangirl, throwing herself into TV shows and movies that she loves regardless of whether it's cool (which it totally is). I love characters who love something passionately because it says so much about who they are, and Kiki isn't afraid to love what she loves, and learns to embrace it with balance and pride throughout the story.
  3. Romance. I love compelling romance, but YA doesn't have to all be romance, and not everyone finds true love in high school. Sometimes there are multiple people we might be interested in, and sometimes it's difficult to sort out why we like someone, or we struggle with liking someone we shouldn't. Falling in love is messy, and real, and sometimes terrible, but also wonderful and hilarious. And without telling spoilers, Kiki's experience with dating and relationship in this book grabbed me with its realism and heart. 
  4. Music. Writing about music can be so difficult because we can't actually hear the performances and what's happening. So much of the appeal of Pitch Perfect is the talent-- hearing the music and performances. And in The Sound of Us, I could hear it on the page. Julie Hammerle knows opera, and she knows music camps, having sung classical music from a young age, and it shows!
  5. Friendship. Friendships are such a influential and important part of any age, but especially so in our young adult years. And core to this book is female friendship-- the scars, the acceptance, the support and community and identity that friendships always bring. And again, Julie shows this so well it feels real. I became friends with Kiki and her friends, and I think you will, too.

So what's The Sound of Us about?

 Kiki Nichols might not survive music camp.

She's put her TV-loving, nerdy self aside for one summer to prove she's got what it takes: she can be cool enough to make friends, she can earn that music scholarship, and she can get into Krause University's music program.

Except camp has rigid conduct rules—which means her thrilling late-night jam session with the hot drummer can't happen again, even though they love all the same TV shows, and fifteen minutes making music with him meant more than every aria she's ever sung.

But when someone starts snitching on rule breakers and getting them kicked out, music camp turns into survival of the fittest. If Kiki's going to get that scholarship, her chance to make true friends—and her chance with the drummer guy—might cost her the future she wants more than anything.

Author Bio: 
Julie Hammerle is the author of The Sound of Us, which will be published by Entangled Teen on June 7, 2016. Before settling down to write "for real," she studied opera, taught Latin, and held her real estate license for one hot minute. Currently, she writes about TV on her blog Hammervision, ropes people into conversations about Game of Thrones, and makes excuses to avoid the gym. Her favorite YA-centric TV shows include 90210 (original spice), Felicity, and Freaks and Geeks. Her music playlist reads like a 1997 Lilith Fair set list. She lives in Chicago with her husband, two kids, and a dog. They named the dog Indiana. You can find her on her website, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, or her newsletter, which you can sign up for on her website.

Giveaway Info:  $25 Amazon Gift Card

Rafflecopter Widget:
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Dubsmash Contest Grand Prize: 
  • A paperback copy of The Sound of Us by debut author Julie Hammerle
  • A box of Nutty Bars, which are prominently featured in the novel
  • A DVD of High School Musical, so you can watch the movie repeatedly to perfect your dubsmash abilities

How to enter the Dubsmash Contest? Create a dubsmash video on the Dubsmash app, the app, or upload it to your YouTube Channel of any song from Camp Rock, High School Musical, or Pitch Perfect. 

Email in your video to between May 30, 2016 and June 29, 2016 @ 11: 59 pm EDT for the first, mandatory entry into the contest, and then add one of several other ways to enter via the Rafflecopter widget below to increase your odds of winning! While we welcome all videos, only US residents are able to win the Grand Prize. 

Rafflecopter Widget for Dubsmash Contest: 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Buy Diverse Books, Win A Critique/Free Book

In January, to support inclusive and #ownvoices books, I ran a query critique deal on Twitter where I (and a few friends) critiqued a query letter for every writer who tweeted me a proof of purchase of a diverse book from that day. It became much bigger than I expected, prompting the sale of 54 diverse books. This time, I'd like to take it up a notch to spread these books even wider.

For Pride Month and Immigration Heritage Month, and in response to the Orlando Pulse shooting, to boost TLGBQIAP+, POC, #ownvoices, and inclusive books, I'm opening this offer again, with incredible support from many more authors and publishing professionals.

The basics: buy a diverse book, receive a query critique, first page(s) critique, or a free book (plus many other great items). This deal is open to published and unpublished authors, book bloggers, readers, teachers, and anyone else. (You do not have to have a completed manuscript/query for the critiques- a rough draft is fine, though polished material will help you get the most out of your critique. Materials must be submitted on or before 6-19-2016.)

This is open internationally for all items, except for hardcopy books, which are available continental U.S. only unless otherwise stated.

Keep reading for details.

Why #ownvoices/inclusive books?

Diverse and #ownvoices books featuring positive representations of diverse characters foster empathy and awareness, and also provide community, identity, and support for people sharing those identities. Buying and reading these books can change lives, support lives, and save lives.

I refer you to this thread from Hillary Monahan, NYT-bestselling author.

I also refer you to these tweets from author Tehlor Kinney:

What else can you do?

Read, share and act on the items in Ana Mardoll's Storify of specific ways to support queer, Latinx, and Muslim people in the wake of this tragedy. In fact, please stop reading this post until you read this Storify. It's that necessary.

How this giveaway works:

  1. Purchase a book (any format) from the diverse book lists at the very bottom of this post during the hours of this offer-- from time of posting until 11:59 pm central time, Wednesday June 15, 2016. If the book is not featured on one of the lists below, it will not be considered eligible for the deal.
  2. Tweet a link to this post on the #buydiversebooks hashtag and tell us which book you bought! If your tweet does not show up on the correct hashtag with the name of the book you bought and a link to this post, it will not be considered eligible for the deal.
  3. Email buydiversebooks(at)gmail(dot)com. Please a) attach a photo/screencap of your proof of purchase/receipt (any personal info except name blanked out) with the date of purchase and book title clear in the image, b) tell us which prize pool you're entering--writer or reader (if reader, please list whether your mailing address is continental US or not), and c) link to the diverse books list you found your diverse book through (lists at end of this post.) We'll reply with details for receiving your prize. That's it! Buy, tweet, email.
Please note: All gift items are assigned randomly. You may pick "reader" or "writer" gift, or more than one if you purchase more than one diverse book, but due to the sheer volume, no specific requests for items within either gift pool can be accommodated. Exceptions are the specialty items, gifted first-come, first-served. Thank you!

What will you receive?

*items are grouped by donor. If a donor lists 5 items, that is 5 individual gifts for 5 purchasers, not 1 gift for 1 purchaser.

In the pool for readers, we are offering one item below per eligible purchase of each diverse book. 

These are gifted randomly to readers who request a "reader pool" gift. No requests for specific books can be accepted. All hard-copy books are continental U.S. only, unless otherwise stated. Ebooks are international.

We Were Here (ebook) by Matt de la Pena, 1 copy. Donated by Jennifer Hawkins.

Control or Catalyst (paperback) by Lydia Kang, reader's choice, 2 copies. Donated by Lydia Kang, author of Control, Catalyst, The November Girl, and Quackery.

The Progeny by Tosca Lee (hardcover), 1. Donated by Kate Brauning.

Without Benefits (ebook) by Nicole Tone, 1 copy. Donated by Nicole Tone.

If I Was Your Girl (hardcopy) by Meredith Russo, donated by Ashley Herring Blake. 1 copy. Available in any country Book Depository delivers to.

How We Fall by Kate Brauning (signed paperbacks), 2. Donated by Kate Brauning.

Signs of Attraction (ebook) by Laura Brown, 2 copies. Donated by Laura Brown.

ARC of It Started With Goodbye by Christina June, 1 copy (mailed in July). Donated by Christina June.

The May Queen Murders (signed hardcover) by Sarah Jude, 1 copy. Donated by Sarah Jude.

How We Fall by Kate Brauning (signed hardcovers), 2. Donated by Kate Brauning.

Kasey Screws Up The World (ebook), 5 copies. Donated by Rachel Shane.

ARC of The Far Empty by J Todd Scott, 1. Donated by Kate Brauning.

Alice in Wonderland High (signed hardcover) by Rachel Shane, 1 copy. Donated by Rachel Shane.

Every Ugly Word (paperback) by Aimee Salter, 2. Donated by Aimee Salter.

Bundle of 4 queer books and fun extras, readers choice from provided selection. Donated by Julia Ember, available US/Canada/EU.

Dark Touch (ebook) by Aimee Salter. Donated by Aimee Salter.

Untamed (ebook) by Madeline Dyer. Donated by Madeline Dyer.

A Crow of His Own (picture book, Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Honor) by Megan Dowd Lambert. Donated by author.

Blood and Water (ebook) by Briana Morgan. 3 copies. Donated by author.

Gates of Thread and Stone (paperback) by Lori Lee. 1 copy. Donated by author.

Real Sisters Pretend (picture book) by Megan Dowd Lambert. Donated by author.

Polychrone Ink Volume 3, (literary magazine devoted to celebrating diversity), 2 copies. Donated by Em Salgado.

Future Shock (signed hardcover) by Elizabeth Briggs. Donated by author.

ARCs of Last in a Long Line of Rebels, Everything Everything, The Rest of Us Just Live Here, Great Greene Heist, and a copy of Serpentine by Cindy Pon, and donated by Lyla Lawless. Each an individual gift.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe and I'll Give You the Sun, donated by Tammy Subia.

"2016 debut diverse book bundle" available as one gift! Copies of The Girl From Everywhere, Symptoms of Being Human, and Unicorn Tracks. Ebooks internationally or paperbacks for continental US. Donated by Carrie Ann Dirisio, YA writer and creator of @broodingYAhero

Serpentine by Cindy Pon (paperback), 1 copy. Donated by author.

George by Alex Gino (ebook) and When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore (ebook) donated by I.W. Gregorio.

2-book bundle of Dating Sarah Cooper and On the Outside by Siera Maley (ebooks), donated by Ashlyn, who lives in the DC area where she writes f/f fantasy and sci-fi stories.

3-book bundle of I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Everything Leads To You by Nina LaCour, and Kindred by Octavia E. Butler (print copies), donated by Cassie Fox.

In the pool for writers, we are offering one item below per eligible purchase of each diverse book:

These are gifted randomly to readers who request a "writer pool" gift. No requests for specific items can be accepted-- you might receive a query critique, or even a phone consultation with a publishing professional! You may purchase more than one book to raise your chances of being gifted a specific item, since you'd then receive that many gifts.

10-page critique, 1. Carrie is a literary agent with Prospect Agency, and has a wide range of interests.  She is particularly on the lookout for for diverse MG/YA, high concept commercial fiction, romance, and memoir. Some of recent projects include Nicole Trilivas' commercial fiction GIRLS WHO TRAVEL (Berkley, December 2015), Brianna DuMont's  upcoming WEIRD BUT TRUE, EXTRA CREDIT: US PRESIDENTS (National Geographic, June 2017), Beth Ellyn Summer's upcoming YA AT FIRST BLUSH (Bloomsbury Spark, September 2016) and Shana Figueroa's upcoming urban romance RED RAVEN (Forever Yours, September 2016). She is not the best agent for picture books that are not nonfiction or educational or for adult high fantasy.  Learn more about her by visiting Prospect's website or checking out her Twitter and blog.

Query critiques, 3: Ava Jae is a YA author, an assistant editor at Entangled Publishing, and a freelance editor. Her YA Sci-Fi debut, BEYOND THE RED, released in March 2016 from Sky Pony Press. When she’s not writing about kissing, superpowers, explosions, and aliens, you can find her with her nose buried in a book, nerding out over the latest X-Men news, or hanging out on her blogTwitterFacebooktumblrGoodreadsInstagram, or YouTube channel.

Query critiques, 2: Julie Hammerle is the YA author of THE SOUND OF US and is represented by Beth Phelan of The Bent Agency.

Query critiques for MG or YA, 5. (YA or MG only) - Gabrielle Prendergast is the author of the award winning novels in verse AUDACIOUS and CAPRICIOUS. Her upcoming books include the middle grade novel PANDAS ON THE EAST SIDE (Orca, October 2016) and the YA sci-fi ZERO REPEAT FOREVER (Simon & Schuster 2017). Gabrielle has taught writing and screenwriting at UBC, SFSU and Sydney University in Australia.

Query critique, 1: Kim Graff is a publishing minion working in NYC, former literary intern at D4EO Literary Agency, Red Sofa Literary Agency, and P.S. Literary, and an author represented by Carrie Pestritto of Prospect Agency, She’s a graduate of the University of Denver’s Publishing Institute, and a full-time freelance editor at Wild Things Editing.

Query critique, 1: Brent Taylor is an associate agent at TriadaUS, where he represents a wide range of fiction for kids, teens, and adults. You can find him online at and on Twitter @NaughtyBrent.

Query critique, 2: Sarah J. Schmitt is a K-8 school librarian and Youth Service Professional for teens at a public library. She lives outside of Indianapolis with her husband, two kidlets and a cat who might actually be a secret agent. Her debut novel, IT'S A WONDERFUL DEATH, came out in October 2015 from Sky Pony Press.

Query critiques, 3: Rachel Lynn Solomon is the author of two forthcoming contemporary YA novels from Simon & Schuster/Simon Pulse. You can find her online at  and on Twitter @rlynn_solomon.

Query critiques, 5: Maria Vicente is an associate literary agent at P.S. Literary Agency, providing support to her clients through all stages of the writing and publication process. She is also the Wicked Witch of the East Coast. You can find her on Twitter (@msmariavicente) or online at

Query critiques, 5: Beth Phelan is a literary agent at The Bent Agency and the creator of #DVpit.

Query critique, 1: Jennifer Hawkins is a YA writer and editor for Author Accelerator. She has short works published in various magazines, including The Decameron Journal, and she's a 2016 YARWA Rosemary Award double-finalist. She lives in Houston with her husband, two sons, and lap dog Great Dane. You can find her on her website:  and on Twitter: @jennymarieh

Query critiques, 5: Joy McCullough is a freelance editor, PitchWars mentor, and MG/YA author represented by Jim McCarthy. You can see more about her here.

Query critique, 1: David Arnold lives in Lexington, Kentucky, with his (lovely) wife and (boisterous) son. He is the author of MOSQUITOLAND and KIDS OF APPETITE (9.20.16). Previous jobs include freelance musician/producer, stay-at-home dad, and preschool teacher. You can learn more at and follow him on Twitter @roofbeam.

Query critique, 1:  Tamara Mataya is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, a librarian, and a musician with synesthesia. Armed with a name tag and a thin veneer of credibility, she takes great delight in recommending books and shushing people. She puts the 'she' in TWSS and the B in LGBTQIA+. She’s the co-creator of Pitchmas, a bi-annual pitch contest for writers, a Pitchwars mentor, and as a freelance editor, has worked with NYT Bestselling authors.

Query critique, 1: Ashley Herring Blake lives in Nashville, TN with her family. She is the author of SUFFER LOVE and the forthcoming HOW TO MAKE A WISH.

Query critiques, 5. Michael Mammay is a science fiction and fantasy writer represented by JABerwocky Literary, and a Pitchwars mentor.

Query critique, 1. Christina June is a voracious reader, loves to travel, eats too many cupcakes, and hopes to one day be bicoastal – the east coast of the US and the east coast of Scotland.  She lives just outside Washington DC with her husband and the world’s most rambunctious five-year-old.  Her debut novel, IT STARTED WITH GOOD-BYE, will be published by Blink/HarperCollins in 2017.

Query critique plus a follow-up edit, 1. Rebecca Donnelly was born in England and has lived in California, Florida, and New Mexico. These days she writes and runs a small rural library in upstate New York. Her debut middle-grade novel, HOW TO STAGE A CATASTROPHE, will be published by Capstone Young Readers in Spring 2017.

Query critiques, 3. Tamar Rydzinski worked at Sanford J. Greenburger Associates prior to joining the Laura Dail Literary Agency. She graduated from Yeshiva University in 2003 with a major in literature and a minor in business. Tamar is interested in anything that is well-written and has great characters.

Query critiques, 2. Tehlor Kinney is a poet, YA author, and freelance editor living in the wilds of Southern Oregon. You can usually find her wandering the woods, falling head-over-heels for fictional characters, or trying to perfect her tortilla recipe. She is represented by Jim McCarthy of DGLM.

Query critiques, 5.  Kayla Whaley is a senior editor at Disability in Kidlit, a graduate of the Clarion Writers' Workshop, and is represented by Beth Phelan. Her work has appeared in The Toast, Uncanny Magazine, and The Eatablishment, among other venues.

Query critique, 1. Amanda Heger is a writer, attorney, and bookworm. She strongly believes Amy Poehler is her soul mate, and one of her life goals is to adopt a pig and name it Ron Swineson. Find her online at

Query critiques, 2. Meredith Tate is a St. Louis based social-worker-turned-speculative-fiction-writer originally from Concord, New Hampshire. Her NA dystopian romance, MISSING PIECES, is available now through Omnific / Simon & Schuster. She is represented by Leon Husock of the L. Perkins Agency.

Query critique, 1. J. R. Yates is a writer of sexy, contemporary romances with a cerebral twist and a slice of humor. She is represented by Stacey Donaghy of Donaghy Literary Group. She is also a Pitchwars Mentor.

Query critique, 1. Lori Lee is the author of YA fantasy series Gates of Thread and Stone, and is represented by Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary.

Query critique, 1. Kaitlyn Sage Patterson writes books. Before settling in Memphis, where she lives with her husband and dogbeast, she spent time in East Tennessee, Boston, Scotland, and South Korea. When she's not writing or reading, Kaitlyn can be found riding horses, cooking elaborate meals, or learning how to garden. THE DIMINISHED (Harlequin TEEN, 2018) is her debut novel.

Query critiques, 23. Adult/YA/MG fiction only. Lindsay Warren has treasure-hunted through queries at Browne & Miller Literary Associates and Talcott Notch Literary Services. After studying novels, human behavior, and Russian at the University of Chicago, she enjoys the promise of perpetual new reads, whether sassy or emotionally gripping. Somehow, she functions without caffeine, unless presented with high tea or a draft latte.

Query critique, 1. A Suiter Clarke has an MFA in Creative Writing with Publishing and writers commercial adult fiction. Her short stories have appeared in several journals and magazines. She is represented by Sharon Pelletier of Dystel and Goderich Literary Management. 

First 250 words critique, 10. Bethany Robison is an assistant editor with Entangled and a YA author of speculative historical fiction.

First 500 words critique, 1. J. R. Yates is a writer of sexy, contemporary romances with a cerebral twist and a slice of humor. She is represented by Stacey Donaghy of Donaghy Literary Group. She is also a Pitchwars Mentor.

First 500 words critique, 1. Kaitlyn Sage Patterson writes books. Before settling in Memphis, where she lives with her husband and dogbeast, she spent time in East Tennessee, Boston, Scotland, and South Korea. When she's not writing or reading, Kaitlyn can be found riding horses, cooking elaborate meals, or learning how to garden. THE DIMINISHED (Harlequin TEEN, 2018) is her debut novel.

First 500 words critique, 1: Ashley Herring Blake lives in Nashville, TN with her family. She is the author of SUFFER LOVE and the forthcoming HOW TO MAKE A WISH.

First 500 words critiques, 5: Molli Moran is a Southern author who doesn't consider her day complete if she hasn't written. She is the author of the Walker Boys series, romances following a trio of brothers. Molli loves spending time with her family, her girlfriend, and championing the push for more marginalized voices within YA and adult literature. She can be found on Twitter as @MissMolliWrites.

First 500 words critique, 1: Jennifer Hawkins is a YA writer and editor for Author Accelerator. She has short works published in various magazines, including The Decameron Journal, and she's a 2016 YARWA Rosemary Award double-finalist. She lives in Houston with her husband, two sons, and lap dog Great Dane. You can find her on her website:  and on Twitter: @jennymarieh

First 500 words critique, 5. Michael Mammay is a science fiction and fantasy writer represented by JABerwocky Literary, and a Pitchwars mentor.

First 500 words critique, 1: Nicole Tone is an editor, novelist and freelance writer with bylines in Hello Giggles and xoJane. She has her B.A. in Creative Writing and Literature from Southern New Hampshire University and is pursing her MFA in Writing at Savannah College of Art and Design. Nicole is the Publishing Director for REUTS Publications and runs her own freelance editing business, Tone Editorial.

First 500 words critiques, 5.  Kayla Whaley is a senior editor at Disability in Kidlit, a graduate of the Clarion Writers' Workshop, and is represented by Beth Phelan. Her work has appeared in The Toast, Uncanny Magazine, and The Eatablishment, among other venues.

First 500 words critiques, 3: Genevieve Powell is a romance writer represented by Beth Phelan of the Bent Agency. She's a Marine veteran currently working on her M.A. in Writing at Johns Hopkins University. She can be found on Twitter at @EviePowell84 and at

First 500 words critique, 1. Helene Dunbar is the author of THESE GENTLE WOUNDS (Flux, 2014), WHAT REMAINS (Flux, 2015) and BOOMERANG (Sky Pony 2017). Over the years, she's worked as a drama critic, journalist, and marketing manager, and has written on topics as diverse as Irish music, court cases, theater, and Native American Indian tribes. She lives in Nashville with her husband and daughter, and exists on a steady diet of readers' tears.

First 500 words critique, 1. Though Diana Gallagher be but little, she is fierce. She’s also a gymnastics coach and judge, former collegiate gymnast, and writing professor.  She holds an MFA from Stony Brook University and is represented by Tina Wexler of ICM Partners. Her contemporary YA novel, Lessons in Falling, lands on 2/7/2017.

First 500 words critiques, 10. Alex Yuschick is a freelance editor and writer represented by Bridget Smith of Dunham Literary.

First 500 words critiques, 2. Lauren E. Abramo is Vice President and Subsidiary Rights Director at Dystel & Goderich Literary Management, where she maintains a small and carefully cultivated client list ranging from middle grade to adult, commercial to literary. Her middle grade and YA list is primarily fiction, while her adult list is split evenly between fiction and non-fiction, with a heavy emphasis on interdisciplinary, accessible approaches to important issues in contemporary culture. In all categories she is especially interested in underrepresented voices. You can find her at and on Twitter at @laurenabramo.

First 3 pages critique, 1: Sarah J. Schmitt is a K-8 school librarian and Youth Service Professional for teens at a public library. She lives outside of Indianapolis with her husband, two kidlets and a cat who might actually be a secret agent. Her debut novel, IT'S A WONDERFUL DEATH, came out in October 2015 from Sky Pony Press.

First 5 pages critique, 1: Hillary Monahan is a New York Times bestselling author also writing as Eva Darrows.

First chapter critique, 1: Tehlor Kinney is a poet, YA author, and freelance editor living in the wilds of Southern Oregon. You can usually find her wandering the woods, falling head-over-heels for fictional characters, or trying to perfect her tortilla recipe. She is represented by Jim McCarthy of DGLM.

First chapter critique, 1. Sarah Jude is a horror and thriller author from Missouri. Her YA novel THE MAY QUEEN MURDERS (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) published in May 2016. She can be found on Twitter as @SarahEJude.

First five pages critiques, 2. Meredith Tate is a St. Louis based social-worker-turned-speculative-fiction-writer originally from Concord, New Hampshire. Her NA dystopian romance, MISSING PIECES, is available now through Omnific / Simon & Schuster. She is represented by Leon Husock of the L. Perkins Agency.

"Ash me anything" consultation over email, 1. Madeline Dyer lives in the southwest of England, and has a strong love for anything dystopian, ghostly, or paranormal. She can frequently be found exploring wild places, and at least one notebook is known to follow her wherever she goes. Her debut novel, UNTAMED (Prizm Books, May 2015), examines a world in which anyone who has negative emotions is hunted down, and a culture where addiction is encouraged.

30-minute phone consultation, 1: Brent Taylor is an associate agent at TriadaUS, where he represents a wide range of fiction for kids, teens, and adults. You can find him online at and on Twitter @NaughtyBrent.

Query critique + 1st page (up to 250 words), 5. Beth Phelan is a literary agent at The Bent Agency and the creator of #DVpit.

Query critique + 1st page (up to 250 words), 2. Karen McManus writes YA contemporary and fantasy fiction. Her debut novel, ONE OF US IS LYING, will be released by Delacorte Press/Random House in Summer 2017, with a second book to follow in 2018. Karen is represented by Rosemary Stimola of Stimola Literary Studio and can be found on Twitter at @writerkmc.

Query + 1st page (up to 250 words) critique, 2. Laura Brown lives in Massachusetts with her quirky abnormal family. Her husband’s put up with her since high school, her young son keeps her on her toes, and her three cats think they deserve more scratches. Hearing loss is a big part of who she is, from her own Hard of Hearing ears, to the characters she creates.

Query + 500 word critique, 10.  Adult/YA/MG fiction only. Lindsay Warren has treasure-hunted through queries at Browne & Miller Literary Associates and Talcott Notch Literary Services. After studying novels, human behavior, and Russian at the University of Chicago, she enjoys the promise of perpetual new reads, whether sassy or emotionally gripping. Somehow, she functions without caffeine, unless presented with high tea or a draft latte.

Specialty items- may be requested specifically by item.

*if you would like this item below, please mention this in your email. First come, first serve. If you request an item below and it has already been gifted, you will be gifted another item from the writer or reader gift pool.

Sensitivity reads of full manuscripts (any category) for food allergies, autoimmune diseases, and/or chronic health conditions. Jessica Reino is a kid lit writer of fiction and nonfiction and the author of Food Allergies the Ultimate Teen Guide (Rowman & Littlefield 2015).  When she is not writing, she works as a freelance editor with Pandamoon Publishing.

30-minute plotting consult calls or "ask me anything" calls with multipublished YA author Erica Cameron, 4. Erica is the author of the Dream War Saga, Laguna Tides, the Assassins series, and upcoming Island of Exiles (Entangled 2017). Calls can be used any time within six months of this offer. (Note from Kate Brauning: Erica's worldbuilding and plotting skills are unparalleled-- you want her mind on your book.)

Reading Picture Books with Children (nonfiction) by Megan Dowd Lambert. Donated by author.

Sensitivity reads of short stories or novellas, 3. Em Salgado is a genderqueer bisexual person of Salvadorian and German decent. Professionally, Em is the Executive Editor and head Poetry Editor for Polychrome Ink literary magazine. When not editing, Em is writing, reading, or playing MMORPGs. For breakdown of elements available for the sensitivity read, see Em's bio.

30-minute phone consultation about self-publishing or becoming a hybrid author, 1. Elizabeth Briggs is the author of the young adult time travel thriller Future Shock and the sequel Future Threat, along with the Chasing The Dream adult romance series. She graduated from UCLA with a degree in Sociology, currently mentors teens in writing, and volunteers with a dog rescue group.

Special purchase deal! If writers/readers purchase their diverse books through Flyleaf Books (Chapel Hill, NC) as a bookseller there Johanna Albrecht will include a free tote bag and any relevant/related swag she can fit into the package. She'll make the choice on what swag to include, but everyone will get a tote. Anyone making purchases should mention Johanna's name/Twitter handle, or this diverse books program in the comments section at checkout.

She'd also like to offer that if anyone would like to order a book to be donated to a group in Orlando, she will cover the shipping costs personally. Contact her for details.

Buyer's choice of original art prints from Curious Kumquat shop owner, Myra Fiacco. 10 copies available. Myra is a tattoo artist turned illustrator with a passion for discovering the world through literature. Shipped free within the continental U.S., nominal shipping fee outside continental U.S.

Which books do I buy to get one of these awesome deals?

Any book listed on any of the lists below is eligible for a gift. If the book is not listed on one of these lists, it will not be eligible and no gift will be sent. If more than one book is purchased, you will receive more than one gift!

Disability in Kidlit's reviews (any book positively reviewed will qualify)

SLJ's recommended list of titles from "Islam in the Classroom"

Latinxs in Kid Lit (click the children's, MG, and YA tabs at the top)

and if you want more lists (especially for adult fiction), head over to the "Where To Find Diverse Books" listing at We Need Diverse Books. 

Still not sure?

I think you'll love:

Juliet Takes a Breath

If I Was Your Girl
*Should purchases exceed gifts, Kate Brauning will offer at minimum one query critique per book purchased.