Don’t Fence Me In

Goodgodbird_publication  I’ll be honest, I never considered my novel to be Young Adult fiction.  It’s just one of those things that never occurred to me while I was writing. The only category I cared to put it in was “literary fiction” and “coming-of-age.” But, thinking back, I should have realized that a novel written (mostly) from the perspective of a seventeen year old would likely be viewed as YA.  

I say this is to let you in on a little secret: I spent upwards of three years trying to gain the attention of the wrong literary agents.  It wasn’t until I stumbled upon AgentInbox that I began submitting my novel to agents specifically representing YA novels. 

When Ken Wright, my agent, first told me he was submitting my manuscript to YA editors, I was a bit shocked. He told me, however, that it was “literary YA,” which made me feel better. In recent months, I’ve become accustomed to my new moniker of “Young Adult Author,” and it’s made me realize that, for the most part, I’ve always had a preoccupation with this area of literature.  

In fact, the novels that I have enjoyed the most all seem to have one thing in common: they’re all Young Adult coming-of-age fiction. In fact, I can’t seem to remember the last book I read all the way through that didn’t fall into this category. And some of my favorite authors (J.D. Salinger, Harper Lee, William Golding, and Sherman Alexie, to name a few) have all written YA novels. 

I’m also currently reading two very YA fiction novels (Inexcusable
by Chris Lynch and Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan).  

The underlying lesson for all of you searching for literary agents: it’s vital that you really know the audience for which your work has been written. If you have written a sprawling love story, then you’re probably going to want to submit to agents who represent Romance. If aliens have taken over the world in your novel, then you’re definitely going to be looking for an agent willing to take on Sci-Fi novels. And, if your narrator is a teenager who has to grow up in an impossible world, then you have written a YA novel, my friend. 

Don’t let the fear of being fenced in keep you from sharing your talent with the world. 

Also, if you’re reading any great YA right now, share the titles in the comments!

Happy WEbooking,


The Confidence Game

6a00e54ff9f2cf88340120a786bd73970bHello again WEbook tribe. Thanks for all the great comments on my last post. I wanted to start with something universal—the necessity of reading—and it seemed like it struck a chord. This time I want to broach something equally universal to new (and veteran) writers—maintaining confidence. Next to publication, this might be one of the toughest things to master in the writing game.

As someone in the throes of trying to finish his first novel, I struggle with confidence daily. Am I good enough? Will I ever get a book deal? Am I fooling myself, wasting my time, are my friends and family just humoring me? It gets worse when I read various book reviews and see passages pulled from novels that seem far superior to anything I’m writing. Or maybe it’s the book I’m reading (lately I’m keen on torturing myself with first novels so I can compulsively compare them to my own). At some point, I inevitably decide that what I’m writing will never be as good as what I’m reading and I should just give up.

Here’s another one of my favorite games. I impulsively follow bestseller and “notable books” lists. Naturally my novel appears nothing like those that are commercial or critical favorites and the doubts creep in anew. Or worse, I start questioning my plot or POV or setting and contemplate making changes so it might have a better chance of catching an agent or editor’s eye or be more successful in the marketplace because it mimics something that’s flying off the shelves.

This inevitably leads to a certain amount of despondency (and TV watching, eating, cracking that third beer, etc.). Sound familiar?

The trick to overcoming this is simple. Actually, that’s a joke; there is no pill or vaccination against doubt. It’s something that you have to learn to deal with. Here’s what I do: I remind myself that no one can write the story I’m writing. No one had my exact childhood, my peculiar teen years, my oddball parents, my lovers, my jobs, etc. No one thinks precisely as I do. I also seek out and read accounts by other writers, agents and editors about how they kept faith in an idea or person and were rewarded in the end. Finally I realize that if I don’t write my story the way I want to write it, I’ll never forgive myself if it doesn’t get published. And I strongly believe that agents and editors can tell when you’ve written a book to please them or the market or anyone besides yourself. 

So, the question this week is: how do you deal with doubt when it creeps into your writing world?


p.s. My apologies to those who direct messaged me last week. I was out of internet range while traveling and will get back to you ASAP.

JMHammock1 John Meils is currently finishing a first novel, tentatively titled The Warring House. He has written for Elle, Men’s Health, and, among others. To learn more about him, visit

The Metaphor or Simile Challenge Results + New Challenge

Similemetaphor  This was a shorter challenge than usual, only open for one week, but there were still a boat-load of good submissions. 

This challenge was deceptively difficult. While it's easy to compare one thing with another, it's much harder to make that comparison work in a way that enriches a reader's view or perspective. The WEbook editorial staff chose three entires that used a metaphor or simile to expand the scope of the scene in an interesting way.

The winners are...

#1. The Forgotten Ones by Uhuru  
#2. Furball by Karpsy 
#3. The Welcome by Maggie_D  

Congratulations! Incidentally, it was a complete coincidence that two of the winning submission were about dogs, but isn't it interesting how drastically the comparison in either submission affected the tone?

Next up, The Short Summary Challenge:

This one is inspired by our larger writing competition, PageToFame. Writers should create a short (150 word max) summary for a book, and enter it as a new chapter here. This is an important step in the writing process because it forces you to decide what your book is going to be about at its core (that may seem obvious, but many people start cranking out pages without hammering this down first).

The book idea can be something you've been working on for a while, but it can also be something you made up on the spot. The most important element in this challenge is to make people want to read more!  

To get some great tips on summary writing, check out our FAQ. 

THE PRIZES: Because this challenge ties into PageToFame so well, the WEbook editorial staff will pick the top 100 summaries and award them a 25% discount to PageToFame. We'll also pick 5 summaries that we can't wait to see more of and award the authors a free submission. 

The deadline to submit is April, 30th, at 4 pm EST.

Before you go to it, be sure to read Uhuru's winning similes:

The Forgotten Ones
She came smelling like perfumed trash. I had arranged to meet her and the caseworker at 3:30pm for the pre-placement visit. I tried not to stare even though her pigtails waved like flags of defeat marking conquered innocence.


PageToCash +15% Off Entry Fee!

#12 Thowing MoneyExciting news! $1,000 is up for grabs at WEbook. The highest rated first-page submitted to PageToFame before April 30 (and after March 1) wins! If you have the highest rated page, YOU WIN $1,000! $1,000 Check. In your mailbox. ALL YOURS! Think of the 100 PageToFame entries you could buy with that!

To save a bit of cash on the front-end, use the coupon code PRIZ01 to get 15% off the entry fee. So get to it! (All pages submitted after March 1 are automatically eligible to win.)
We will announce the top three highest rated pages submitted before March 1st soon, we're just waiting on the last few pages to be elevated to the second round. Keep your fingers crossed, $1,000 might arrive soon if you submitted before March 1!

Not a writer? More of a reader? Decide who gets the cash. Rate now!  And don't forget to tell your friends!

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes: AgentInbox

UPDATE: We've made some more changes to AgentInbox since this post, go here to get caught up!

Starting today, AgentInbox is temporarily closed to new submissions. We will re-open for new submissions the week of May 2, 2010. With the re-opening of the service, our introductory period is officially over and there will be a fee to use AgentInbox services. Important to note: For those of you who have submissions pending review
by WEbook, you can still revise and receive edits through April 29th free of charge.

With 80+ literary agents, over 100 partial or full manuscript requests, one major success story the introductory period has exceeded our expectations. This week we will make important improvements to the service based on the feedback you have provided. Thank you for your thoughtful comments.

The AgentInbox services include:

  • BASIC EDITORIAL REVIEW of your query letters to ensure you make the best first impression with agents. We check your spelling, grammar, and make sure you include core information in your query. Learn more.

  • A PERSONAL DASHBOARD that allows you to track when agents open your queries and what sections they view. No longer do you have to click the "send" button on your email and then wait around for months before hearing back from agents!

  • AUTOMATIC MATCHING of your submission with agents who are are interested in representing your genre(s). There are over 80 agents using AgentInbox; we show you which ones are right for you.

    different lengths to agents -- all ll in a single batch!  

The pricing options are as follows:

For $39.95, authors can submit to all participating agents with relevant genre interests for up to six months. As an introductory bonus, this package also includes one free submission to PageToFame.

First time users of AgentInbox have the option of using AgentInbox services to submit to one agent for a fee $9.95. After this, you will have the option of upgrading to the unlimited package at any time for $29.95.

For authors with submissions pending review by WEbook, you can revise and receive edits free of charge April 19-April 29.  After that date, you will be asked to make a payment of $39.95 before your submission is passed through to agents.

We know you might have questions about this transition. Please start in the AgentInbox Forum, we will be closely monitoring it all week.

--The WEbook Team

The Inanimate Object Challenge Results

#17 Red Pen Yet again, there were well over 300 hundred submission to the bi-weekly writing challenge. Great job everyone!

This challenge was one of the most difficult we've had so far. It was hard to balance describing the objects function and attributes while also giving it a colorful personality, and all in 100 words!

Nevertheless, you persevered and submitted a lot of fantastic entries. We chose three paragraphs that bestowed a powerful personality onto their object, but also took some extra steps towards creating larger and unique world for their objects.

<drumroll>And the three winners of PageToFame coupons are...</drumroll>

#1. Creamed Misery by DonCanti
#2. The Warrior Fork by AMYehuda
#3. A Spatula's Life by Bindi

Congratulations to the winners! You will receive your PageToFame coupon via a WEbook message.

The Next Challenge:

Similemetaphor For those who didn't win never fear, a new challenge is here! The Metaphor or Simile Challenge. This challenge is also inspired by Louise Doughty's writing guide gem, A Novel in a Year. The premise is simple: write three sentences (max 100 words) and include one metaphor or simile within your text. The rest is 100% up to you!

This may sound simple and easy, but we assure you, not all metaphors and similes are created equally. So take your time and craft one with some kick. The WEbook editorial staff will review all submissions, pick three winners, and award them a coupon for free entry to PageToFame (a value of 9.95!). Join this project and start a new chapter to submit! Deadline is April 22nd!

Before you go, check out DonCanti's winning entry:

Creamed Misery
Welcome to the final darkness. I'm the oldest in our miserable cave. I've seen five generations come and go; chosen one or two at a time by the hands of the gods. Soon after they are pulled away, we can hear a sharp grinding sound; screams ignored by those giant beasts. We never know when it will happen, but it always does. Some come here laughing, thinking it's paradise. Those ones should be labeled canned morons! I've been ready for my turn long ago, but it never comes. Do the gods hate me? Why do the gods resent creamed corn?!

Need some inspiration for your metaphor? Try reading a few PageToFame entries, and see if lighting strikes you!

What's in a Name?

Goodgodbird_publication The epic journey of J.C. Whaley continues! This week, he's reacting to his first round of notes from his editor, which include a possible title change. If you're just arriving, go here to learn more about Corey's amazing story.

Just this last week, I received and began working on my first round of edits from my editor at Simon & Schuster. I was overwhelmed at first, but have since realized that the editorial process can be just as fun as writing the novel itself. I’m enjoying revisiting my characters’ lives and also coming up with better ways to say some of the things I stumbled over a bit on the first try. 

One issue that arose before my edits ever began concerned the title of my novel. Let me first say this: I knew there was a strong possibility that I would need to consider a title change for the book. This is due in part to two things: it is being published under a Young Adult imprint, and its current title is similar to an already-published work of fiction. And so, with much hesitation at first, I began to consider new titles for the novel that has consumed my life for going on five years. 

I will not pretend that letting go of my original title isn’t difficult. That being said, I realize that I have begun a process that serves to take my previously unknown and unnoticed work and make it accessible and appealing to a world audience. One important thing that the “title talks” have taught me is that I am now part of a team of people rooting for my novel. A few months ago, I was writing query letters and trying to get any attention I could for my book. And now, I have a team in New York figuring out the best way to get my book into the world’s hands. As I’m sure most writers can attest: this can be a lonely, often alienating career. It’s incredibly comforting (and, still, unbelievable) to know that I’m no longer alone in this effort.

So, sure the title might change (most likely, actually), but what’s it matter? The book will be the same—better even, after some cleaning up and a few added scenes—and this change could mean that so many more people stop and notice it in a bookstore or read about it online (or both!).

PS: You WEbookers will be the first to know the official title. 

Keep Reading!

6a00e54ff9f2cf88340120a786bd73970b Greetings, WEbook nation. Or rather, hi again. Some of you might remember me from my former incarnation, JohnnyWEbook. That was before I left it all behind for my two great loves: writing and my girlfriend. Now I spend more time with both (sometimes too much with the former, to the consternation of the latter).

So I’m doing it, the writing life, for real, finally. After a decade as a book editor, a few stints as a freelance magazine writer, a memoir that netted me an agent and got me close to a deal at a major publisher, then a novel that lost me that agent and which I’m re-working now. I am you, him, her, us—a writer trying to get it together because doing just about anything else makes me unhappy. And that’s why I’m here on the WEbook blog, to share my thoughts and experiences. Because we’re all the same—just at different points on the journey. Like many of you I haven’t been blessed with that big break yet (read: a book deal), but I’m not giving up.

I’ll be contributing a post every two weeks or so. Each one will be (loosely) dedicated to a topic germane to the writing life—i.e., habits, pitfalls, getting published, finding your voice, expectations, etc.—but ideally they’ll only be starting points for discussion (use the comments area below; I’ll jump in from time to time if I can add something useful). Also, please feel to ask me whatever questions you want, either below or to me directly on WEbook mail (penname: JohnnyM). I’ll do my best to answer them promptly. If I don’t have the answers, I’ll find them or even interview an expert on the subject and post it here.

As for my thoughts on writing, I believe there are countless ways to skin the literary cat. The only thing that matters in the end is to write, to keep putting words on the page, the screen, a blog, napkins at a coffee shop, whatever. That’s one of my few universal beliefs about writing: you need to do it in order to get better. And it’s hard and it takes time and discipline, but it’s oh so rewarding. (Ask Corey if you don’t believe me.)

In the spirit of this, I’d like to talk about reading and its importance to writing. For me, it’s crucial to always be reading as a way to fuel my writing. Sometimes it’s a matter of simply learning new vocabulary, picking up a stylistic trick, a fresh way to open a chapter or a POV device I haven’t seen before. I don’t steal stuff outright, but I occasionally modify and mimic what I’ve seen used by established writers.

The book I’m reading now is The Savage Detectives, by Roberto Bolano. It’s a plot-less romp about a pair of Latin American poets in the seventies and eighties as they travel around the world searching for truths. It’s sort of slow-going to be honest, but as I’m currently living in a Latin American country I find it fascinating.

What are you reading and how is it affecting/inspiring you?


JMHammock1 John Meils is currently finishing a first novel, tentatively titled The Warring House. He has written for Elle, Men’s Health, and, among others. To learn more about him, visit John, why aren't you on Twitter?

Author Joshua Gaylord On Dilettantism

JoshBook1WEbook's guest author series is back and featuring Joshua Gaylord, author of two novels, Hummingbirds and the forthcoming The Reapers Are the Angels. Josh graduated from Berkeley with a degree in English and a minor in creative writing. In 2000, he received his Master’s and Ph.D. in English at New York University, specializing in twentieth-century American and British literature. He teaches high school English in NYC.

Take it away, Josh!

Hummingbirds8 My first book, Hummingbirds, is a New York girls’ prep school novel.  My second, The Reapers Are the Angels (coming August 3, under the pen-name Alden Bell), is a post-apocalyptic southern gothic—with zombies. I have older manuscripts (which remain sitting in drawers, wisely unpublished) that include: an update of an eighteenth-century picaresque, a philosophical novel based upon the humors of the body, and, of course, a memoir about growing up as a child of divorce in California. 

I am sometimes asked what it’s like to shift gears so dramatically from book to book—which, I take it, is actually a beard for an unkinder question: Don’t you think you’d be a better writer if you stuck to one kind of book? The answer to that question is easy: Absolutely. After all, the more you do one thing, the better you become at it—right? On the other hand, since being a good writer is second on my list of literary priorities behind being a writer who enjoys writing, I will happily and proudly don the dunce cap marked D for dilettantism.

Reapers.F1 Part of the problem is that I’m very susceptible to suggestions of style. When I read an author who awes me with his or her craft, I find myself wanting to get inside it. It’s not enough for me to cover myself with Tom Drury as though it were a blanket, closing my eyes under the immense power of his prose; when I read something like Hunts in Dreams, I want to poke at it, I want to get behind the scenes, see how it works, imagine myself at the controls of it, steering that story myself, being the one who puts those words on the page. And so it’s not surprising that if I’m writing a book while I’m reading Tom Drury, the influence of Tom Drury can be felt on every page, throughout the plot, the style, the characters.  Hummingbirds is my Muriel Spark book. The Reapers Are the Angels is my Cormac McCarthy book.

Another part of the problem is that I may have taken too much to heart the lesson I learned from the powerhouses of the Western Literary Canon. Go ahead, go back and reread James Joyce, William Faulkner, Virginia Woolf, Thomas Pynchon—you’ll hear the message loud and clear: You can do whatever you want. It may not lead you to literary fame and fortune (always already a somewhat specious goal), but this is a lesson that, if followed, is sure to lead you to what Thoreau called a “success unexpected in common hours.” Do what you want, because readers and agents and editors and publishers are a vast and fickle group—and extremely difficult to please even when you set out to enslave yourself to their desires. Do what you want, because writing is like sex: You have to figure out how to please yourself before you can set out to please others. 

Ugh. That’s a shameless metaphor, and I apologize for it. Let me try to answer the original question more simply. What’s it like writing such different kinds of books? It’s thrilling, invigorating, terrifying—all the more gratifying precisely because you are not becoming a weary master of the craft.  You feel out of your depth, likely to go under at any moment—but if you manage to stay afloat, well, then, you feel like you’ve done something true and good.

Thanks for the insight, Josh! If this post put you in the mood to read stuff from all different kinds of genres, then rating some PageToFame pages is probably a good next move. If you're now in the mood to brave uncertain literary waters yourself, grab a pen/ keyboard and get to it!

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