Thursday, September 30, 2010


This weekend I attended the annual SCBWI Carolinas Fall Conference. I learned lots of amazing things and came away with a head full of new knowledge and a muse loaded with ideas. But there is one thing that has been nagging at me and I thought I’d like to share.

The amazingly talented marketing guru and writer, Shelli Johannes-Wells hosted a workshop Sunday morning called DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE M WORD. It was a very insightful lesson on the ins and outs of branding for authors. One thing she said that stuck with me was, “Know your pitch!” She said most people tend to zone out after the first ten words!

Wow, really? It got me thinking about the pitch for my novel, BLOOD TIES. This is my next “big” work. This is the piece of heart and soul that I hope to catch an agent with. And until Sunday, I wasn’t worried about my pitch. I had it. It was done. Heck you may have read it here on my blog. It was short (45 words), it was simple and to the point. So what was the problem? It didn’t seem natural. Shelli said your pitch should simply start like this: “My book is about. . .”

Instead, mine was more formal. It read much like a book flap or query letter. Take a gander:

His Dad is in jail, his mother is an alcoholic and his little brother is a pint-sized Goth freak. Life isn’t easy for Talon Cooley,
so when Dad calls from prison looking for another hand-out to save his worthless life, what's a guy to do?

Not bad. I mean, it didn’t suck and you got the gist. My problem was that it didn’t flow easily in conversation. If someone says to me, “So, what’s your book about?” I will look like a total dork if I suddenly turn on my James Earl Jones narrator voice and spout the above pitch. So I decided to make it more personal, more easily accessible and likely to hold up in conversation. Here’s my attempt:

My book is about . . . a teenage boy stuck in the shadow of his father’s jailhouse rep. So when neighborhood pets start
disappearing and an arson roams the area, fingers automatically point toward “that Cooey boy.” Talon’s struggle to clear
his name initiates a risky game with a dangerous drug dealer and leads to a discovery that just might give him a new outlook
on the man he calls Dad.

Whew! It went from 45 to 72 words. I’ve heard a pitch should never go above 150-200 words and I’ve managed to stay below that. Although it would never fit on Twitter. Does it still need work? Hell yeah. But my novel is still a work in progress and I’m thinking I might have a better handle on it once it is complete. In the meantime, It’ll still be rolling around my brain looking for improvement.

Now let’s talk about you. How’s your pitch? Is it formal like mine or can you tell me about it in casual conversation? Do you know it by heart? Will it fit on Twitter? (There are agents/editors who sometimes take pitches there and also sponsor contests.)

Let’s see what you’ve got. Pretend I’m Joan Q. Editor. We’re together at a social gathering and I look at you point blank and say, “So, what’s your book about?”

Share your best pitch in the comments section below.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


WriteOnCon, a FREE online conference for writers is over. If you missed it, you totally missed out on a great event. But have no fear, the founders, Jamie Harrington, Elana Johnson, Shannon Messenger, Jennifer Stayrook and Lisa and Laura Roecker have more up their sleeves.

The conference, which was held August 10-12, 2010 was attended by so many writers their server couldn't handle all the traffic. In order to host another epic event they'll need to pay for a better web hosting service. So, in order to finance this whole shebang, they have come up with the grand idea of giveaway promotions and will also be accepting donations. If you haven't done so already, please go check out the WriteOnCon website for details.

In addition to the giveaways listed on the WriteOnCon site, you will find additional giveaways on each of the founders websites/blogs. Casey McCormick is giving away an ARC of EXTRAORDINARY by Nancy Werlin and a hardcover of WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON by John Green and David Levithan. There will be two winners, one book to each.

Lisa & Laura Roecker are giving away an ARC and a sneak peek at the 1st chapter of their book LIAR SOCIETY and a 50 page manuscript critique.

Shannon Messenger is giving ways some much sought after autographed books. For you Rick Riordan fans she has THE LIGHTNING THIEF, THE ALCHEMIST signed by Michael Scott, MISTBORN signed by Brandon Sanderson, THE NAME OF THE WIND signed by Patrick Rothfuss and LEVIATHAN signed by Scott Westerfeld.

Elana Johnson is also donating autographed books for the cause. Sign up to win LOSING FAITH signed by Denise Jaden and BREAK signed by Hannah Moskowitz.

Author Jamie Harrington has some autographed goodies also. If you'd like a gander at PROM DATES FROM HELL signed by Rosemary Clement-Moore or GIL'S ALL FRIGHT DINER signed by A. Lee Martinez, Jamie's blog is the place to go.

So lets help these wonderful ladies help us. Sign up for giveaways and make donations to keep WriteOnCon on the web! And a special thank you goes out to the founders for their effort and commitment. Organizing anything is tough work and you've done it without any monetary benefit to yourselves. Please know, YOU ARE APPRECIATED!

-Niki Masse Schoenfeldt

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


I don't know if it's just me, but lately it seems as though responses to my submissions are coming in slower than ever. Now don't get me wrong, once in a while a rejection trickles in, but for the most part, my mailbox and inbox remain empty of editor/agent correspondence. Not that I’m complaining. I like to take heart in the old mantra, “no news is good news”. However, I wonder if other writers are noticing the same. With many houses closing their doors to unagented material (I don’t have an agent) and the economy forcing everyone and their brother into thinking they can write children’s books, the submission process seems to be getting more difficult to navigate day by day. (Editors/Agents are inundated with an ever increasing amount of submissions.)With this in mind, I thought I’d share with you my submission process:

First of all, I have more than one picture book manuscript ready for submission. That said, I think you can gather that I am submitting multiple manuscripts, (one at a time), to various editor/agents as I see fit. I try very hard to target my submissions to an editor/agent who I feel might be most receptive to that certain piece of work. For example, one of my newer works is a rhyming picture book called THE GUMBALL. (See sidebar on this blog regarding available works.) I began submitting it in early December and targeted editors who have published fun, silly rhyming picture books in the past. To date, I have received only one response and that was a very nice, handwritten rejection. I have five other editors I am waiting to hear back from. Before I resubmit elsewhere, I want to gage their reaction. If I get a pile of form rejections, I know the book isn’t working and I will need to rethink it. If I get some positive responses, then maybe I’m on the right track. However, since I’m in this for the long haul, and this is my career path, I’m praying for more than a nice rejection. With each submission, I aim for a contract. I cross my fingers and toes and answer every phone call with that little blip of apprehension, hoping against hope this is it, “the call”.
It has happened. I’ve been lucky enough to sell two books. But as I’ve said, I’m in this for the long haul and each day opens up new opportunities. I continue to scour my email and phone messages knowing that at some point there will be good news awaiting me. Fingers crossed.

Another aspect of the submissions process is the query letter. Like the full submission, this must be a carefully targeted communication. Similar to the cover letter which is included with a full submission, the query letter must convey your story in an appealing and fascinating way. Don’t give away the ending, but allude to it in a way that catches the editor/agent’s attention and makes them want to know more. If you’ve garnered their interest, they’ll probably ask to see the manuscript. At this point your work becomes solicited material and you’ve bypassed the dreaded “slush pile”. Some picture book writers hate the query letter. Personally, I run both hot and cold on it. Sometimes query letters have opened new doors for me. Houses that are closed to unsolicited submissions have requested material from me and although they passed on the particular project they have remained open to more of my work. Bonus! On the other hand, I have had queries that remain in limbo. These are queries I never get a response to. I don’t believe it is proper to send a status query on a query; seems redundant. Therefore, these are submissions I consider rejected. Yet, there is always hope it fell behind some assistant’s desk and will be resurrected. Some conscientious editor will discover it and immediately contact me for the full and love it and want it immediately. (Hey, didn’t I say I’m in this for the long haul?)

Then of course is the rewrite stage or even the “we-love-it-and-will-get-back-to-you” stage. I find these to be even more nail-biting than either the basic submission or query policies. At this point, you know you’ve found someone who is more than mildly interested in your work. However, this process seems to be harder than the others as now your submission moves on to the acquisitions meeting. Here it will be analyzed by sales and marketing and everyone, not just the editor, must love it and believe in it. These are tough odds. This is where your talent is overridden by the bottom dollar; literally. If the acquisitions team doesn’t think your book will make enough money for it to be worth their while, you will not be offered a contract. This whole concept makes me weak in the knees. It is difficult to know I’ve come so close and waiting for the outcome is like waiting for a verdict concerning my future. (Which in a way, it is.) During this stage, I’ve had to wait as little as a month and as long as a year. To date, I have two manuscripts in this position -that I know of. My fingernails are nibbled to the quick. Wish me luck!

Another area of submitting that must be considered for any writer in today’s market is the agent submission. Finding an agent is a long and arduous task. At least it has proven to be so for me. As primarily a picture book writer the list of agents accepting this type of work is not a long one. I also find it a bit weird trying to sell a book (singular) to an agent when I have numerous manuscripts in my arsenal. Not that I expect any agent to love every one of my works, but I think it would only be an asset for them to know I’m not a one hit wonder. I don’t dabble in writing, but work hard at it. I want them to know there is more work he/she may be interested in representing. I’m looking for someone to represent my career as a whole and not just one manuscript. Also, since I have been submitting on my own for a while, many agents are deterred from working with these manuscripts. They want material that has not been seen by editors. Should I hold my manuscripts for six months or more while I wait for agent responses, or should I take advantage of contacts I’ve made on my own? I really find myself in a quandry here and can't seem to decide on the right course of action. All I know for sure is that I’m not getting any younger and this is not a fast business. I really believe an agent would do wonders for my career. They would be able to open doors that are not just closed, but also locked. And yet I can’t seem to find that special person willing to take on a picture book author without a big sales record. Catch 22. But that doesn’t stop me from trying. Mr./Ms. Agent, I know you’re out there. Here’s to hoping our paths will cross soon.

And that is the submissions process from my point of view. I’d love to hear your take on it. How do we differ in our pursuit toward publication? What tips or advice can you share? Most of all, how is it working for you? Inquiring minds want to know.

-Niki Masse Schoenfeldt

Monday, March 29, 2010

WHAT'S GOING ON? : Don't Let the Bedbugs Bite!

After a week away from the computer because my mother was in town, I was excited to find an email from my editor at Shenanigan Books, Mary Watson. She was kind enough to let me know she has sent my manuscript for DON'T LET THE BEDBUGS BITE! out to an illustrator today. Of course I immediately googled the woman to see some of her work. All I can say is, "Yeah baby!"

I am absolutely thrilled to see what she comes up with. "Bedbugs" is a fun book and the illustration possibilities are endless! I can NOT wait to get a look at her interpretation. For those of you who are not familiar with Shenanigan Books, you should be. Here's the link:, look them up. Their books are gorgeous!

I'm looking forward to a wonderful experience and am honored to be part of Shenanigan's list. I'll keep you posted as the process moves forward.


Niki Masse Schoenfeldt

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Win 2 Gr8 Reads!

I have two wonderful books in my possesion that I think are awesome boy books for ages 12-14. (Or for any book lover.) They can be yours, but there's a hitch. If you would like to be the proud new owner of THE HUNCHBACK ASSIGNMENTS by Arthur Slade and THE PRICKER BOY by Reade Scott Whinnem, I ask that you post a link to my blog in any form of social media. Link to The Fractured Keyboard from your blog, mention it on Facebook, or tweet about it on Twitter. Whatever means you have available to you. Once done, leave me the link(s) in the comments section below & I will enter you in a drawing to win both of these entertaining volumes. The more links you provide, the more chances you have to win. I will draw the winner on Friday, March 5, 2010, so don't delay!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Win a chat with an agent!

Mark McVeigh has started a new blog. He is trying to get followers and is offering his expertise via a 15 minute skype or phone chat as incentive. If you'd like Mark to answer any of your publishing questions one on one, you only need to follow his blog and then get 10 of your friends to follow too. Here's the link:

If you go to Mark's blog and join after reading this post, please leave a comment here and let me know. When 10 of my friends join, I'll get my chance. Hey, it isn't every day I get the opportunity to pitch my work.



Thursday, February 18, 2010

LINGER, the sequel to Maggie Stiefvater's SHIVER comes out July 20th!

Linger Cover LargeIn Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver, Grace and Sam found each other.  Now, in Linger, they must fight to be together. For Grace, this means defying her parents and keeping a very dangerous secret about her own well-being. For Sam, this means grappling with his werewolf past . . . and figuring out a way to survive into the future. Add into the mix a new wolf named Cole, whose own past has the potential to destroy the whole pack.  And Isabelle, who already lost her brother to the wolves . . . and is nonetheless drawn to Cole.

At turns harrowing and euphoric, Linger is a spellbinding love story that explores both sides of love -- the light and the dark, the warm and the cold -- in a way you will never forget.

Comes out in stores everywhere July 20th. Pre-order here.

Enter to win an advanced review copies of LINGER, Sisters Red, The Dead-Tossed Waves, and The Replacement on Maggie's blog.