Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Interview with Krista Van Dolzer

Today I am interviewing Krista Van Dolzer. She blogs at Mother.Write.(Repeat.) and is represented by Kate Schafer Testerman of kt literary. Krista runs the contest "An Agent's Inbox" and was a co-host of the recent "The Writer's Voice" contest as well as "The Writer's Voice" Twitter Pitch Party. My interview with Krista focuses on the contest portion of her blog. I am new to the writing community and find the whole "road to publication" process fascinating (naive right... later I will find it infuriating and mildly depressing, with a litle bit of pulling-my-hair-out thrown in for good measure.) When I stumble across contests like the ones Krista hosts, I just think how cool it would be to land an agent via an on-line blog contest!

And here is the interview!

1. Krista, when did you start blogging and what was your initial purpose/reason?

I started blogging in September of 2009. The main reason I started blogging was because I wanted to connect with other writers. Specifically, I wanted to find a few critique partners to help me hone my manuscripts. I found all that and more:)

2. Why did you decide to start having writing contests? Was this before or after you found your agent?

I hosted my first regular writing contest in June of last year, so almost a full year before I found my agent. (Well, I was already well aware of Kate; she just hadn’t quite decided that she wanted to represent me:) ) I’d been interviewing agents for a while, and I wanted to up the ante. You have to keep blog contest fresh if you want people to keep coming back.

3. Was your blog already popular, and how did you promote the contests?

I’d say my blog was already reasonably popular. Like I mentioned before, I’d already established it as a place to come for agent interviews, so making the jump to contests felt pretty natural.

I promoted the contests the same way I promoted my interviews—by leaving messages on popular writing forums and websites like Absolute Write and QueryTracker. If you host it, they will come.

4. How do you approach/connect with the agents you wish to include in the contests?

I ask nicely:)

I think a lot of writers have this idea that agents are crazy-busy people who have no time for the little folk, but I’ve found that most agents, though crazy-busy, still want to connect with and help writers. Of course, some agents have to say no because they don’t have the time or inclination to judge contests, but you’d be surprised at how many say yes. (Hint: the vast majority.)

5. Have you ever run into any problems or disgruntled contestants, and how do you handle this?

I’m racking my brains, trying to remember if I’ve ever had any problems with “An Agent’s Inbox,” the monthly contest I host with revolving agents, but to be honest, nothing comes to mind. I’m sure I’ve disgruntled people, but they’ve been gracious enough to keep their disgruntlement to themselves:)

We did have a few problems with various elements of “The Writer’s Voice,” but then, most things look messier from the inside than the out. And everything turned out fine, so all’s well that ends well.

6. Are there any liability issues when running contests?

Gosh, I hope not.

7. How fast do the 20 slots fill up? I imagine it would depend on the agent and the genres the agent represents. "The Writer's Voice" seemed to fill up immediately but the "An Agent's Inbox" contests have slots still open hours later?

The slots for “An Agent’s Inbox” fill up at varying speeds. Sometimes they fill up within an hour or two, but sometimes it takes a day. And like you guessed, it does depend on the genres/categories The Agent represents. The rounds involving agents who represent YA and MG always fill up fastest.

8. Is it easier to run a contest on your own, or with a group of other bloggers as in the current “The Writer’s Voice” contest?

Great question, and the answer is…it depends. Some aspects of hosting contests are easier on my own; some are easier with a group. I really appreciated bouncing ideas off of the other coaches in “The Writer’s Voice,” and I was glad I could rely on their expertise in certain areas where I wasn’t as knowledgeable or experienced. But making decisions as a foursome was a lot harder than making decisions by myself.

9. On the recent "The Writer's Voice" contest you made a point of asking for cheerleading comments only. In your "An Agent's Inbox" contests the entries are open for critiques. Why the difference?

“An Agent’s Inbox” is all about feedback. The Agent comments on every entry so that the entrants—and the rest of us—can get some insight into what an agent’s thinking as she goes through a batch of queries, so I actually require all the entrants to critique each other's entries.

“The Writer’s Voice,” on the other hand, was all about the votes. The critiquing happened behind the scenes, when we coaches worked with our team members to whip their entries into shape, so we didn’t want them to feel inundated with other feedback. (Plus, we didn’t want to look bad when everybody else’s advice was so much better than our own:) )

10. You have recently started revealing the name of the agent before the contest starts. What do you think are the pros/con of revealing vs. keeping the identity of the agent a secret?

Initially, I kept The Agent’s identity a secret because that’s what Authoress of Miss Snark’s First Victim does:) But then a reader pointed out that it could be really helpful to get The Agent’s feedback on the personalization in the queries, so I decided to try a round in which we knew The Agent’s identity upfront. (That round was back in October with Kate Schafer Testerman, who, of course, is now my agent.) Now I just let The Agent decide at what point she wants me to reveal her identity.

Revealing The Agent’s identity upfront allows writers to really tailor their entries, but some agents prefer the anonymity while they’re leaving their feedback, so there are pros and cons to both.

11. Contests seem like such a fun way to find an agent. How many success stories can you attribute to your blog?

I know of one specifically—Sarah LaPolla of Curtis Brown, Ltd. signed Amber Plante last fall after critiquing her entry in July’s round of “An Agent’s Inbox” (check out this post for more details)—but I hope there will be more!

12. I’m sure the success stories are rewarding for you, as well as the writer and agent who found each other, but what other part of hosting contests do you find most rewarding?

I love taking a peek at what other writers are working on, and I especially love finding projects that I’d take on if I were an agent. Some of my favorite entries from past rounds of “An Agent’s Inbox”—like Tara Dairman’s GLADYS GATSBY TAKES THE CAKEand Michael G-G’s SHAKESPEARE ON THE LAM—have gone on to land agents and, in Ms. Dairman’s case, book deals. I love getting the inside scoop.

13. What tips do you have for someone who would like to host contests on his/her blog?

Aim high. Don’t be afraid to ask your favorite agents and/or authors to participate. They might say no, but then again, they might say yes.

Also, once you have a great contest in the works, promote the heck out of it. Leave notes on popular sites like Absolute Write and QueryTracker, and if you can, ask more established blog contest hosts to help you get the word out.

14. Who have you asked to help get the word out?

As I mentioned before, my blog was already pretty popular when I started hosting contests, so I’ve just relied on my own ability to create buzz for “An Agent’s Inbox” (and on my fellow coaches’ promotional efforts for “The Writer’s Voice”).However, when I was first trying to promote my agent interviews, I did ask popular clients of the agent I was interviewing to blog or tweet about the interview once I posted it. (I know Kiersten White tweeted about my interview with Michelle Wolfson way back when, but that’s the only example that comes to mind.)


Thanks so much Krista! Hopefully there will be a lot of people who find this process, and your answers, as intriguing as I do! :-)


Other Blog Contests:

Here are a few other blogs I have found that run contests regularly and have a focus on the middle grade and YA market.

Opperation Awesome runs the Mystery Agent Contest, the first of each month. Which means there is a new one this Friday, June 1st.

Cupid's Literary Connection runs contests all with fun "love-themed" titles.  Her next contest will be in the Septemberish timeframe.

Brenda Drake Writes was part of "The Writer's Voice" contest - not sure when her next contest will be... guess you will have to follow her to find out!

Miss Snark's First Victim has awesome contests that include the "Secret Agent" contest which runs monthly (except for June and December), and the "Baker's Dozen" contest once each year in December. Not all contests focus on MG or YA.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

My First Blogging Award!

I was nominated, and therefore awarded, the Versatile Blogger Award by L.G. Keltner who blogs at Writing Off the Edge. Thank you L.G.! What is fun about this blogging award is that it is awarded by a fellow blogger who stopped by and thought you were doing a great job. It is always nice to be recognized by your peers!

Here are the rules:
  1. Thank the person who gave you this award. That’s common courtesy.
  2. Include a link to their blog. That’s also common courtesy — if you can figure out how to do it.
  3. Next, select 15 blogs/bloggers that you’ve recently discovered or follow regularly. ( I would add, pick blogs or bloggers that are excellent!)
  4. Nominate those 15 bloggers for the Versatile Blogger Award — you might include a link to this site.
  5. Finally, tell the person who nominated you 7 things about yourself.
15 Bloggers who deserve the Versatile Blogger Award (who may or may not have been tagged with this award already.) Being a new blogger I stopped at 12. Soon I will have too many to choose from I'm sure, as blogging and reading other blogs is very addictive!
  1. The Green Bathtub (I'm a contemporary YA writer who loves Jesus. I also enjoy cooking, eating, traveling, singing, reading and nap time.)
  2. The Growing Writer (I became a writer in my mid thirties. It took me a long time to realize what I wanted to do. No, I didn't quit my day job.)
  3. Kristin Wixted (About writing for children, books for children, driving in Boston, and the dangers of cooking.)
  4. Forever Rewrighting (I blog on writing tips and/or author interviews every Monday and funnies each Friday. I LOVE to critique so don't hesitate to contact me if you need a beta.)
  5. The Enchanted Writer (Besides her passion for the mythological and paranormal she is also a book-aholic, a trained culinarian and a coffee fanatic. She also loves to write paranormal and contemporary romance for adults and young adults. Andrea created the blog, The Enchanted Writer to help inspire others to write and share in the joys and sorrows of the writer's journey.)
  6. Cherie Reich - Author (Cherie Reich is a writer, freelance editor, book blogger, and library assistnat. She enjoys writing horror, fantasy, and mysteries, but she doesn't let that stop her from trying other genres.)
  7. Heather Murphy (I am a case manager for people with disabilities by day, but have a burning desire to write. Please join me in my journey.)
  8. Tyrean's Writing Spot (Christian, Wife, Mom, Home School Parent, Writer, Dance Mom, Reader, Teacher - all these words describe me. Yet, they don't capture my whole soul.)
  9. My Baffling Brain (Hi! My name is Laura, and I'm 22 years old and from England. I work at Asda but I'm looking into a career in journalism. I have a lot of interest but my main ones are reading, writing and horseriding.)
  10. Pascale Wowak Photoblog (I am a mom and portrait photographer working in the (Southern) Bay Area of California.
  11. Steph's Stuff (You will see a lot of scrapbook layouts on my blog, photos of my quilts and ramblings about quilt designs and fabric, along with lots of family photos and goofy stories about our life.)
  12. Paula Gilarde (I'm Paula Gilarde. I'm a wife, mama, scrapbooker, designer, website developer and chocolate lover.)

Seven Random things about me:
  1. After getting married and giving birth to three children, my most memorable experience is completing the Nike Womens' Marathon in 2006.
  2. I met my husband while stationed in Korea with the Army.
  3. We have lived in five apartments (three were furnished, short-term corporate apartments) five houses, four states and one foreign country in the last 16 years.
  4. I am a digital scrapbooker, published many times over in national magazines.
  5. When I was in kindergarten my mom packed butter sandwhiches for my lunch because I was such a picky eater.
  6. While I am no longer an picky eater, I don't believe I have ever eaten a peanut butter and jelly sandwhich.
  7. I have voluntarily jumped out of an airplane - 5 times. However, when you complete Airborne School in the Army and never use the training again, you are referred to as a "5-Jump Chump." That's me.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Summer Reading Programs

It is almost that time again... for swim lessons, summer camps, popsicles and slip-n-slides, backyard water balloon fights, the ice cream truck jingling its familiar tune... and yes, summer reading programs!

Our local library has a great summer reading program with a fun Finishers Party mid-August. My son even won a Razor scooter one year in the raffle drawing which was pretty exciting. I liked it better when we had to sign up at the library and pick up a packet with the sheets to record minutes. Now it is all on-line, which is fine and super-easy, but it is less tangible for the kids. I think I will make a separate sheet this year and stick it on the fridge so we can better track our progress.

You can search the National Library Systems here to find a library in your area.


The iVillage PBS KIDS Summer Reading Community Challenge - Fight the summer slide and keep your child reading and learning all summer long with our free six-week program. Sign up now and starting June 18, you’ll get daily emails with literacy-building tips and activities from experts at PBS KIDS and Scholastic. You’ll also get book suggestions and discounts, free downloads of PBS KIDS shows and a daily chance to win $1,000 and other great prizes. Help your child discover the joys of reading! (taken from their website)


Barnes and Noble also has a summer reading program where kids can read eight books, record them on a printable reading log, and earn a free book. Easy Peasy!

Barnes and Noble stores also host story times for toddlers twice a week. Enter your zip code here to get a list of your local store events.


During the school year my kids get reading certificates, good for a free personal pan pizza, from Pizza Hut when they meet their reading goal each month. I didn't realize that the Pizza Hut reading program Book It! continued into the summer. Kids who read 5 books can enter for a chance to win a "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" prize package. You can print out an entry form here, and they must be mailed and received by August 15th, 2012.


The Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge lets kids log their minutes for a chance to win cool prizes. Parents can track their kids' progress online or on their phone, as well as get tips and booklists to make summer reading a breeze.

The Scholastic website is a wealth of information any time of the year. Check it out!


Sylvan Learning's Book Adventure is a fun, free way to motivate your child to read! Kids in grades K-8 can find a book, take quizzes (over 8,000 book titles and quizzes available) on what they've read, and earn prizes for their reading success. Details and a list of prizes can be found here.


More Reading Challenges:

Chuck E Cheese - Kids can earn 10 free tokens by reading everyday for two weeks, recording it on a printable chart and turning it in with a food purchase. (They actually have printable charts for a wide range of rewardable activities - from household chores to "no nose picking" to completing homework each day, so there is no reason to ever NOT earn 10 free tokens when going to Chuck E Cheese!) 

Pottery Barn Kids - PBK Summer Reading Challenge - Select a reading list to follow, read and track your child's progress, reward your reading champion by entering to win a backpack full of books, and stop by your local store to receive a free book.

Half Price Books - Feed Your Brain Summer Reading Program - Read 300 minutes and turn in a completed reading log to earn a $5 HPB Back-to-School Bucks reading reward for the month.


Other Helpful reading aides!

Scholastic Reading Timer (free app) For iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, and Android.

The Soar with Reading site was developed to keep kids reading! You'll find fun reading activities provided by PBS KIDS® and helpful reading tips for children of all reading levels.                 opened in September of 2002 as a free public service to teach children to read with phonics. Our systematic phonics approach, in conjunction with phonemic awareness practice, is perfect for preschool, kindergarten, first grade, second grade, special education, homeschool, and English language development (ELD, ELL, ESL). Starfall is an educational alternative to other entertainment choices for children. (taken from their website)


My question for you is this. If your child reads a book do you let him record the book/minutes for all the reading programs, or does each book/number of minutes only count towards one of the reading programs at a time? Happy reading!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Flash Fiction Blogfest: Lightning Flashed

Yay! My first bloghop. Hopefully I have played by the rules and done everything right. This bloghop is hosted by Cherie Reich. Thanks Cherie!

Here are the rules:

1. Entries must begin with the two words: Lightning flashed.

2. Entries must be 300 words or less and be in prose. I'm not versed enough in poetry verse to judge it properly.

3. Entries must be posted on your blog between May 21 - 23.

4. You must sign up in the linky to have your entry be counted.


My entry: The Race

Lightning flashed his winning smile at the townsfolk of Forestville. They were packed against the barriers separating them from the contestants.

This would be a day of epic proportions. A momentous outcome awaited Lightning at the finish line – he would finally prove what he had been pontificating for two years.

The crowds were growing restless. Where was his opponent? What a slowpoke that Tommy was.

The townsfolk needed a distraction. Lightning cleared his throat. He would regale them with the story of when he outran lightning itself, barely escaping a tragic demise. Although he had told the story countless times before, he was sure there was someone new in town, or possibly from the next village over, who had not heard his heart pounding tale.

Lightning put his hand up and the crowd went wild. He bowed his head, a chuckle rising in his throat.

They loved him! Yes, life was good.

Just then something hard hit his leg and he turned to see Tommy smiling up at him. The crowd kept cheering as Tommy plodded over to his spot at the starting line.

“Finally,” Lightning said. “I was beginning to think you were scared.”

“Not me," Tommy said. “But is that a bead of sweat I see on your brow?”

Lightning quickly wiped his forehead. It was dry. He chided himself and glared at Tommy.

“Let’s just get started,” Lightning said. His time to shine was almost there.

The gun went off with a bang.  



The gun must have malfunctioned because it was firing over and over.


Lightning the Hare sat up. Sweat soaked his pajamas.

“ARRRGH!” he yelled. “I can’t believe I overslept again.”  There was no way Tommy Tortoise would believe Lightning missing the big race was a mistake two years running.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

745 Words!

Yeah! Thursday and Friday of this week I wrote approximately 745 words for my book. I am really happy about this because it has been almost three weeks since attending the SCBWI Western WA conference and I had yet to write a thing. I should have been motivated after the conference. Ready to write! Pumped! I think I have been scared. Feeling like I have to get it perfect. Well that isn't going to happen, and definitely not on the 1st draft!

There is a quote from Finding Forrester, spoken by Sean Connery's character. "You must write your first draft with your heart. You rewrite with your head. The first key to writing is... to write, not to think!" To me this means if you have a story to tell, just get it out. Quickly. After your 1st draft is done, the "head-writing" or revising and fine tuning will take your manuscript to the next level.

For the chapter I wrote today, I added a piece of the story that I had put in my query letter but not yet written. It was actually something that came to me while I was writing my query letter (that is the thing about writing a query letter for a query letter workshop at a conference when you haven't finished writing the manuscript yet - you have to make stuff up quick!) and it sounded so perfect so I went with it. Hoping it will pan out.

I am 7,500 words into my manuscript, which I am planning to have complete at around 14,000 to 16,000 words. It will feel great to get this 1st draft done. Can't wait! 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Lice is a Four Letter Word

Really, need I say more? This is the second time we are dealing with lice this school year. And it has been an ongoing problem in the classroom all year. It has been six months since the first incident so we know this is an entirely new case, but in reality they could all be connected if it just kept getting passed around and made its way back to my daughter. Uggh. And then I find out this time that my daugher is sitting right next to a girl (and oh, by the way they are best buds right now) who actually had to be treated at school because it wasn't being taken care of at home.

Things I feel... whether it is rational or not.

  1. Sick to my stomach (sometimes)... not because it grosses me out, but because of the stress.
  2. Stress. I think the stress comes from feeling pressure that it is all on me to get the lice and nits off her head. My husband helps with the cleaning and taking care of the other kids, but it is up to me to erradicate it! And what if I miss one?
  3. Worried... that I will get it and then who will treat me, and go through my hair as painstakingly as I am going through my daughter's hair? It's not that I don't trust my husband.  I just can't see him doing it.
  4. Angry. At the school for not better informing the other parents of kids in our classroom. The first sentence of the letter they send home states "There have been isolated cases of head lice this year in different classrooms." If I read this, but hadn't experienced head lice myself, I would probably ignore it. The letter needs to say there are cases of head lice in YOUR child's class NOW!
  5. Helpless. The thing that gets me is that while I am working hard to get rid of the lice on my daughter's head she could so easily pick it right back up in class.
I hate having to tell my daugher not to hug her friends or lean in close to whisper a secret. I hate to see her self esteem in the dumps as we work our way through this. I hate to tell her she can't hug her little brother until we know it is all gone. I hate that my husband thinks I'm weak (for above mentioned feelings) when I am usually fairly strong. I hate head checks. I hate lice.

The good news is that we beat it last time, and we can do it again.

A good website for information on head lice is run by The National Pediculosis Association.

If we lived in the Seattle area (although I am not too far away) I would seriously consider going to a salon that specializes in head lice removal. Lice Knowing You has five locations so it must be a pretty lucrative business. They have a lifetime guarantee but you have to go back for a monthly check to keep it valid. If we lived close enough to go back for the monthly checks I would be all over this.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Finding time to Read

Since I have been rearranging my schedule the past couple weeks (and going to bed much earlier) it has been hard to find time to read. So I have picked a couple books and keep them in strategic locations. Every weekday morning I drive the big kids to school. Since my toddler likes his car set pretty well I will keep a book in the car and read a chapter or two sitting at the school while he relaxes and listens to toddler music. I keep another book on my nightstand and read a chapter before I go to sleep, and then if the toddler happens to be playing quietly at some point during the day I might read a little more. I am also reading The Secret Garden to my daughter and will read a chapter now and then when it fits into our afternoon schedule... which is going slower than I would like. It doesn't help that she is trying to read the fifth Harry Potter book and has recently become obsessed with the Beast Quest series.

What we are reading:

MOM (not revealing my age!) -

SON #1 (age 10) -

DAUGHTER (age 8) -

SON #2 - a few favorites (he is age 1) -

HUSBAND #1 (LOL!) - He doesn't read.