For Writers

Agent Spotlight: Kaitlyn Sanchez + PITCH OPPORTUNITY

Today I’m thrilled to introduce Mixed-Up Files readers to the incredibly productive and wonderfully enthusiastic agent and author, Kaitlyn Sanchez. Kaitlyn is an agent at Context Literary Agency and is a familiar presence online as co-creator and co-host of the Spring Fling Kidlit Contest and creator and co-host of the Kidlit Fall Writing Frenzy Contest. (See below for more information on those contests and more.)

While Kaitlyn isn’t open to queries, she has generously offered middle-grade writers an incredible opportunity to pitch their books in the comments section below. Writers will have until Wednesday, September 1 at 11:59 PM (EST) to post their pitches. (Anything after that will be eliminated.) Kaitlyn will comment on the pitches she would like to see. If you receive a comment, Dorian will contact you with submission information.

 

Rules for the Pitch Opportunity

  1. The pitch must be for a middle-grade manuscript or graphic novel.
  2. The work must be complete.
  3. The pitch must be 60 words or less.
  4. The pitch must be posted before Wednesday, September 1 at 11:59 PM (EST).
  5. Please remember, only the pitches that Kaitlyn comments on should be sent to her. Let’s be respectful of her time and the fact that she’s doing a special event just for us, even though she’s closed to queries.
  6. If you choose to pitch, be sure and click the “Notify Me Of Follow-Up Comments By Email” box so you’ll know if you received a response from Kaitlyn.

And now on to the interview!

 

About Kaitlyn

Dorian: It’s great to have you here Kaitlyn! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got involved in children’s literature?

Kaitlyn: Hi, Dorian, it’s so wonderful to be here. I’m a long-time subscriber of this fantastic blog and love all the book and industry people you highlight! I, myself, like many kidlit authors first got into this industry when I decided to write children’s books because I was reading them with my daughter. My mom had also always told me I should be a children’s book writer. Then a friend from college began writing picture books and asked friends on Facebook to edit them. This trifecta of writing events eventually led me here!

 

Dorian: What made you decide to become an agent? And can you tell us about Context Literary Agency?

Kaitlyn: Thanks for asking, Dorian! My road to becoming an agent is definitely a different one. I was in many picture book critique groups at one time (nine, I think) because I just loved helping people edit their books. At the same time, I accidentally stumbled, with my critique partner Ciara O’Neal, into running blog contests for picture book writers. My favorite part was connecting the winners to industry professionals, and because I was lucky enough to be in critique groups with friends who were interning with agencies, I realized, Ohh, this is what agents do. They help edit books and connect the authors to professionals in the industry who help get them published. So I posted a tweet that said I wanted to become an agent, and not long after, I was interning with the very talented Anna Olswanger.

Context Literary Agency is such a dream team! Tamar Rydzinski, our fearless leader and stellar agent, has brought together an amazing group including herself, co-founder of Manuscript Academy, Jessica Sinsheimer, and incredibly insightful Crystal Orazu. I am so happy to have the support of this team and love all the fun we have together, too!

 

Dorian: Sounds like a great group! What aspect of agenting do you enjoy the most?

Kaitlyn: Such a wonderful group! And, oh, Dorian, that’s a toughy! There are so many wonderful things about agenting, from reading a client’s awesome new idea, to strategizing about submissions lists, to getting an offer and getting to tell the client, to seeing the first sketches and covers, and eventually (we’re getting there next year!) getting to hold the beautiful book that I had a small part of bringing into the world in my own hands. So…uh…which do I like the best? Can I say all of these above?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dorian: Certainly! What books inspired you as a child to want to read and write?

Kaitlyn: Yay! So glad I got to say them all! And, love this next question, Dorian. I was on and off with books as a kid. I Iove love loved them as a child, especially The Rainbow Fish and Clifford. In fact, my parents told me I read a book for show-and-tell in kindergarten (and apparently it was upside down the whole time, ha!). Then in middle school, I discovered the magical world of binge watching TV—yup, I was an original binger before streaming services—and books fell by the wayside. But we had to do Accelerated Reader for school, so I had to find a book. One day, I was walking around the library and saw this beautiful blue spine on the shelf with gold lettering, so obviously, I had to pick it up. It was The Red Badge of Courage, and I just loved it. Luckily, my godfather was an English teacher and gave me Black Boy as a follow up. I’ve been in love with historical books and historical fiction in particular ever since I read these incredibly powerful books. Also, Harry Potter was a pillar series from my childhood, especially because Harry grew up with us (I was about the same age as he was for most books) and for the seventh one, in college, my now-husband read the whole book aloud to me; it was epic! Finally, another amazing historical fiction from my childhood that I hope more people read is Thursday’s Child. There are many many more, but I’ll stop there. Feel free to check out my Manuscript Wish List for more: https://www.manuscriptwishlist.com/mswl-post/kaitlyn-sanchez/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dorian: While you’re closed to queries right now, what type of stories do you wish would land in your inbox in the future? And what type of pitches would you be excited about in the comments section?

Kaitlyn: Ohhh, goody goody gumdrops! This is super fun. I’ll focus on middle grade here. I love love love coming-of-age novels. Although some of the books I listed above are historical fiction, they’re also coming-of-age novels, too. I love friendship stories, comedy, mysteries, magical realism (but I typically shy away from full blown fantasies). For topics, I love sports, especially soccer, and math or science. I love seeing internal battles and joining characters as they deal with emotional aspects of life, and I love fun. Good ol’ fun! I would be super interested in working on a horror that’s not too scary or gruesome, too! I am always interested in learning new things (in a non-didactic way, of course), and I am a huge proponent of kids seeing themselves in stories, so please pitch me diverse stories – LGBTQ+, BIPOC, neurodiverse, and more.

 

Tips on Pitching and Querying

Dorian: What tips for writing a successful pitch can you give writers?

Kaitlyn: Wow, that’s a toughy. For novels, it’s important to give a good idea without giving too much away—easy right? Ha, no way! But I would much prefer clarity over intrigue, so I know what to expect. I hope writers always remember, pitches are much different than writing itself and take a whole different skill set, so practice, practice, practice!

 

Dorian: Great advice! What tips do you have for writers in the querying stage?

Kaitlyn: *Blows raspberry* Well, for querying writers, I really like the term “query trenches” because it really depicts the emotional state you’re in at that time—there are many unknowns underneath all the pressure. And that feeling can still apply when you get an agent and you’re on submission to editors, so it never fully goes away for most of us. (For those of you who are like, What is she talking about? This is all a breeze. Please teach the rest of us your ways! Pretty please, with a cherry on top!) Though once you have an agent, you have someone in your corner interpreting and guiding and supporting you during passes, so my best advice is to get a great writer’s support team. Sometimes you need a hug (even if it’s virtual), sometimes you need help interpreting, sometimes you need people to celebrate with who truly understand. But most of all, from an agent perspective, I can tell you, if an agent says the story isn’t a fit for their list, that doesn’t mean your story isn’t good. It usually means you’ll find someone else who is better to represent it. Though editing is always an option, don’t think that one pass means it’s time to edit. Also, from me as a writer, don’t use red for the passes on the form where you keep track of your queries. For me it was too harsh, and I may have ended up hating red for a bit. Consider orange, it’s a bit softer on the eyes. 😉

 

Contests!

Dorian: Please tell us more about the contests you run as well as any other social media projects you’re involved with.

Kaitlyn: Of course! I love talking about these wonderful opportunities!

Spring Fling Kidlit, which I co-host with Ciara O’Neal, was the first contest created and is a blog contest for picture book writers to stretch their skills, create a community, and connect with industry professionals.

Fall Writing Frenzy, which I co-host with Lydia Lukidis, is similar but it’s open to all Kidlit writers (PB-YA) and instead of a hierarchy of winners, it’s a contest where each writer selected as a winner gets paired up with someone in the industry we hope they will work well with.

And surprise! There’s another I help run that just completed its second year; Kidlit Zombie Week. This is a revision week and pitch contest where you can work on manuscripts with tips and support of a wonderful community. It’s mainly for picture book writers because the hosts, which are actually a wonderful critique group I’m part of—six Ladies and a MANuscript—are picture book writers, but any Kidlit writer can participate. More info here: https://kaitlynleannsanchez.com/contests/

 

Dorian: Those are some great opportunities! One last question: Can you tell us about a special interest, hobby, or obsession that you have that isn’t mentioned in your bio?

Kaitlyn: Of course, Dorian! What a fun question. One of my favorite obsessions is soccer. I’ve always loved playing and still do. When I’m out on the field, nothing else matters—the rest of the world falls away. It’s part of who I am and where I feel a huge sense of belonging as well as incredibly free. I hope that everyone has a hobby that allows them to feel this way every now and then.

Thanks so much, Kaitlyn, for taking the time to answer these questions. For more about Kaitlyn, here’s how to connect with her on social media:

Twitter: @KaitlynLeann17 https://twitter.com/KaitlynLeann17?s=09

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Kaitlyn-Leann-Sanchez-Author-2078363339152222/ 

And here’s how to follow her wonderful clients:  https://kaitlynleannsanchez.com/literary-clients/

For those of you who are interested in pitching your middle-grade book to Kaitlyn, follow the guidelines above and go for it! Good luck!!

50 Writing Prompts

If you struggle to come up with ideas or you find yourself hitting roadblocks in your writing, prompts can be a good way to get unstuck. Read each prompt and free write, letting your imagination take you to strange and unusual places. Don’t censor your thoughts. Just keep the pen to paper and let it flow.

Many of these prompts have you writing about yourself and your reactions. The reason for that is to help you explore your own emotions and experiences. One of the most important skills as a writer is being able to get in touch with your character’s emotions. Writing from your own life helps you explore many different feelings and motivations. Once you’ve done that, you can transfer those deep feelings to your characters.

Next take these prompts and write them using a character of your choice. Choose characters who will respond differently than you would. That will help you explore a range of emotions and reactions.

Keep your writing prompts in a notebook. After you finish each one, circle or highlight lovely turns of phrase, good descriptions, or raw emotions. (You can also do that on the computer.) Next time you get stuck in your writing, flip through the notebook/computer files and glance at the highlighted parts. Often those small bits can spark a story idea. And whenever a prompt inspires a story, go with it.

To create your own writing prompts, use index cards or small pieces of paper. On 9 index cards, write types of people that interest you (student, artist, explorer, princess, etc.). On 9 more, write strong and unusual verbs. On the next 9, come up with positive and negative character traits or quirks. Another 9 can contain settings, and on the final 9, jot down villains you wouldn’t want to meet (these can range from monsters and creatures to humans or aliens). Shuffle each pile, keeping them facedown. Then use the five cards you select to create a story. Reuse them regularly and expand the piles as new ideas strike you.

If you’d like more writing prompts, check out Reedsy.com to get new weekly prompts in a variety of genres. Here’s the link for children’s writing, but you can use the drop-down menu to select other categories: https://blog.reedsy.com/creative-writing-prompts/for-kids/. Happy writing!

Now take out your notebook and get started:

Write about waking up one morning in a totally different place than where you went to bed.

Close your eyes, open a dictionary or a random book, and put your finger on the page. Jot down the word your finger is pointing to. Do it 3 times, and then combine those three words in a story.

One thing I’ve never told anyone is . . .

Create a character who’s the complete opposite of you – physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, etc. Then give this character a challenge or problem. How would they solve it?

Think of the meanest, cruelest character. Then write a story that transforms that person.

If I could do anything_______________, I’d ______________________________________.

Recall a favorite smell. Close your eyes and reminisce about the scent and taste. Experience it fully. Try to describe it fully. What does it remind you of? Write about a time when you smelled this.

Your character is at a Haunted Hayride or a Funhouse. All of a sudden, one of the props becomes real. What happens and what do the characters do?

You walk into a schoolroom and there’s an alien (or another strange creature) in place of the teacher.

If you could give a speech to the whole world, what would you like to tell everyone?

Strand your character on an island alone. As they explore their surroundings, what do they find? Items from past inhabitants? Unusual plants and creatures? Other inhabitants?

It’s 3 a.m. Someone knocks at the door. What do you do? Describe your feelings. Who is it? What do they want?

With your eyes closed, point to a place on a globe or map. Find out a little more about that spot and write a story about someone who lives there.

You’re locked in a room with a ticking bomb. Now what?

You are given a new identity and sent to a new location. Who are you now? What do you regret leaving behind? How do you adjust to your new life?

You’ve just been given a hundred thousand dollars but you can’t spend it on yourself. How would you use that money? How does it make you feel to do this, and how do others react to what you’ve done?

You’ve been recruited for a top-secret spy mission. Where have you been sent, and what dangers do you encounter?

Pick a color. Describe how it makes you feel and why. Explore all the places you’d find this color. Think of one place you’d never find it, then change it to your color and describe how people react.

One day, time starts running backward. What happens?

Choose an emotion you struggle to control. Write about what life would be like if you gave it free rein? What if everyone around you did? Now write about a world devoid of that emotion. You don’t have it, and neither does anyone else.

Your town is being invaded. They’re after one person. Who is that person? And why have these invaders come?

Pick any object in the room. Make it come alive, and write about life from its point of view.

A little child’s life is in danger. You are the only one who can save this child. How do you react? What’s happening around you, and who can you trust? How do you keep this child safe?

What was the most important lesson you ever learned? Create obstacles and problems that will show a character that lesson.

My most embarrassing moment was . . .

A message in a bottle washes up on shore. Who is it from? And what do you do about it?

If you could spend time with anyone (dead or alive), who would you choose and what would you do and talk about?

As the clock hands reached midnight . . .

You exchange bodies with someone. How do each of you experience your new life?

If I could relive one day in my life, I’d choose . . .

You wake up to find your house filled with animals. What do you do?

You can choose one superpower. What is it, and how will you use it?

What would you do if you had no fear?

You’ve gotten in trouble for something you didn’t do. What now?

Describe a magical kingdom under the sea.

You turn into a tree. What is your life like now?

You’re floating on a cloud high above the world. How does it feel? What do you see?

A terrorist hijacks the plane you’re on. What does the terrorist want? How do the passengers react? Where does the plane end up?

You suddenly shrink to two inches tall. How does the world look now?

Your best friend isn’t who you think they are. Who are they? How did you find out? And what will you do now?

If I were in charge of the world, I’d . . .

Describe life through the eyes of an animal.

You find yourself in your pet’s body, and your pet is living in yours. What now?

You have a day where everything goes wrong, but it all turns out right.

You’re granted three wishes.

Float down a drain.

You wake in a bug’s body. Explore life from this new point of view.

You’re transported back in time. Where do you go? What happens and how do you feel?

The funniest thing that ever happened to me is . . .

Hold a small object in your hand and write about how it feels, what it’s used for, where it came from. Now let it take you on an adventure.

You’re lost at sea. How do you feel? What do you see around you? What do you wish for most?

A Little Space

It’s August. Summer is rapidly slipping away. How did the time fly by so fast? What about all those things I was going to do this summer? (Looks at 2021 Summer Calendar To-Do List and sees very few things crossed out.) School is either here or just around the corner. Teachers, librarians, readers, and creators of all stripes are answering the call to duty. 

It’s go time!

There’s is excitement in the air with the prospect and potential of a new academic year. But the pangs of summer fading into the sunset settle deep into my gut. (Looks again at the 2021 Summer Calendar To-Do List.) The innocent and once optimistic list of uncompleted writing and drawing tasks screams at me, “HAYS, DID YOU FORGET US?”

The tight-knit ball of creative anxiety in the pit of my stomach rapidly spins with enough orbital angular momentum to force the panic to rise. My heart races. My eyes flitter around the room. My sketchbooks, journals, notebooks, even my own published books gathering dust on the shelf, laugh at me. 

I run outside, look up into the expanse of a beautiful, northcentral blue Kansas sky, take a deep breath, and close my eyes. My heart no longer races. It’s beating with the steady rhythm of rolling down I-70 through the Flint Hills at dusk. 

John P Salvatore, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

I return to my office. The Summer Calendar 2021 To-Do List hangs unchanged on the wall. But it’s just a list again. A suggestion of potential things. A creative direction. The journals and notebooks are raw stories, packed with potential which hopefully someday find their readers. My published books on the shelf remind me I can indeed do this creative thing competently enough to give them a shelf life.

Ah…the beauty of space. The absolute raw power of space to put everything into perspective.

Space. What an awesome word!

Space is a Swiss Army knife word with so many uses and meanings. Space is a word we should celebrate and appreciate. A word we should vault to the top of the toolbox.

I need to make a token to hang on the wall or wear around my neck to remind me of the value and importance of space and creative space. I need the reminder that when stuck, a step back to create space is necessary in order to move forward.

As the season turns and we make fresh To-Do lists, it’s the perfect time to remember and appreciate the spaces in your life. The other night, I sat for a few minutes on the patio and took in the night sky hoping for a glimpse of the conglomeration of planets on the western horizon or spotting a meteor or two from the eastern sky. Unfortunately, cloud cover and poor timing thwarted these efforts but all was not lost. Mesmerized, as always, by the Big Dipper, I stared at the northern sky for a few minutes. 

Beautiful space. 

A reminder we are all impossible beings floating across the universe at 492,126 miles per hour. Insignificant and yet significant in everything we do. 

Amazing space. My relaxed brain started firing off the important “spaces” in my life. I made a list. 

  • Creative space
  • Outer space
  • Inner space
  • Backspace
  • Negative space
  • Garden space
  • Yard space
  • Patio space
  • Deep space
  • Near space
  • Public space
  • Private space
  • Workspace
  • Office space
  • Family space 
  • Spacebar (How about a Space bar?)
  • Writing space
  • Headspace
  • White space
  • Green space
  • Space Jam
  • Spacesuit
  • Open space
  • Wide-open space
  • Tight space
  • My Space
  • Personal space 
  • Closet space
  • Dream space

How about you? Have you ever considered the importance of space in your personal, professional, or creative life? Do you have a go-to space to open the mind or recharge the soul?

Have a great end of summer and enjoy the promise of tomorrow! 

If you find yourself running into creative walls, remember to take a step back, give yourself some space, and identify the best way to move forward. 

Finally, and perhaps most importantly,

Space out, y’all!

The original uploader was Triddle at English Wikipedia.(original:Photograph taken by User:Triddle and User:Codedelectron), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons