Recap of 2022 and Parting Thoughts

What a lovely and productive year it’s been! I’ve so enjoyed getting to meet you, and we’ve had a great mix of live and online events for our 2022 Piedmont Laureate programming.

A great big thank you to our sponsoring organizations: Raleigh Arts, United Arts Council, Durham Arts Council, and Orange County Arts Commission. Without these fabulous groups, the Piedmont Laureate program would not exist. Check out their websites, and if you’re interested in following the Piedmont Laureate program and/or learning more about terrific arts programming in our area, consider signing up for their email newsletters.

Throughout our journey together this year, we’ve explored story beginnings, middles, and endings. We have considered the writing life and what makes a powerful story. We have dug deep into how to revise a manuscript until it shines. We’ve talked about crafting an immersive story world. We’ve strategized about setting writing goals and overcoming the obstacles life puts in our way.

Some highlights from the blog:

We’ve chatted about what makes an effective title:

We’ve explored different ways to plan your story:

We’ve learned about fiction genres:

If you’re working with beta readers, here are some questions to ask them:

What happens when you hit a wall? I offer some tips here:

As I reflect on our year together, I’ve been particularly impressed with your engagement.  You have shown up ready to learn, to write, to be inspired, and to share your wisdom with others. Together we have reached writers embarking on self-publishing and others seeking agent representation toward a traditional publishing deal—and writers from all walks of life with diverse interests and experiences.

Your range is broad, and wow, you have such fascinating ideas for books! We have talked about fantasy novels, mysteries, stories born from real life, romance, young adult, literary fiction, historical fiction, science fiction, children’s fiction, thrillers, suspense, crime fiction, inspirational fiction, short stories, and more.

Your life experiences are unique. Your journey thus far may have been full of ups and downs, twists and turns. And here you are—you have arrived at this present moment. The moment might not be perfect, but you’re here and you’re ready.

You’re a writer. It doesn’t matter if you’ve published or won awards or taken a class. Toss all those “have to’s” or “should haves” or “somedays” to the side for a minute. Say it with me: I’m a writer.

You’re the best person to tell whatever story you want to tell. When you hit a snag or write yourself into a corner or lose your momentum, come back to this guiding principle. What’s the reason you want to tell this story?

Yes, writing can be a tough business. Rejection is part of the game. When you get discouraged, I urge you to keep going. You’re the best person to tell this story. And we need your story.

Let’s stay in touch! Here’s where you can find me:


Hierarchy of Agent Responses

photo credit: Angelina Litvin via Unsplash

You’re out there querying – good for you! What can you expect in terms of agent responses?

First, remember that it might take a while to hear back. A good long while. Agents are super busy. Most, if not all, spend the bulk of their day negotiating deals for their current clients’ projects, submitting proposals, reviewing client manuscripts and suggesting revisions, dealing with royalty statements, etc. They review queries in batches when they have a bit of extra time, often on the nights and weekends.

Understanding that the process is not a quick one, here’s a range of what you might expect:

An agent might request your full manuscript. This means you have piqued their interest with your query and, depending on their submission guidelines (you’re following their submission guidelines, right?), your sample pages. Congratulations! This is a good start. It doesn’t mean you will receive an offer of representation, but it’s good to celebrate every ounce of progress.

Once the agent has read your full manuscript, they may request a call with you. Get excited! A call usually means an offer of representation is coming, or perhaps an “R&R,” which is a request to revise the manuscript and resubmit it.

An agent might request a partial, meaning a certain number of pages or chapters of your manuscript. Again, this is a good sign. If they like the partial, they might subsequently request the full manuscript.

An agent might respond with a form rejection. Don’t be offended; it’s a common practice. Remember how busy they are?

An agent might respond with a personalized rejection. It’s nice of them to take the time to do this, and you may respond with a simple “thank you” if you are so inclined.

An agent might not respond to your query at all. An unfortunate truth: usually, a failure to respond equals a rejection. 

Let’s get this out of the way too: a rejection is of your manuscript, not you.

As you wait, don’t sit around stressing and constantly refreshing your inbox. Go ahead and start on your next project. Keep going. You’ve got this.

The year is fast coming to a close. But I’d love to stay in touch! You can find me:

A Bookish Tradition

Photo credit Kimberly Farmer via Unsplash

Around this time of year, I start to get pretty serious about holiday shopping for my friends, relatives, and loved ones. I wanted to share something I’ve been doing the last several years.

Throughout the year, I read quite a bit, usually a novel or story collection every 3-4 days. By November or so, I’m thinking about my favorites of the year. I usually share on social media and with my bookish friends my top 5 reads of the year. This doesn’t necessarily mean the books were published this year, just that I read them this year.

I try to pick one top favorite. Then I go to my local independent bookstores–shout out to Page 158 Books and Quail Ridge Books–and I buy copies of that book for my bookish friends as my holiday gift to them.

I love supporting local businesses and sharing with my friends why I loved the book.

It’s always a bonus when, throughout the following year, a bookworm friend lets me know whether they have (or have not) enjoyed the book. Bookish chats make my day!

How about you? Any bookish holiday traditions?

We are nearing the end of my Laureate term (sob…) and I’ve love to stay in touch!

You can find me:





Re-querying with Revised Work

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Should you re-query an agent with a revised manuscript?

We’ve talked before—and there’s a lot of chatter on the internet—about how hard it is to get a literary agent. These days, agents are receiving hundreds of queries a week from aspiring writers. One question that comes up: is it permissible to re-query an agent with a revised manuscript?

The scenario we’re talking about: you’ve queried agents with your manuscript, The Lost Balloon, and haven’t received any offers.

In the meantime, you’ve been working hard, and you have revised The Lost Balloon. A substantial revision, you say. You’d like to reach out to agents whom you’ve already queried. After all, you’ve done your homework, and they’re still well-respected agents who represent projects like yours.

The essential question is whether your revision is actually substantial. Courtney Maum in her Substack newsletter “Before and After the Book Deal,” puts it this way:  “If I part my hair to the right, and show up to work one day parting it to the left, that is not a substantial change. If I cut all of my hair off, or dye it an entirely different color, those are visible and higher-level changes. But if your manuscript is going to show itself at an agent’s desk again, it needs to be so unrecognizable, it’s not about a different haircut—your manuscript has on a different head.”

A change in POV from first person to third person? Not substantial for purposes of this scenario (although plenty of tedious work… ask me how I know…).

Switching the setting from a rural area in West Virginia to a rural area in Kentucky? Not substantial.

Converting a slow-paced, pensive literary story to a pulse-pounding thriller? There you go. This would be considered a substantial change.

Subject to agency guidelines, which you should always double-check, if your revision fits this definition, if it will sound like a new and different book, then go for it. Re-query those agents. I’m cheering you on—I hope to see The Lost Balloon at an independent bookstore or library someday!

Halloween Writing Prompts

Does your main character believe in ghosts? Why or why not? Have you ever taken a ghost tour? (I’ve been on ghost tours in Charleston and Savannah, but I’m not sure I enjoyed them, to be honest. I don’t necessarily gravitate toward a creepy or spooky atmosphere.)

What was your main character’s favorite Halloween costume when they were growing up? Why? Was the costume home-made or from a store? Did they copy their friends or were they unique?

Does your story involve a neighborhood? Is it the type of neighborhood that comes together for holidays like Halloween? Maybe they have a parade to show off the children’s costumes. Or is something sinister underfoot?

What’s the best Halloween candy? (Skittles get my vote. I know, I’m weird… If Skittles aren’t available, I’ll take Jelly Bellies.) The worst? (Come on, it has to be circus peanuts. Or black licorice. Or anything with coconut. Or Twizzlers.)

A black cat saunters by. Does your main character flinch, wondering if bad luck is on the way? Entice the kitty closer with a saucer of milk?

Would love to hear any thoughts / comments below. Thanks for reading!

Happy writing! I’m cheering you on.

Tips for Finding a Great Title

photo credit Rana Sawalha via Unsplash

Whether you start with your story title or add it at the end, finding the right title can make or break your story. A title serves as an invitation to the reader. Let’s explore some tips to help you find a strong one.

Set Up Expectations

Because your title is an invitation to the reader, it helps set up your reader’s expectations. Make sure your title fits the genre. For example, if you title a story “The Scorpio Galaxy,” your reader is not going to envision an Amish romance. That’s an extreme example, of course, but the principle holds. Really think hard about what a reader would expect. They don’t have months of familiarity with your work, like you do. They might arrive at your story knowing nothing but the title.

You likely won’t be surprised to discover that Gina Heron’s Buried Beneath the Lies is a family drama about hoarding and reality television. Or that Meagan Lucas’s Songbirds and Stray Dogs is a gritty and yet uplifting southern story.


Your title should tend more toward unique than ubiquitous. While it’s true titles aren’t copyrighted, publishers will shy away from repeat titles, and you don’t want to create reader confusion.

Heather Newton has a new novel out called The Puppeteer’s Daughters. Doesn’t that title make you want to flip immediately to the first page? What if she’d called it Daughters or The Family?

Evoke the Story World

By non-generic, I think what I mean is evocative. As a reader and writer, I prefer titles that conjure up a story world or a somewhat specific mental image, as opposed to a vague idea. Instead of “The Secret History,” consider, “The Forgotten Cottage.” Instead of “What We Knew,” what about “Signs & Wonders”?

The North Carolina Literary Review recently published a short story of mine called “The Virgin of Guadalupe’s Moon.” The story is about Jack and Jackie Kennedy’s honeymoon in Acapulco. I could’ve titled it “The Honeymooners” or something like that. But I spent an embarrassing amount of time (really, I struggled with it…) trying to think of a non-generic title that related to the story and might intrigue the reader.

Jon Sealy’s novel title The Edge of America immediately sets the reader on edge in a delicious, tension-filled way, signaling that the story involves characters who are teetering somewhere between dark and light.

Not too Specific

You can be too specific or “on the nose,” however. My second novel, The Good Luck Stone, was originally The Disappearance of Audrey Thorpe. It was too specific, maybe hard to remember, and kind of sounded like a middle grade mystery. An editor suggested I think of a new title and that was excellent advice.

On a related note, you might want to avoid titles that state the obvious or seem to answer a question that’s better left open as the reader explores your story.

Easy to Understand

A good title will not confuse your reader. Try to pick titles that are easy to understand and pronounce. My first novel was originally titled Hold String and Fly, but I received feedback that people didn’t understand it. We changed it to Maranatha Road. And let me be honest, if I had it to do all over again, I wouldn’t use this title. “Maranatha,” while common enough in western North Carolina, is a somewhat unusual word and some people don’t know how to pronounce it. You definitely want people to feel comfortable pronouncing your title so that they can share it far and wide.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to title your work, I recommend Shuly Cawood’s online class, “Make Your Titles Do More of the Heavy Lifting.”  You can find more information here: