Happy Monday Everyone! Today I’m excited to have debut author Sonja Thomas and her agent Ronald Gerber here to share about her debut MG contemporary Sir Fig Newton and the Science of Persistence. It sounds like a fantastic story that I’ve been excited to read just from knowing the comps used to describe it.
Here’s a blurb from Goodreads:
From the Desk of Zoe Washington meets Ways to Make Sunshine in this heartfelt middle grade novel about a determined young girl who must rely on her ingenuity and scientific know-how to save her beloved cat.
Twelve-year-old Mira’s summer is looking pretty bleak. Her best friend Thomas just moved a billion and one miles away from Florida to Washington, DC. Her dad is job searching and he’s been super down lately. Her phone screen cracked after a home science experiment gone wrong. And of all people who could have moved into Thomas’s old house down the street, Mira gets stuck with Tamika Smith, her know-it-all nemesis who’s kept Mira in second place at the school science fair four years running.
Mira’s beloved cat, Sir Fig Newton, has been the most stable thing in her life lately, but now he seems off, too. With her phone gone and no internet over the weekend at her strict Gran’s house, Mira must research Fig’s symptoms the old-fashioned way: at the library. She determines that he has “the silent cat killer” diabetes. A visit to the vet confirms her diagnosis, but that one appointment stretched family funds to the limit—they’ll never be able to afford cat insulin shots.
When Mira’s parents tell her they may have to give Fig up to people who can afford his treatment, Mira insists she can earn the $2,000 needed within a month. Armed with ingenuity, determination, and one surprising ally, can Mira save her best (four-legged) friend before it’s too late?
Before I get to my guest post with Sonja and Ronald, I have Follower News to share
Anita Fitch Pazner, who’s my critique partner, has a picture book, The Topsy-Turvy Bus, that released on March 1, 2022. Here a blurb: Let’s face it, The world feels Topsy-Turvy right now, and kids hear all about it. Global warming and pollution are topics all over the news. What’s a kid to do? Nothing, until they hop aboard the Topsy-Turvy Bus, which gives kids a look at alternative energy sources and ways to care for the earth so they know they can make the world a better, cleaner, healthier place one step at a time. Reuse, recycle, renew and rethink!Here’s a few links: Website https://anitapazner.com Buy links McLean & Eakin Barnes & Noble Amazon
Alex Cavanaugh has a new adult science fiction/space opera, CassaDark, releasing on April 6, 2022. Here’s a blurb: Despite saving the eleven races years ago, Bassan’s world is unraveling now. Can he summon the courage to be a hero again? Here’s a few links: Website www.alexjcavanaugh.com Buy links Amazon – https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0982FL3SH
Barnes & Noble – https://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/2940164947033
Jemima Pett recently released a science fiction, Zanzibar’s Rings. Here’s a blurb: A galactic crisis: the entire comms system destroyed. No waypoints, no navigation aids, no database access... and how will spaceships in flight get home--or to any destination? Dolores is stuck in warp with a very dangerous passenger, Pete gets his shuttle back home on manual. But why does anything in close contact with pure orichalcum fix itself? Just flying through Zanzibar's Rings solves the problem--as the Federation's Fighters find, as they descend on the Viridian System to take possession of the planets. Here’s a few links: Website jemimapett.com Buy links Amazon B&N (Nook)
Amy Bernstein has a new audio release of her YA novel, Fran, the Second Time Around. Here’s a blurb: Fran Singer is a regular 8th grader, when suddenly, everything changes. A tragic accident with major consequences shoots her out of her ordinary world into one racked with guilt, shame, and complete alienation. Starting over after all that is not easy— but is it possible? Will Fran’s life be better, the second time around?Here a few links: Website amywrites.live Buy link https://amzn.to/3APGqxt
Sonja Thomas and Ronald Gerber Guest Post
Ronald: I’ll start with how I generally approach novel revisions. Most of the time, I start with a few major points on a phone call, then follow up with an editorial letter, then provide margin notes and line edits on subsequent drafts. The letter is usually several pages long and identifies overarching points of improvement, and I try my best to offer solutions that fit with the flow of the existing story. Agent revisions are typically less radical than most people think. Many authors I meet at conferences are afraid that an agent is going to come in and change their entire basic plot, but it’s important to remember that unlike editors, agents don’t have publishing house mandates to worry about. I want to make sure the book is saleable, of course, but if I signed you, I’m confident in your work and my ability to sell it! My main concern is making sure the book is the best version of itself and delivers on everything I’m going to promise editors in my letter. I want everyone who reads it to love it. In the case of SIR FIG NEWTON & THE SCIENCE OF PERSISTENCE, I had nothing to worry about. It is every bit as charming and funny and heartwarming as I could have possibly described it!
My editorial letter for SIR FIG was a bit unusual in that I did actually ask Sonja to change a couple central details, like the time period. When she queried me the story was set in the 1990s and all the characters’ goals were accomplished with analog technology. It is one of the few times I’ve asked for a major change solely because I felt that we’d have an easier time selling the book, and I did my best to provide suggestions for how to update the time period without sacrificing any of the existing character motivations. I took longer to reflect on those notes than any of the others in the letter.
Sonja, what changes were the most and/or least challenging for you to implement on SIR FIG? Was my advice about the time period different or similar to what you’d heard from writing peers and readers?
Sonja: Updating SIR FIG from the 1990s to present day was the most challenging to implement; however, this wasn’t the first time I’d received this feedback. Some critique partners and beta readers mentioned early on that unless there was a compelling reason for setting the story in the 90s, then I should consider changing it to present day. Once you offered this advice, I really sat with why I’d made this choice. I realized that this time period wasn’t an integral part of the story and that my original reasoning was done out of fear. I grew up in the ‘80s and was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to realistically portray a tween’s modern-day experience. Thankfully, I faced my fears and SIR FIG feels much stronger because of it. Turns out, it wasn’t as difficult as I’d anticipated. The main story and emotional arcs remained the same. It was updating the technology (and finding ways to keep it from my main character LOL), along with slang and pop culture references, and ensuring that all these threads were fixed throughout that was the most challenging.
Ronald: Something people don’t often realize about revisions is how nerve-wracking they are for agents! We want to make sure we’re being clear, that all our suggestions are actually helpful, and that our feedback is constructive and shows we’re on the author’s team. The toughest part for me—and it only gets tougher during a pandemic—is how solitary manuscript editing is. I often chat with agent friends about suggestions I’m debating including, but by and large they haven’t read the book and can only give general advice.
By contrast, many authors have a lot more community when working on their manuscripts: beta readers, writer friends, non-writer friends, people who can weigh in on the direction of the story and how to implement notes. A number of my clients have mentioned how my feedback relates to advice they got from readers at a different point in the drafting process.
Sonja, how has community influenced your approach to revisions? Did you consult readers on each draft of SIR FIG, or only when you had bigger questions? And how has the pandemic affected your ability to engage with others when drafting and revising?
Sonja: I wrote my first draft of SIR FIG NEWTON as I received feedback from my critique group. Every three weeks, I’d submit a few chapters and then sit with their thoughts. At the time, this routine was perfect for me. It gave me the accountability and outside deadline to keep writing and finish my first draft. One major drawback, however, was that I often allowed some comments to dictate what direction to take my story, rather than have a clear plan of what I wanted to accomplish in order to evaluate their critiques. After finishing the first draft, I made major plot revisions and sent it to beta readers for big-picture feedback.
I no longer consult readers until I have a firm grasp on the point of my story, including a loose idea of the story and emotional arcs. I have a few friends that I reach out to if I get stuck and just need someone to talk out loud with, like a specific scene. But I don’t give it to readers until I have a complete draft ready for the big-picture stuff.
The worst thing about the pandemic is that I rarely write outside of the house. I used to write in coffee shops or at the library at least once or twice a week, often with a writer friend. There’s just something about writing in a different space that ignites my motivation. Plus, it’s great to have someone there in person to bounce around ideas or ask for quick input. I still reach out to a few writers for revision feedback. If I’m in a really tough space while drafting, then I’ll schedule a phone or virtual call for help.
Ronald: A lot of writers ask me about how quickly they should turn around edits. Each agent has their own preference, but I don’t usually set strict deadlines for drafts with a debut project unless the author requests one or there’s an element of timeliness in the narrative we need to use to our advantage. Otherwise, it takes as long as it takes to shape the book into the best version of itself. I would much rather the author take the time needed to consider my comments and think creatively about how to improve the story. Ironically, a manuscript that the author rushes to get back to their agent will often take longer in the end because we have to go through more editorial rounds before it’s ready to send out to publishers.
As you can probably tell from the rest of this post, the process did not take very long at all in the case of SIR FIG! Sonja has been very on top of edits in our time working together and always takes every note into account. Between the editorial letter and subsequent comments, it only took several weeks for her to turn around new drafts—I sent Sonja my editorial letter for SIR FIG in August 2019 and it went out on submission in January 2020. I recall her being just as quick with notes from her editor at Simon & Schuster, Aly Heller.
Sonja, since we revised SIR FIG, you’ve written writer-for-hire stories that have required faster responses to edits. Do you thrive in a time crunch? Do you still have time to reach out to people other than me for feedback?
Sonja: I love having that outside deadline and usually the time crunch doesn’t allow the space to get caught up in negative mind chatter (i.e. my writing sucks; nobody will like this; etc.). On the flip side, I don’t have time to reach out to writer friends to see the “uglier” earlier versions of my stories, which as a perfectionist isn’t easy to let you see my work when it’s not at its best.
Ronald: Knowing when a book is “done” is one of the biggest challenges about revising for me, and I’m sure for authors too. It mostly comes down to instinct. As revision rounds go on, I have fewer and fewer notes and the manuscript eventually has no remaining issues that I think would overshadow the positives about the book—even though I know I could keep tinkering. There’s no such thing as perfection in publishing. Agents know that editors will likely have their own revisions if and when the book sells, so it’s a matter of doing enoughwithout taking away any of the magic. I knew SIR FIG was ready when I read the latest draft and thought: “I can’t imagine an editor saying no to this!”
Sonja, do you find it hard to let go and stop working on your writing once revisions are done?
Sonja: Yes and no! Like I said earlier, I’m a perfectionist, so I know there’s always room for improvement. But there are so many other stories that I want to write! I’m getting better at accepting that I’ve written the best story that I could with the knowledge and tools I had at the time.
I really love what you said about doing enough without taking away any of the magic. Letting go is (somewhat) easier knowing that the story and its magic will live on and expand in the readers’ imagination.
Ronald’s Bio and Links:Ronald Gerber (he/him) is a literary agent and manages foreign rights, permissions, and contracts at Lowenstein Associates. Before joining the Lowenstein team in 2019, he spent several years in literary scouting and supported two agents at Writers House. Ronald’s clients have books forthcoming from Simon & Schuster, St. Martin’s Press, and more. He is a proud graduate of Bard College at Simon’s Rock and received his B.A., summa cum laude with high honors, from Clark University. He resides in Queens with his wife and their massive collection of books and DVDs.
Sonja’s Bio and Links:
Sonja Thomas (she/her) writes stories for readers of all ages, often featuring brave, everyday girls doing extraordinary things. Sir Fig Newton and the Science of Persistence is her debut middle grade novel. She's also a contributing author for Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Real-Life Tales of Black Girl Magic. Raised in Central Florida—home of the wonderful world of Disney, humidity, and hurricanes—and a Washington, DC, transplant for eleven years (go Nats!), she’s now “keeping it weird” in the Pacific Northwest with her roommate and four pawesome cats.
Order Sir Fig Newton and the Science of Persistence meow: https://www.bysonjathomas.com/books
Sonja has generously offered a hardback of Sir Fig Newton and the Science of Persistence and Ronald has offered a query critique for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower of my blog (via the follower gadget, email, or bloglovin’ on the right sidebar) and leave a comment by March 26th. If you do not want to be included in the critique giveaway, please let me know in the comments. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter the contest. Please be sure I have your email address.
If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog and/or follow me on Twitter, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry for each. You must be 13 years old or older to enter. The book the query critique giveaways are U.S.
Marvelous Middle Grade Monday is hosted by Greg Pattridge. You can find the participating blogs on his blog.
Upcoming Interviews and Giveaways
Wednesday, March 16th I'm participating in the Chasing Rainbow Giveaway Hop and have an agent spotlight interview with Alyssa Eisner Henkin with a query critique giveaway
Monday, March 21st I have a guest post by debut author JC Peterson with a giveaway of her YA rom com Being Mary Bennett
Monday, March 28th I have an interview with debut author Ann Fraistat and a giveaway of her YA thriller/horror What We Harvest
Tuesday, April 5th I’m participating in the April Shows Giveaway Hop
Wednesday, April 6th I have an interview with debut author Dannie Olgiun with a giveaway of her YA contemporary Between Safe and Real
Monday, April 11th I have and agent spotlight interview with Kari Sutherland and a query critique giveaway
Wednesday, April 13th I have a guest post by editor Mary Kole with a giveaway of one of her books
Saturday, April 16th I'm participating in the Raindrops on Roses Giveaway Hop
Monday, April 18th I have an agent/author guest post with Andrea Somberg and Carolyn Tara O’Neil and a giveaway of Carolyn’s YA historical fiction Daughters of a Dead Empire and a query critique by Andrea
Hope to see you on Wednesday!