Literary Stories Versus Flash Fiction (Different Processes)

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When I first discovered flash fiction, I encountered writers with too many rules. They were so passionate about the efficiency of their craft that they scoffed at writers of longer fiction. Too many adverbs and adjectives, they claimed. But what I did learn from writing flash fiction was to use words more efficiently.

As an author, I don’t enjoy trends but I try to learn from them regardless. I have written both longer fiction, including novels, and pithy stories under 500 words. I enjoy both processes and I see the beauty in both condensing a story into bite-sizes and also offering literary fiction that is sipped like a robust wine. I understand that too much description anchors a story in boredom but the absence of description leaves a story floating in space with nowhere to land. Obviously, writing any fiction poses challenges to the writer. Personally, I love the challenges because those challenges help in crafting work that will stick in readers’ minds.

For a flash fiction author, the description of autumn would like a Haiku poem. Whereas, for an author of longer fiction, autumn includes the crunch of maple leaves underfoot, a stiff breeze snapping branches, and the need for a woolen hat and scarf worn by the characters. The author immerses the reader into the details of the character’s home, her friendships, her aspirations, and deepest fears, not something that can be achieved in less than one-thousand words.

The challenge of describing autumn in one-thousand words or less includes the viewpoint of one character with the trajectory of a single storyline and no room for tangents. The character’s mind has no room to wander and keeping the character in this moment rather than sending the reader backwards in time or forward into the future serves the story best. The author also faces the challenge of choosing bold and vibrant words to describe the setting for the character as well as, action verbs to propel the story forward quickly.

With flash fiction there is no room for parallel stories, flashbacks, a character’s mind drifting and the inciting incident must occur in the first sentence propelling the story forward. Flash fiction is the hundred-yard dash sprint as opposed to the marathon of a novel or the running of a mile for short literary fiction. And this is not suggesting that flash fiction can’t be included in literary fiction, but it’s less literary to me because I think of literary fiction as an indulgence like taking a soak in a hot bath. Flash fiction is something to read on a coffee break. Sure, it’s clever but it’s less likely to become a literary classic. I write flash fiction for fun but when I have more to say and when I feel like waxing poetics, I commit to the longer form.

Ideally, authors immerse themselves in both practices because there is much to learn from both formats. I know when I am writing non-fiction articles, I prefer a longer word count but I have learned how to be more efficient and craft stronger sentences when the editor gives me a shorter word count. With flash fiction, the writer has to get everything right when hooking the reader. The story still requires characterization, a plot, a plot twist and a satisfying ending. Like a three-minute pop song, contours, structure, and tone play crucial roles. All stories long or short require an arc that includes a beginning, middle, and end in which the character undergoes transformation or at least a shift in perspective. Otherwise, I’m going to yawn through the story if I don’t put it down after the first two paragraphs.

So, which form do you prefer as a fiction writer? Do you prefer the challenge of telling a story in fewer words or do you like to dive in to the long form and take your readers on a journey? Or perhaps, you prefer both formats like I do. As writers our job is to craft stories that hook and keep the readers on board. Our adventure is with words and images conveyed by the words. And ultimately if we can get readers to connect their minds to their hearts, we’ve done our job no matter the word count.

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Finding Treasure in an Old Notebook

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During the past months I have tossed out and shredded journals. I have gone through a major transformation and I hardly recognize my older even literary self. Today as I shredded another notebook, I found these two word sketches. I kept the poems and shredded everything else. I wrote the poems during the summer and fall of 1997.

Harvest Moon

Big and beautiful, she’s glowing pregnant with possibilities

As she smiles upon us.

Shedding light so that we won’t stumble upon the dark path.

She’s expecting; she’s waiting for us to flow out of our birth

and to embrace time, ephemeral, speechless.

Queen Anne (Seattle)

Smell the flower, listen to the birds; sing in a neighborhood

that doesn’t admire authenticity.

Men drive around the block in 4X4s donning the latest fashion,

women popping babies, glorifying the American dream, barking dogs,

picket fences and yards upon yards, I smell another rose.

Baby land, baby land, flaunt thy wealth

Baby land, baby land, here’s to your health.

Fremont (Seattle)

Rocket ships hanging in balance, funky postcards,

colorful, artsy coop, fun to shop at…

From a notebook in 1997.

Write it–My Beef with MFA in Creative Writing

books by Nino Care
Image by Nino Care


Perhaps, I’m wrong, but I have been observing a prolific amount of authors with MFA degrees landing publishing contracts. This wouldn’t be a problem except that the book publishing industry, especially the literary journals have a bias for authors with MFA degrees. And any author without an academic degree is left out in the cold. What would Jack Kerouac or Jane Austen have thought of that?

I have tried to embrace this trend, except that I don’t have an MFA degree or even a BA in English or creative writing. Authors such as myself came to novel writing through the backdoor, the way, many masterful authors did decades ago. And hey, not everyone can afford to obtain an MFA degree which I’ve seen range from $75 to $100K.

So, I mucked my way from journalism to novel writing. I even worked as an editorial assistant for a literary journal in Seattle briefly. I attended conferences, joined writing groups (on and offline), critiqued other authors’ work, revised my own and attended writers conferences. And at 55-years-of-age, I’m no closer to securing a publishing deal for any of my several novels.

Not only that, not one of my submissions to literary journals was accepted in 2019, even if I received a glowing review for an audio story that I submitted to the Missouri Review. I suspect that the editors weren’t seeking actual stories with interesting protagonists and they preferred perfect sentences and clever writing instead. Oh, yes, and the MFA behind the author’s name.

The journal editors seem so welcoming on their submission pages. They tell us that they seek the work of emerging and veteran authors. And I suspect it helps if other literary journals have already published my work or if I obtained an MFA and landed $100K in debt (not at my age, thank you). This wouldn’t be so bad if the stories by the MFA authors actually held my interest. Many of the authors seem to obsess with pleasing their peers or their university students. They spend too much time constructing perfect sentences free of adverbs and adjectives and not enough time telling a universal story. Sometimes the authors confuse actual storytelling with abstract poetry. Yes, they provide clever word use but I just can’t relate and my brain starts to go numb.

I waded through an award-winning story published in The Writer magazine that made no sense. While I searched for a story with a beginning, middle, and end with the protagonist experiencing transformation, I didn’t find it. I’ve also waded through stories published in literary journals that kept me interested in the first page and then my mind started wandering and hoping for a real story to unfold. These stories most likely went on to win prizes too. But why? Some of the stories are pretentious like the kid in elementary school who spouts off unusual words to impress his peers. (And by the way, if I have to wade through another literary story with graphic sex, violence, or drug use, I’m going to scream).

And while I have no problem with transexuals, stories about transexuals don’t whet my appetite for a literary journey. And why do I have to tackle socio-economic or political issues to publish a story in a journal? I have no passion for that. While I have written a few tragic short stories, my forte is whimsical humor and magical realism.

I actually started reading YA novels to avoid adult novels which tend to focus on dark topics that cause me to flinch or challenge my attention span. And if I’m not reading YA novels then I’m rereading classics from novelists who never attended college at all but somehow managed to pen a work that we’re still reading a 100 or more years later.

Sadly, the trend for obtaining an MFA in creative writing has grown and continues to grow despite the high cost of tuition. And I’m not saying that it’s wrong to obtain this degree because it does open up opportunities to teach at a university level and to give lecture tours. The problem I have is the formulaic novels that have hit the stores and libraries in the last two decades. While I’m still able to find good reads and even by MFA authors, it’s become more challenging to find stories I can relate to or that I can read without feeling like I’ve been snubbed.

I suppose it’s a shortcut to study with master teachers and have access to author peers. I was able to collaborate with peers prior to the internet which did change the playing field. I still recall and editing groups that met once a week at Border Books in Seattle during the 1990s and I still remember the DIY literary journals that published my poetry. And I still remember the chapbooks I published in the 1980s which I sold at my music gigs. I miss those collaborations and the learn-as-you-go spirit that surfaced in the 1980s and continued through the 1990s. Back then, it was rare that an author had an advanced degree.

I am thinking of Margaret Atwood who obtained her degree in the late 1960s and Julia Alvarez who wrote Yo and How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents and who taught at the University in Vermont. When I met Isabel Allende after she published her best-seller House of Spirits and even her memoir Julia, I don’t believe she held an MFA in Creative Writing. And she’s one of my mentors.

It’s not the MFA degrees I have the problem with. It’s the trend of gatekeepers discriminating against self-made authors. Just like I suspect the late brilliant vocalist and song interpreter Eva Cassidy never trained with a vocal coach, as an author I don’t want to compromise my voice or my style in favor of following a set of rules that include not using adjectives or adverbs in my stories, or not being able to publish stories written in the three-act structure. I prefer that editors or agents don’t tell me to conform to the current trends or tell me how to write the stories in my head. Am I the only author who doesn’t want to jump on board the MFA train or have some expert tell me how to pen my stories?

BTW, I’ve already sacrificed too many things from my life such as gluten, dairy, sugar, and nightshades. Do I have to give up adjectives and adverbs too?

Sometimes, I tell myself, “Why even bother sending your work out?” But like every author, I have a story to tell and I would like an audience for that story (or stories). I might not have studied with a master in person, but I have read and studied the prose in thousands of books over the decades. When I was six-years-old, teachers told me that I couldn’t read because of dyslexia but I didn’t let that stop me. And I won’t let the snobby gatekeepers prevent me from publishing my stories (with adjectives and adverbs included). And as far as the forbidden prologues, I’m keeping those too.

The way I see it is I paid my dues even if I didn’t cough up thousands of dollars to earn a post-graduate degree. I didn’t learn how to write in a cloistered academic setting. I learned how to write stories by living in the real world and starving at times to keep improving my craft and become a better author. And I know that I’m not the only author who has taken this journey.

There are some brilliant authors with higher academic degrees and there are some who lack any emotional depth or storytelling skills, despite the university degree they hang next to their laptop. And on the other end of the spectrum, there are still some Gen-X authors who learned to write through internships, small publications, and cooperative writing communities. And there are still authors weened on Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth (I’m in that camp).

Face it, I think the MFA programs were invented to keep authors in line. It’s another type of programming on the mind which basically insists that authors not think for themselves and give their power away to the book publishing industry. It’s part of the 3rd-dimensional reality and the Matrix. Conform, conform, conform or perish seems to be the message. And I’m sure that not all publishing houses participate. Someone out there is still looking for that raw and vulnerable voice shouting in the wilderness.

Kudos from The Missouri Review



I entered the Miller Audio Prize competition for the third time. This year, I received a scholarship so that the entry fee was waved. I didn’t win the prize, but I’m pleased with this critique of my story, “Tropical Blizzard” which is semi-biographical.

Thank you for your Access for Artists submission, “Tropical Blizzards (Return of the Ancestors),” in the prose category of the Missouri Review’s 2019 Miller Audio Prize Contest. Below is what our staff had to say about “Tropical Blizzards (Return of the Ancestors)”:

We especially admired this story’s concept as a journey through America in order to find one’s own identity and heritage. We particularly appreciated the honesty and complexity with which the childhood memories of racial discrimination were written. We suggest that the narrator read at a slower pace – as listeners, at times we felt that the story was being rushed. We also suggest that the project might utilize the audio format to its advantage here; sound can add depth to this already complex story, it can emphasize the piece’s important moments or build the characters even more vividly in the listener’s mind.

Overall, we felt that this was a strong entry and we appreciated its complexity and its journey from start to finish. While “Tropical Blizzards (Return of the Ancestors)” was not selected for the prize this year, we are quite interested in reading and listening to more of your work soon and hope you’ll considering sending more of it our way.

After the competition ended, I uploaded the audio on my YouTube channel. I did rush through the narration to fit it into the 15-minute maximum audio allowed by the competition judge and editors. I just noticed that this is not the same audio track I entered in the contest. I recorded this one much earlier.

Also, I wrote the story in 2003 after I discovered my Saami ancestors.

Help me to attend a Writers Conference

DSCN4890I started this fundraiser on Go Fund Me to raise $300 to attend the Write on the Sound conference this October. Registration is open now so my deadline for raising the funds on June 29 so I can register for the three-day conference early.

Any amount will help me out and I’ll include your name in the acknowledgments with my YA novel or memoir when they are published.

I raised the money for the registration fee. Now, I’m raising $200 for the hotel room for two nights.

Or you can mail a check or money order to Patricia Herlevi, PO Box 370, Port Townsend, WA  98368

Write it–5 Reasons for Procrastination

DSCN3909If you’ve watched the movie, Under a Tuscan Sun, then you’ll recall the line at the beginning about Frances’ approach to procrastination. And all writers, even the most prolific ones experience bouts of procrastination. And what if there are reasons for procrastination?

Often, writers punish themselves making the procrastination worse. Believe it or not, guilt won’t heal your situation. Here are 5 reasons why we feel stranded in the middle of a desert when our goal is to complete a story or a novel.

  1. We don’t have enough information. For instance, I’m currently writing my first YA novel and I am suffering a bad case of procrastination. I realized that I need to research the music, the culture, the language, and everyday lives of young adults. And I need to research ancient kingdoms in West Africa as well as, the dance world. Once I delve into this research I will feel inspired to write again.
  2. Fear. We fear the changes that completing the novel will bring to our lives. Or we fear the changes that writing a novel brings to our life. We fear that others won’t approve of us spending time on our own pursuits.
  3. We don’t actually want to commit to writing a novel. Perhaps, a life as a novelist is not our dream but the dream of another family member or friend. Or perhaps, we are only writing a novel to prove something to ourselves. If we don’t write for the right reasons then procrastination is telling us that this is not our true path at this time.
  4. We need to hone our writing skills first by taking classes and workshops. We need to improve our grammar and learn tools for writing a novel. Many people think that they can just write the Great American Novel, when in fact, any published novelist will tell you that it took years, even decades to arrive at their success.
  5. And finally, the timing is off. We have family to take care of or we work long hours at a that leaves us exhausted. For people who have taken the traditional approach and work a regular 9 to 5 job, perhaps, it will be easier to become a novelist after you retire (and many writers have taken this route).

If writing a novel is your number one priority then do your research. Take workshops and classes to launch you in the right direction. Sit down each day for a set amount of time and write. And if this doesn’t work for you, then try Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way program. Or attend a writers conference (although they are pricy).


I am an intuitive and creative coach. Sign up for sessions through Whole Astrology. Let’s set your course for success.

Literary Essay: The Unexpected Path

MaryMagdalene PixabayMy fifth novel, Enter 5-D begins with “For Eurydice Dukakis, it wasn’t supposed to happen the way that it did.” So, I thought about this line and the way that it speaks for the current era.

Often I have told people that my life was not supposed to turn out the way that it has. I wasn’t supposed to end up back at my parents’ house in a town I despise. I wasn’t supposed to still be renting apartments and houses after the age of 45. I was supposed to own my home, have published my novels, and feel empowered.

I wasn’t supposed to be sick, be tired, or feel disappointed with the road that I walk.

And others who live in vans or cars could say the same thing. People going through a divorce after once saying the words, “Until death do us part,” also wonder where life went wrong. And yet, a hero’s journey always begins with an unexpected challenge which is actually a calling to expand one’s worldview.

Still, my current life circumstances hardly feel expansive. As I type these words in a room the size of a walk-in closet, I don’t see my outer life going anywhere. As I raise funds to relocate and the money drip into my life rather than pour into it, I just feel frustrated. I relate to my character Eurydice whose life just took an unexpected turn for the worst.

Imagine if your entire life shaped and formed you to become an opera diva and then a draconian government bans all musical expression outside of the political State. Imagine if you also lose your home and are banished to the underground. And this is only within the imagination since I’m talking about a novel.

However, in real life many people are living the implausible because they feel that they did not sign up for their current circumstances. And yet, what is life without an adventure that tosses in the wrench? If we find ourselves always walking on Easy Street, then we cannot grow as people and Easy Street is actually pretty boring.

And yet, many of aspire to the safe middle road, which might not even be the right path for us. In fact, someone else, perhaps the media, prescribed the middle road. And we just went along with the program until…until something happens.

And that’s how all great novels begin with an insight or an incident. Authors know that they must use some kind of gravitational force to get their characters moving in a different direction. And while we’re not looking for a rollercoaster experience, we do need to write peaks and valleys.

So, whether the character starts out the story living in a car or watching his wife pack her suitcase as she prepares to leave him, what seems like a restrictive beginning later leads to expansion, but only after all the deep inner work has been accomplished. And so it is with real life too.

As with all my novels, my characters do much soul work. And I’m reminded of the lines from the movie French Kiss where Kate tells her former fiancée that when she walked around the streets of Paris penniless, she did some deep thinking. And she came to the realization that there is never a relationship that is safe enough, etc… Life only brings us constant change and it’s a matter of getting with the program of transformation. A story without transformation or metamorphoses is not a story. Rehashing one’s circumstances is also not a story. It is cheap drama. Boring. Draining.

And it’s the same with our “real” lives. Without change we die and even death is transformation from the physical into the ethereal. Think of the rocks that become sand due to the friction of the sea.  Think of the worm becoming a butterfly. None of this is easy and all of it is painful but we find value in sand and with butterflies.

Even though we sit in our rooms lamenting the shape and form of our current lives, know this. If we do the soul work and if we read the hero’s journey often, we’ll know that life forces are shaping us so that we find our true paths and then, and only then, we expand into the vastness of the Universe.

There are no happy endings. We experience happy moments. And life always churns out more circumstances that shape us. And as life shapes us we feel poised for the next chapter in our lives. It’s best to approach life circumstances with an open mind and an open heart.

While my character’s story begins on a tragic note it ends with transformation. She ends up living a life she would have never imagined. And Eurydice would never have met intriguing people or learned of her courage had she not traveled down the unintended path. And she only had two choices–to go with the program or to fight it every step of the way and not transform.

I am an author, astrologer, and creative coach. Learn more about my spiritual work at Metaphysics 4 Everyday Living or Whole Astrology. Sign up for a session at Whole Astrology.


DSCN0789I wrote “The Dim Sun” while I was waiting for a bus. And then I wrote “Zen Voyager” while I on the ferry to Port Townsend, Washington. I’m glad that I carried my notebook with me in my backpack.

The Dim Sun

Freshly cut grass tickled my nose, a sneeze exploded and broke the silence

And then bees buzzed life into sleeping trees; hummingbirds dazzled wearing sparkling rainbow light.

And across the way, robins scrambled in trees belting out their seasonal songs

While bloated worms came p for air and crows gathered like school kids trampling on the mud and moss.

The dim sun lingered on the horizon signaling a new dawn and the Earth

broke into

A smile.


The Zen Voyager

Snakelike, the island wrapped around itself, smug with its own existence

The marine air pungent from the entrails of fish–scales, spines, and fins

And the brine of the sea.

Gulls wheel in the sky and dive into the reflective water like blown-glass

Endless calm stretches out for miles we sail along with peace songs

Embracing our hearts and wise words swirl in our minds.

The Zen traveler on board, lightened burdens and spritely feet.

She doesn’t enter this passage by carrying the past nor will the

Future provide her treasure maps.

No, only this moments and these words exist for me.

Time and place, a forgotten space as I let go

And I nose-dive with the dolphins and ride on the backs of whales…

If only in my dreams.

I know one thing.

We are safe here.

We are at peace now.

And together, we weathered the passing storm.



All Rights Reserved copyright Patricia Herlevi 2018


Write it–After Sending the Pitch

DSCN3909After you pitch your book to an agent or publisher, it’s time to place your focus elsewhere. Instead of fretting over your query and playing the pensive waiting game, return to your manuscript and proofread it. Or you can put your manuscript aside and work on a new project.

From a metaphysical standpoint, we get more of what we focus upon. So if we focus on the agent or editor’s response, then we give our power away. The power is always in the present moment. This means to spend the present moment doing something constructive. Refine the manuscript. Or work on a completely different project. Read the work of authors you admire, but only to learn new writing skills and not to berate yourself.

Join a writing support or editing group. And instead of focusing on the manuscript you just pitched, help other writers. When we reach outside of ourselves and offer support to others, we create a healthy energetic field. This field attracts our manifestations. And since we are all connected spiritually, the agents and editors you pitched to are picking up on your expansive energy.

Photo by Patricia Herlevi

Also, when we focus our attention on helping others, the support we require also shows up. We learn by critiquing other people’s work. We learn from editing other people’s work. And other writers inspire us to make our work better. We experience ah-hah moments that we wouldn’t experience sitting by our computer screen fretting because an agent hasn’t responded yet.

Send love and blessings to agents and editors. But don’t do this because you want a return on your investment. Do it because you care about them and the work that they do. Send love to other writers too. They are not your competition but your comrades. Supporting other writers has good karma attached to it. And the fact is, writers need each other. We inspire one another and we teach each other. That’s why writing conferences give us such a charge and energy shift.

And when the agent or editor’s response shows up as a phone call or e-mail, no matter the response, take it with stride. If you receive a rejection, think of that as a time of redirection. It’s like my mother always tells me when I experience rejection, “That’s not the one for you and someone better will come along.”

While my younger self never believed that, in my maturity as a writer, I know those words are true. It’s all about Divine Timing and being in the right place at the right time. If you love what you do and keep improving at it, the right literary team will come along. But for now, focus on this moment and what is currently required of your attention. If anything, take the dog for a walk.

I am an intuitive and creativity coach. Sign up at Whole Astrology for a session today. I would be pleased to support on your journey.

Write it–Detachment & The Pitch

Photo by Patricia Herlevi

I started pitching my work to editors and agents back in the 1990s. And if I use the fishing metaphor, the fish nibbled and even bit into my baits. I also received rejections which stung more in my younger years and miraculously don’t sting any longer for the following reasons.

I researched the animal we call a literary agent. Well, actually literary agents appear to be human and have the same feelings as authors. Many literary agents seem approachable because of their humanity and their passion for literary work. However, agents speak a different language than authors at times. They speak about platforms, awards, the marketplace, and editorial concerns. And it helps if authors learn this language.

Agents have preferences which these days we can easily research online. Veteran agents appear in numerous articles especially with magazine sites such as Writers Digest. And you can follow tweets or Face Book pages for the newer agents. Check out sites such as Absolute Writer and Manuscript Wish List. This leads to my next point. Stop believing in limitations–that there aren’t enough agents to go around.

It’s true that from 2008 to 2012 literary agencies were closing offices or merging with other agencies and this gave the impression that authors didn’t have a chance of signing a deal with an agent. Numerous authors such as myself decided to go the self-publishing route. And I also noticed that many self-published authors treated literary agents and traditional book publishers as enemies–big mistake.

Since there is an abundance of literary agents, it’s easier to detach from rejections. And the best approach is to put a list together and then go down the list knowing that the right agent will appear (eventually). Some authors hit the jackpot on the first or second try because they did their research and wrote an approachable pitch.

Early on, I sent out mediocre pitches and I didn’t do my research, but was still surprised when literary agents rejected my work. And then I punished myself and wasted time at the pity party instead of polishing my pitch, attend a writing workshop, or get online where agents hang out, such as on Twitter. While I don’t believe that a writer needs to develop thicker skin, I do believe that detachment and mindfulness prevent meltdowns when the rejections show up (as they do for most authors).

On a metaphysical note, meditate before contacting agents. This places you in a positive frame of mind and since we’re all connected, the agent feels your positive energy when they read your pitch.

Another warning that comes from my experiences, don’t quit the day job in hopes that an agent will help you win a big advance. True, many new authors have received large advances in the past that transformed their lives, but other authors receive small advances which hardly paythe bills. Find other work on the side such as copy editing, teaching for a lifelong learning program at a college, proofreading or blogging professionally while writing novels.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket or treat an agent as the answer to your prayers. I have heard stories of authors landing deals with agents that eventually dropped the authors because they couldn’t see the books to publishers. There are no guarantees. Signing with an agent does not mean you have sold your book. And you’ll not see any money until you receive an advance (and don’t sign with a book publisher who offers you no advance).

Successful authors build platforms through Face Book and other social media. I started this blog and launched this author website knowing that building a platform for me is a slower process. Authors with bigger personalities or brands attract followings much quicker. Experiment with blogs, social media, and YouTube channels. In fact, create a channel that showcases your expertise such as Grammar Girl.

Offer tips to authors and interview authors, editors, and agents on your blogs or videos. Another option is to launch a radio show through any of the online radio channels where you interview authors and other people in the book publishing industry.

So I’ll leave you with: Detach from the outcome and keep going down your agent list until you make a connection. And two, remember that there are plenty of agents and if you follow your gut (intuition or synchronicity), you will land a deal with the right agent. And don’t forget to do your research on writing queries, pitches, polishing manuscripts, and on the agents.

I am an author and astrologer-coach. Sign up for a coaching session at Whole Astrology. Feel free to leave comments here. Thank you for following Belle Author.