• Malia Maunakea

Zoom Chat with Author Sylvia Liu

Zoom Chat with #MGwaves and author Sylvia Liu
Zoom Chat with #MGwaves and author Sylvia Liu

Last night the #MGwaves were fortunate to have author Sylvia Liu chat with us about all things writerly. Sylvia is the author of the picture book A Morning With Grandpa (2016), Manatee's Best Friend (MG, Spring, 2021), and Hana Hsu and the Ghost Crab Nation (MG, Summer, 2022).

It was an informal chat that drifted and we all were able to ask whatever was on our minds. Sylvia's recent newsletter was all about building community, and she stressed that AMM would be another excellent opportunity to be in touch with other writers. She was a mentee and feels it helped her prepare for querying her agent, Jennifer March Soloway.

Publishing and getting an agent is a very personal business. Interactions that you have on social media can play a role in whether or not someone wants to do business with you. You can also learn a lot about other agents on social media, but be aware that not every agent is there.

If you receive differing feedback opinions on your work in progress, or the MS you're querying, it can be tough to know which opinion to listen to. On Hana Hsu, Sylvia received feedback that it needed both more action and less action. She looked at the direction she wanted the story to go and listened to the advice of those people who understood that vision and who's advice resonated with her.

Sylvia runs Kidlit411, is an author, a current PitchWars mentor, and has an amazing newsletter. How does she fit it all in? One step at a time. She says Kidlit411 has been running so long it is an efficient machine that doesn't take too much to keep going. For writing, she enjoys a slower pace unless she has a deadline. Ramping up the newsletter is a bit of a newer thing, and she feels she may have bitten off more than she can chew there. Each post takes a couple of days to create. They are stuffed full of such great resources and tips, I know I really appreciate her taking the time to put them together!

If you're an author trying to find an agent, Twitter is a good place to spend your time. Become recognizable. Interact (in a courteous manner) and maybe the agent will recognize your name and spend an extra minute or two on your query.

If you're an author trying to sell your middle-grade books, librarian and parents are the gatekeepers, so go where they are. Connect with schools for school visits. Yes, things are sort of in flux with online vs in person, but there are still opportunities there. There are Facebook groups to find contact information, but a lot of it is your own legwork.

Follow authors who are good at marketing and learn from them. A lot of how your book is marketed will be determined by the publisher. Newsletters can be a good way to connect to your audience.

When you are an author researching agents, be sure that they're solid. Check out their #MSWL (manuscript wish lists) and follow them on Twitter (if they are active) to see if your personalities would jive. Subscribe to Publishers Marketplace to see the agent's sale and client history.

In the past, if you were going to write a second book, there was a good chance your agent would recommend you write one similar to the first that you sold in order to build your brand. Now, in middle-grade, things aren't as rigid and there is more opportunity to branch out.

If you're not agented yet, it is still a good idea to have an author website. It is essentially the modern-day business card. It doesn't have to be fancy. Basically just have a landing page that introduces yourself and a contact page. It's important to have a presence that reflects who you are. Include your bio and a photo.

Blogs are a lot of work. Sylvia recommends if you're going to have one it makes sense to have it be a community thing where you have a lot of guest posts. This way you're not responsible for coming up with new content consistently (I definitely need to take note of this....)

Publishers don't necessarily have explicit expectations on how much you need to market your book. They'd be grateful if you did, but it is up to you. This gray area can be frustrating to authors who don't have the time or wherewithal to spend marketing if the Publisher doesn't have the budget for much.

When you (the author) finally get The Call with an agent (the agent is discussing representation), here are some questions you can ask:

  1. What is your submission strategy to editors?

  2. How'd they get into agenting? What is their background?

  3. Are they an editorial agent?

  4. What drew you to my MS? What are your general thoughts on my MS?

That's about it! Sylvia, thank you oh so very much for taking the time to speak with our group! We really appreciated your time!

If you're an agented author, agent, or editor, and are interested in speaking with the #MGwaves (roughly 30 authors (some agented, some not)), please send me an email at

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