“Let’s do this!” could be a rallying cry for writing in the active, rather than passive, voice. In children’s books, this is especially important because young readers have little patience for … BORING! They want to be drawn into and thus involved, engaged and excited by a story. And the active voice ensures this.

In the simplest terms, “Billy ate the entire plate of cookies” is a lot more exciting, clear, clean and on-point than, “The entire plate of cookies was eaten by Billy.” In the active voice, our protagonist Billy is the subject of the sentence and he “acts” – by eating the entire plate of cookies. “Billy ate the entire plate of cookies” leaves the reader with images – perhaps of Billy smiling, with cookie crumbs festooning his mouth, while also holding his tummy, indicating rumblings and upset within.

In the second sentence, in the passive voice, “The entire plate of cookies was eaten by Billy,” we’re left with no real images of the scene because Billy is no longer the subject. The entire plate of cookies becomes the subject, upon which Billy acted. The reader is left with unanswered questions, such as, “When did Billy eat the entire plate of cookies?” “How long ago?” “Did he eat them so long ago that he’s just fine now…?” (which isn’t very interesting and leaves us wondering why we should care that Billy ate all those cookies).

Active voice creates cleaner, clearer, more direct, dramatic and thus interesting sentences than the passive voice, which can be a big vague. And dialogue is a great way to “get active” as well. For example:

            “’Let’s do this!!” Billy said, eyeing the plate of cookies,” is far more fun and active than “Billy and his pals sat in the kitchen, discussing whether or not they should eat the plate of cookies left by his mother on the countertop.” (Count the number of passive voice constructs in that sentence!)

Passive voice constructions can, however, be used to good effect if a character is trying to hide something or not take responsibility for something (like politicians, for example), or if you’re trying to establish a bit of mystery in a scene. For example:.

             “Someone ate the entire plate of cookies,” Billy told his mom.


            “Billy’s mom walked into the kitchen and saw the empty plate on the counter. ‘Goodness, what happened to the cookies?’ she wondered aloud.”

Thus, in general, “Do it!” and use the active voice as much as possible in writing for young readers to keep your story alive and your readers excited to turn the page.

To have ... or not have ... an agent.

These days it seems nearly impossible for new writers to find an agent. Agents, like everyone else involved in publishing, are overwhelmed, bombarded, and don't have enough hours in every day.  As a new writer, do you need an agent? It can't hurt, if you can find the right one, which means someone who "gets" you, appreciates your work, vision, voice and potential, and will work like hell for you, which of course only benefits the agent as well.

The best way to look for an agent who will be the right fit? First, do your homework. If you have written a fantasy YA novel, you need to search for agents who handle that particular genre, or might be new to it and thus are actively seeking writers of fantasy YA novels. Proceed to your nearest bookstore, or online book store, or library -- a wonderful resource people often forget in these technologically-driven days -- and find fantasy YA novels you appreciate and respect, and then start tracking down the agent of those writers, which could mean simply reading the author's "acknowledgements" page, where you might just find a "thank you to my editor" with a name included, or more labor-intensive efforts, such as contacting a book's publisher and tracking down names that way.

Once you have an agent's, or a few agents' names, find out their agency's submission procedures and then follow those assiduously. Trying to be clever, creative, and a "stand out" when first contacting an agent will backfire, if you fail to follow, to the letter, the agent's submission directives. 

There are also contests that allow writers to submit samples of their work that may involve agents as judges. For example, Writers Digest, through its Guide to Literary Agents blog by Chuck Sambuchino, is hosting its 23rd “Dear Lucky Agent” Contest," a free recurring online contest with agent judges, focused on a specific category. The 23rd contest is for anyone writing a middle grade novel. You submit the requisite number of words, follow a few other directives -- and remember, always follow directions! -- and you will be part of the contest, which is live through end of day, September 19, 2016. Here's the contest link: