Posted by: Kathy Temean | February 1, 2019

Agent of the Month – Marlo Berliner – First Page Results

Last March Marlo started  at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency as an editorial intern after having completed a previous internship with The Bent Agency. In November, she has moved up to Associate Agent and has agreed to be January’s featured Agent of the Month. See Submission Guidelines at the bottom of this post. Submit a first page and get in the running for a critique. 

Marlo Berliner
Associate Agent

Marlo Berliner is an award-winning young adult author, freelance editor, and bookseller. She joined The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in March 2018 as an editorial intern after having completed a previous internship with The Bent Agency. Now, she is actively building her list as an associate agent. She is a member of SCBWI, RWA, NJ-RWA, and YA-RWA. Prior to her career in the publishing world, Marlo was an accounting manager for a Fortune 500 company. She holds B.S. degrees in Economics and Industrial Management from Carnegie Mellon University.

What Marlo is looking for:

Marlo believes the best stories have both compelling characters and tight, emotionally involving plot-lines. If your writing can translate emotion to the page and give her a visceral reaction of humor, fear, joy, sadness, intrigue, or romance, then she will keep turning pages.

Middle Grade and Young Adult: I am interested in all genres of MG and YA fiction, with particular emphasis on adventure, psychological thriller, suspense, mystery, paranormal, urban fantasy, horror, speculative, and romance. I enjoy magic, magical realism, unusual settings, pirates, dark elements, gothic tone, secrets or secretive characters, treasure hunts, and unreliable narrators. Also, if you can take a story or intellectual property (in TV or books) that is popular with the adult crowd and give me it’s MG or YA version, then I will give it a look because I believe these types of stories may have strong potential for the market. Stories told by #ownvoices, and stories with diverse characters of all kinds, including neuro-diverse and LGBTQIA+ are all welcomed. I am also open to coming-of-age stories set in college that walk the line between upper YA and NA. While I do like contemporary tales, I may not be the best fit for ‘issue’ books where the central conflict revolves primarily around rape/rape-culture, drugs, or illness. I will also consider some select non-fiction projects in MG and YA, particularly if they involve pop-culture or current events.

Adult: I am interested in all genres of Romance, except inspirational, historical and erotic. I am also open to women’s fiction, mystery, thriller, and suspense.

Some favorite titles on my reading shelf include One of Us Is Lying by Karen McManus, Caraval by Stephanie Garber, The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab, and Nevermoor, The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend.

For more, follow me on Twitter @MarloBerliner.


The Ghost in the Camera: YA Historical Fiction by Patricia Bridgman

I would venture to say that I have seen more dead people than Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee and all their generals besides. By the time I see them, however, the dead have shed their fleshly skins and appear in spirit form.

Sentimentalize them if you will, but in my experience, ghosts are rude, demanding and ofttimes rather disgusting, as those who died by misadventure still bear their fatal wounds.

Why do I tolerate them? Reason the first, I am a psychic medium and I cannot help it. Reason the second, the spirit trade can be very lucrative.

It was the pursuit of lucre that brought me to Boston in the summer of 1871. That, and a deep desire to escape the distressing circumstances of my youth.

I arrived at Boston Depot on the 2:30 out of Erie late on a June afternoon. What a fright I must have looked in my ragtag gown, peppered with cinders from the train.

After a quick assessment of the crowd, I approached a likely citizen for help. He gave me directions and, inadvertently, his gold pocket watch, which, by the way, turned out to be tin, not gold. It goes to show, you can’t trust anyone! (No matter. As soon as I had the wherewithal, I replaced it with a pretty Lecoultre & Francoise I’d seen in Godey’s Ladies Book. Twenty-four-carat, and I have that in writing.)

By my calculations, the walk across town took more than an hour. It was tough going, what with sweat stinging my eyes and the cobblestones burning through the soles of my boots. And whilst Boston may have its charms, it has a pervasive odor of fish, which the locals pretend not to notice. Boston also has its share of untethered souls, and they swarmed me like flies. But I was deaf and blind to them, so fixed was I upon my great purpose.


The very first paragraph is overwritten and it’s telling, not showing. “Shed their fleshly skins” doesn’t have a good ring to it and further, conjures up possibly the wrong image for the reader. For a moment, it almost sounds as if she sees them ‘without skin’, as if literally muscle and bone exposed. I understand you’re trying to say they’ve shed their corporeal nature and are mere spirits, but it’s a bit over-written to simply get to the point that the girl can see ghosts. This would be shorter, more accurate and to the point à By the time I see them, however, the dead are merely spirits.

Also, watch your word choice. Misadventure conjures up the feeling that someone died by accident or mishap, but you referred to Civil War dead in the previous paragraph. So now it seems like you’re talking about your everyday dead, because dying in battle would not be considered a misadventure. Even if you are now referring to everyday dead, most people back then didn’t die from accidents, mishaps, or misadventure. They were more likely to die from disease or infection, because early medicine wasn’t what it was today.

Truthfully, by the time I get to the bottom of this first page, it feels as if this story has started out in the wrong place. We begin in present tense, but then the narrative slips into the past, giving the reader the feeling that the story is being told by a much older narrator who is reflecting on the past and that the whole story to come is a flashback. Sentences like this only reinforce that feeling – “escape the distressing circumstances of my youth.” (Implies she’s no longer in her youth.) Any YA novel, even historical fiction, is best written from the POV of a young adult.

It might be better to begin this story in the girl’s POV in 1871 as she is stepping off the train. You can then describe her clothes, hint at why she’s in Boston, and then mention that she has to swat the spirits of the dead away like flies (which in one half sentence tells us she has the ability to see them). In this way, the reader will be better able to connect with the character and the story.


VOTE FOR MAX by Debra Daugherty Middle Grade

“This is going to be the best day ever,” I told my dog Max as I hopped out of bed. Max burrowed deeper under the covers, as if to disagree.

He’d probably still be in bed if he hadn’t smelled the bacon frying in the pan. With a sharp bark, he jumped down and followed me to the stairs. In my rush, I almost bumped into my sister, Anna, as she stepped out of her room.

“Race you, Riley,” she said, after giving Max a smile and a pat on his head.

“Challenge accepted.”

Our bare feet slapped the wooden steps as we thundered down the stairs.

“Riley! Anna! Don’t run in the house,” my dad shouted from the dining room.

“Ha! I beat you by three seconds,” I told my sister. “And Max came in second.”

Anna stuck out her tongue. “I’ll win next time.”

My dad glanced up from his paper and my mom waved from the kitchen when Max and I entered the dining room.

“I love Founder’s Day,” I said as I scooted my chair in closer to the table.

“What’s not to love?” said my sister. “There’s a parade, carnival rides, and contests like the three-legged race.”

“Which Reggie and I intend to win,” I added.

“Don’t forget the reason we celebrate today,” my mother said as she flipped the pancakes.

“I know. Everyone gathers from miles around to honor Wilbur Wimpy, our town’s first settler.”


Even though this is middle grade, be careful beginning with the main character waking up. The act of waking up is very mundane and it’s tough to make it unique or interesting enough. Also, be careful of the order of events. You mention that the dog burrows under the covers, then you say “he’d probably still be in bed if it weren’t for the smell of bacon.” (Well, he is still in bed, unless you’re implying that he’s now out of bed.) Then you say “he jumped down and followed me”. (Now, the dog truly is out of bed.) It’s like your main character knew what the dog was going to do before the dog did it. Not to mention which, we should get more of a sense of your main character’s feelings/actions, not the dog’s. It’s cute and all, but I’d rather your main character smells the bacon, get more of a sense of what’s going on with him, in his head, feel how excited he is to start his day, so when we find out the reason, that it’s a special day – Founder’s Day – we care. From the title, Vote for Max, I can tell the dog will be prominent in the story, but it’s Riley that your reader is going to care about most.

Be sure to drop in information for the reader in a way that feels organic. The way some of the information was dropped into the dialogue here seems like the heavy-handed work of the author. When Riley says he loves Founder’s Day, we can guess that he’s probably been there more than once. In fact, he’s probably been there every year. Yet his sister tells him what it’s all about as if he doesn’t know – “There’s a parade, carnival rides, and contests like the three-legged race.” I know she’s answering her own rhetorical question, but it still just feels off. Especially, because a moment later, he also rather robotically repeats back to his mother what Founder’s Day is all about.

Ask yourself what you are trying to accomplish with this scene and how you can best draw your reader into an interesting story, so they want to take the journey along with your main character.


Tawnya Showalter / Thunderculture / YA Fantasy

I stood over the body, turning the swiss army knife over in my palm. Blood stained the hard-packed earth, flooding into the cracks around my feet, weaving a dark web. The ravager’s black armor was too heavy for the desert and outdated, but I remembered his kind. I thought killing one of them might make me feel a little better about not having a mother growing up, or a big brother to look out for me the way big brothers look out for their little sisters.

But I didn’t kill this ravager. An arrow protruded from his chest—a perfect shot to the heart.

I blinked the sweat from my eyes and squinted against the burn, peering into the shadows around me. “It’s your fault,” I called into the sparse trees, my voice carried by a hot, dry breeze. “I’m going to die here.”

I listened around the sound of silence, waiting for an answer. A greeting. An attack. “I know you’re there.” I feel you. The hairs on my neck and arms raised, and I shuddered, his presence stirring my inner storm.

Two eyes appeared in the blackness fifty feet away, glowing like stars or the moon, and my grip on the knife jerked tight. I hadn’t seen him in six years, not a shadow or fleeting glance. He’d left me signs, though. Boot prints in the crunchy, grassless terrain, that familiar pull on my electricity like a magnet, but this had been the first dead body. And now his silhouette was taller than he used to be, less lanky and more bulky. More dangerous.

Keeping my movements slow, I reached down and grabbed the rose shoot shaft sticking from the dead man’s chest, pulling twice to free it from his ribcage. I spared a second to admire the arrow, the thorns cut off and smoothed with precision, deep purple feathers ringing the shaft, almost invisible in the night. I played my thumb over several notches cut into the wood—a tally.


I like that you toss us in media res, but also give us a sense of the setting – desert, hard packed earth, sparse trees, hot dry breeze. In YA fantasy a delicate balance has to be struck between introducing action, character and world-building. Many times I read YA fantasies that start in the middle of some battle that tells me nothing – the same battle could be taking place anywhere, any time period, and in almost any setting, etc. I just wish you had given us some sense of what a ravager might be – is it a beast? Some type of alien creature? An evil human? Just a tiny mention of the blood pooling around…hair, fur, tentacles, or his tattooed arms might give us some hint as to what we’re dealing with and what has just been killed. This sentence seems a bit long and like a heavy-handed way for the author to toss in backstory – “I thought killing one of them might make me feel a little better about not having a mother growing up, or a big brother to look out for me the way big brothers look out for their little sisters.”

Also, since she knows she didn’t kill the ravager, it feels a bit off that she’s not immediately more worried or on alert as she stands over his body. After all, we know he’s still bleeding so his death must’ve have happened only minutes or seconds before. Especially when she admits that she knows someone is there. Then she does seem to have a sense of danger by the time we get to here – my grip on the knife jerked tight. But then a moment later, she pauses to take the arrow out of the guy’s chest and admire it, even notices the notches. So then we don’t have a sense of danger again. So it just seems like the message of whether or not she’s in any danger here is mixed, even though she says, More dangerous. It’s okay to create questions in your reader’s mind, but not so many questions that we don’t know enough about what’s going on. Remember, the reader has to get enough of a taste of what’s going on, so they begin to care.


TILENIKA, LEGEND OF DEO by Richard Bisbee, a YA Fantasy

Vital forces moved in the shaping of form.  Consciousness arose, reflecting on its body.  Memories arose, seeking connections, meanings and an identity.  The consciousness that had been associating with and disassociating from Tilenika’s body hesitated and hovered above it, then entered it as it stumbled along a deserted ghola trail in the mountains.  Her awareness shifted out of her body once again.  Tilenika viewed the body of her person and regarded it with curiosity.  It was a familiar form, a form that fit this life.  But it was hard for her to stay in it, for the higher realms offered so much more expansive freedom and fascination.  By comparison, the body was a heavy shell, and very limited in its movement and perceptive abilities.  Sourceless thoughts echoed encouragingly, ‘Return to this form, there is more to do.  You are not yet finished.  Remember your lessons; share the experience and knowledge.  All is Mind and Spirit.’

Tilenika continued her attempts to re-enter the body, connect and stay.  Her consciousness wavered and resisted, but she persevered.  With a final struggle to reconnect, she felt a curious sensation, as something warm began to glow on her chest.  She reached down and grasped the object in her hand–the bullwah tooth necklace blessed by the Haikula, the leader of the Shyava.  Its energy encircled her body, then pressed inward and flowed to every particle of her being, fully connecting her consciousness to her body.  She felt whole and grateful.

Tilenika continued walking along the trail, steadier now and moving with some sense of purpose but of what she wasn’t quite sure.  Memories of life on a samong floating community flooded her mind.  She saw herself running around the kiila floats.  She remembered swimming with the jumping kartans.  Tilenika could feel the water and smell the ocean spray and realized there were no mountains there.  She saw herself doing meingkha meditation with Ghemi, her father, as the samong rose and fell in the waves.  With each step, she grew more established in her body.  She moved easy, breathed deep and viewed the mountain tops around her with keen interest.


The first sentence is a bit jarring to me because it doesn’t seem to make sense. Vital forces moved in the shaping of form. To me, taking shape and taking form are the same thing, so I’m not sure what ‘moved in the shaping of form’ might mean, or what that might look like. I can’t visualize this. The next few sentences only shed a bit more light, and seem to say that a consciousness is going in and out of someone’s body. But I feel no connection or feelings from this consciousness as a character, so I’m having trouble caring what is happening here.

Also, at first, I was having trouble following if the consciousness was named Tilenika, or the body that the consciousness was possessing was named Tilenika. The second paragraph clears it up a bit, but then the consciousness seems to be getting acquainted with some stranger’s memories. So I wasn’t sure if the disembodied consciousness that had now taken over the girl had come with any memories of its own, or was devoid of any memories, any thoughts, or any feelings. And if that’s the case, I’m not sure why a reader would care about this floating consciousness. All in all, I was a bit confused by what was going on here, and no matter what, I had a difficult time connecting to the main character.



Talk tomorrow,



  1. I’d like to thank Marlo for her critique of my first page for VOTE FOR MAX. Her insight and advice helped me see what my manuscript needed. I’ve since revised my page, following Marlo’s guidelines, and I notice a huge difference in my story. Thank you, Kathy, for this post, and thank you, Marlo for your help.


  2. I enjoyed reading these first pages and really like the style of Marlo’s straightforward responses. Good thing since SHE’S MY AGENT 😀
    *tosses confetti* *passes out slices of cake*


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