Posted by: Kathy Temean | April 29, 2022

April Agent of the Month – Kayla Cichello – First Page Results

APRIL’S AGENT OF THE MONTH, KAYLA CICELLO AT UPSTART CROW 

Kayla Cichello brings to Upstart Crow Literary nearly a decade of experience in children’s publishing. A former Conference Coordinator for the Summer and Winter Conferences for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, she most recently logged several years as assistant to Senior Agent Jennifer Rofé at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. She is open to picture books through YA and illustrators, and is searching for those voices that make her laugh and keep the page turning. Some of her clients include author Ana Otaru, author of the upcoming MASQUERADE FOR GRANDPA (Atheneum/S&S, 2023) and author/illustrator Kirbi Fagan, illustrator of SUMMER OF THE TREE ARMY (Sleeping Bear, 2021).

Kayla is seeking everything from heartfelt or humorous picture books (she has a soft spot for animal protagonists) to dynamic, unpredictable YA (she loves a good murder mystery or a clever rom-com).

Kayla’s taste lies squarely in that sweet spot between commercial and literary, and she is looking for captivating voices and rich worldbuilding—whether it’s a seaside town in Maine or a fantastical other world. Kayla welcomes dark humor, suspense, magical realism, awkwardly adorable romance, and everything in-between.

She is not seeking sci-fi, horror, or high fantasy.

Kayla is also open to representing illustrators. Some of her favorite illustrators include Mike Boldt, Amber Ren, Vashti Harrison, and Eliza Wheeler.

Some favorite titles that provide a sense of her tastes:

Picture book: Penguin and Pinecone by Salina Yoon; Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds and Peter Brown; I Don’t Want to be a Frog by Dev Petty; Bad Dog by Mike Boldt

Middle grade: Merci Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina; The Year the Swallows Came Early by Katherine Fitzmaurice; Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed; The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Young adult: The Sea is Salt and So Am I by Cassandra Hartt; Dumplin by Julie Murphy; The Cost of All Things by Maggie Lehrman; To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han; The Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse

HOW TO SUBMIT TO KAYLA:

Please put your query and sample in the body of the email. We will not open emailed attachments.
Author/illustrators: NB—Please include a link to your online portfolio and/or to your downloadable dummy. (Thank you!)
Email a QUERY and TWENTY PAGES of your manuscript to: kayla.submission@gmail.com.

*******

HERE ARE THE FOUR FIRST PAGE CRITQUES FROM KAYLA:

THE SILVER FLAME by Nina Snyder – MG Fantasy

My cousin and I wandered from booth to booth at the Pink Moon Fair when a glint of silver caught my eye.

“I’ll be right back,” I said.

I stopped at the booth filled with silver jewelry from the land of Argentum. Rings spread out on a black velvet cloth winked in the spring sun, alongside earrings and necklaces fashioned out of hammered silver. The peddler tugged at her salt-and-pepper curls as I approached the table.

“What is your name, dearie?” she asked.

“Laryssa.”

“Try on some of my silver rings, Laryssa. For you, I’ll only charge a lock of hair.”

“No, I can pay with my allowance,” I said.

I slipped off my sapphire ring, tucking it into my coin purse for safety. I tried on a wide silver band, but the ring felt too loose. I held up another ring, admiring its design of interlocking circles. When I tried on the second ring, it fit perfectly. A sense of ease flowed through me, as if the silver were a living creature instead of worthless metal.

I held out my left hand, examining the simple elegance of the ring. I bit my lip as I considered my purchase.

Rumors about the power of silver magic swirled around the Magick Academy and the five lands of the Gemstone Kingdom, but I had always dismissed them as fiction.

KAYLA’S CRITIQUE:

This is such an interesting opening, and I appreciate that you place us in the action right from the start. One challenge with starting like this, however, is that this world is brand new to the reader and if they don’t have a solid footing in the world and how this world works, then it’s easy for the reader to get confused. Worldbuilding is so tricky, yet so necessary. For example, we don’t have any exposition in this opening page about Laryssa, about the Pink Moon Festival or about the magic in this world. What is Laryssa’s place in this society? Is she popular or an outcast? What are the rumors about silver magic? How does the magic work in this world? What is the Pink Moon Festival and why is it important? These types of details are important to set up in the opening page so that we know who our protagonist is and where we are starting in the story.

Keep writing, and thanks for sharing this with me!

*******

ZELDA THE CIRCUS DOG by Wendy Parciak – MG Fantasy / Chapter 1. 

Agoraphobia: fear of open spaces. Hey, if a crate of frozen fish fell from a plane onto your tire swing when you were nine, you’d make a point of spending as little time outside as possible, too.

Everyone knows bulldogs don’t speak. I mean, they hardly even bark. So why’d that hefty old Zelda in the yard next door say “car” just as I was diving into the back seat? The rumor was that she once performed in a circus, but all she could do was balance a ball on her nose. Or so I thought.

I cracked the door to see if Zelda was actually trying to converse. Kinda hard to tell on a creature with such a horrible underbite that her incisors didn’t fit inside her mouth. Her nostrils whiffled moistly between the fence slats. And yeah. Her droopy jowls tightened and her lower jaw thrust forward every time she finished her weird growly word.

Don’t be a wuss, Leo. You’re imagining it. That’s what Omar would say. Best buds forever, despite my frequent freakouts. I could probably crack him up—and definitely everyone else in seventh grade—blathering on about a talking dog. Of course Zelda couldn’t really speak. Maybe this was the first stage of cynophobia. Fear of dogs. One of the few things I’d thought was totally harmless. I mean, I loved dogs. I opened the door an eighth of an inch.

“Car!” Zelda said in a deep baritone.

I slammed the door shut, but I could still hear her muffled grunts. Had a lifetime of battling phobias made me totally lose it? The first rising of panic started in its usual place—the front of my neck. A slow strangling, like fingers slipping around the sides, gripping tighter and tighter…

A sharp crack from above the moon roof made me fling my head back. Frozen fish again? Not twice in three years! My heart jackhammered itself into my spine.

KAYLA’S CRITIQUE:

This is an intriguing opening, and I love all the details you’ve infused about Zelda. A challenge I see is that we don’t have enough expositional context to know who our protagonist is or where we are entering the story. For example, why is Leo jumping into the backseat of a car? Is he hiding from someone? Why are we starting here? What details can you add in about Leo and why he’s in this situation? I can imagine we are in for a zany ride, but can you make this opening more grounded so that the reader can have a solid footing entering the story?

Keep writing, and thanks for sharing this with me!

*******

IF WISHES WERE HORSES by Suzanne Morrone    YA contemporary

Sadie knows she looks ridiculous waving to the car that’s already out of sight, but she can’t seem to stop. Annalise was her only friend, and the house she lived in was Sadie’s sanctuary, a place she could run to when things got out of hand at home. She gives the house one last longing glance but the red for sale sign is proof, this part of her life is over. There’s no time to feel sorry for herself, though. She has too much to do.

Walking home from the store she reminds herself that some animals live their entire lives in one small tidepool, while others come and go with the cycles of waves washing in and out. She hefts the heavy grocery bag, and sighs. Why should things be any different for humans? She’s destined to live only here, while others leave or arrive, then leave again following their own ebb and flow.

She unlatches the huge iron gate to her apartment. The familiar screech mimics the mounting anxiety she feels every time she enters the courtyard. Every time she comes home.

The bougainvillea’s neon flowers dip over the arch of the stairway. Hummingbirds dart everywhere sipping from the riot of plants lining the stone walkways. The scent of baking chocolate mingles with the flower’s perfume and Sadie pauses, closes her eyes and searches for the gratitude she knows she should feel. Rose is singing to herself, her voice rising and falling, as it drifts down from their upstairs apartment.

The muscles tighten in Sadie’s neck, her head pounds. Today has already been a shit-show. Why would anything be different at home this afternoon? Is it ever? Mom’s either here, drinking, or working at the bar (and drinking), and her much older sister, who used to look out for her, is, well, Rose.

Sadie trudges up the stairs, the grocery bag and her heavy backpack weighting her down.

Instead of turning left to head for her wing of their apartment house, she turns right, aiming for

KAYLA’S CRITIQUE:

Your writing is quite nice, and I appreciate all the details you’ve weaved into a single opening page. You’ve created an intriguing setup here, and given the reader a reason to keep turning the page. I do wonder if there is room in this opening to give the reader more details about our protagonist? And, could this opening be more active? For example, do we see her and Sadie have a moment before she drives away? Is there a secret code word they yell to each other? Does Sadie make her laugh one last time? Can you show the reader that this relationship is starkly different from those with her own family, rather than tell the reader?

Keep writing, and thanks for sharing this with me!

*******

HALF-TRUTHS by Carol Baldwin   –   Middle Grade

Bright headlights stab the dusk and an ear-piercing siren shrieks its harsh voice. A loudspeaker blares, “Watch out! This is the Resurrection of the Carolinas KKK!”

Goosebumps run up and down my arms. I push my way through the sidewalk crowded with farmers and their families. Where is Papaw?

“Hey there, Katie.” My grandfather shouts over the man with the loudspeaker, who keeps repeating himself. Papaw glances up at the string of slow-moving automobiles snaking its way down Railroad Street. He doesn’t look one bit upset. “We got ourselves some visitors tonight, now don’t we?”

Did he know the KKK was coming? Why didn’t he tell us?

The Saturday night shoppers hush like an invisible hand has shut their mouths. Kids stop sucking their candy sticks. Wives grab their husband’s arms. Men shield their eyes as if the bright light creeping toward us is the noon-day sun. It’s something I’d heard about but never seen with my own two eyeballs—a two-foot-tall electric red cross stuck onto the lead car.

I look around for Daddy, but he must still be finishing up at Smith’s Hardware.

Or, maybe he doesn’t want to witness the KKK invading our town.

Mr. Carter comes out of the Tabor City Tribune with a note pad in hand. Without wasting a minute, he starts writing. His head bobs up and down as he looks at the slow-moving automobiles and then down at his note pad. I dig in my pocket for a paper and pencil, but find only a stub. Shoot! If I’m going to be a journalist like Mr. Carter, I better be ready when something big happens.

The car draws closer and I see three scary large red letters scrawled across the windshield. “KKK.” I don’t need a piece of paper to write that down.

KAYLA’S CRITIQUE:

This is an intriguing opening, and I’m curious to know more about where this story goes. I wonder if there is room here to give the reader more context to where we are starting in the story and who our protagonist is. For example, is this set in present day? Or some other time period? It’s not quite clear because there are details like Mr. Carter using a notepad and pencil, and the use of the word automobiles, which doesn’t read like a contemporary story. We also don’t get much of Katie’s emotion in this opening. Is she frightened? Is she intrigued at a potential story? Is the KKK something she’s heard her Papaw speak of? Details like these are ways to give the reader a solid footing in the story.

Keep writing, and thank you for sharing with me.

*******

Kayla, thank you for sharing your time and expertise with us. We really appreciated you reading the four first pages. We can all learn from your thoughts. Keep in touch. Thanks again!

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Responses

  1. I enjoyed reading these first pages and Kayla’s thoughts. I just finished my first YA, and I’m now revising it. I hope to be brave like these authors and submit my First Pages soon!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So interesting to read Kayla’s first page comments. These are so helpful as windows into an agent’s thinking. I noticed that in each case, she thought more context or explanation was necessary. Curious how to do this without bogging down the first page with TMI. Is it okay to leave some things unexplained in the opening scenes?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for Kayla’s critique of my first page. As Kathleen mentioned, she does seem to look for more context in each author’s first page. I wonder about leaving bread crumbs so that reader follows them to get more explanations/details as the story unfolds.

    Liked by 1 person


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