The Magic Words

Interviews, Articles, and Reviews on THE MAGIC WORDS

I'm setting up this post as a one-stop-shop repository of all the interviews I've done for and writing I've been doing around The Magic Words, as well as the book's professional reviews. It will be updated as appropriate.

Interviews with Me

Writing by Me

Reviews of the Book

  • Time magazine: "Magic Words aims to be a master class. . . . Klein deconstructs the seemingly obvious (clear plotlines, sympathetic characters) to reveal the technical intricacies of beloved classics. . . . The Magic Words is more than a handbook. It is also a timely social commentary on the responsibility YA writers have to young adults."

  • The Washington Post: 'Above this bubbling stew of hope and ambition, Cheryl B. Klein floats like a craft-focused fairy godmother with “The Magic Words.” This book is a well-organized master class for serious writers seeking solid instruction.' 

  • Booklist magazine (starred review): "For anyone wishing to write for young readers, Klein's remarkable new book will be a sine qua non, an indispensable, authoritative guide to the act, art, and craft of creation." 

  • Library Journal magazine (starred review): "Wonderful . . . The volume also distinguishes itself from other similar titles with its wealth of exercises, each provocative, proven, and sure to write the ship . . . The new go-to guide for aspiring middle-grade and YA authors." 

  • Kirkus Reviews: "As executive editor at the Arthur A. Levine Books imprint of Scholastic, Klein has edited such well-regarded titles as Millicent Min, Girl Genius, by Lisa Yee (2003), Marcelo in the Real World, by Francisco X. Stork (2009), and If I Ever Get Out of Here, by Eric Gansworth (2013). With this substantial volume, she distills years of experience into an intensely practical, appealingly conversational manual."

  • Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana:  "Klein has plenty of experience with what does and doesn’t work in a book, but she admits in her intro that 'I’ve found writing a book on "how to write children’s and young adult fiction" as humbling and delightful as writing about "what humanity is like" or ‘how to live your life.”' It’s therefore with humor and generosity that she lays out an almost step-by-step guide to writing a children’s/YA book, offering advice, guidance, and exercises."

  • "This is the kind of straightforward and knowledgeable feedback that can take writers years to receive in the literary marketplace."

  • "Readers close the book smarter about story, craft, genre and format possibilities, children’s book literature and publishing, as well as smarter about themselves as writers."


A Wonderful Release Day, with Gratitude

The Magic Words was officially published today, and it's been a wonderful day, with messages from old friends and perfect strangers sharing their excitement about the book. I treated myself to a fine latte this morning (La Colombe on Lafayette St.); my coworkers brought cupcakes for our imprint meeting (Georgetown Cupcakes on Mercer); and I enjoyed quasi-bibimbap for dinner (Korilla on St. Mark's Place, where I previously ate on the Greatest Day Ever Excluding My Wedding Weekend*; this seems like a good celebratory habit).

I also sent out my monthly newsletter this morning (sign up at the bottom of the page here), and as the thanks in it will be eternal, I reproduce them below.

As a download of pretty much my entire editorial brain up to March 2016, The Magic Words is the product of every book I ever read, every class I took involving narrative, every conversation I had with friends analyzing our differing takes on a story. I have a long list of acknowledgments in the back, including my husband James and the Marlster, and I mean every word. But the book's actual existence in the world can be traced to six people in particular:

My grandfather, Philip Sadler. My late Papa was a professor of children's literature at what is now the University of Central Missouri, and the founder of its Children's Literature Festival. Thanks to his influence, I grew up with an endless supply of books and hungry for a literary life, which led to my study of literature in college and eventually my job at Scholastic. (I wrote about his influence on me at length in my talk here.) He paid for the design costs on Second Sight, and while he passed away before the final book was produced, he knew that it was dedicated to him. I keep the picture below in my office, taken for a librarians' magazine in, I think, 1983; our t-shirts say "WRITING IS HARRD WORK," and I'm grateful I was able to become a published writer, thanks to him.

My parents, Alan and Becky Klein. My mom and dad encouraged me to read, gave me the freedom to be my dorky book-loving self, and supported my education in Minnesota and my move to New York City (both big departures from Kansas City). When I self-published Second Sight, my mom became my warehouse manager, overseeing my stock of books and shipping them out as necessary for the last five and a half years. If there is such a thing as "parental privilege" -- the undeserved good luck of being born to terrific parents -- I have it in spades, and I'm endlessly grateful for their love and care. 

My boss, mentor, and friend, Arthur A. Levine. In August 2000, I came to New York to interview for publishing jobs, and the legendary Susan Hirschman of Greenwillow Books put me in touch with Arthur, who was seeking an editorial assistant. I had a terrible, terrible interview with him because I was so desperately nervous and (as a Harry Potter fan already) I wanted the job so much; but he recognized my nervousness and was kind enough to let me write some sample reader's reports, which won me the position. From Arthur I learned how to analyze a manuscript, take apart a picture book, communicate with authors, write a reject letter and flap copy, advocate for a project in-house -- all of the hundred little things editors do every day -- and I still learn from his bravery, his tenacity, and his absolute faith in beauty and the reader's emotional experience. (And he's an author too; look for his new picture book, Oh, What a Beautiful Morning!, illustrated by Katie Kath) For my editorial education and the opportunity to be a part of the publishing world, I'm grateful to Arthur. 

My agent, Brianne Johnson. Bri called me to pitch a manuscript in November 2014 and mentioned how much she liked Second Sight, and I blurted out something like, "Do you think you could sell a revision of it?" There was a brief pause where I knew exactly what was going through her brain: Hmm, good book, but self-published, so it's been out there.... No national distribution or e-book, a good platform, solid reviews.... All the thoughts a smart publishing person would have in assessing the project. Then she said, "Let's get together and talk about it," and that started a marvelous ongoing relationship. Bri has wide-ranging and excellent taste, an eye for the unconventional, and joyful enthusiasm, which is a useful counterbalance to a slightly diffident author like me. (Another one of her clients is also publishing a book today, my Scholastic co-worker Rafi Mittlefehldt, whose YA novel It Looks Like This is a 2016 Indies Introduce selection.) Bri's faith and encouragement literally made The Magic Words happen, and I'll always be grateful for that.  

My editor at W. W. Norton, Amy Cherry. I talked with three editors about The Magic Words, looking for someone who would be as tough on me as I can be on my authors, and when Amy said, "Oh, I'm very hands-on," I knew who I wanted to publish with. She line-edited the book in depth, pushed me to rewrite one troublesome essay multiple times, and with her design staff crafted a beautiful, perfect package for the book. For taking me on and talking me through my own book's publication, I'm grateful to Amy. 

If you read The Magic Words, please know that the hands, hearts, efforts, and minds of all of these people have touched the book and helped make it what it is. If you like it, remember them; if not, well, you can blame me entirely. I hope very much that you do enjoy it, and it will help you write your own good books down the line. Thank you, as always, for your time and attention.


* The Greatest Day Ever Excluding My Wedding Weekend was April 17, 2015, when I got a new iPhone 6; met Amy in person for the first time when we had lunch at my favorite restaurant, Balaboosta; ate at Korilla; and then, via the cancellation line, saw Hamilton at the Public Theatre, fourth row center, all original cast -- thanks to Melissa Anelli, with whom I afterward kvelled over the show with wine. Holy jeebus, that was a good day.  

Win a Full Manuscript Critique from Me!

The Magic Words is now one week out from publication, and to mark the event, I'm upping the stakes for preorders: If you submit proof of purchase, you'll be entered to win a full manuscript critique from me! I'll read your ms., write up editorial notes or have a phone consultation with you (your choice), and line-edit ten pages of the text. To be entered to win:

  1. Purchase The Magic Words from a retailer of your choice by 12:01 a.m. on 9/11/2016. (If you've already bought it, great!) You can buy it from:
    1. The Strand (Order here if you're planning to come to my launch event at the Strand on September 7.)
    2. Reader's World in Lee's Summit, MO (Order here if you're planning to come to my launch event in Kansas City on September 20.)
    3. In person at the Bookmarks Festival in Winston-Salem, NC, on September 10. 
    4. Amazon
    5. Barnes & Noble
    6. Indiebound
    7. Apple
    8. Powell's
  2. Take a picture or screenshot of your receipt and e-mail it to asterisk [dot] bks [at] gmail [dot] com with the subject line THE SQUIDS ARE COMING! [YOUR NAME] Do this by 12:01 a.m. on 9/12/2016. 
    1. (The subject line is a reference to a VERY old joke from my blog where I referred to submissions as SQUIDs, for Submissions, Queries, and Unidentified Interesting Documents.)
    2. Kindly do not be a smartass:  Change "[YOUR NAME]" to your actual name. 
  3. I'll hold the drawing a week later, on 9/19, and notify the winner shortly thereafter.
  4. Fine print:  This offer is entirely transferable if you want to give the opportunity to a friend. You do not have to have a completed ms. by 9/19; the ms. can be sent at a later date. I reserve the right to take four months from the day you send the ms. to read and respond. I will also happily critique manuscripts for adult readers, though it's not my expertise.
  5. The Preorder Question Offer also still applies! In short:  When you send me your e-mail, include any question you'd like to ask an editor, and I'll respond here or in my newsletter (which, hey, you can join at the bottom of this page).

want to get a taste of the book? Check out this excerpt, or the Booklist review

Thanks for your interest all around, and I hope you enjoy the book!

Upcoming Appearances

Many fun things are happening for The Magic Words in the next two months! You can find me at all of these events:

August 13-14:  Writer’s Digest Annual Conference in New York City. I’ll give a talk called “YA Fiction:  What It Is, Why It's Hot, and How to Break Through.” The Magic Words will be available for sale for the first time at the conference bookstore.

September 7, 7-8 p.m.:  The Strand Bookstore in New York City. I'll participate in a panel on writing and publishing great children’s and YA books with Alvina Ling, VP and Editor-in-Chief, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; Kass Morgan, author of The 100 series; Brooks Sherman, agent, the Bent Agency; and moderated by Eliot Schrefer, author of many excellent books, including the National Book Award nominees Endangered and Threatened. This will pretty much be the launch party for The Magic Words, so I'd be delighted if you were there!

September 10:  The BookMarks Festival in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. I’ll give a presentation on “Writing for Kids and Teens” and participate in two “Slush Pile Live” sessions (aka first page sessions), as well as doing a book signing. The festival is free, with a terrific lineup of authors, including Kate DiCamillo, Joseph Bruchac, Jacqueline Woodson, Lauren Tarshis, Sarah J. Maas and Renee Ahdieh, Victoria Schwab . . . It’ll be quite a day! (And somewhere in there, I’ll need to get barbecue.) Full schedule here.

September 13:  New York Metro SCBWI. I'll moderate a panel called “Crossing the Desk:  Editors Who Write," featuring Daniel Ehrenhaft, editorial director of Soho Teen and author of many YA novels, including The Wessex Papers; Andrea Davis Pinkney, editor-at-large, Scholastic Press, and author of many books for children, including A Poem for Peter:  The Story of Ezra Jack Keats; and Jill Santopolo, editorial director at Philomel Books/Penguin Random House, and author of two YA novels and many middle-grade books, including the Sparkle Spa series. Is it possible to separate the authorial and editorial mindsets—and if so, how? How does it feel for an editor to be edited, and what lessons have they taken from their publishing experiences? In this panel featuring four editors who write, we’ll discuss the pleasures and challenges of doing both kinds of creative work. You can buy tickets here.

September 20, 6-8 p.m.:  Cass County Library Northern Resource Center, 164 Cedar Tree Square, Belton, Mo. My hometown book launch will also be a fundraiser for the Cass County Public Library Foundation. (There may also be another event in Kansas City.)

September 21, 7 p.m.:  Left Bank Books, St. Louis, Missouri. I’ll give a presentation and sign books. 

September 27:  Park Slope Barnes and Noble in Brooklyn, New York. Presentation and signing.  

Welcome to the New, and My New Blog!

This new iteration of my website has been live for a few weeks now, but I just went through and cleaned up a few pages enough that I feel comfortable playing hostess here. Welcome, all! Have a cold drink and a warm appetizer. (Many thanks to the marvelous Julie Trelstad for creating the beauteous template you're now enjoying.) Here you can find information about my new book, The Magic Words; a little about me; old talks, and on this blog, new news. Such as:

  • The Magic Words is now available for preorder at any retailer of your choice! If you preorder, you can ask a question that I'll answer at length in my monthly newsletter or here. Details at the link. 
  • I'll be appearing at the Writer's Digest Conference in New York City August 11-14, talking about how to break into the YA market.
  • And I'll lead the SCBWI-Missouri Advanced Writers' Retreat in September.
  • Joanna Marple hosted a lovely interview with me at her blog, Miss Marple's Musings.
  • Kate Beaton was just named the Children's Choice illustrator of the Year for her book The Princess and the Pony!
  • And Daniel Jose Older's terrific, highly acclaimed, all-around awesome Shadowshaper is only $2.99 on pretty much every e-book platform right now. See Daniel's tweetstream here for details. 

We'll see if I return to blogging regularly -- promises on this front are usually trouble, I've found. But I am glad to have new digs.