chasingthecrazies

Chasing my crazy dream in the writing world…

FIRED UP FRIDAY: An incredible publishing journey from Laura Heffernan November 11, 2016

 

In a Monday Musings post a few weeks ago I talked about how too often we see negativity in the writing community. I’m tired of opening social media and seeing authors tear each other down when we should really be building one another up. Supporting each other.

 

With that idea in mind, I reached out to some friends who have had AMAZING publishing journeys and asked that they share (in their own words!) what they went through before they saw their publishing dream realized.

 

My hope is that these posts will light a fire in each and every writer who may be struggling. Who wonder if they can take another month in the query trenches. Or those feeling low from being on submission for what feels like forever. Each post will be proof that if you hold onto that dream, it CAN and WILL come true.

 

 

 

Fired Up Friday – A Post By Laura Heffernan

 

 

Publishing is a roller coaster. Sometimes it feels like there are more downs than ups. Sometimes it feels like you’re stuck, waiting for everyone else to get on or off before you can move at all. Compared to some people, my journey may look like riding It’s a Small World After All. Compared to others, it was a race through Space Mountain. Sometimes I felt like I was spinning on the teacups (and trying not to throw up). And that is one reason everyone will tell you not to compare yourself to other writers. It doesn’t help.

 

 

In October 2013, I started to write the manuscript that would become AMERICA’S NEXT REALITY STAR. My book debuts on March 7, 2017 – three and a half years after I wrote the first words (which have long since been deleted and replaced).

 

 

I’m a fast writer. I started querying in December 2013. Little did I realize that this was a terrible idea, because everyone was querying their unedited NaNoWriMo projects, and while I’d read through my manuscript a couple of times, I didn’t know what a critique partner was. I didn’t have beta readers. No one else read it. And, shockingly – none of the agents I sent it to wanted to read it, either. But, I started researching. I joined Twitter. I met other writers, and that’s where I found out there were contests for writers who were looking for agents. One of the writers I met in that very first contest is a dear friend and critique partner today. One of them is an agent sister.

 

 

Anyway, by some miracle, when I entered Sun vs. Snow that January, Michelle Hauck picked me as an alternate and decided to host a query critique workshop on her blog. This was where–while hanging off a balcony to read my email in Mexico at my sister’s wedding–I learned that I needed to swap with people, get opinions, grow. That was also how I learned how to write. Not just through getting critiques, but from reading and critiquing other people’s work.

 

 

People didn’t like my main character, so I revised. I scrapped the beginning, swapped with a new critique partner…and got an email three days later that it was so boring, she couldn’t read it. That was it. No suggestions on how to fix it. No commentary on the scene beyond the one she objected to. Nothing. Back to the drawing board. I did #CPMatch and I found someone to help me. In March, I entered another query contest. Like the first contest, I sat glued to Twitter while slush readers tweeted out hints. One of them mentioned my plot and said they didn’t like it. Ouch. Even though there were multiple readers choosing for multiple blogs, it hurt. My critique partner got in, but I didn’t. After the picks went up, another reader told me that my main character–who I’d spent many, many hours editing to make nicer and more likeable–was a doormat. Oops. Apparently, I went too far in trying to make her likeable. The most frustrating part was that I knew once people got into the story, it was good. I just couldn’t manage to get to the part people wanted to read.

 

 

Finally, finally, finally, I got a beginning that seemed to work. In April 2014, I was chosen for NestPitch. I got no agent requests. But I had a decent query and a better beginning, and I finally started getting requests from regular queries. I started to feel pretty good. Then I entered Query Kombat, where I was wiped out 7-0 in Round 2. I still haven’t gotten over the judge who said she liked my book, would prefer to read it over the other one – but she was voting for the other entry. No, I don’t know why.

 

 

Not so much a nice ride on the Monorail, is it? (At some point in this blog, I decided I was publishing at Disneyland. Sorry. Just go with it.)

 

 

Anyway, I got some great feedback from Query Kombat, and in July, I got not one, but two agent offers. That was awesome. Savor those small victories. (Side note: I later made a spreadsheet so I could check off the little things as I achieved them. Sometimes we need the reminder of how far we’ve come.) It wasn’t that I queried for an excessively long time, but there were a lot more downs than ups on that road. Over the course of about 7 months, I sent 67 queries.

 

 

Finding an agent gave me newfound faith in myself. Things were great. I was the first person in my small group of writing friends to get an agent. Once we did some revisions, I was so jazzed up, I was certain we’d get a quick sale to a Big 5 publisher – maybe even at auction! Yeah… not so much. Rejections trickled in, most of them the same. Editors liked the book, but didn’t want to buy it. It wasn’t big enough. (I still don’t know what that means, and I’ve heard it about a quadrillion times.) No feedback.

 

 

And then, around the time my critique partners started getting offers from agents, my agent stepped down, and I was transferred within the agency. I was thrilled to work with the other agent (who gets me in ways I never dreamed, even when I’m being weird), but at the same time, I wondered – if my book were better, if it had sold faster, if it had been something editors wanted to read, would my first agent have stayed? (Yes, I know this is stupid but it came on the heels of someone I queried with getting a three book deal despite going on sub after me and another friend getting buckets of money thrown at him after less than a week after his book went out so I was just a swirl of nasty emotions. Plus, it was January. It was dark, it was gross outside, I work from home, and I basically was miserable.) I found out around the same time that every editor who had my book during the first round of sub had turned it down. It had been out several months at that point, so I kind of figured, but – it hurt.

 

 

Anyway, I started working with my new agent. My poor, wonderful agent who had to deal with the stress ball I’d turned into when she hadn’t even subbed my book yet. I spent probably 4 months wondering if someone made her sign me, or if she only took me because she felt sorry for me. (My agent is lovely and wonderful and did nothing to cause any of these feelings. I was just really down, and nothing was picking me up.) We did more revisions, the book went out again and… we waited. We waited and waited and waited. Waiting is agony. Still, we got no useful rejections. No useable feedback. Nothing.

 

 

All this time, in the background, I kept writing. An entire manuscript while querying. A third right after my book went out on submission. A fourth started in January, much darker than any of the others. A fifth started in the summer. A sixth, two weeks after my one-year anniversary on sub. That last one…. doesn’t even make any sense. I wouldn’t begin to know how to fix it, and it’s not even worth trying. I was just in the wrong place to write it.

 

 

Finally, in January 2016, we decided it was time to call it. My agent nudged the editors reading for the last time, and we turned to editing what I thought was the most marketable book I’d finished during the last year and a half (I write fast. We had too many options). While my agent was compiling a sub list–seventeen months after the first submission went out, only days before we planned to start trying to sell something else–she got an offer. When I got an email from her, I actually checked to see if it was April Fool’s Day.

 

 

But it wasn’t! We had an offer. Finally. Then I had to be quiet and keep it all a secret for almost three months until I was allowed to announce it. But now I can happily say that AMERICA’S NEXT REALITY STAR will be the first book in a three-book series, coming from Kensington’s Lyrical Shine on March 7, 2017, with SWEET REALITY and an untitled book to follow. Sometimes I still pinch myself when I get an email from my editor. I’m thrilled with the way things worked out.

 

 

 

AMERICA’S NEXT REALITY STAR

 

SEEKING THE SMART ONE

 

Twenty-four-year-old Jen Reid had her life in good shape: an okay job, a tiny-cute Seattle apartment, and a great boyfriend almost ready to get serious. In a flash, it all came apart. Single, unemployed, and holding an eviction notice, who has time to remember trying out for a reality show? Then the call comes, and Jen sees her chance to start over—by spending her summer on national TV.

 

Luckily The Fishbowl is all about puzzles and games, the kind of thing Jen would love even if she wasn’t desperate. The cast checks all the boxes: cheerful, quirky Birdie speaks in hashtags; vicious Ariana knows just how to pout for the cameras; and corn-fed “J-dawg” plays the cartoon villain of the house. Then there’s Justin, the green-eyed law student who always seems a breath away from kissing her. Is their attraction real, or a trick to get him closer to the $250,000 grand prize? Romance or showmance, suddenly Jen has a lot more to lose than a summer . . .

 

 

 

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AMERICA’S NEXT REALITY STAR is forthcoming from Kensington/Lyrical Shine on March 7, 2017.

Pre-order today!

AmazonBarnes & Noble | Kobo | Google Play | Apple iBooks

 

 

 

44vc7pg3_400x400Laura Heffernan is living proof that watching too much TV can pay off: AMERICA’S NEXT REALITY STAR, the first book in the REALITY STAR series, is coming from Kensington’s Lyrical Press in March 2017. When not watching total strangers participate in arranged marriages, drag racing queens, or cooking competitions, Laura enjoys travel, baking, board games, helping with writing contests, and seeking new experiences. She lives in the northeast with her amazing husband and two furry little beasts.

 

 

Some of Laura’s favorite things include goat cheese, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Battlestar Galactica, the Oxford comma, and ice cream. Not all together. The best place to find her is usually on Twitter, where she spends far too much time tweeting about writing, Canadian chocolate, and reality TV. Follow her @LH_Writes or visit her website, http://www.lauraheffernan.com/

 

 

Laura is represented by Michelle Richter at Fuse Literary.

 

 

W.O.W. – Writer Odyssey Wednesday with Sarah Henson October 5, 2016

 

 

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Every writer has their own path to publication. Some paths are long and winding. Others are a straight shot. No matter the tale, the journey always involves ups and downs, caution signs, and for some, serious roundabouts, but what always remains is the writer’s commitment to their craft and their enduring dream to see their work on bookshelves one day.

 

 

In bringing you the W.O.W. series, I hope as a writer you will learn that no dream is unfounded. That with time, patience, perseverance, and commitment to your craft, it is possible to cross that finish line and share your story with the world.

 

 

Today, I am pleased to share Sarah Henson’s writing journey…

 

 

 

 

Amy: When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

 

Sarah: I’m one of those people who has always wanted to be a writer. I wrote my first story when I was four. My grandmother used to read James Herriot’s children’s books to me (specifically, THE CHRISTMAS DAY KITTEN and THE MARKET SQUARE DOG), and I decided I was going to be the American James Herriot. I wanted to be a veterinarian, lion-tamer, ballerina, and astronaut—all concurrently, of course—and write about my experiences. Writer turns out to be the only profession that stuck!

 

 

 

Amy: Your book tackles some important issues and has dark themes. What inspired you to write DEVILS WITHIN?

 

Sarah: I’m sad to say that DEVILS WITHIN was inspired by real events. I read an article about a ten-year-old boy shooting his white supremacist leader father, and all I could think was “what has to happen to a kid to reach that point, especially so young?” and “how do you come back from something like that?” So I started doing research, learning how hate groups recruit and operate and why people join them. I’m from the south, the breeding ground of the KKK, so I’m no stranger to racism, but I never understood what draws someone to that kind of hate.

 

The more I learned, the more the main character, Nate, took shape in my mind. I wanted others to see how easy it is to get stuck doing the wrong thing, how important it is to form your own opinions and beliefs, not just the ones you’ve grown up hearing, and how it’s never too late to change.

 

 

 

Amy: I read in your bio that you are an attorney. Did any of your legal background help with writing this book?

 

Sarah: Definitely! I spent the beginning of my career practicing criminal defense and appeals, and family law, which absolutely come into play in DEVILS WITHIN. It helped knowing how long trials actually last (much longer than Law and Order would lead you to believe!), and some the laws regarding minors’ rights. But I would say the piece of my legal background that helped most was knowing how to research. Also contrary to legal TV shows, most of being an attorney is effectively researching and writing.

 

The majority of the information that helped shape this book came from the Southern Poverty Law Center (www.splcenter.org). They have amazing resources such as their hate map, which shows every hate group across the country (currently 892 hate groups in the US), as well as an updated list of hate incidents. Every hate incident in the book is based on something that actually occurred. I went to law school in Montgomery, Alabama, where the SPLC is located, so it helped knowing that resource was available.

 

 

 

Amy: Are you one of those people who had an easy time writing a query or did it take several tries before you landed on your final version?

 

Sarah: I’m one of those weird writers who actually kind of enjoys writing a query letter. When I started getting serious about writing, I spent a lot of time reading the Query Shark archives and reading and critiquing in Absolute Write’s Query Letter Hell. I learned more by reading other people’s queries than I ever could have by posting my own—both queries that worked and those that didn’t.

 

I also liked to write the query before I wrote the book. It seems backwards, but I found it’s easier to focus on the main plot and tension when that’s all you have, before you muddy the book with subplots and side characters. I’d go back and edit once I finished the book, and then post in QLH for outside opinions because your brain is really good at filling in plot or logic gaps. So I went through 3-4 drafts before landing on a version I was happy with.

 

I think the main thing to remember when query drafting is that you’re never going to please everyone. There were always people who hated my queries, even the one that landed my agent. The main goal of a query is to entice an agent to read more. Once you’re happy with it, send it!

 

 

 

Amy: Do you work with critique partners? If so, how do they help shape your stories?

 

Sarah: Absolutely! Good critique partners are invaluable! My CPs have pointed out logic flaws, plot problems, and character inconsistencies—things I tend to miss because I’m too close to the story. CPs are also wonderful at keeping me motivated. I like to break the rules and edit as I write (if I wait until the end, I get too overwhelmed at all the work that needs to be done and start procrastinating), so I send chapters to my CPs in installments. Nothing motivates me to keep writing like someone clamoring for the next chapters. And like I said with queries, reading other writers’ work has improved my own writing. It’s always easier to spot a flaw in someone else’s story, which often leads me to uncovering the same kind of problems in my own. My CPs are some truly talented writers. Reading their beautiful words has pushed me to be a better writer.

 

 

 

Amy: From beginning (first draft) to end (signing contract), how long was the process of getting a deal for DEVILS WITHIN?

 

Sarah: I wrote the first words of DEVILS WITHIN way back in the beginning of March 2014. It’s kind of shocking to look back through my drafts and realize how long it’s been! I worked on it for over a year—the longest it’s ever taken me to draft a novel. It went through about seven drafts before landing on the final version in May 2015 when my agent thought it was ready to go on submission.

 

We subbed to the first round of editors in May and had several close calls, but no bites. In October 2015, we went out on a second round. Around mid-November, an editor sent my agent a very excited email gushing about how much she was loving the book. The whole process from that first email to an offer took about three months. Then finally, on January 14, I got THE email. An offer!! Details were finalized and the announcement went out on February 4, but I didn’t sign the contract until July 2016. It’s one of those weird quirks of publishing that no one tells you about until you’re in the middle of it, but it’s more like buying a house than a car. I also review publishing contracts for a living, and I’ve seen contracts that weren’t signed until the book was through edits and ready for production! So if that happens to you, it’s totally normal! All told, DEVILS WITHIN took about two and a half years from idea to signed contract.

 

 

 

Amy: As most writers know, publishing is a very difficult business. What was the one thing you think you did to garner agent interest?

 

Sarah: I did the only things that were within my control: wrote the best book I could, and kept a good attitude. So much of this business relies on luck and timing. The only parts of it we really have any say over is how we write, and how we act. If either of those two components are missing, you’re going to have a harder time getting agent interest.

 

 

 

Amy: What can you tell us about “your call” with your agent, Mandy Hubbard? How did you know she was the right fit for you?

 

Sarah: Oh man, I was SO nervous during The Call! I’m much better in writing, which is actually one way I knew Mandy was a good fit for me, because she initially offered through email. That may sound silly, but it made me comfortable from the outset. I’d heard plenty of agent horror stories, so I had a list of things I was looking for in an agent. Someone I was comfortable with, who understood my writing and what I was trying to do, who could push me to be the best writer I could be, and who knew the industry and could help me achieve my dreams.

 

I’d already gotten a glimpse of how Mandy worked. She’d requested a Revise and Resubmit on the manuscript I initially queried. She was super excited about my book and had all these ideas for ways to make it better. She sent a 6 page edit letter! It was daunting, but also invigorating. She saw what I was trying to do with the story and helped me elevate it. I loved how hands on she was, and even though I was nervous during The Call, she put me totally at ease. I clicked with her instantly and haven’t looked back. Four years later and I’m still confident I made the right decision!

 

 

 

Amy: If you were doing a book signing and met a writer who was about to give up on their publishing dream, what would you say to them? 

 

Sarah: Publishing is about tenacity. I thought about giving up so many times. It’s easy to look around and see other writers’ successes and get discouraged. But their path to publication is not your path, and what you don’t always see—what we’re not so great at talking about—is other writers’ failures.

 

So here are my failures: DEVILS WITHIN may be my debut novel, but it’s not my first novel; it’s my fifth. I wrote two manuscripts that were absolute garbage before writing the one that landed my agent. And that one still didn’t sell. Neither did the next one. It took those four failed manuscripts, though, for me to free myself up to write the one that did sell. Over 120 rejections from agents and editors before one agent and one editor said yes. DEVILS WITHIN will release almost exactly 9 years from the day I started writing my first novel, and 30 years after I declared I wanted to be a writer.

 

If publishing is truly your dream, you can’t give up. It doesn’t matter how many years it takes, or how many rejections you receive. I’ve learned from each manuscript I’ve written, and I’m still learning and growing. Much like the Goonies, writers never say die.

 

 

 

 

s-f-henson-author-photoS.F. Henson was born and raised in the deep south. She graduated from Auburn University with a degree in Animal Science, which she put to great use by attending law school. Her law degree has gotten some mileage, though, giving her the experience to write about criminals and other dark, nefarious subjects. She lives beside a missile test range in Huntsville, Alabama with her husband, dog, two oddly named cats, and, of course, the missiles that frequently shake her house. For more on Sarah, check out her website or follow her on Twitter (@sfhwrites) or Facebook.

 

W.O.W. – Writer Odyssey Wednesday with Tracey Neithercott September 21, 2016

 

 

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Every writer has their own path to publication. Some paths are long and winding. Others are a straight shot. No matter the tale, the journey always involves ups and downs, caution signs, and for some, serious roundabouts, but what always remains is the writer’s commitment to their craft and their enduring dream to see their work on bookshelves one day.

 

 

In bringing you the W.O.W. series, I hope as a writer you will learn that no dream is unfounded. That with time, patience, perseverance, and commitment to your craft, it is possible to cross that finish line and share your story with the world.

 

 

Today, I am pleased to share Tracey Neithercott’s writing journey…

 

 

 

 

Amy: When did you first begin seriously writing with the intent of wanting to be published?

 

 

Tracey: About the time my parents shot down my acting dream (“You want to end up a drug addict?”), I realized I wanted to write for publication. Journalism seemed like the best way to do that because A) I enjoyed it and B) I’d gotten it into my head that only the special people wrote books. Like, people with talent handed down from the gods or something. I was well into my career as a magazine editor and writer when I dared to give fiction writing a go.

 

 

 

 

Amy: How many completed YA manuscripts did you query before one garnered interest?

 

 

Tracey: Two. I’m one of those people who collects piles of information before she ever makes a move, so before querying my first novel, ALIVE, I read just about everything the Internet had to say about publishing and querying.

 

(That’s a lie. If I did that, I would never have finished my book.)

 

I queried that book and got a surprisingly great response considering what I now think of it. But while I was querying those agents, I was also writing. By the time I’d sent out 10 queries for ALIVE, I’d fallen in love with THE MURDER MYTH. So I stopped querying ALIVE and finished THE MURDER MYTH. That’s the one that landed me my agent, Sarah LaPolla.

 

 

 

 

Amy: How laborious/frustrating was the query process for you?

 

 

Tracey: It was … not the most fun process. I developed a somewhat disturbing dependence on my Agents list on Twitter. It wasn’t pretty.

 

That said, what got me through it was focusing on my next WIP. A week after sending a query, I was able close my mind to the old book and focus on the new. The key is to always keep looking forward. So when it’s time to shelve a book, you have a brand spankin’ new one that you’re even more excited about.

 

 

 

 

Amy: From beginning (first draft) to end (signing contract), how long was the process of getting a deal for GRAY WOLF ISLAND?

 

 

Tracey: A little over a year. I started writing GRAY WOLF ISLAND when I was querying THE MURDER MYTH. It was an agonizing first draft. I think it took me about 20 billion times longer to write GRAY WOLF ISLAND than either of my previous two books.

 

I was still writing GRAY WOLF ISLAND when I signed with my agent (because for a while there I was never not writing GRAY WOLF ISLAND). I was still writing GRAY WOLF ISLAND when I went on submission with THE MURDER MYTH. If my life were a movie, there would’ve been a really fun montage with uplifting music at this point.

 

About the time my agent brought up doing a second round of submissions for THE MURDER MYTH, I finished my first draft of GRAY WOLF ISLAND. I knew two things: 1) I was by far the slowest writer in the universe and 2) this was a million times better than THE MURDER MYTH.

 

So I decided not to do another round of submissions. (Title of my memoir: Am I a Quitter or Do I Just Follow My Gut?) Instead, I revised GRAY WOLF ISLAND, which was a surprisingly quick process. I did another quick round of revisions with Sarah before we went on submission with it.

 

That was January 2016. By early March, I had an offer. It was shocking how fast it all happened once the book was written. (Also, in case you’re curious: In the time it took me to write the book, I revised it twice, sold it, signed my contract, and even received my edit letter from my editor.)

 

 

 

 

Amy: What one thing are you looking forward to most as a debut author? 

 

 

Tracey: Hearing from a reader who loved by my book. At least, I’m really, really hoping that happens!

 

 

 

 

 

Amy: What was your “call” like with Sarah LaPolla? How did you know she was the right agent for you?

 

 

Tracey: Oh goodness—it’s mostly a blur. I think I spent the entire call only partially listening to her because the rest of me was in full-on freakout mode.

 

What I loved about Sarah from the start was that she believes in my writing. She liked it with the first manuscript I sent her, even if the book on a whole wasn’t a good fit. I immediately got the sense that regardless of what I wrote next, she’d champion it.

 

Our working styles also really clicked. I prefer email (much to my mother’s disappointment), and Sarah mentioned that email was her preference, too. That said, she’s super open to chatting on the phone when we need to discuss an idea or my revisions.

 

 

 

 

Amy: What one piece of writing advice did you receive early on in your career that you still use today?

 

 

Tracey: Here’s a crazy concept I learned just before I wrote my first story: Unwritten novels don’t sell. I mean, I suppose they do if you’re J.K. Rowling. But the rest of us actually need to write the book first. As someone who really struggles with fear while drafting (My characters are flat! My plot is missing! My idea is the worst of the worst!), I’m constantly reminding myself that there’s nothing to a book without words on the page.

 

 

 

 

 

tracey-neithercott-fullTracey Neithercott’s first book was written by hand and illustrated with some really fancy colored pencils. It was highly acclaimed by her mother. Now, she writes YA stories of friendship, love, murder, and magic. (None of which she illustrates—you’re welcome.) She lives in Massachusetts with her husband, who suggests improving her novels by adding Star Wars characters.

 

She is the author of GRAY WOLF ISLAND (Knopf, Fall 2017), a YA novel about the truth, a treasure, and five teens searching for both. For more on Tracey, head to her website, or follow her on Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads, and Facebook.

 

MONDAY MUSINGS: ON #PITCHWARS AND WHY YOU SHOULD ALWAYS KEEP WRITING August 22, 2016

 

 

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Being a part of the PitchWars mentor community over the last several weeks has been an amazing experience. Not only is it great to connect with so many dedicated and intelligent writers, but it’s moving to see these same people fiercely committed to helping a writer find success in the publishing world.

 

 

As I’ve scrolled through the PitchWars tag, I’ve watched hopeful mentees participate in the games, look for critique partners, yet also share their uncertainty about their work. What I think is incredible is the number of other hopefuls who join in and try to lift others up. This is what is important about the PitchWars community. It’s not battling against one another for the attention of a mentor, but supporting each other through the process.

 

 

Writing can be a very lonely business. Unless you’re getting together regularly with a group, most of us spend hours alone in a room trying to create some brilliant world. There’s no cheering section for when you get through a saggy middle, or a round of applause when you type “The End.” It’s just you, hoping and praying that what’s on the page will make it into readers’ hands one day.

 

 

To this point, I want to say that being in any contest can be both a happy and sad experience. Happy because you’re connecting with other writers, yet sad because your manuscript may not get chosen. Not getting chosen is not a reason to stop writing. PitchWars is one contest in a myriad of contests available during the year. It’s easy to get down on yourself, to want to give up, but I beg you not to let your story go. Take some time. Lick your wounds. And then, get right back to it.

 

 

Many of us mentors were in contests and we’re NEVER picked. Many of us spent years in the query trenches. Many of us found our agent through the slush pile. There are many paths to publishing. The only way you will NOT be successful is if you STOP WRITING.

 

 

So if you’re a potential mentee, or considering participating in a contest in the future, don’t let an unfavorable outcome be a roadblock for you. Use it as a mere stepping stone along your path. Use it to meet other writers. Improve your craft. Once you’re ready, get back to your computer, settle in, and go back to work. It is those who keep trying who eventually reach their dream.

 

 

QUITE THE QUERY: Gwen Katz and AMONG THE RED STARS August 17, 2016

 

QuiteTheQuery

 

 

 

 

If you ask any writer about the process of connecting with their agent (or publisher), the majority will say the most difficult part was querying. Not only the actual process of sending out the letters/emails, but formulating the query itself. In fact, I’ve heard more than a few authors say writing their query took them almost as long as drafting their book!

 

 

Some people have the talent of being able to summarize their book in a few sentences, but for those who don’t I wanted to provide a resource where writers could learn what works, and what doesn’t, in a query.

 

 

With that in mind, I’m pleased to share today’s successful query from Gwen Katz. This great query connected her with her agent, Thao Le.

 

 

 

Eighteen-year-old tomboy Valya and the boy next door, Pasha, breathlessly follow the adventures of Soviet air navigator Marina Raskova. When World War II breaks out and Valya discovers that Raskova is getting airwomen into combat, she’s first in line. Valya hopes to become a fighter pilot, but Raskova assigns her to the night bombers. Instead of a high-tech Yak-1, Valya ends up flying a wood and canvas biplane no faster than a car.

 

 

On the front, Valya braves anti-air guns, blinding searchlights, and deadly Luftwaffe night fighters, all under the command of an air force that still believes women are only suited for the home front. When Pasha, now a Red Army radio operator, finds himself trapped behind enemy lines, one small aircraft might be able to slip through. Valya sees her chance to rescue the boy who has begun to capture her heart—but in Stalin’s Russia, defying orders could land both of them in front of a firing squad.

 

 

Valya’s regiment, the 46th Guards, really existed. Its aviators so terrified the Wehrmacht that the German soldiers nicknamed them the “Night Witches,” yet the brave Soviet women and girls who served in World War II are little known in the West. My 84,000-word YA historical novel, AMONG THE RED STARS, highlights many of these real-life heroes. It is a semi-epistolary novel that will appeal to fans of FLYGIRL and CODE NAME VERITY.

 

 

 

Fun Tidbit:

 

My query barely changed from its first iteration, but the manuscript itself needed a lot of work. Although it got a lot of attention in contests, I ultimately found my agent through the regular slush pile.

 

 

 

_DSC2444Gwen C. Katz lives in Altadena, California with her husband and a revolving door of transient animals. When she’s not writing, she’s usually drawing, listening to rock music, and leading nature walks. For more on Gwen, follow her on Twitter (@gwenckatz).

 

 

 

New Release: Sarah L. Blair’s DARKNESS SHIFTING July 1, 2016

 

 

 

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I’m always thrilled for my writing friends when they take on a new challenge. Some decide to write in a new category or genre. Others decide to share their work via the self-publishing route. Today, I’m excited to share a guest post from Sarah L. Blair who shares insight into why self-publishing was the best option to introduce readers to her debut novel, DARKNESS SHIFTING.

 

 

 

I graduated college ten years ago. Like most new graduates, I entered the world clutching my shiny new Creative Writing degree with a bunch of ideas for what the future would hold. None of them included self-publishing. It was a whole different world back then, so long ago, yet not so far away. My professors all made it clear that getting published would be a long time coming, I’d be one of the lucky ones if I could turn it into any kind of career. It takes practice to hone your skills as a writer. 10,000 hours of doing something to become an expert. I knew I was a good writer, maybe even a great one. But I also knew I wasn’t good enough. Not yet. I also didn’t have any clue about how to get published, even when I was ready. I still have the 2006 edition of Writer’s Market in a box in the back of my closet somewhere, hiding out with a bunch of workshop stories that will never see the light of day.

 

 

About a year after I graduated, I got married and moved to Georgia. I still had no clue what I wanted to do other than Be A Writer, but I really had no practical experience in anything other than babysitting. So I got a job teaching at a pre-school. The hours were great, my boss and co-workers were incredible. And in my spare time, I wrote. I fussed around with a few ideas until one afternoon a girl walked into my head and said, “What have we got?”

 

 

I had no idea, but I wanted to find out. The idea took hold of me like no other story had before. I knew it was something, even if I didn’t know what.

 

 

It took me years to get that first draft down. But I finally had it. The End. And I revised and revised and REVISED. This book barely resembles what it once was. My scrap file is over 100k words. Finally, I thought I was ready to try to get published, because I didn’t know what else to do with it. By the way, it was still a hot mess.

 

 

Around this time I joined Twitter. This is where I learned everything about how to get published. Being able to see agent tweets, figure out what they were looking for, how they wanted to be approached, connecting with other writers just like me who were trying to find their way in the darkness of the query trenches—it was everything I didn’t know I needed. It was invaluable. I wish I could go back to 2006 Sarey and hand her this knowledge. There are a lot of things she would do differently.

 

 

I queried with a lot of positive response, but from the feedback I got, I knew it wasn’t ready. I revised. I queried again. By that time however, the market for anything paranormal or fantasy was starting to wane, and gauging what agents were looking for with things like Manuscript Wish List, I quickly realized that my little urban fantasy wasn’t what publishers wanted on their desks at the moment. Talking to friends, browsing through tweets from readers, and perusing Amazon lists, I still felt like it was something readers might be interested in. After all, I’d written a book I wanted to read, maybe other people would want it too? Self-publishing was a consideration in the back of my head. Maybe someday. It was at least a backup plan.

 

 

I took the advice of better people who had more experience and put my little urban fantasy away for awhile. I started a brand new project. Something completely different. I started something else. Even more different. I liked them both. But I stalled out. The characters just didn’t hold my attention the same way.

 

 

In the middle of trying to birth a book baby, I birthed two human babies. If you have kids, you know how time consuming they are. They need constant attention.

 

 

At the same time I was just entering the world as an intimidated but hopeful young writer, the idea of self-publishing was associated closely with the word vanity. It came with a certain stigma of entitlement and defiance.

 

 

Not anymore. In this past decade alone,  thanks to technology and e-books, it’s quickly evolved into something else: A viable path to getting books in front of readers. Isn’t that ultimately the goal for most writers? We just want people to read our work, and hope that they love it, or at the very least, react to it in one way or another.

 

 

One day I sat down and thought of all the reasons I wanted to be traditionally published. The biggest one was that I wanted a team. I needed people behind me who were smarter and more objective than I was to help me hone my words into something better than I could make them on my own. I needed a great cover. I needed publicity and marketing.

 

 

And then I realized… I already had those things. Thanks to Twitter, I had an entire community of talented people who love me and my words, and want to see me succeed. I already had my team.

 

 

Another thing I realized was that I have two little kids who need a lot of attention. I’m a slow writer. I can’t get to the page every single day. It’s essential that my family comes first. At this point in my life, I absolutely need to work at my own pace. Deadlines are certainly important for meeting goals, but at this point in my life I need flexibility. I’m not the type of person to let other people down or be unprofessional. If I chose to pursue traditional publishing I’d have zero control over deadlines. I’d be beholden to other people who really didn’t care if my kids were throwing a fit, or sick and needing extra attention. They wouldn’t care why I didn’t meet my deadline, only that I didn’t meet it. They’d remember that and see me as sloppy and unprofessional. Sure, they’re all human. Agents and publishers aren’t heartless. They have families and get sick too. But the publishing world keeps going, regardless.

 

 

What was I waiting for? I had a team. I could set my own timeline and adjust as needed. My decision to self-publish was made.

 

 

It’s probably best that I didn’t know exactly what I was getting myself into, because the learning curve has been enormous. Thankfully, I’ve got Trisha Leigh and Laura Oliva, my self-publishing gurus to hold my hand and guide me through this process. Their advice and input has been invaluable. The best advice I can give anyone else considering self-publishing is to find someone who has done it several times and snuggle up under their wing like a baby duckling. This is not something you can do alone. I mean, you can do it alone, but it’s a lot better with help.

 

 

The first step I took was to hire a professional editor. I sort of fell into this. I wasn’t looking seriously, yet. But my friend Julie Hutchings mentioned one day that she was needing a project and I knew I had one. We struck a deal and it was the best thing I’ve ever done for this book. Julie got it. Every single thing about my book, she nailed it. Not only that, but she helped me bring out the very best of my characters. She showed me which parts needed to be strengthened, and guided me into making this book so much better than I ever could have made it on my own. I was extremely lucky. I already knew Julie well enough to know she’d be a great fit for me and my book. If you’re looking for a professional editor, do your research. Read other projects the editor has worked on. Follow on twitter and other social media. You’ve got to find the right person, someone who understands your project as if they were inside your head already. It’s worth the time and effort, trust me.

 

 

The next step was a cover. I had no clue what I wanted. I scoured pre-made covers, and browsed other books in my genre to try to figure out what the trends were. I endlessly searched stock photos, trying to find something that caught my eye. Again, my critique partners, and self-published experts came to my rescue. We played around with ideas until I finally had a concept that I loved. I found a couple of stock photos that were perfect. My husband helped me put together a general idea of what I wanted, but he’s not a professional cover designer so he could only get me so far. I took my ideas to local cover artist and photographer Vania Stoyanova to put everything together into a finished product. She absolutely did not disappoint! What she came up with was so much more than I could have done on my own. I’m absolutely in love with it!

 

 

While I was waiting for Vania to work on my cover, I decided to tackle getting everything uploaded and ready for publication. I used CreateSpace for my print copies, and they’re great, but there’s definitely a learning curve. Everything is laid out in a step-by-step checklist, which really helps. But as far as formatting goes… I won’t lie: It’s been a total headache. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve tweaked margins, and spacing, and font-size. No matter what I’ve done, there are still a couple of spots with widow and orphan lines hanging on for dear life, alone and desolate at the top of the page. It’s been frustrating beyond belief. But at some point, I realized there’s truly only so much I can do. No book is 100% perfect in every way. Not even those written by the greatest authors of our time. Yes, even Harry Potter books have typos. You can only do what you can do, and then you have to let go.

 

 

And so I have. This book is as ready as it’s ever going to be to head out into the world. People jokingly talk about their book babies, comparing them to real children, but there’s a lot of truth to the analogy. As a parent of humans, I do what I can to guide my children, support them, and urge them into becoming the best they can be. I want them to be good people and grow up to do amazing things. I hope my book babies will do the same. I’ve spent countless hours honing, guiding, and shaping this book into something I want to put out into the world for others to experience. Who knows, maybe it’ll even surprise me and do something spectacular? I have no idea. For now, I’m keeping my expectations low and my hopes high.

 

 

 

More on DARKNESS SHIFTING

 

Paranormal Investigator, Sidney Lake doesn’t jump at shadows. The weird stuff is her jurisdiction. When the mangled body of a supposedly extinct creature turns up in New York City’s subway system, she’s number one on the Medical Examiner’s speed dial.

 

But this case hits too close to home when clues point her toward the truth about her parents’ brutal murder twelve years ago. Her boss Mitchell Harris, questions whether she should continue to investigate. However, Sidney insists on facing her greatest fears and putting her parents’ memory to rest once and for all.

 

What she uncovers sheds a light on secrets that reach further into the darkness than she ever wanted to go… and leads her to a future she never imagined.

 

Now available via Amazon and Bookbub.

 

 

 

 

SareyPic2Sarah L. Blair earned a BA in Creative Writing from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. While spending a semester abroad at Swansea University in Wales she traveled to nearby Bath and Glastonbury often, drawing inspiration for her writing from the myths and legends surrounding the area. Sarah now resides just north of Atlanta, Georgia with her husband, their two children, and chihuahua. While writing is her first passion, she also enjoys sewing, tater tots, catching up on her teetering TBR pile, and hanging out on her porch drinking sweet tea.

 

You can find Sarah around the web on Twitter: @SarahLBlair, Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/sarahlblair, or visit her new website: http://www.sarahlblair.com

 

 

W.O.W. – Writer Odyssey Wednesday with Rachel Lynn Solomon June 29, 2016

 

 

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Every writer has their own path to publication. Some paths are long and winding. Others are a straight shot. No matter the tale, the journey always involves ups and downs, caution signs, and for some, serious roundabouts, but what always remains is the writer’s commitment to their craft and their enduring dream to see their work on bookshelves one day.

 

 

In bringing you the W.O.W. series, I hope as a writer you will learn that no dream is unfounded. That with time, patience, perseverance, and commitment to your craft, it is possible to cross that finish line and share your story with the world.

 

 

Today, I am pleased to share Rachel Lynn Solomon’s writing journey…

 

 

 

 

Amy: When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

 

 

Rachel: I can’t remember ever not wanting to be a writer — I think I’ve wanted to be one as long as I’ve been a reader. When I was growing up, I wrote constantly and posted stories on FictionPress (some are even still up there). I didn’t get serious about being a writer until after I graduated college. I’d studied journalism, so I’d been writing and hearing others’ stories for years, and I decided to try telling one of my own. It became my first finished book, a semi-autobiographical new adult kind of thing that I still can’t believe I queried! I did not understand showing vs. telling. I did not understand what was wrong with three chapters filled solely with info-dumps. But it was important for me to write that book — to know that I could write a book.

 

 

 

Amy: I love the themes of sisterhood and family dynamics in FINGERS CROSSED. What inspired you to write the story?

 

 

Rachel: The story concept came to me in several waves. The very first one — and this is almost awkward to admit! — was that I wanted to write a bold, kind of sexually aggressive teen girl because I hadn’t read very many female characters like that in YA. I thought it would be fun to explore, so she became one of the twins. I also felt I’d read a lot of twin stories where the characters were opposites: one’s going to Harvard, and the other’s a slacker. Both sisters in my books are ambitious in different ways; one is a viola prodigy and the other wants to become a surgeon.

 

 

I’ve always thought of Huntington’s disease as one of the most tragic things that can befall a family. The idea that you can know if you’ll develop the disease but not when — it’s heartbreaking to me. While doing research, I learned there’s a 50/50 chance that the child of a parent with Huntington’s will inherit it, and I thought, what if one twin tested positive and one tested negative? It seemed to lend itself naturally to a dual POV story, and I hadn’t read too many multiple POV books narrated by sisters.

 

 

Lastly, family dynamics and Judaism are integral to the story. This is actually the first book I’ve written with Jewish protagonists. Growing up, I rarely read any stories about Jewish people that weren’t about the Holocaust. I wanted my younger self and other Jewish readers to see themselves in my book.

 

 

 

Amy: After reading your amazing blog post about the journey to selling your debut (read the post here!), I was inspired by your perseverance. How did you keep writing in spite of the ups and downs?

 

 

Rachel: I kept writing because it was the only thing I could do, the only thing I had control over. At any stage of this journey, that remains the thing we have the most control over. Writing has always been a bundle of different things for me: cathartic, comforting, challenging. While taking breaks is always a good idea, I don’t think I could have stopped writing because in my soul I am a writer.

 

 

It also helped to connect with other writers on long journeys, particularly writers who’d left agents and were querying for the second or third time. I never felt alone, and that was a tremendous comfort.

 

 

 

Amy: Are you one of those people who has an easy time writing a query or does it take several tries before you land on your final version?

 

 

Rachel: Depends on the book! I always write queries early on in the drafting process so I know whether what I’m writing has a solid enough hook and stakes. If I’m struggling to write the query, maybe I haven’t fully developed the plot or characters yet. Then I labor over each word. I love words (I mean, obviously, right?) — but more specifically, the exactness of them, the satisfaction of a dynamic verb or a precise noun.

 

 

 

Amy: Do you work with critique partners? If so, how do they help shape your stories?

 

 

Rachel: YES, and I would be absolutely lost without them. I used to send chapters to readers early on, but now, while I brainstorm with CPs throughout the process, I don’t usually share until I have a completed (and often extremely messy) first draft. I like to have something finished that I can then mold and take apart.

 

 

 

Amy: From beginning (first draft) to end (signing contract), how long was the process of getting a deal for FINGERS CROSSED?

 

 

Rachel: I started writing the book in March of 2014, and it sold in May of 2016, so a little over two years! It’s been through several rewrites and many, many revisions. Once it went on submission with my current agent, Laura Bradford, it sold in six weeks, which still feels unbelievable to me. I don’t think anything in publishing had moved quickly for me up until that point. Laura is amazing; she put the book in the hands of the right person!

 

 

 

Amy: As most writers know, publishing is a very difficult business. What was the one thing you think you did to garner agent interest?

 

 

Rachel: From my first draft, I knew this book had a great hook, and that my challenge was going to be getting the writing to live up to that hook. I wrote and rewrote several times from a blank page, which I’d never done before. I wrote each character separately to ensure their voices felt distinct. I printed the manuscript several times and did hard copy edits. I had at least 10 readers over the course of the two years I was working on it. This book meant the world to me, and I didn’t want to put it out there until I felt I had done everything I could.

 

 

 

Amy: What can you tell us about “your call” with your agent, Laura Bradford? How did you know she was the right fit for you?

 

 

Rachel: Though I’d been represented previously, this manuscript had not been queried. Laura was the first to offer on it in March of 2016. From the moment we got on the phone, I felt so at ease. She was funny and down-to-earth, and my favorite thing she said that made me feel like she got what was I trying to do was something along the lines of, “You don’t really like Adina [one of the twins] because she’s so sharp. But she’s compelling. You root for her.” I feel strongly that (female) characters don’t need to be likable — but they should be interesting. I don’t want to spend 300 pages with a nice, mild character who follows the rules. My characters live in moral gray areas.

 

 

 

Amy: If you were doing a book signing and you met a writer who was about to give up on their publishing dream, what would you say to them? 

 

 

Rachel: I’m going to borrow something I wrote on my own blog for this one :). It took me several books to realize that getting published was what I wanted more than anything else. Every new book made me want it even more. It’s taken me a long time to develop the confidence to be able to say that I have something to say as an author. I’ve spent so much time in my life downplaying my own accomplishments, however small, and I’m trying to take more pride in what I do. We have to be our own best advocates. So I would say this: you are the only person who can write your book. You are the only person who is going to put it out there. You are the only person who’s going to send it to readers and agents and editors. Maybe you need to take a break for a while, and that’s okay. Maybe you need to find new readers, take a class, consult craft books. At times there are more downs than ups, but if this is something you desperately want, you have to keep writing.

 

 

 

 

rachel 2016 3Rachel Lynn Solomon is a Seattle native who loves rainy days, tap dancing, red lipstick, and new wave music. Her debut contemporary YA novel, FINGERS CROSSED, will be out from Simon & Schuster/Simon Pulse in spring 2018, with a second book to follow in 2019. She’s represented by Laura Bradford of Bradford Literary Agency. You can find Rachel online at rachelsolomonbooks.com and on Twitter @rlynn_solomon.

 

 
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