chasingthecrazies

Chasing my crazy dream in the writing world…

FIRST FIVE FRENZY with Latoya Smith – L. Perkins Literary Agency November 18, 2016

 

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If you’re like me, you toil for hours editing and fine-tuning the first pages of your manuscript. You look at the first lines to make sure they are compelling and tight. You examine the next few paragraphs hoping your MC’s voice is already taking hold of the reader.

 

The First Five Frenzy is all about getting an agent’s perspective on what works, and what fails, in those first pages of a manuscript. It’s tricky to get the right balance, but I hope by reading each agent’s comments you’ll learn how to make your manuscript a shining gem that’s requested over and over.

 

Today, I’m proud to share Latoya Smith’s perspective on what’s important in those critical first pages.

 

 

 

 

Amy: Many writers have the impression that a great first line is imperative to drawing in the reader. How important is a first line to you as an agent?

 

Latoya: I will be honest, I have a short attention span. So the first line or first few paragraphs is very important for me when deciding which projects I’d like to request the full manuscripts on. This is especially true because of our submission guidelines–we request a synopsis and only the first page or two, so the opening to the story is very important.

 

 

 

 

Amy: Many times a writer is told to stay away from common openings like dreams, eating breakfast, riding in a car, etc. What are some common openings you recommend writers stay away from?

 

Latoya: Honestly, I am all about the writing. There are a lot of things that may not work for some writers, but if you’ve crafted a very strong opening, it doesn’t matter how it starts. For me, as long as it’s compelling and draws me in, that’s all that matters.

 

 

 

 

Amy: When you’ve responded to a writer to request a partial or full manuscript, what was it about their first pages that piqued your interest?

 

Latoya: Definitely the writing, storyline, characters, and voice. I love strong characters, fully-fleshed out plotlines (opening is clear, character goals are nicely established), and, of course, a compelling voice. I also look for marketplace potential. It’s very tough to try and sell in a project that isn’t working well in the marketplace or that the publisher has struggled to sell in the past.

 

 

 

 

Amy: What are some common mistakes writers make in their first five pages?

 

Latoya: They try to create mystery and intrigue, but end of leaving out too many details which makes the opening vague and confusing. Or they start with dialogue that isn’t very compelling because they’ve been told to open their story with dialogue.

 

 

 

 

Amy: What resonates with you most in those early pages? Voice? Pacing? Unique concept?

 

Latoya: All of the above! Like I mentioned earlier, I want to know who I should be paying attention to, what their issues are, and of course, I need to connect to the character’s/author’s voice.

 

 

 

 

Latoya C. Smith started her editorial career as an administrative assistant to New York Times bestselling author, Teri Woods at Teri Woods Publishing, while pursuing her Bachelor’s Degree at Temple University. She graduated Cum Laude from Temple in August of 2005. She then attained a full-time position at Kensington Publishing in March of 2006. In October 2006, Latoya joined Grand Central Publishing, an imprint at Hachette Book Group. For the span of her eight years there, Latoya acquired a variety of titles from Hardcover fiction and non-fiction, to digital romance and erotica. She was featured in Publishers Weekly and USA Today, as well as on various author, book conference, and book blogger websites. She is the winner of the 2012 RWA Golden Apple for Editor of the Year.  In early 2014, she appeared on CSpan2 where she contributed to a panel discussing the state of book publishing. From August 2014 to February 2016, Latoya was Executive Editor at Samhain Publishing where she acquired short and long form romance and erotic fiction. Now, Latoya provides editorial and consultation services through her company, LCS Literary Services. She is also an agent with the L. Perkins agency.

 

If you’re interested in submitting to Latoya, please follow the submission guidelines for the L. Perkins Agency.

 

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.

 

 

FIRST FIVE FRENZY with Lauren Spieller of Triada US Literary Agency October 28, 2016

 

 

 

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If you’re like me, you toil for hours editing and fine-tuning the first pages of your manuscript. You look at the first lines to make sure they are compelling and tight. You examine the next few paragraphs hoping your MC’s voice is already taking hold of the reader.

 

The First Five Frenzy is all about getting an agent’s perspective on what works, and what fails, in those first pages of a manuscript. It’s tricky to get the right balance, but I hope by reading each agent’s comments you’ll learn how to make your manuscript a shining gem that’s requested over and over.

 

Today, I’m proud to share Lauren Spieller’s perspective on what’s important in those critical first pages.

 

 

 

 

Amy: Many writers have the impression that a great first line is imperative to drawing in the reader. How important is a first line to you as an agent?

 

 

Lauren: The first line is important, but it’s not a dealbreaker if it needs tweaking, or even a rewrite. What’s more important to me is that the opening pages have tons of voice and conflict that hook me from the get go.

 

 

 

Amy: Many times a writer is told to stay away from common openings like dreams, eating breakfast, riding in a car, etc. What are some common openings you recommend writers stay away from?

 

 

Lauren: I’d stay away from scenes in which characters wake up with no memories, scenes so packed with action that we have no time to get to know the character, and scenes that focus more on “telling” us about the character than “showing.”

 

 

 

Amy: When you’ve responded to a writer to request a partial or full manuscript, what was it about their first pages that piqued your interest?

 

 

Lauren: Voice + gripping conflict = request!

 

 

 

Amy: What are some common mistakes writers make in their first five pages?

 

 

Lauren: Focusing on backstory, starting the conflict after the inciting incident (or too far before it!), cramming the pages with too many characters to keep straight, and relying on clichés.

 

 

 

Amy: What resonates with you most in those first pages? Voice? Pacing? Unique concept?

 

 

Lauren: Voice really resonates with me. The first pages should provide a snapshot of who this character is and what matters to them, as well as what their conflict is (or is going to be!)

 

 

 

 

TriadaUS Literary Agent Lauren Spieller has a background in literary scouting and editorial consulting. She has a sharp editorial eye, and is passionate about author advocacy. Lauren is seeking Middle Grade and Young Adult fiction, as well as commercial Adult fiction and non-fiction. Whatever the age category or genre, Lauren is passionate about finding diverse voices. Visit www.triadaus.com for her full wishlist.

 

W.O.W. – Writer Odyssey Wednesday with McKelle George October 26, 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’m pleased to share McKelle George’s writing journey…

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

McKelle: 2011. I remember, because I’d been living in Hungary for almost two years. Before then, I’d been studying illustration. I switched to English (which isn’t necessary to write, but it was for me and my focus) when I started university the fall of 2011, and now here we are!

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

McKelle: One and a half? I queried the first book I ever wrote, and it was terrible, and though I did get a few full requests, it really wasn’t that good and I’m glad it will never see the light of day. The half is because I submitted my next book to a contest before querying, and it got signed with a small press as a result. However, when I signed with my agent with my next book, we got out of the aforementioned contract.

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

McKelle: It wasn’t easy, exactly, but also not that hard. For my first book, that was because I didn’t put as much time into research because I had no idea what I was doing. For the book that got me my agent, I only queried 20 before it was in the Brenda Drake’s Pitch Madness contest, and also got some requests from #PitMad. From first query to offer was only about two months, and I blame those two contests for propelling my querying process so quickly.

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

McKelle: I wrote the first word of the first draft July 20, 2013. And I had the phone call with the editor who signed my book December 2015. So, two and a half years.

 

 

 

 

Amy: Do you have critique partners? If so, how critical are they to your writing process?

 

McKelle: Yes! Sometimes I will give my manuscripts to other author friends and I always appreciate their feedback. But I have two critique partners who read everything I write. I met them in college and we went on a study abroad to the UK together and are still really good friends. It’s not at all necessary for CPs, but even more valuable than their feedback on my writing is their friendship, so I love being able to call them to get ice cream with me if I need it—as well as critiquing my work. (:

 

 

 

 

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

 

McKelle: Holding my physical book in my hands, seeing it on a shelf. So many of the “perks” of publishing are not in your control, and every journey is different. But nothing can take away from having the published finished result of your hard work in front of you.

 

 

 

 

 

Amy: What was your “call” like with Katie Grimm? How did you know she was the right fit for you?

 

McKelle: So, I actually had another offer and another phone call with another agent first. After I sent the courtesy will-you-let-me-know-if-you’re-interested-because-I-have-an-offer e-mail to the other agents who had the full of SPEAK EASY, SPEAK LOVE, she was one of the ones who got back to me and was still interested. And her e-mail was like, ha ha, this huge paragraph of things she thought needed to be fixed in the manuscript, and the end of it was basically, “I would expect a lot of work, but if any of my notes are resonating with you, I’d love to chat.”

 

I remember being really stressed out about choosing the right agent between the ones who offered, because there wasn’t a bad choice. Katie had all the professional things I was looking for in an agent (I had a small checklist of qualities), but in the end, it was also a gut feeling. She just sounded so smart and tough on the phone! I knew she was someone I’d want to have in my corner, and someone I could trust to know the business and get things done. I haven’t regretted the choice once.

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

McKelle: I don’t know if I still use it, but I still stand by it, and that was: put your first project aside. It was revelatory to me, to stop picking at the same story again and again. Writing more books taught me way more than revising the first old one.

 

The other thing (and sorry to be cliché and use Stephen King) was reading the book On Writing, and reading the passage that starts: do not come to the blank page lightly. It was the first time it clicked for me that I would need to sacrifice other things to do this, that it was a serious thing that deserved to be pursued seriously, and not just some fun hobby.

 

 

 

 

 

mckellegeorgeMcKelle George is an editor, perpetual doodler, associate librarian at the best library in the world (the Salt Lake City Public Library), and lover of quiet adventures. Her debut novel SPEAK EASY, SPEAK LOVE comes out from Greenwillow/HarperCollins in 2017, and she currently lives in Salt Lake City with an enormous white german shepherd. For more on McKelle, check out her website or follow her on Twitter (@McKelleGeorge).

 

 

QUITE THE QUERY – Laura Brown and SILENCE October 21, 2016

 

 

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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 Laura Brown. This great query connected her with Rachel Brooks at The L. Perkins Agency.

 

 

 

 

 

I would like to present my New Adult Contemporary Romance for your consideration. SILENCE is complete at 84,000 words

 

As a college senior, Carli Reynolds’ goals in life are simple: survive her classes, mask her hearing loss, and suppress her debilitating headaches. If she succeeds, no one will know her internal daily struggle. Goals one and two all but combust when “Hot New Deaf Guy,” Reed, introduces her to a world where hearing loss is not a disadvantage. He breaks her hotness scale as her world shifts off balance.

 

Carli’s disability has hung over her head her entire life, care of her perfectionist father. Through Reed’s hands, her invisible scars heal. He convinces her to learn ASL. For the first time in her life something comes naturally to her. With him she starts to feel whole.

 

Reed discovers her debilitating headaches when she’s stranded without her pain meds. Headaches he deems not normal. Carli continues to straddle the line between hearing and deaf. When Reed discovers she’s abusing her pain pills, she’ll have to decide once and for all to embrace her hearing loss and Reed—or shun them both.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Signs of Attraction now available via Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

 

 

 

 

 

FUN TIDBIT: 

 

This query originally led to a full request, and a rejection, as my agent had a different vision of where she wanted the novel to go. When I asked what that vision was, it turned into a R&R (revise and resubmit). I made some major changes, including the title and adding a POV, and the end result has been more than worth it.

 

 

 

 

 

laura-brown-author-photoLaura Brown lives in Massachusetts with her quirky abnormal family, consisting of her husband, young son, and three cats. Hearing loss is a big part of who she is, from her own Hard of Hearing ears, to the characters she creates. She’s represented by Rachel Brooks of L. Perkins Agency. Her NA, SIGNS OF ATTRACTION, was released by Avon in June of 2016. For more on Laura, check out her website (https://laurabrownauthor.com/) or follow her on twitter (@AuthorLBrown)

 

 

 

 

QUITE THE QUERY: Judi Lauren and STILL BREATHING October 7, 2016

Filed under: Blog,Publishing,Query — chasingthecrazies @ 7:50 am
Tags: , , , , ,

 

 

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 Judi Lauren. This great query connected her with Tina P. Schwartz at The Purcell Agency.

 

 

 

When seventeen-year-old Drew’s twin Tyler commits suicide, he leaves one note for their parents: “Drew will do it, too”. As he tries to piece together the reason why his brother took his own life, Drew begins receiving a series of letters his twin left him. Not only do the letters bring back a dark secret Drew’s struggled to forget, they also force him on a path to discover if he’ll do the same.

 

 

While Drew wrestles with coping after Tyler’s death, he finds solace in Raven Kensington, a charismatic girl from his school whose parents died in a car accident a few years ago. She understands what Drew’s going through; she’s felt that pain and the ache in her chest. Raven pulls Drew out of the numbness he’s been experiencing since Tyler’s suicide and the two begin a relationship as Drew slowly learns to live his life again.

 

 

But as the letters keep coming, the words in them take Drew back through the past he and Tyler have been hiding from for the last decade. As Drew tries to come to terms with the loss, all he has are the letters to guide him. With Tyler gone and the darkness of the past catching up to him, Drew is faced with the choice of wanting to live or following his brother one final time.

 

 

 

Fun tidbit: Judi wrote this book when she was 19, but didn’t begin editing and querying it until she was 23.

 

 

 

original-profile-shotJudi used to write only as a hobby before she realized it was her dream job and got serious about it. Even though she enjoys reading books of all types she’s drawn to writing realistic books for teens that explore a darker side to the teenage years. She works as an editorial assistant at Entangled Publishing and is represented by Tina Schwartz of the Purcell Agency. She has an unnatural obsession with Chicago, New York, Dean Winchester, and Friends (the TV show). For more on Judi, check out her website, or follow her on Twitter (@Judi__Lauren).

 

 

 

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

 

 

WOWlogo

 

 

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.

 

 
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