Chasing my crazy dream in the writing world…

MONDAY MUSINGS: The Power of Never Giving Up June 19, 2017







When we are at our lowest as writers I think we often wonder if what we are doing has any meaning. If the words we put on the page will ever be read by anyone but us. If the worlds we create, the characters we craft, will matter to any one outside our own small sphere.



There have been many times in my writing career when I’ve wanted to give up. I’ve looked at a finished manuscript and wondered if those hours, days, months I’ve spent on it were worthless because no one but me would ever know they existed. When I start to feel this way, I go back and look at some of the interviews I’ve done with writers I admire. Remind myself of their struggles and refusal to give up.



One of the biggest stories of perseverance in the publishing world is that of J.K. Rowling. If you know anything about her, you know that she was a single mother living on welfare, writing in a small coffee shop trying to keep her and her child warm while she chased her dream of creating a story about a young boy who discovers he is a wizard. I often wonder how many times in that early period self-doubt slithered into her head. How many times she looked at that blinking cursor and wondered if she was chasing some crazy unrealistic dream.



Well, most of you know how her story turned out. Harry Potter is now one of the most influential series in all of literature. It’s spawned movies, licensed merchandise, a series of theme parks, and now even a studio tour in London.



And that brings me to my point. I recently was lucky enough to go on this tour. I, along with my family, on a soggy, cold June day jumped on a double-decker coach (significantly similar to the Knight Bus, along with a crazy driver) and headed outside of London to the small town of Leavesden. The tour information said the experience would last three and half hours. Three and a half hours? I’ve been on many studio tours in the past and they never lasted more than hour so I was very skeptical. I was wrong. SO WRONG.



Once inside the main building, I was immediately hit by the enormity of the world the directors and producers had built for this series. The walls were covered in life-size posters of all the major characters. Inside the area where the first line began was a complete replica of Harry’s room under the stairs. And on the wall was this sign…








Tears burned the corners of my eyes because it hit me at that moment that NONE of this experience would be possible without the words of J.K. Rowling. Sitting in that cafe she was about to change publishing forever. Her words would introduce the amazing experience of reading to both children and adults. What an incredible legacy to give the world.



So the next time you want to give up, throw in the towel, stop chasing your own dream, think about that single mother sitting in small cafe and what would have happened if she’d stopped creating. I, for one, believe our world would be a much sadder place without the gift she gave us in Harry Potter.



You never know, the book you’re writing now could be the next story that changes publishing. Keep working. Keep dreaming. The possibility of creating a new story that influences children’s literature could only be a chapter away!



Here are a few more amazing pictures from the tour. And if you are ever in London, I HIGHLY encourage you to put a trip to Leavesden on your schedule!





(The Cupboard Underneath The Stairs)




(Dumbledore and Snape in the Great Hall)




(The Entrance to Dumbledore’s Office)




(The Invitations to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry)




(Entrance to The Chamber of Secrets)





(Full scale model of Hogwarts)


MONDAY MUSINGS: Celebrating the Big Picture May 8, 2017









For the last five years I’ve been working on this little YA book called NOTHING BUT SKY. A year of research. A year of writing. A year of revising and then another two years on submission. To say this manuscript was a labor of love for me is putting it mildly. And while it was a joy to work on the book, it also came with its share of heartache. But today, I don’t want to talk about the negative. I only want to share the positive which is that my book SOLD to the amazing people at Flux!












WOOHOO! Yes, this does call for a little Supernatural boys dance.






But seriously, even though this has been a crazy process, and I’m over the moon thrilled about the deal, I want this post to focus on something else today: The Big Picture.



What do I mean? Well, it’s taken a long time, and a bit of perspective, but I learned that I am NOT this one story. For too long I felt like if NOTHING BUT SKY didn’t sell it was the death knell for my writing career. Why was I so doom and gloom about it? Because I’d put my heart and soul into this manuscript. Over a long period time it went through a dozen readers, pages and pages of notes, and more than a few rewrites. I spent hours at my desk poring over every single line in each chapter wondering what I could do to make my voice cleaner. My lines tighter. It was enough to drive myself a bit over the edge.



But then an incredible thing happened-a new story idea popped into my head. It wasn’t that I was ready to let NOTHING BUT SKY go, but some part of me knew I had more books to write. Characters to create. Stories to weave. I suddenly felt free. Like my friends and family wouldn’t judge me if that one little book of my heart never made it onto the shelves of a major bookstore.



In that moment I learned I was more than that one idea. Deep down, I understood I was a storyteller. If Grace and Henry’s journey never got into readers hands, that was okay because their story taught me I could make it through the hardest moments of rejection and come out stronger on the other side.



The moral of the story, I guess, is that I pushed through. That along the way of creating other books, there was something about NOTHING BUT SKY that stayed with me. It allowed me to do one more revision. To try once more. And this time it landed in the hands of the right editor and the right publisher. I worked hard, but I also got lucky. Really lucky.



So readers, today I want to celebrate, but I also want to remind you that there is a bigger picture. That there IS more than just that one book in you. At your core you are a writer. Your ideas and words mean something. It’s true, there will be heartache and very low moments along the way, but if you’re meant to be a writer you will always come back to the page. No string of rejections can take that away from you. DO NOT GIVE UP. If you are meant to write, then you will WRITE!



One last note…


I’ve been posting to this blog for over five years and there’s never been a moment where I have not felt anything but unconditional love from you guys, my readers. I’ve shared a lot of tough, personal moments and you’ve ALWAYS been around to lift me up. Encourage me to move forward. No words on this earth can express how much that means to my heart. Thank you so much for being here and believing in me.








Okay, I can’t resist – a few more celebratory GIFs!!








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.








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 . . .








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,



Laura is represented by Michelle Richter at Fuse Literary.



W.O.W. – Writer Odyssey Wednesday with McKelle George October 26, 2016








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).



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






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 ( 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







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.


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







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 and on Twitter @rlynn_solomon.


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