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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Leave An Amazon Review, Get Awesome Stuff

If you've left an Amazon review for DUPLICITY (or if you want to leave one right now, I won't tell), I want to send you my thanks! In the form of a signed bookmark, signed bookplate, and a thank you card with questionable artwork on it. No need to link me to your review - I trust you. Just send me an email with your mailing address and in a few weeks you'll understand why I'm an author and not an illustrator. This offer has no expiration.

Amazon reviews are quite important to authors - they not only help potential readers make a decision about a book, but Amazon more heavily promotes titles with larger numbers of reviews. That makes a big difference with so many books available. THANK YOU to everyone who's taken the time to spread the word about DUPLICITY thus far! You are literally the backbone of its success.

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Editing Process, Round 2

A really long time ago (like, more than 3 years), I wrote a blog post called The Editing Process, Round 1 ... and then I never wrote a Round 2 post. I have no idea what I had planned for that post, but maybe I'm secretly psychic and knew that there would come a time when I'd be on the other side of the editing fence and in great need of a dangling blog series. I'm happy to finally ease the stresses of anyone who wanted to know where the heck Round 2 was, and also to make an exciting announcement - I've accepted a position with Cornerstones US as one of their CORE team editors!

I am SO excited for this opportunity as it will allow me to work with more writers and their crazy-awesome imaginations, while also being able to feed myself and buy extravagances like, you know, clothes. Working with writers in Pitch Wars has been incredibly fulfilling, and I'll be able to continue that work with Cornerstones, since they also scout for agents.

Some of you might be picturing me at a desk, hunched over a manuscript with a red pen, correcting grammar and doodling in the margins. Let me extinguish that vision right now. First, I do all my writing on my couch. Second, a developmental edit is way more than making sure you've crossed your t's and dotted your i's - it's getting into the very bones of a manuscript and looking at things like structure, pacing, continuity, suspension of disbelief, characterization, etc. Basically, it's a master's course in writing tailored specifically to you and your book. To better explain the process, allow me to dig up my "Editing Process Round 1" post from when I was a wee writer and had just finished going through such an edit for the first time:
Despite all the blog-stalking I did to answer the question "what is a developmental edit, really?", I was still apprehensive when the much-awaited email from my editor arrived. "She hates it!" I worried. "She's going to tell me, 'This was an amusing first try. Better luck next time.'" (I won't lie when I tell you my conference experience is mostly to blame for that.)

Buuuut... Ms. Jamie Chavez kept her promise that she's just as much cheerleader as critic.

If you have an editor like Ms. Chavez, you'll receive two documents when she's completed the initial edit: one with notes on Big Picture issues like plot, point-of-view, characterization, world building, miscellaneous loose ends, and one that's your actual manuscript with comments in the margins. My favorite section is the beginning of the first doc, a couple pages of "things that worked"! And there are things that need work, of course, but none of her suggestions make me feel like it's not my story anymore.

And I figured out just why you need an editor:
  • Someway, somehow, Jamie pulled more out of one month/two read-throughs of my manuscript than myself and five+ beta readers over a year/dozens of read-throughs
  • Her attention to detail is scary-good (how, HOW she keeps track of all these little things, I will never know)
  • She can speak into the construction of the book, something I've never really thought about while reading. The proper use of multiple point of views, moving the inciting incident to the first six pages, challenging whether the right protagonist is front-and-center.
  • Her encouragement is invaluable. Hearing "This is great!" from your best friend or your mom is cool, but it's another thing entirely when an industry professional says, "You've done so many things right here."

There are big changes. I'll be rewriting/chopping the first few chapters. I'll be rewriting/chopping the ending. I'll be switching from multiple points of view to a single third person perspective. But with Jamie's helpful notes and suggestions, some very interesting things are already in motion. For instance, you'd think forcing multiple perspectives into a single would obscure the antagonist's motivations, right? If you're not in the bad guy's head and you don't have a, "Before I kill you, Mr. Bond," moment, how do you justify his actions throughout the book? But despite this, somehow I've gone from a 'muahaha' antagonist to someone I can sympathize with, to someone I feel sorry for, because that's how my protagonist perceives her. Just hope I can pull it off.

And that's only the tip of the iceberg. So for anyone asking the question "Should I invest in a developmental edit before I query agents?", I'm going to tell you yes, yes you should.

Three years later, my answer is still the same. I should say that particular manuscript wasn't the one I broke into the industry with, but it was critical to my career, because armed with all the new knowledge I'd learned from my editor, I went on to write Duplicity. If you feel like you're almost-but-not-quite-there, I highly suggest looking into a freelance editor. And if you're writing YA, I really hope to see you in my queue!

A word of caution: Not all freelance editors are created equal. I found Jamie via recommendation from a publisher friend of mine, so I knew I was getting my money's worth. Cornerstones is also a company that carefully vets its editors before hiring them. I 100% recommend either one, but if you decide to go with someone else, do your research!

Monday, August 31, 2015

Why Pitch Wars Is Not Your Last Contest

First, I want to thank everyone so much for trusting me with their words. I received 174 submissions from 174 very brave writers, which gave me a lot of amazing options, and a lot of hours fretting over my final pick. It's like being told to pick one cookie from a giant box of new flavors.

Due to some pretty intensive changes happening in my personal life right now, as well as sheer volume of submissions, I regret to say I'll be unable to reply to everyone as I have in prior years. I am truly sorry for this. Instead, I'll be drawing 50 random names from those who signed up, and these subs will receive feedback from me on either their query, if I had questions for the pitch, or my reaction to the opening page, if I found the pitch to be solid.

Remember that this business is highly subjective. That sucks, but it also doesn't, because many of you just need to find the right person—you're doing everything right. There were a lot of solid submissions that I could see someone falling in love with, but that weren't quite a match for me. Heck, I'll admit right now that I could never get into Hunger Games. Should Ms. Collins have stopped writing because I passed on it? I think you know the answer to that.

I also want to impress on you how quickly things can change, and how this contest is a stepping stone, not a barrier. Three years ago, I was sitting exactly where you were, chewing-my-sleeves-off anxious to hear back from the mentors I'd so carefully selected. I'd been polishing my manuscript for months. I had a query that was getting a thumbs up from everyone who critiqued it. A freelance editor had raved about my latest revision, and I had a few contests under my belt, so I knew how to prepare. I was so ready for it to be "my time."

I was about to find out I didn't make it. It stung, yes. Rejection always does. But I had some positive feedback from the mentors I'd subbed to and a growing feeling in my gut that this story, as much as I loved it, wasn't "the one."

I shelved the manuscript. I went back to an idea I'd played around with the year before. I finished it. I entered another contest. I ... well, I lost that contest. But I went back and ripped my first chapter to shreds, and the next contest I entered, I won not only a place among the finalists, but my amazing agent who sold me to a Big Five dream house.

This could be your story next year.

Don't give up.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Pitch Wars 2015 - Stats and Takeaways

With the mentee announcement around the corner, I wanted to go over what I saw in my inbox, the main reasons I passed on entries, and what you should take away from this, regardless of whether you're picked. If you follow me on Twitter, you'll recall I got 174 applications. Of those, I'll be sending feedback to 50 random submissions (with my apologies that I usually try to reply to everyone, but in order to keep my sanity this year, I have to slim it down). It takes me an average of 30 minutes per entry to give feedback, meaning that when all's said and done, I will have spent 25 hours on these emails alone. (In case you were wondering why agents do form rejections. And why you should keep your critique partners close and keep entering contests like Pitch Wars if you're getting said form rejections.)

I had a few trends in my inbox*:

Dreams that become real: 4 (I've had this one all three years I've been a mentor)
Mysterious new boys: 14
Grim reapers/characters working for Death: 5

And the reasons I passed:

Not right for current market: 11
Not right for me (was on my "Not a Best Match" list): 5
Started in the wrong place or too much telling/no conflict in sample pages: 54
Solid submission, but plot wasn't quite my thing: 65
Confusing pitch; stakes not clear and/or no stakes: 18
Reads too young or too old for YA: 4
Liked it, but wasn't my perfect match: 34

(Totaling the numbers above will exceed my submission total as sometimes an entry fit in more than one category. I could still like a sub that started in the wrong place, for instance. It just ultimately didn't work out to be the one I picked.)

And just because:

Highest word count**: 136k
Lowest**: 41k
SCBWI members (yay!): 46
Non-white or QUILTBAG protagonists (also yay!): 25

Takeaways from being in the slush:

  • Your query letter really is all about the story. Whether this is your tenth novel or your first, whether you have a hundred publishing awards or none at all, all that matters is your pitch and your writing. One of my favorite entries was just the pitch and a "thank you for your time" - no personalization, no credentials. So basically: don't stress over these. Your awesome story won't be overlooked if you haven't been published before. DO add personalization when possible - but it won't be the reason you're rejected or asked for sample pages, either. 
    • Reader taste is ridiculously subjective. This is something I knew before, but I went in expecting epic battles over the top picks and that I'd have to defend my choices Zombieland-style. But most everyone's tops were different, and more than one book I passed on in my first cull got snatched up as someone else's first choice.
    • Great pages can outshine a so-so query, but so-so pages will sink a great query. If you're getting all thumbs-ups on your query, but agents seem to be rejecting after they request pages, take a hard look at your first chapter. I went through this too. Sometimes it's a matter of starting in a different place. Sometimes it's a matter of polishing your manuscript as much as you've polished your query.
    • A lot of you are SO close. Holy cow, y'all brought your A-game this year. I was literally driven to tears by the quality of the stories in my inbox, because I was having to pass on things that were really exceptional and that I'd normally request.

    I'm ready for a month-long nap now, but I can't wait to see all the "I have an agent!" announcements that are sure to follow, whether or not you were chosen for Pitch Wars. Remember, I didn't get picked as a mentee or alternate when I entered.

    Hang in there, writers. More soon ...

    *I still requested pages from entries containing these themes, but you might consider what you could do differently with yours if your request rate isn't high.

    **Word count alone is not a reason to reject unless it is way under or way over the expected averages here. However, it's always a good idea to check your word count against those expected averages before you query, and try your darndest to get inside them.

    Monday, August 17, 2015

    Interview with YA Interrobang

    The immensely wonderful YA Interrobang interviewed me about my inspiration for Duplicity, Bloody Mary, and what I would do if my own reflection started moving on its own:

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